Alan Nishioka's Home Page

Engineers build things. Here are some of the things I've built:

ESP32-2432S028 Internet Synced (NTP) Clock (2023)
I wanted an NTP clock with time zones and automatic daylight savings time. I found ESP32-2432S028 with a TFT display. You can buy it for under $10 in China, but I paid under $20 in the US so I wouldn't have to wait for shipping.
Github Project Page
Rooftop QR Code (2023)
Version 1 (21x21) QR Code with M level (15%) error correction. Originally planned to use 1 foot square vinyl floor tiles but thought it would be a problem with them blowing away in the wind. Instead used tiles as paint mask. Realized too late I could use Q level (25%) error correction if the url is all caps. Now I just have to wait for Google Maps to update.
LED Matrix Hat (2022)
For visibility when walking in the dark. WS2812B Individually Addressable 8x32 Pixel LED Matrix Flexible FPCB Full Color, Adafruit Metro Mini 328 Arduino Compatible 5V, USB Power Bank
Broke-anic Teardown App (2021)
Take apart everything I own. For Android Broke-anic 1. Broke-anic 2.
Household Data Monitor (2020)
Various household data displayed on an iPad1. Internet usage scraped from modem. Water usage downloaded from EBMUD. Power usage from PG&E smartmeter over zigbee. Other data from zigbee2mqtt. All data entered into sqlite database and built into graphs using php. Original used Google charts, but not supported by iPad1, so switched to jpgraph. iPad1 works great despite being unsupported since 2012.
AR Cube Solver App (2018)
Augmented Reality Cube Solver. Uses OpenCV and algorithms and code courtesy of Herbert Kociemba. For IOS and Android.
Sci-Tech Rubik's Cube Robot (2018)
Solves cube when touch sensor activated. Built upgraded version of earlier project for Sci-Tech Discovery Center in Frisco, Texas. Pololu laser cut acrylic framework (for precise motor mount and prettiness), Sparkfun ESP32 Arduino controller (for simplicity), Adafruit touch sensor (optical is better than capacitive).
Rubik's Cube Robot v2 (2017)
Solves cube when touch sensor activated. TechShop laser cut acrylic framework, Pololu DRV8825 stepper motor drivers, Sparkfun ESP32 Arduino controller, Adafruit touch sensor.
Driver's View Train Trip Maps (2017)
A number of people have posted YouTube videos of train rides from the driver's point of view. I find it fascinating to see so much of the world this way. But I wanted to know where it was, so I plotted a few trips side by side on Google Maps. (HTML, Javascript, YouTube API, Google Maps API)
Walking SOMA (2016)
AC Transit drops me off at the Temporary Transbay Terminal and I work at 650 Townsend, so I am trying to walk all the streets between those two places. I wrote a little iPhone app to record GPS points to Dropbox and then render them with Google Maps.
Words With Robots (2015)
Two Nexus 7 Android tablets play Words With Friends against each other forever. Uses monkeyrunner testing framework to screenshot and control tablets. Performs simple OCR by comparing screenshot tiles against known bitmaps. Errors are fixed by validating against dictionary. Tries each of 168881 words in dictionary in every location on board. No future looking strategy is involved. Written in Python and C. Originally written entirely in Python, until it was discovered that the Python version was 4000 times slower than same algorithm in C. Fitting algorithm is multi-threaded since this is a classic application of parallel computing. Snapshot Youtube
Rubik's Cube Robot (2015)
Solves cube when touch sensor activated. Actobotics framework, Pololu servo controller, Raspberry Pi. Grippers custom built using CNC at TechShop. OLED status display, Adafruit touch sensor. Youtube
The Cask of Amontil-LEGO (2009) Rebuilt (2014)
Guess which office contains the engineer. I bricked in my office window. It took about 14,000 bricks and $700. Why? Ummmm... Can I get back to you on that?
(No Fortunato's were harmed during the making of this picture) I had to take this down, so I rebuilt it at my house. Fell down due to daily temperature expansion/contraction.
