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  • Archive for April, 2011

    A SETI Infographic


    2011 - 04.30

    UPDATE: At the behest of team SETI, a sequel to this infographic has been produced, showing how we can all pitch in a small amount of money, and DO something to restart the ATA.  SETIstars.org, get at it!

    So it looks like the Allen Telescope Array (which I mentioned previously on here) is falling onto the chopping block in this era of fiscal “emergency.”   To me, this sounds a lot like the recent battle to defund NPR or PBS, in that the money they need to continue is just . . . chump change in the grand scheme of finances.  They’re $2.5 million short, and for that, they’ll need to stop taking data and shut down the telescope array.  It deeply bums me out to think that such a low value is placed on the quest to find other intelligence in our universe.  When compared with so many other things that gladly get millions or billions of dollars, it’s maddening to see SETI so marginalized.  Do we really just not care??  Seriously??

    There’s an awesome article over at Wired Science, interviewing Jill Tarter about the whole deal.  Go check it.

    And to put things into perspective, I’ve whipped up this handy infographic, comparing how $2.5 million compares to so many other things that we absolutely must have, and will not hesitate to pay for:

    When I created this, I deliberately chose things that weren’t the most supreme.  For example, I priced a Predator drone @ $4.5M, instead of a Stealth Bomber, which is a cool billion.  The iPad sales dollars are probably much higher than I showed.  And I showed the Citigroup portion of the bailout, instead of the full bailout ($300B).  I also swapped the second and third to last entries in order to put the NASA budget immediately next to the DOD budget.  Imagine what we would know about the universe if those two were swapped.  (And maybe we could still lead the world by sheer power of inspiration.)  It’s the stuff of pipe dreams!

    Since the dawn of time, humans have looked up at the stars and wondered what they were, wondered what was out there.  Now that we have the technology to actually look, and even a good idea where to look, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope, it’s all the more maddening that it should fall under the axe, deemed unimportant, unworthy of those precious dollars.  Sure, it’s true that there are innumerable causes out there which pull at our emotions and demand the attentions of our pragmatic sides.  But what outcome has higher stakes than finding out we’re not alone in the cosmos?  When that happens, human history will be split into two neat periods: before we knew about them, and after.  BC will stand for before contact, and AD will be replaced by AC; after contact.  Nothing else would transform our cultures, our politics, our religions, our folklores like knowing we’re not just a lone voice, but part of a galactic chorus.  The most recent findings tell us that “within a thousand light-years of Earth,” there are “at least 30,000” habitable planets, and there are “at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way” of which “at least 500 million” are in the habitable zone.  The glorious Milky Way, with its wealth of diversity and abundance of worlds  is right there waiting for us, if we could but pick up the receiver and listen.

    Contemplating the Essence of Collections


    2011 - 04.27

    Any time I lose an eBay auction I always wonder what the other guy’s maximum bid was.

    I have an old fan in my bedroom that I’ve owned since college and it’s been used… heavily.  It no longer oscillates and for a time, the rotation would rev up and slow down, like it was huffing and chuffing just to keep spinning.  Somehow it’s straightened itself out, but last week the front blade-guard fell off.  I could maybe repair it, but I already repaired it once a couple years back and honestly, I think this is maybe just a sign that it’s time for something new.

    Out in my garage, I’ve got an antique Westinghouse fan that I refurbished several years ago.  It’s a tank, and looks like it was built in the 1950s (that’s it on the left).  Accordingly it still runs excellent, but it is something of a safety hazard since you can stick your hand right through the grille.  So I dig stylish fans.  I’m not obsessive or a collector of them (yet?) but I appreciate the cool ones. (yuk yuk!)

    I get on eBay and sort through the junk piles until I find one that kind of excites me.  It’s made by this company called “Kuo Horng”, which turns up very few relevant search results if you google it.  One of the relevant results that does turn up, however, is a forum post on a fan collecting forum (ok, here we go!).  It’s a positively ridiculous thread, with some dude posting a mind-boggling amount of pictures of his VERY VERY VERY extensive fan collection.  Good grief!  When I realized how long the list went on, I literally burst out laughing.  Part of me thinks it’s really funny that someone would go to this length to collect all these fans.  Another part of me is like, damn… this is AWESOME!

