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.

Watch a 'Pasta Granny' Prepare This Rare 'Duchess's Little Snails' Dish

Courtesy of Vicky Bennison
Courtesy of Vicky Bennison

By some estimates, Italy has over 350 different kinds of pasta—and that’s only counting the different shapes. You’ll find twisted strozzapreti (literally “priest stranglers”), shoe-shaped ravioli, “swaddled baby” ravioli, and ear-shaped orecchiette.

While some of these variations can be found all throughout Italy, others are prepared only in certain regions, mostly by elderly women who may not have taught these family recipes to the next generation. One of the rarest types of pasta is su filindeu (which translates to “God’s wool”), and only a few people in the world know how to make it.

Vicky Bennison, the creator of the Pasta Grannies website and YouTube channel, wants to change that. By documenting these women (and sometimes men) doing what they do best, she hopes to preserve these centuries-old recipes.

Take, for instance, Anna Faggi, whose signature lumachelle della duchessa (literally “the duchess’s little snails") can only be found in the Pesaro Urbino region of central Italy.

According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita, legend has it that lumachelle was invented inside the royal court of the Duke of Urbino, a walled city in Italy’s Marche region. The duke’s kitchen servants carried the recipe beyond the palace, where it became popular among nuns in the region.

The dough contains cinnamon and nutmeg, and the preparation is rather time-consuming, making it a dish that’s only prepared for weddings and other special occasions.

After preparing and slicing the dough, Faggi wraps the strips around a bulrush reed to create tiny tubes. Next, she rolls the tubes over a comb to create ridges in the pasta. It’s served in chicken stock, and while it’s traditionally topped with chicken stomach, you can do what Faggi does and add Parmigiano cheese instead.

See how it’s made in the video below:

10 Misconceptions About Lawns

iStock
iStock

In this video from our YouTube archives, host Elliott Morgan clears up some misconceptions about lawns. Transcript courtesy of Nerdfighteria.

Hi, I'm Elliott, and this is Mental Floss on YouTube. Today, I want to talk about some misconceptions about your lawn ... like, specifically your lawn. Isn't that crazy?

1. BROWN GRASS IS DEAD.

Brown can mean one of two things: dead or dormant. Grass typically turns brown as a result of dormancy over the winter. When spring arrives, this can be fixed with water and go back to green. Usually, all it takes is a change in weather.

2. IF YOU CUT GRASS REALLY SHORT, IT'LL TAKE LONGER TO GROW BACK.

Some people try to save themselves from more mowing sessions by cutting their grass super, super short, but this actually has the opposite effect than intended. Many experts claim that grass that's cut too short actually grows back faster. Plus, doing this puts it at risk for becoming unhealthy and then you have to worry about weeds taking over your lawn, and nobody wants that. The best way to avoid this is by mowing more often and only removing, like, one-third of the grasses' length at a time.

3. THE BEST WAY TO GET A GREEN LAWN IS BY USING FERTILIZER.

While fertilizer does help, there are other factors involved when it comes to having a nice, pretty, green lawn that you can brag to your neighbors about. For example, there are different turfgrass species and some are different colors than others. A good way to get the lawn color that you actually want is to do some research. One organization to check out is the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program, which works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture every year to evaluate turfgrass color, quality, et cetera.

4. FERTILIZING SHOULD BE DONE IN SPRING.

When you should fertilize depends on where you live, but lots of people get way too over-eager and they do it way too early. Many experts recommend you wait until April, May, or even early June. It's best to let grass regrow itself naturally before piling on the fertilizer, which is another word for fancy poo.

5. DETHATCHING SHOULD BE DONE IN THE SPRING.

Depending on where you live, experts generally recommend that this activity wait until the summer. Some even claim that you can wait until fall. This is for the same reason you shouldn't fertilize in the spring. The grass is in the middle of its regrowth process. Don't interrupt it, y'all. You also shouldn't dethatch while it's very hot outside or very dry.

6. LAWNS SHOULD BE WATERED DAILY.

Again, keep in mind that lawns can be different, based on your location, but a typical one requires around 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly. That doesn't mean you have to water it every single day or leave a sprinkler running at all times. Water your lawn, like, a couple days a week, but be aware of the conditions outside. On particularly rainy weeks, it might not require any additional water.

7. CLOVERS ARE USELESS AND SHOULD BE WEEDED OUT IMMEDIATELY.

First of all, that's very mean. For a long time, clover has been considered a weed that should be removed from lawns, but nowadays, more people are embracing them and keeping them around. Come on, guys, join the clover movement. Clovers are both drought tolerant and unpleasant to pests. Plus, they help fertilize along through nitrogen fixation. They get nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots and that's pretty cool.

8. YOU SHOULD REMOVE CLIPPINGS AFTER MOWING THE LAWN.

Grass cycling is actually recommended. The leftover lawn clippings can do about 25 percent of fertilization for your lawn. This makes sense when you consider the properties of grass. It's like 80 percent water, plus a bunch of fertilizing nitrogen and grass cycling is super good for the environment, as that means there's less grass clippings taking up space in landfills.

9. WEARING CLEATS WHILE MOWING WILL HELP AERATE THE LAWN.

In theory, this makes sense, but most cleats in golf shoes have spikes shorter than half an inch. That's barely enough to make an impact in your lawn. Plus, according to experts, 5% of a lawn must be aerified for it to actually count. A typical person in cleats who's pushing a lawn mower around will only impact around .04% of the yard.

10. MOLES, ANTS, AND/OR WORMS ARE RUINING MY LAWN.

Speaking of aeration, moles actually aerate your lawn better than you can do with your cleats. Also, contrary to popular belief, moles aren't eating your grass or its roots. They're just searching for insects to eat. That's just kind of what they do, so maybe they're ruining the appearance of your lawn, but they're keeping it healthy at the same time. As for ants, they help aerate your lawn too, plus they help with water infiltration. Worms do the same thing and they leave behind lots of useful phosphorus. Plus, they're, like, kind of cute. I mean, they're gross, but they're in a cute way.

Thanks for watching Misconceptions on Mental Floss on YouTube, which is made with the help of all these wonderful people. If you have a topic for an upcoming Misconceptions episode that you would like to see, leave it in the comments below and we'll take a look at it and I'll see you next week. Bye.

[Images and footage provided by Shutterstock.]

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