Simple Javascript Programs (2013)
I wrote up a few classic computer programs in Javascript. Monte-Carlo shows how random numbers generate a Gaussian curve. Tic-Tac-Toe is an implementation of the game, with a simple computer played strategy. Maze randomly generates and solves a variable sized maze. Element Quiz is a timed element symbol quiz.
Nexus 7 NFC Mount for Bus Tag-in (2013)
NFC system to ticket riders boarding a bus. Wrote Android software for a Nexus 7 for GPS and NFC collection. Designed and built custom mount for Nexus 7 tablet. NFC sensor on back of tablet, so custom mount required. Built first version at TechShop. Customized Android AOSP to make Nexus 7 only run one app from boot.
Dcast11 Video Resize with Graphics Overlay (2009)
Video resizing hardware to play Adobe Flash advertisements wrapped around a live video window. Wrote VHDL for Xilinx FPGA. Wrote C and C++ software for PowerPC and Intel CE4100. Designed device and server architecture. Designed PCB and mechanical drawings. This system was installed in over 1000 restaurants nationwide.
Raspberry Pi Controls LEGO Train (2014-2015)
Control a LEGO Power Functions Train from a Raspberry Pi. Uses LIRC and an Infrared LED connected to a GPIO to emulate a LEGO controller. Built a custom battery for more power and no auto-shutoff. Added LightBlue Bean Bluetooth LE module for battery control and monitoring. Project page is at
Sci-Tech Trivia Game (2012-2018)
The Sci-Tech Discovery Center in Frisco, Texas runs an annual trivia competition as a fundraiser. I built the trivia game with a GNU/Linux server running UDP packets over WiFi for real-time response. Wrote iOS and Android apps, so people play using their smartphones. Points go down and possible answers disappear as time runs out. In 2014, I moved the server to an iOS app using html graphics. In 2017, I moved the game to the web using and node.js.
LEGO Gateway Arch Model (2011)
I built a 1:100 scale model of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri using LEGO bricks. I like the fact that the arch was originally designed using a couple of mathematical equations. This model was built using those equations. If it were built entirely with 1x1 bricks, it would contain 25,422 1x1 bricks. The arch is 6.3 feet tall, self-supporting and no glue was used.
New Computer (2009)
I needed a new computer so I built this one. It has 62 processor cores for a total of 158GHz. It is being used to see if there are actually any numbers larger than 45,000,000,000. Current rank: 18 of 6959. FAQ
Extruded Aluminum Case Prototype (2008)
Electronic enclosure prototype. Built from acrylic using an Epilog Helix 45 laser cutter at TechShop in Menlo Park. Projects don't seem quite real until you can hold them in your hand. This also helps make sure the mechanicals are going to work as designed.
LED Name Tag (1994)
An animated LED name tag. Displays my name and other data with various reveals, crawls, wipes. Uses a Microchip PIC16C55. I chose this chip because it was small, surface mount and could be ordered from Digikey. Data is stored in a serial eeprom. The main drawback is the LED's draw a lot of power. The four AA nicad battery pack lasts about one day.
Accom Dveous/MX Digital Video Effects (1999)
I designed this High Definition Digital Video Effects box for Accom. It uses up to 13 Xilinx XCV1000E FPGA's and could cost up to $150,000. It has been used for the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and the Super Bowl.
MIDI Keyboard (1992)
Most pianos have 88 keys; my MIDI keyboard goes to 97! I built this out of two smaller keyboards from Weird Stuff Warehouse. I used a Motorola MC68701 microcontroller. I built a programmer on a breadboard. I ended up frying a whole stack of them during the debugging process. (Jameco gave me a free screwdriver!) It has a rotary dial to select instrument because I had just bought it and it was neat. I had TAP Plastics cut and glue two pieces of plastic for the back. Sound is produced with a Roland Sound Canvas.