    Enthusiasm is contagious and even without talking to these people, you can tell that they are all about this shit.  It’s cool just to check out their endless lists of obscure fans they collected with neat retro stylings.  Which brings me back to this fan I was interested in: it’s a Kuo Horng model KH-603 16″ oscillating desk fan (that’s it on the right).  I learned that the buttons used to select your speed are called “piano keys” when they are built in this style; just like… piano keys!  Neat!  I was a little put off by the price so I slept on it.  The next morning, I decided screw it, I love how this thing looks, I’m going to bid.  Usually I compulsively watch the end of eBay auctions, but for whatever reason, I snoozed on this one.  And I got outbid!  The nerve!  I was sort of surprised by my own reaction.  Turns out I really wanted that fan.  I clicked on the guy who won the auction and saw this:

    Pfft, it figures.  Every single auction he’s been involved in for the last several weeks concerns fans.  Outbid by a collector.  I guess that just means I have good taste.  Out of curiosity, I went digging around the web for more pictures of these fans and stumbled upon another set of pictures (by the same guy as above!) that showed the whole insane collection.  Just look at this, it’s absolute madness:

    And that’s only part of it.  Incidentally,  I think he’s got the fan I was bidding on–3rd one right of center.  And again, on one hand I have to laugh at the ridiculousness of this compulsive desire to collect every model, every color of … DESK FAN.  Then on the other hand, I look at my model railroading hobby and say, well, really, you’re not so different than this guy.  Admittedly, my collection of trains is not nearly a fraction as epic or outlandish as this gathering of fans, but given enough years, something tells me I will approach the same asymptote.

    But, just… damn!  LOOK at that.  I wonder how many of those have funny or perplexing stories about how he obtained them?  I wonder how he got into this hobby of fan-collecting in the first place?  I wonder if all his friends think he’s crazy or if he has like a core group of homies who come over every 2nd thursday of the month and they go back into this room and just cheeze the F out over this stuff**?  I wonder if he keeps this room a secret from people until they really get to know him?  It’s an obtuse behavior, sure, but really, I think lots of people have something similar to this that they “geek out” over.  More socially acceptable hobbies that approach or exceed this level of fanaticism would be pro sports, cars, MMOs, role playing, Otaku, quiltmaking, model trains, etc etc.  Just under the banner of “pro sports” alone, there’s probably thousands of flavors to choose from with an incomprehensible number of stats, names, and associated minutia to memorize.

    I find it fascinating that people get so deep into these seemingly random, tangential hobbies of collecting stuff like this.  And by ‘fascinating’, I mean ‘I secretly want to join their ranks.  maybe.’  I leave you with what we in the know call piano keys.  Feeling the lust?  Maybe you need a fan to cool you off. ;)

    *Addendum #1: If you dig the fans herein, make sure to check out my photo collage of the sweet vintage fan I ended up getting.

    **Addendum #2: My friend mister NineTenthsShavinPowda describes 100% perfectly what kind of conversation goes on in the secret fan collector lair: “Ha. I literally burst out loud picturing a bunch of fan-fans ‘cheezing’ out in this guys room. “OOHHHH damn niggaahh you got the 1977 Ultra Rare Prototype GE 13″ fan!” “Hell yeah bitches I esniped the fuck outta dat and then I modded it with the blades from the euro-only 1984 model to give it 12% more CFM, and added the silent basket from the 64 model to reduce the noise bro!” “SHIIIIITTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    *** Addendum #3: Dead links removed.

    Speaker building update 4: It’s ALIIIIIVE!!


    2011 - 04.23

    This last weekend had cause for celebration: the loudspeakers are finished*!

    *”almost finished”.

    It was a triumphant moment to sit back with a beer and just listen for a few hours.  This is the moment of payoff, with sweet sounds being the spoils of victory.

    As with so many long projects, I found myself rushing down the home stretch.  I did have one moment that sort of cut through the frenzy; when I turned the soldering iron off and realized, “Huh.  Well, that’s it, there’s no more soldering to be done.”  For a brief moment it actually bummed me out, that the section of the program flush with the thrill of ongoing creation was about to conclude.  As quickly as it came, it left, as I reminded myself that the rest of the night would be devoted to listening.  Ahh, tis a blissful thing, high fidelity.

    A large part of the joy in building loudspeakers is listening to familiar recordings on them, and finding things to hear that you never heard before.  Inevitably, a given pair of speakers will reveal something new to you, no matter how authoritative your reference set in the living room or the richness of your open-back headphones.

    Firing up the album “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb brought forth a whole slew of details that I had never heard before.  Notably, I learned that there is a low-res filter over a lot of the synths in “A Million Dotted Lines”.  Never caught that.  Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” also makes for excellent auditioning.  “Fahrenheit Fair Enough” by Telefon Tel Aviv blew me away with the lush Rhodes intro, and the outrageous density of electronic sounds and tweaks as the beat drops.  That track is like pop rocks+coca-cola for your ears.

    The Scan Speak tweeters are crisp.  They’re quite ‘forward’ for a fabric dome but I don’t think “bright” accurately captures their timbre.  I think “articulate” would be the best word to describe the sound.  Definitely a good bang for the buck, no doubt.  Would I get them again?  Yes, if I wasn’t so curious to try other brands and types of tweeters.  I’m all but certain that my next speaker design is going to have a ribbon tweeter.  I’ve always been curious about those.

