Behold the Floppotron, a Computer Hardware Orchestra

iStock // ioResearch
iStock // ioResearch

Back in the era when floppy drives came with home computers, PCs made a lot of noise starting up. They made a kind of music as the motors in the floppy drives buzzed and clunked, the hard drive spun up and chattered, and various peripherals slowly ground their way through startup tests. Now one man has turned those tones into an orchestra.

Polish engineer Paweł Zadrożniak built the Floppotron, a synchronized array of obsolete computer hardware programmed to play tunes. The current Floppotron 2.0 build sports 64 floppy drives, 8 hard drives, and a pair of flatbed scanners—most of these items have had their covers removed, apparently for improved acoustic performance.

Zadrożniak harnessed the power of the stepper motors in the floppy drives and scanners. By driving those motors at specific speeds, he can force them to generate pitches that sound a lot like string instruments. The hard drives can be gently overloaded to force the read/write heads to whack against metal guard rails—voila, percussion!

Floppotron 2.0 uses the floppy drives in banks of eight, allowing for volume control—one floppy is quiet, eight playing together is loud, just like an orchestra. Given the eight banks of drives, as many as eight notes can be played simultaneously, each at its own volume. The scanners act more like solo instruments, with their larger motors allowing them to take the lead.

Zadrożniak wrote the Floppotron software during his university classes. It translates MIDI music files—which specify instruments and notation—into a series of discrete commands telling the hardware when to buzz, click, and remain silent. The net effect is of a robot orchestra.

The Floppotron is a little light on bass; in this last song, Zadrożniak manually simulates a kick drum via a clothes washer, a snare drum by whacking a microwave oven, and...well, there's more. Enjoy:

For more Floppotron goodness, check out this playlist.

19 Common Things Science Hasn’t Figured Out

YouTube
YouTube

Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone cries. And while experience has taught us that it's a seemingly natural reaction to being either incredibly sad or incredibly happy, scientists have yet to figure out exactly why that salty discharge pours from our eye sockets when we're feeling emotional. It could be a way to bond with our fellow humans, or a way to alert someone else that something is amiss. But these are all just guesses, as weeping is just one of many everyday behaviors the world's smartest brains still haven't quite cracked the code on yet.

Join editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she digs into the science—or lack thereof—of 19 seemingly normal things we do that are a mystery to scientists (you can add sleeping, laughing, and hiccuping to that list, too) with the first edition of our all-new Mental Floss List Show. There's a fancy new set, a fancy new host, and plenty of mind-boggling topics we'll be discussing. So put on your smartypants and check out the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

A Clue on the Ceiling of Grand Central Terminal Shows How Dirty It Was 30 Years Ago

iStock.com/undercrimson
iStock.com/undercrimson

The mural above the concourse at Grand Central Terminal is one of the most gawked-at ceilings in New York City, but even daily commuters may have missed a peculiar feature. Tucked at the edge of the green and gold constellations is a rectangular black mark. The apparent blemish didn't get there by mistake: As Gothamist explains in its new series WHY?, it was left there by restorers when the ceiling was cleaned more than 20 years ago.

Prior to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's renovation of Grand Central in the 1990s, the concourse was a lot dirtier. The station itself was constructed in Manhattan in the early 1900s, and the celestial scene that's on the ceiling today was painted there in the 1940s. It took only a few decades for tobacco smoke and other pollutants to stain the mural so badly that it needed to be restored.

Using Simple Green-brand cleaning solution and cotton rags, conservators spent two years scrubbing nearly every inch of the ceiling back to its former glory; the one part they skipped was a 9-inch-by-18-inch patch in the northwest corner. Sometimes, when doing a major cleaning project, preservationists will leave a small sample of the art or artifact untouched. If the cleaning products did any damage to the paint, the patch gives future preservationists something to compare it to. It also acts as a snapshot of what the mural looked like in its old condition.

To hear more about the mural and its dirty secret, watch the video from Gothamist below.

[h/t Gothamist]

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