Abekas Texus Control Panel (1994)
68030, SCSI, Ethernet, RS-232, Mouse, 1MB RAM, 256KB ROM, 479 Nets, 6 Layers. This is officially the first device I got paid to design. It ran VxWorks on a Motorola 68EC030 and was way overkill for a control panel. If I were to do this again, it would be way simpler. I would also put more metal in it to make the keyboard feel less mushy. When everybody else quit, I stayed on to finish and ship the chassis hardware. ESPN sent me to the very first X Games in 1995 to support Texus.
Computerized Etch-A-Sketch (2000)
Connected a couple of stepper motors to an Etch-A-Sketch. Wrote a bit of computer software, and Voila! I would still like to write this up as a magazine article (when I have time). Curves are very hard to draw on an Etch-A-Sketch, so I wrote a spirograph program.
Project page is at This project won the 2007 Make Magazine / IEEE Specturm DIY contest.
DveousFX Digital Video Effects on a PCI Card (1996)
Warp, Lighting, Texture, Wipe, Color process, Key extract, SRAM field store, 1455 nets, 12 layers. Used several ASIC's and Altera EPM7128 CPLD's. This card is part of the Scitex Digital Video Microsphere non-linear editor. It was also OEM'ed to Discreet Logic and Pinnacle Systems.
DveousFX2 Digital Video Effects on a PCI Card (1998)
Warp, Lighting, Texture, Wipe, Color process, Key extract, Motion adaptive frame store, Target store, Movie-2 bus, 1444 nets, 16 layers. Used several ASIC's and Altera EPM6016 CPLD's. SDRAM frame store, Logic Devices filters, Texas Instruments 320C32 DSP. Wrote software and hardware. Designed 54MHz circuits. This card is part of the Accom Affinity non-linear editor. email
Flickering Light (1991)
Used a 74LS164, 74LS86, 74LS30 to build an 8 bit pseudo-random sequence generator. This drove an optoisolated triac in a box that I bought from Weird Stuff.
Library Catalog Card Formatter (1986)
Wrote a program to print library catalog cards. You entered the title, author, subject, etc. and the program printed all the necessary cards. I won a Stephen G. Wozniak Achievement Award for this and I got to meet Steve.
wozzie San Jose Mercury News article
A System to Make PC Boards (1993)
Wrote a magazine article for Electronics Now (formerly Radio Electronics). This was my first magazine article (okay, my only one). It covered using laser printer toner fused to copper boards and etched at home. Gernsback Publications sent me a Christmas card.
No picture yet Wildlife Manager Simulation (1985)
I won First Place in the Second California Resource Conservation Software Competition. The prize was an Epson FX80 printer. It was dot matrix and pretty cool at the time.
entry form entry back letter.
No picture yet Insulation and Your Home Quiz (1984)
I won First Place in the First California Resource Conservation Software Competition. The prize was an Atari 1200XL computer. Star Raiders on the Atari is still one of the best playing video games.
TV Credit Roll (1984)
Used an Apple IIe to create hi-res smooth rolling TV credits for Albany High School videos. I used a technique I found by disassembling "Super Rabbit" (Basically, it was an unrolled loop). This was broadcast on CATV (but we weren't subscribers). Later, it was enhanced to use an extended 80 column card and double hi-res mode so more colors could be used.
Magnetic Card Reader (1988)
Used a magnetic card reader to read the stripe on my new driver's license. I connected a 74LS164 shift register and a 74LS163 counter to an AY-5-1013A UART to get the data into the serial port of my computer. The article I sent to Risks Digest mailing list has ended up all over the net. It's just the same information that is printed on the front.
PET Computer Mouse
Attached a mouse to my Commodore PET Computer. Wrote a little drawing program. Not very useful, I suppose. But it was an interesting exercise.
Short Audio Clip Player (1989)