    I’m definitely glad that I included an L-pad in the design (a volume control for just the tweeter, which is a first for me).  When the L-pad is set to max, the speakers sound topheavy.  Those tweets are rated at 91.4dB with a 6 ohm impedance, while the woofer is specified as 91dB at 8 ohms.  It may be that the lower impedance causes the tweet to draw more power, in spite of the nearly identical efficency rating… although those impedance ratings somewhat come down to semantics.  Something I still need to do is measure the overall frequency response of the system.  That will be illuminating.  But with the L-pad at max, the speakers sound bright, the same way that “flat” response studio monitors commonly sound bright.  So these babies should work good for mastering duty.  And when you just want to listen, you can dial back the treble for a more balanced sound.

    When I sat down to listen to these guys, I really wasn’t sure what the ideal setting for the L-pad should be.  One surprising detail I figured out is that it really depends on what you’re listening to.  To broadly generalize, I liked them “hotter” for electronic music, with the pads at -2/3dB.  For jazz and folk music, they sounded best at about -4/5dB.  And for rock music, I liked them dialed back to maybe -7dB.  It’s pretty cool being able to control the sound quality by adjusting the tweeter output.  Next time I build a new set of speakers, I will definitely include L-pads again.  It’s almost like getting to have many different pairs of speakers all inside one box.

    There remains a few things which must be done before these guys are completely “done” and ready for duty.  Number one on that list is that I need to replace one of the binding posts: I was using a ratchet to fasten down the bolt/washer on the inside and holding the outside terminal steady by means of a drill bit inserted into the cable opening when SNAP! the post broke in half!  Apparently I don’t know my own strength?  For a brief moment I was very distraught that I wouldn’t be able to listen to them for another week!  Then I realized I could just solder the connecting wire onto the broken terminal.  A ghetto patch, but it’ll work until I can get new terminals in the mail.

    I also didn’t bond the flared port tubes with ABS cement yet.  Part of me wonders if they are really the correct length.  I used the formula that came with the flared tubes to determine the port length, which is a very short 5″.  That only left about a 1″ section to be straight, while most of the port length is taken up by the flares.  I did calculate that airspeed through the port and it was low enough that I really didn’t need to use flared ports, but I think they look cooler, and they didn’t add that much extra cost (yay sales!), so why not.

    I may or may not need to change a few things after I plot the frequency response too.  More or less foam inside, inverting the polarity on the tweet, etc.  Before I put the foam on the inside of the enclosures, these things were BOOMY.  It kind of scared me.  Thankfully adding foam made a big difference.

    So yeah!  They’re finished!  If you ignore the fine print anyway.  Some tweaking will be going on over the next couple weeks.  Expect to hear more!

    Primo Vino Art: Winery . . . X!


    2011 - 04.22

    Hot on the heels of the last entry in the Primo Vino Art series, which celebrates cool wine labels, I bring you this: X Winery

    Pairs well with SCIENCE.  And snarky, morbidly humourous artificial intelligence.

    It actually does pair well with science, what with an infinite number of potential riffs like “solve for x” or “plot x versus inebriation” and so forth.  I’ll just stop there.

    Indeed X does mark the spot, and this is a very pleasing cabernet blend.  Suprisingly smooth, yet not flavorless!  Usually it seems like those two qualities are mutually exclusive.  Perhaps they still are, but the bar graphs are fairly even here at least.  Drink up… you monster.

    Primo Vino Art: Vintage Ink


    2011 - 04.17

    It’s a drinkable affair, with hints of cucumber and a clean, outdoorsy feel.  Would get again if I saw it for cheap.  Pairs well with…. a hot tub!

    is it truly indelible?  Hmm, maybe a little.

    Man, Snapple, thanks for ruining my bird fantasies. Wait, that came out wrong…


    2011 - 04.15

    As seen on the inside of a Snapple cap.

    Ever dream of being a bird?  Well you would hardly get to enjoy that glorious blue sky.  It’s kind of sad to think about!

    Well.  Maybe looking down would be the more enjoyable view anyway.  I’m just going to go with that.

    Sweet Shuttle Shot


    2011 - 04.14

    Check out this badass picture of the shuttle Discovery, launching on its final mission.

    It’s so very sad that the shuttle program is ending, particularly so from the lack of any replacement waiting in the wings.  True that NASA can still accomplish mind-exploding feats with only robotic spacecraft, and true that those robotic missions may be more valuable at our current stage in the space exploration game.  But still.  Sending humans up is just… so important.  For our growth as a species technologically, for our survival in a chaotic universe, for the inspiring of new generations, for so very many reasons.  It’s a great thing that companies like Space X will now have a role to step into, and an impetus to grow, but I question whether cosmic expansion should be undergone for the profit, rather than the glory.  I suppose the glory will always be there, no matter what.

