Daniel E. Brown

A few of my favorite things

While alot of my person projects are based around the automotive world, I have a few outside knicknacks.

Here are some of the things I've worked on in the past enjoy!


Daniel E. Brown

P:(617) 253-3238
E: danbr@mit.edu

No Windows? No problem.

A view to the outside world

One problem with the office in our lab is that we have no windows. Its an interior office, which, if you were wondering is about 12'x12'. Taking into account that we have shoved FOUR people into this office, excluding our desks and other nonsense, we have less than 50 square feet of floor space. We thought it would be great to have a window, you know, to not go crazy.

One day, while walking past the loading dock(trash) of our building, I spied what looked to be a massive digital picture frame. Respective to digital picture frames, this 22" display was huge and conveniently had a nice frame around! Made by "PhotoVu", and costing over $1200, I'm not sure why someone threw this away. It did have some problems, but nothing we couldn’t fix.

My coworker Will and I bought it back up to our office to tear into it, make it our own. Soon after booting it up, we realized inside was an old pc running linux. We tried for a bit to root the system, but after sometime it wasn't worthwhile. At this point we decided to open 'er up and see what she had. Sure enough, it had off the shelf mini-atx parts and a simple LCD driver board. I was very surprised at the crappy 12 volt laptop powersupply brick wedged in there. Overall, I was not impressed at all of the build and quality of a $1200 product.

Will and I said we could make this ourselves, and much better too. I ripped out the old mini-atx motherboard, and added in a raspberry pi single board computer. Cheap, easy to modify and works great for our little project. I simply added a hdmi to dvi cable to interface with the orginal LCD driver, and some power management (12volts down to 5volts for the pi). I added a few other bits; an internal speaker setup, pass-through connectors for USB and ethernet to the original outer frame ports, and a nice clunky power switch.

We threw an SD card onto the pi with raspbian(raspberry pi linux distro), and she started right up. But we wanted a room with a view. So we found an open office with a window, added another single board computer with a webcam set to stream a live video from outside to our new computer frame screen in our office.

It worked, and cabin fever has finally subsided.

SAE - SuperMileage Vehicle

Team Zoomass

As an undergrad at UMass, I was part of the Team Zoomass’s Super Mileage Vehicle group to compete in the SAE SMV competition in Eaton, MI. While it doesn't look like much, our little 3-wheeler got 1010MPG with a sleeved Briggs and Stratton 150cc engine, a “stream line” body, and hybrid ceramic bearings in the wheels. We tried to save weight anywhere we could by analyzing and redesigning bulky and over designed parts of the frame, as in the front axle and rear drive sprocket. We placed fourth over all!

Nixie Tube Clock

With Soviet tubes!

This is a Nixie tube clock that I built from scratch(pcb kit), sourcing some small electrical components, and even New Old Soviet Era Nixie Tubes! The first time I saw a nixie tube clock online I knew I needed to build one for myself. Purchasing one of these clocks outright was expensive, and I knew that building it myself would be much more fun. After choosing a board to buy, and all its little pieces, I looked to eBay to find the tubes themselves. During this project I read up on how these tubes work, how vacuum tubes work, and that these tubes were the mainstay of 50’s and 60’s electronic technology before the transistor became cheaply mass produced. 

I made it an effort to get tubes in good condition since they aren’t made anymore. Added on with being a slight history buff (or maybe I just like history) I saw that there was a surplus of these nixie tubes from the former Soviet Union. I was looking every day for the right tubes to buy on eBay, when after about a month I came across New Old Stock of Soviet Era Nixie’s. They even said “CCCP” on the back, I bought 6. 

 I spent about 20 hours meticulously assembling the board, and its nixies, I plugged it in and felt like I was looking into the past of the cold war. Needing some sort of case for the clock, I thought a bike chain cube frame would be ideal. I called up a local bike shop and asked if they had any spare junk chains I could have. Another 6 hours later I had myself a frame for my clock. Later on I added some salt water to the chain to give it a rusty cold war era appearance. I love this clock, and everyone else who sees it always asks about it.

I know how to weld...


I am, needless to say, a car guy. And for whatever reason, I like Saabs. My father had one since I was very young, and grew up with their almost nonsensical quirkiness. Along with this, I got into modifying, and just learning as much as I could about the cars. I was to repair them when they broke, and even took my hand at welding up a new exhaust for my car. If you're wondering, I swapped in a turbo to my 1989 Saab 900 SPG from a volvo, exhaust outlets didn't match up, so new exhuast it was!

It worked out great! But I should definitely keep practicing.

Reverse engineering an ECU?

A saab obsession

While doing some reading online, I had stumbled across a bunch of Sweeds who completely revered engineered the entire engine management system named Saab’s Trionic 5. These guys wrote an 180+ page whitepaper on its design, function, operation, and modification. Needless to say I was engrossed and had to take my hand at it. Using a simple Background Debugger Module, I was able to read/write FLASH to the ECU.

I could read the ECU, open its contents in the free software written by these ingenuous Sweeds, and make small edits here and there. While I never fully dived into making major changes (that could potentially blow up my engine), I spent a good deal of time on the online forums where many people exchanged ideas, thoughts, and helped out one another. This open source community was amazing as a teen at the time knowing nothing else. 

After getting down the ECU modification, I went to go see if I could get my 1989 Saab SPG to run on this engine management called Trionic 5. My car ran on Bosch fuel management, and a separate turbo management called “Saab APC”, and had a standard cap and rotor distributor for spark. The advantage to Trionic 5 was that fuel, turbo management, and spark was integrated into one box and all systems could talk to each other. Noticing that most parts from my 1989 Saab were similar enough to that of the later Saabs that used Trionic 5, I was able to add it onto my car just by adding a new hall effect crank sensor.  

The donor car was a 1997 Saab 900se, I took the engine harness, injectors, ignition cassette, all the required sensors, MAP, O2, air temp etc.. After sorting out the dozens of wires and splicing them all into the right places (thank goodness for wiring diagrams) I had a running car! Benefits other then performance included better efficiency and greater gas mileage, but a cleaner burning engine too. It was amazing.