Built a short audio clip player into an old radio. Connected a couple of 4040 ripple counters to an EPROM, a resistor ladder DAC and an amplifier. Plays "He's dead Jim" catchphrase from Star Trek.
Programmable IR Receiver (1996)
Used a Motorola MC68705 microcontroller. Programmed with an infrared remote control sequence which can then be used to turn power receptacle on or off. Wired using a piece of a surplus pcb that was designed for something else.
PostScript Class Schedule (1987)
Used PostScript printer language to format my weekly class schedule. Programming in PostScript is an interesting way of thinking. Yes, I probably could have used Excel, but where's the fun in that?
PostScript Snoopy Greeting Card (1987)
Used PostScript printer language to draw a greeting card complete with Snoopy.
Moving LED Display (1992)
Used 2 inch 5x7 LED matrix modules to build an LED display. Designed and etched my own pc boards.
LED Sign Keyboard Emulator (1996)
The first LED sign I bought had to be programmed from a keyboard. I built an emulator so I could program custom messages from my computer.
Christiana: The Music Video (1996)
Christiana: The First Four Years (1999)
I cut these two videos on a Microsphere non-linear editor with my DveousFX effects card.
FedEx LCD Display (1993)
Built a driver for a surplus LCD display (Hitatchi LM215). Allows data download from a computer serial port and has battery backup. Designed and etched my own pc boards.
schematic pcb lm215 pinout lm215 datasheet hitachi lcd controller/driver databook macpaint format zip email
150-sided Paper Figure (1988)
Created by fitting together numerous diamond shaped paper pieces. Someone showed me how to build a 24-sided figure. I expanded it to 150-sides and also built a different 24-sided figure.
Atari Paddles Connected to Apple Computer (1990)
Connected my Atari paddles to an Apple computer using a resistor network. Not very difficult, but I like the way this was put together.
LIRC IR serial port adapter (2001)
Control PC application with IR remote control. Uses software from LIRC project
bom zip
Papier-mâché Mouse (1975)
Newspaper core covered with newspaper strips and painted.
Rooster Napkin Holder (1974)
Corrugated cardboard frame with glued on dried beans, corn and macaroni. Painted and shellacked.
Pooper Scooper (1978)
Class assignment was to invent something. This was appropriate because we had just gotten a dog. Wood with metal hardware. Aluminum foil and plastic bread bag from defunct Co-op grocery store (Berkeley).
Wooden Safe
Built to keep valuable possessions from nosy little brothers. Plywood with metal hardware. Abus pin and tumbler padlock.
30 Volt 1 Amp Power Supply (1986)
From June 1986 Radio-Electronics article. PCB drawn with rub on traces and etched by hand. Hand lettered cardboard front panel.
Function Generator (1988)
Built when I couldn't afford to buy test equipment. From May 1988 Radio-Electronics article. Purchased PCB, but bought all parts from Electronics Etc, Jameco, Mouser, Radio Shack. Based on XR2206 function generator IC. Hand lettered cardboard front panel.
Wood with metal hardware.
Pinewood Derby Cars (1978 and 1979)
Pine with metal hardware and plastic wheels. Decorated with acrylic paint and stickers.
Crossword Puzzle (1975)
Paper and ink.
Magician Puppet
Built during a one day Invention Workshop at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Indicates an early fascination with magic. The top hat didn't turn out as desired. Fabric with polyester filling. String fasteners and felt features. Wooden supports.
Paper Carousel (1991)
Added Reuge music box mechanism so it plays The Carousel Waltz and rotates. Paper and Elmer's glue.
Skiing Magazine Cover (1992)
Took a good picture on Mount Bachelor in Oregon, and decided to make it look like a magazine cover. Transparent overlay and old magazine.
Panama Canal Model (1979)
Built a model of the Panama Canal for a 6th grade report. I built it out of milk cartons. The doors weren't water tight, so it didn't work. But I recently found the boat I made to float in the canal. Wine cork, toothpick, cigar can lid.

