Watching NASA TV in the moments before the space shuttle launch, a brief video of the orbiter Atlantis rattles off a few facts: it’s travelled 115 million miles, was the first shuttle to dock with a space station, and first shuttle to launch a probe to another planet.
I wish I were there.
Although the camera views I’ll get from the online video will probably show the action closer than I’d see with the naked eye, there is definitely a lot to be said for ‘being there’ and feeling the energy of a crowd of people united to witness history.
NASA TV has sort of a PBS/C-SPAN feeling where they will have an announcer list off a few factoids, then cut to a feed of the tower chatter, with long periods of silence. I like this better than having a constant stream of opinions and banter. It lets you think and reflect on your own thoughts.
They’re showing a closeup of the engines with some kind of white clouds billowing off them as they await launch. It kinda reminds me of a steam engine. Some engineers used to say they preferred steam engines over diesel because they ‘felt alive’ with the rising and falling of pressures, the need to monitor it and adjust, instead of just setting a level and kicking back.
I like watching the birds fly around the swamps as NASA gets ready.
Although they don’t show them, there are fighter jets in the air protecting the launch. That’s pretty sweet. If you google search, you’ll find photos of this. I’m a fairly devoted dove, but this is one use of “defense” funds I approve of.
After this, it’ll be up to the Russians to keep the International Space Station running. I sure hope they’re up to the challenge.
I can’t believe this is the LAST one. It just doesn’t seem real. They’ve been launching the space shuttle my whole life.
Astronauts get their go-ahead and reply (among other awesome words): “let’s light this fire one more time and witness this nation at it’s best”. It elicits feelings of deep admiration, wistfulness… huge pride, despair.
They keep saying “godspeed.” I wonder how many of these people are actually theists?
The camera shows a shot of the boarding walkway pivoting away from the shuttle “ATLANTIS” in big letters moving past the doorway, then a view of the coast, so far away. It’s almost eerie to think that walkway will never be used again.
Shots of the crowd, a guy kneeling with a compact camera in a shirt completely covered with an American flag. Something about him with that shirt and his tiny camera is moving. How many pictures will be snapped today? T-minus 5 minutes.
“firing chain is armed” BOOM–off it goes! And just like that they’re up in space! It all happens so fast. Less than 2 minutes later they’re 35 miles high. In the SRB camera, I love seeing the shadow of the smoke trail creep along the tops of the clouds as they escape the atmosphere. Go Rocketdyne.
7 minutes in, “travelling more than 15,000 miles per hour” hooooo! They separate the main fuel tank “for the final time”. As huge as it is, that tank will completely disintigrate when it falls back into the atmosphere. Jeez.
NASA TV shows a view of the crowd watching the launch. With +10 minutes on the big clock, everyone is packing up the tripods and the giant lenses. Maybe a million people showed up to watch the incredible spectacle which lasted (for those on the ground) maybe a minute or two. It speaks to the significance of this.
Dudes in the control room shaking hands and slapping high fives. That’s right fellas. One hundred and thirty five flights. The footage speaks for itself. The hubble telescope, the space station, the dreams of innumerable schoolkids. Velcro, computers, advanced telecommunications, avionics, the best and brightest minds uniting our highest technologies for our largest achievements. Where do we go from here? Who will do the ‘big things’… now that NASA watches from the shores of the cosmic ocean, without a ship. Without a plan for another ship.
Bon Voyage, American Exceptionalism! We had a great run!
So recently I was contacted by the SETI team regarding a sequel to the infographic I had produced a couple months back. As many of you may know already, they’re trying a new way of keeping the Allen Telescope Array running: crowdsourcing. There’s a new website over at SETIstars.org where anyone can go and give funds specifically for the restarting of the ATA. It’s a savvy move in the age of kickstarter, microloans, and grassroots funding. And it’s pretty awesome to think that, well, if the people who should be paying for this won’t pay for it, fine, we’ll do it ourselves!
I hope the venture is a big success. It’d be reaffirming to see the citizenship of planet Earth as forward-thinking enough to collectively grok the profound implications that discovery of other intelligences would have. It would be invigorating to know that we realize this meaningfully enough that we, as single individuals, would band together to sustain this important work.
In the large scope of things, it’s not all that expensive either. Just for perspective: the 1st infographic so far has seen over 40,000 views (just the flickr version, nevermind the ones I cannot track). See the bottom of this new infographic to see how much 40,000 people would need to spend apiece to keep the ATA in action…
So a couple weeks ago, I acquired something I’ve wanted for years, and have been waiting a long time to purchase: a turntable! It’s a Pro-Ject Debut III USB. This puppy is decidedly unassuming in appearance, but instead has got all the pizzaz where it counts: fidelity.
There’s something great about playing records. Maybe it’s the nostalgia associated with the format that you used to play on your parents stereo as a little kid. Or the enjoyment of physically moving your music around, touching it, and having to place the tone arm on the vinyl, instead of clicking a mouse, or pressing a button. Vinyl is the most tactile medium of music playback, moreso even than it’s analog brethren the cassette tape. For these reasons I think it has an emotional appeal to it that makes other mediums seem… sterile by comparison.
