So it all started with a trip to Guitar Center. I wanted a control surface and they typically have good equipment for cheap. But BY GOD were they expensive. I always knew control surfaces weren't cheap (new ones for home studios running from $1000 up to $3-4 thousand), but even the used ones were in the $500-700 range. As an audio engineer, while I know how nice it is to mix with a nice, smooth, and shiny control surface, I also know that a control surface doesn't do a single thing to improve the sound quality of a mix. I was not going to drop nearly $1000 on a glorified mouse and keyboard.
And that's, to use the cliche', when it hit me. Arduino's can fake being keyboards and mice. I know all the keyboard shortcuts, so why not make one?
But I'm not stupid. I know my level of skill is low, so I decided to start small and make a simple control surface. I settled on making a simple transport control surface. Limiting myself to this meant I didn't have to deal with midi and really could just have it be a keyboard emulator.
On one of our many late night trips to Denny's, My friend Amanda and I sat down with some paper and pencils and began drawing: her, long flowing arcs becoming figures; me, straight lines, sharp edges, kept tidy with a ruler and eraser. I had a first draft of the hardware.
After listing out what functions I would actually need from it, I decided to cut out the middle segment entirely.
I did figure out, though, that I would need a rotary encoder: a thing which I have never used. I mean, I have lots of things with rotary encoders in them, but I've never has one as a part. And, it turns out, it was harder for me to get my hands on one than I thought it would be. Neither RadioShack nor Fry's Electronics had any and, frankly, I didn't want to wait for one to ship to me. So, I started googling.
The first few places only dealt in large industrial rotary encoders. One place actually laughed at me when I asked if they had any $1-2 ones, saying that the cheapest one they have is 1-2 THOUSAND dollar ones. Shit.
I did eventually find this place called All Electronics. They're fairly local (about a 20-30 minute drive) and they have a retail store attached to their warehouse.
I cannot express to you the level of glee I felt when walking into this place. Don't get me wrong, it was a bit of a wreck in there. Messy as all get out, in fact, but it was the right kind of wreck. The same kind of wreck that a fashionista would fawn over if it was filled with nouveaux-retro-chic clothes (or whatever fashion is into these days) instead of oscilloscopes, bulk wiring, and connectors old enough to replace parts for one of the Apollo missions. If I had my wits about me, I would have taken a picture of this place. Next time, I suppose.
Rotary encoder found and in hand, I set upon their shelves, looking to see if there was anything else I needed... and I found the most wonderful little panel mounted buttons ever. They looked like a cross between skittles and personality cores, but in button form, and they have the most satisfying click. In fact, it's less of a "click" and more of a miniaturized "clunk": like those big, red, industrial emergency stop buttons, but smaller.
Admittedly, they're cuter in person.
I took the time to learn how to use a rotary encoder with arduino last night, and so I will begin refining the design of the physical device tonight... after the Hackaday meetup in Pasadena, of course.