Thirteen years of birthday greetings on my answering machine

1998 1999 2000 2002 2003 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 xmas 2003

Alan on the front page of the Redwood City Daily News, October 3, 2006.

My blog about what I learned today.

How to Repair a Hughes HDVR2 Tivo Power Supply Instructable

How to make ice cube spikes Instructable

How to Download Voicemail from an iPhone Instructable

Nexus 7 Black Screen Fix iFixIt Technique

Travels with Alan

Europe (August 1984) slideshow
Paris (April 1985) slideshow
Washington DC (November 1985) slideshow
San Francisco (May 1991)
Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. On the flight deck with the Bay Bridge and San Francisco in the background. Inspecting the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet.
Japan (August 1992) slideshow
Newport, Rhode Island (June 1995)
Cliff Walk. More summer homes of the rich. The Breakers (Vanderbilt summer cottage).
New York and Washington DC (September 1995)
View from the top of the World Trade Center. Alan with Manhattan in background. Inside the Statue of Liberty. Statue of Liberty with Manhattan backdrop. Statue of Liberty from below.
Tokyo (November 2000)
Imperial Palace. Tokyo Tower souvenir pin. Tickets to observation deck.
New York (November 2004) slideshow
Coke sign on Times Square. West 46th and Broadway. Parking elevator (engineers like neat machines). Alan in Conan O'Brien's chair. Another Conan O'Brien shot. ABC sign on Times Square. National debt clock. Alan on CBS News set (They wouldn't let me sit in Dan Rather's chair :-( Cost of Iraq war sign. Microsoft blue screen of death on West 42th Street. Looking down from the Empire State Building. Looking toward Wall Street from the Empire State Building. Macy's on Herald Square from the Empire State Building. Close up of Macy's on Herald Square. Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building. Alan on the set of ESPN SportsCenter. (They wouldn't let me take any pictures :-( Christmas tree at Rockerfeller Center. Robert Indiana on Sixth Avenue. Central Park Fountain. Alice in Central Park. Joan Miro in MoMA sculpture garden. West 54th Street outside the garden.
Italy (December 2004) slideshow
Buying gas at $5.64/gallon. Cave Canem in Pompeii. Colosseum in Rome. Asterix from the Colosseum bookstore. Fallen arch. Inside the Colosseum. Remains of the Circus Maximus. Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Caesar's tomb on the Roman Forum. Grand Theft Auto. Hall to the Sistine Chapel. Looking out on the Piazza San Pietro. Traffic in Rome. Fountains at Tivoli. Outdoor pipe organ. Mini-moat at Hadrian's Villa. Front chariot way. Leaning Tower of Pisa. From the Vasari Corridor. Duomo in Florence. Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel (sans leaves). DHL in Venice. Piazza San Marco (sans clock tower). Pigeons from the bell tower. Noah on the Doge's Palace and Bridge of Sighs. Walking down the harbor. Rialto Bridge in Venice. Rialto Bridge from another angle. From the Rialto Bridge (opposite of previous picture). Lion of St. Mark on Doge's Palace. Trying to fix the flooding. Leaving Venice.
Hawaii (June 2006)
Flag framed by Arizona Memorial. Mai Tai at the Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai bar.
Dallas (December 2006)
ICE! at the Gaylord Hotel (engineers like trains).
Redwood City (March 2007)
Hawaiian Chieftan and Lady Washington docked in Redwood City. Lady Washington was in Star Trek Generations and was Interceptor in Pirates of the Caribbean. Ship's bell. 3 pound cannon.
Kyoto (September 2008)
7-Eleven. Class picture at Sanjusangendo. Kiyomizu wood structure. Making manju. Remote controlled chain barrier. Lake Biwa Aqueduct, Nanzen-ji. Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum. Car elevator and turntable. Bus stop requested. Mimizuka (ears and noses) monument. Jaquard Loom, Nishijin. Ryoan-ji rock garden. Kinkaku-ji (Golden temple). Miho Museum, Shigaraki (designed by I.M. Pei) Pine tree. Window washers. Wedding at Heian shrine. Byodo-in temple with reflection. Uji river wooden bridge. Lake Biwa canal tunnel. Gutters built to match the roof line. School kids drawing on a field trip. Rashomon from three points of view (get it?). The Colonel.

Vending Machines
Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Glico ice cream. Hot meal (with microwave). Lotte ice cream. Hot soup. Batteries. Used toilet paper.
Galapagos Islands (June 2010)
Alan's website. Cynthia's website.

Jake Bern on Gilmore Girls, 8:00 on the WB, 9/30/03

Jake with whats-her-name. Jake counting money. Credit.

Lifetime Goals

Done!1. Design something listed on Ebay. Texus

2. Design something sold at Weird Stuff.

3. Design something sold at Fry's Electronics.

4. Slashdot front page article.

Pictures from my workplace.


Engineering is about building something from nothing. It is dreaming of castles in the air and then building them. Engineers care less about why something works and more that it does work.

Real engineers debug software with a logic analyzer.

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger -- J.R.R Tolkein

Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off forever.

Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man. -- John Steinbeck, East of Eden, Chapter 13

I said I would like it very much, which was a lie, but one must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can't do anything about them. -- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 13

Laws to suppress tend to strengthen what they would prohibit. This is the fine point on which all the legal professions of history have based their job security. -- Bene Gesserit Coda

Here is my list of Great Engineers:
Steve Wozniak Designed the Apple II. Co-founded Apple Computer.
Kelly Johnson Founded the Lockheed Skunkworks. Designed U-2, SR-71, etc.
Frank Lloyd Wright Actually he is an architect, but architects are like engineers that design buildings.
I. M. Pei Built lotsa stuff, pyramid at the Louvre, Hong Kong, National Gallery of Art, etc.
Washington Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge. Died of the bends from overseeing anchor construction
Keith Tantlinger Invented much of the technology for modern shipping containers. UC Berkeley ME 1941.

Contact Information

Last modified: January 2024
Last time I saw Paris: March 2013
Last Candy Crush Level 14640