There’s something intellectually appealing about it as well; the waveforms reproduced by the speakers essentially come from a physical drawing on the record. There’s no sampling rate, there’s no digital to analog converter trying to smooth out a bar-graph of 1’s and 0’s to reproduce the original signal. Sure, you could make a successful arguement that with the sampling rates of common digital formats, the difference is imperceptible between a signal that is pure analog versus a signal that has been converted from A to D to A again. But still. It’s neat to know that the song you’re hearing is (at least for analog-recorded source material) EXACTLY the original waves.
Another intellectual appeal to the format is that it requires your interaction. You can’t set up an eight-hour long playlist and then go do something else while the music plays. Often when an LP reaches the end of a side, I remember my friend Craig Bauman yelling from the kitchen to the partiers in the living room “GO TEAM VINYL!” to express his displeasure that no one had jumped up to flip the record yet.
Vinyl also makes it tedious to skip tracks, or to jump around on an album. You put on a record, and you listen to it straight through. In this way it forces you to check out songs that might not have grabbed you on the first or even tenth listen. I’ve had an interesting experience with this idea on Orgone’s double LP “Killion Vaults” which I listened to for months in mp3 format, before this turntable arrived and I was able to play the vinyl copy. Now that I am forced to listen to the tracks in the intended order without skipping any, there’s totally several cuts that I had skipped over before that are starting to grow on me now!
Last, vinyl is hip because it has its own sound. The tone-arm, the cartridge, the different masterings of vinyl recordings versus their compact disc brethren… all these things impart a unique flavor that isn’t present in the digital-only version.
Going immediately off of my last writing, why do we spend billions of dollars on particle accelerators and millions of dollars on antartic neutrino detectors? Answer: the quest to understand what we are made from, and how that matter is affected by the universe around us.
It’s the story of where we came from, and how we’re connected–all of us–to events billions of years ago and as many light years away.
In that spirit, I’m excited that the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour contained the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer AMS-02. It’s an outer-space particle physics experiment that will study cosmic rays, antimatter, and search for dark matter. In short, it’s tackling the big questions. It makes me happy to think that if this is the second to last shuttle mission, at least it brought up a gigantic, heavy, badass physics experiment that’s going to be probing the secrets of the cosmos for the next decade. This thing is the silver lining in those opaque clouds that hovered over Endeavour’s launch.
The AMS-02 is a particle detector, the most sophisticated ever sent into space. It was developed by a team of over 500 scientists and tested at CERN in Switzerland where they shot the particle accelerator beam at it. Let me just repeat that: they hit it with the world’s most powerful particle accelerator and now it’s going into outer space to listen to cosmic rays, those invisible beams of radiation that are literally shooting through the entire earth this very moment, emitted from the deaths of distant stars and playing some role in our evolution by causing random mutations. I think the awesomeness-detection circuitry in my mind is fried now. If you’d like to learn more, hit the wikipedia link, it’s utterly fascinating stuff.
Check out this video to see them install it in time-lapse. This slow-motion space ballet is the launching of a masterpiece. So uplifting.
It’s also a nice bit of irony that this big hunk of metal is up there in the sky, out towards the vast infinity of space; it was put there in order to study the tiniest sub-particles hidden deep in the infinity of the very small. There it is, up above the Earth, reaching for infinity in both directions…
A thought that keeps going through my mind is that galaxies collide all the time, but collisions between stars or planets are rare. I remember watching a captivating animation of this at my local planetarium, where all the stars merged like a cloud of bees, flying in a small area but somehow not crashing. Galaxies, as giant as they may be, are made up chiefly of empty space!
You could say a smiliar thing about the objects right in front of you on your desk: the spacebar on your keyboard is made up of lots of hydrogen and carbon atoms, jammed in tightly to make a solid piece of plastic. Those atoms are bumped up right next to each other, yet their electrons and nuclei are never colliding. By comparison, the electrons in their shells around the nucleii are just like tiny little planets in far away orbits around the atomic core, where literally >99.9% of the mass is concentrated. Those hydrocarbon molecules are made up cheifly of NOTHING.
Atoms are made mostly of empty space, and galaxies are made mostly of empty space. Sort of takes me back to the Buddhist idea of emptiness; nothing has a unique identity (ie it’s empty) because it’s completely full of everything else. In this way, a tree is empty because it is filled to the brim with nitrogren from the soil, photons from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and maybe even the intention of someone who planted it. Our galaxies and our molecules may be made mostly of nothing, but they are in another sense quite full. Let’s explore!
This week saw the successful launch of the penultimate mission in the United States Space Shuttle program. This is occasion to be proud of what we’ve achieved, maybe to be a bit sad that a triumphant tale is drawing to a close, and definitely to contemplate what’s next. I’ve been reading all sorts of articles from space-privitization apologists breathlessly talking about how the lack of a Space Shuttle is going to give private industry this huge incentive-boost to magically do all the work that NASA ever did, better, safer, and cheaper. I try hard to believe in that John & Paul doctrine of “it’s getting better all the time” but this is one area where skepticism takes over and I’m not so sure.