    Speaker building update 3: Green Meanies


    2011 - 04.10

    check these suckas out:

    My bro asks for GREEN.  Green it is.

    The lady who mixed the paint for me was cool.  She was probably in her 50s and seemed like she belonged in a neighborhood greenhouse rather than a Lowe’s.  She was like, ‘now that’s a green green.’  Heh, yep.  I did two coats over the white primer and I think they look ready for finishing.  You’ll notice the hole on the side of the right speaker; it’s for an L-pad (a volume control for the tweeter).  I drilled it with a hole-saw attachment for my power drill.  A steel bit cutting into MDF… it would slow to a halt and I had to back it up and plunge it back down repeatedly to get it to cut all the way through.  When one hole was complete, the drill bit was literally smoking.  There was smoke coming out of the tweeter hole too.  It was sort of badass.

    This weekend some Envirotex arrived in the mail, and I’ve been covering these cabinets in it.  Seems like it should provide a durable finish, although time will tell.  If successful, this may become my chosen method for speaker finish.  While messy, it’s easier than endless coats of lacquer and sanding.  More detailed impressions to come…

    Speaker Building Update II: Crafted Like a Journeyman


    2011 - 04.05

    The latest installment of my progress on the set of loudspeakers for my bro: Woodwork on the cabinets has been completed! I used woodglue and screwed rectangular 3/4″ strips to the inner edges to hold it all together. Tip for the speaker builder: when putting screws into MDF, always drill a pilot hole beforehand, because MDF really does not want to accept any screws. Also, when screwing into the unfinished ‘side’ of the MDF (as opposed to the finished face), be careful to stop once the screw gets as far in as it needs to go. Continuing until the screwhead contacts the wood will split the wood, as MDF is simply made of many composited layers. These layers can easily be split apart from the side.

    As I was putting it together, I used silicone sealant to cover up all seams on the inside. My previous designs used caulk instead. I think I like the silicone a little bit better. It seems to ‘flow’ more and it’s easier to move around versus caulk. Although it does have a nasty odor… which probably promotes the growth of new, more powerful brain cells, I’m sure. Still, it’s supposed to be more resistant to cracking than caulk, and if these suckers are going to be pumping out jams for at least a decade to come, longevity is good.

    Last weekend I got outside with my router and a dustmask to try out my roundover bit and smooth off the edges. I used a belt sander to get rid of any imperfections in how well the boards lined up (some of the edges stuck out, maybe 1/16″ or so), and then I used wood putty to try to fill up any seams that were left open. I used a half inch roundover bit to curve the edges, which worked well. Since the MDF thickness was 3/4″ I thought about going out and getting a 1″ bit, which might’ve helped camoflage the joints (in theory?), but the close proximity of the woofer hole to the edge nixed that idea. Just one little juncture in this art of compromises.

    I’m very pleased with the roundover bit. I first tested out on a spare piece of plywood and it cuts a very smooth curve which is pleasing to the hand. Something tells me this sucker is going to get some use in future projects… These routering and sanding steps were probably the nastiest part of the whole process. When you use either of these tools on MDF, it emits a large amount of superfine dust that gets everywhere. It’s a serious mess. I used a mask to stop myself from breathing it, and did my work in the driveway with the garage door closed. When I came inside, I immediately put my clothes in the washer and took a shower to get it out of my arm hair, my eyebrows… everywhere. MDF, while an ideal material for loudspeakers, is a pain to work with. Oak might be a better choice, if you’re open to spending a little more money.

    That evening I put on an initial coat of paint. White primer. That’ll prepare the surface to accept whatever tone he chooses (update: emerald GREEN!). I could veneer them, but eh… my main speakers have veneer and I’ve seen over the last decade how easily it peels back as it ages and chips off. Maybe I didn’t do the best possible job applying it, but still. I think paint and some kind of sealant (still deciding) should produce a more resiliant finish that will stand the test of time. I doubt I’d ever use veneer again, after moving these monsterous mains many times. (It’s really moving when they’re susceptible to damage. And they WILL get damaged, no matter how careful you think you are being).

     

    Stay tuned for updates.  The next time you see these, they will be a vibrant emerald green…

    Have a listen to the 70’s Style Jam.


    2011 - 04.04

    There’s some new streaming content available on the trumpet page now.  Click the cassette next to the Electro-Acoustic Workshop (or just click here) and listen in without the need to download anything.  This was an awesome evening that goes down as one of the coolest jam sessions I ever played while in Chicago.  Lots of heavy hitters sitting in, and just an overall happening vibe.  I recommend having a listen to the “70’s style jam”.  Word.