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Chaos Toy

by Ron Blanchett last modified 2007-03-25 12:30

The giant customizable marble roller coaster returns for 2007, once again courtesy of Steve Jackson Games. This contraption is open all weekend for Penguicon attendees to tinker with! It has its own website at

This year the organizers are not content to rest on their laurels. With CM-Net, the Chaos Machine is no longer purely mechanical. It now has the potential for input and output to and from computation and wireless broadcast! Lights, sounds, the motion of the ball lifts, and other effects can now be triggered wirelessly by ball passages, LED ball counters, infrared detection of nearby humans, or remote computers. As with all Chaos Machines, some assembly is required. But that's the point.

By the way, Penguicon just found out at the last minute that the former Chaos Machine wrangler, Howard Tayler of, is now going to attend the convention. Regrettably, it's too late to add him to as much programming as we would like, but he'll probably be seen tinkering with the Chaos Machine throughout the weekend.

CMNet Development Tracks at Penguicon 5

The Chaos Machine Network will provide multiple opportunities for interested individuals and teams to learn about, experiment with, and add functionality to the network.

The hardware infrastructure will be supplied along with prime links to technical references needed to participate in the development. The effort to follow provided or discovered links to technical information about the hardware, and to develop applications using the hardware, will be provided by the convention attendees.

Hardware provided:

A LinkSys WRT54GL Linux compatible wireless router with RS232 interface hack already installed and awaiting implementation of a One Wire File System firmware mod (such as Jim Buzbee’s BatBox hack. A DS9097U-S09 COM Port Adapter to enable the router as a One Wire bus master will be available to plug into the RS-232 port hacked onto the router;

Two LAN-connected Embedded Data Systems HA7Net bus masters for controlling the reading and writing of CMNet nodes on the local Chaos Machine One Wire Network; These devices can be accessed by anyone connected to the network throught their web browser. Each bus master will control its own strings of features on the CMNet.

A DS9490R USB One Wire bus master. This can be used t control one slave or a string of slave to enable development while isolated from the rest of the CMNet;

An Avcom Tec SimpleLAN Microcontroller web server with LAN connectivity, an RS232 serial communications port, and I/O pins connectable to CMNet sensors and actuators;

A One Wire Networked power center to control the various ball lifts and feature power supplies of the Chaos Machine;

Multiple sound effects triggerable via the CMNet, ball passages, or both;

Multiple lighting effects similarly triggerable;

Several ball counters readable over the CMNet, some with local LED displays;

● Infrared detectors to sense the presence of observers and operators;

● Temperature sensors to ensure a comfortable environment for participants;

● Several different CMNet-actuated track switches to alter the path of rolling balls;

● A multi-line LCD display of messages transmitted by the Chaos Machine’s co-operators;

Suggested development tracks:

  1. Extend the functionality of the HA7Net bus masters by writing PHP and HTML for pages to interact with the specific CMNet configuration constructed at the con.

  1. Implement the BatBox One Wire File System modification available for the WRT54GL. This would allow anyone who has installed the OWFS on their networked computer to access the individual 1-Wire devices on the CMNet.

  1. Develop an application to:

  1. Detect, identify, and map out the different devices on the CMNet at any one time;

  1. Store the current mapping and present through the web-accessible pages of the SimpleLAN web server list of addresses and their unique given identifier;

  1. Develop a CMNet-wide service to queue requests from and results for multiple users to implement sharing of the various bus masters without contention.

  1. Retrieve and graphically display the various conditions of the Chaos Machine measured or controlled by the attached 1-Wire sensors and actuators.

  1. Correlate ball counts on several track lines and use the power controller to start and stop ball lifts for load balancing.

  1. A ticker-tape display of the changing conditions sensed by the CMNet sensors and effected by its actuators.

  1. Any other interesting ideas implementable using the toys provided;

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