One of the articles that bothered me the most was a top-ranked story on Digg, contrasting the tale of the Apollo program with, of all things, two low-paid garbage men who got killed because of occupational hazards. I read the article trying to be as open-minded as possible, but when I reached the conclusion I felt a wave of outrage: “I’d rather see us prevent poor people from falling into garbage compactors than look at another pretty picture from the Moon.”
Okay, I’m going to tackle this on a few different levels.
One: why two garbagemen? Why not pick a trucker who got killed in a wreck, or the loss of innocent life in a plane crash due to poor saftey? Maybe the object was to purposefully select an undignified way of dying? It seems like an completely randomized circumstance of unfortunate death. An important thing to point out here is that right now, literally as you are reading this sentence, somewhere, someone is dying an undeserved and tragically preventable death. This. Very. Moment. Going on a quest to rid the world of this situation is equally ludicrous as trying to rid the world of heartbreak. It is intrinsically impossible to save all humankind from all humankind’s own foolishness, hubris, or simple bad luck. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to build an international culture that places the highest value on the preciousness of human life, and protects it accordingly… we SHOULD! But I AM saying that the death of two garbagemen is an utterly irrelevant and misguided excuse to give up pursuing the highest scientific aspirations of our best and brightest!
Eisenhower famously said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” The thrust of these words is that civilization has finite resources for to allocating. Bearing this in mind, space exploration should not be ruthlessly pursued at the expense of humane working conditions, and health care. But I do believe that space exploration should be ruthlessly pursued at the expense of so-called ‘defense’ budgets, tax breaks for wealthy citizens and corporations, and yes, maybe even a few other hard-to-pick good causes which would be hard to cut. Which brings us to why space exploration is truly that important…
Two: The essence of what he’s saying boils down to the classic “we need to solve our problems here first” arguement. The webcomic XKCD recently had a bitingly sharp ancedote hidden in a mouseover caption which would be relevant to reprint in large, obvious text here:
This is the inevitable and indeed the ONLY end result of the “solve-our-problems-here” line of thinking. In all of human history there has never been an era in which all cultures coexisted peacefully with abundant food and technological resources. Nor will such an era will ever arise in the future. In our timeline we have been fortunate thus far to have never encountered catastrophe on a global scale. In the future, we will. Whether it be a barrage of asteroids, avian flu, the collapse of our food supply, a small-scale exchange of ICBMs, or the plain old slow whittling of minor conflicts as our resource supplies dwindle fromoverpopulation; one way or another, we Earth dwellers will face our reckoning. Best case scenario: 500 million years from now the oceans evaporate as the sun swells to a red giant. That’s the best-case lifespan of Earth. Contrast that number with the 4.5 billion years of evolution it took for the current civilization to arise.
To make the leap to becoming a spacefaring race, we will need more ingenuity and tenacity than currently imaginable. We must develop interplanetary mining, terraforming, interstellar space travel, interspecies communication techology, inter-intelligence diplomacy expertise, inter-intelligence cultural contexts–possibly intergalactic space travel technology–before the secrets of the universe will reveal themselves. We will need to accomplish these feats elegantly and routinely, with an untold number of repetitions. Thinking small, thinking local is not how this will ever occur.
So let’s take a hard, honest, and clairvoyant look forward and see two possible futures for our descendants: one where Earth becomes the single-planet gravesite of humanity; OR one where we learn to master the aforementioned challenges and survive the apocalypse of our home planet. We can either start preparing ourselves to live on, or be complacent and leave our die offspring to die among intractibly difficult problems. Those are the choices, there is not a third option. Every decade we waste, slashing and debating the merits of the NASA budget, or trying to figure out how to make space tourism profitable is another decade squandered, in which we could have gained a better understanding of spaceflight’s effect on the human body, the psychological and supply difficulties of remote colonization, or the drastically different ecologies of foreign planets, even just here within our own solar system. We deulde ourselves to think that stalling on these scientific advances is inconsequential.
Maybe we will be lucky, and have abundant time to tackle these monumental feats. There is a distinctly real chance that maybe we won’t. All the eggs are in one basket. Is it worth squandering the legacy, the blood, and the sweat of every human who ever lived, to bet on hesitance, procrastination, laziness? Is it worth gambling our entire collective history?
Three: okay, let’s take a reckless step and just disregard the fact that our entire planet has an expiration date. Assuming humankind could miraculously have infinite tomorrows, there’s still ample reason to go into space: because it reveals the best within us.
What’s the greatest feat any human has ever done? Take a gallup poll: walking on the moon. What’s the most published image of all time? Answer: the “blue marble” image, which was the first full image of Earth taken from space. There’s greatness in them there skies. Untold treasures for explorers, answers for the curious, thills for the daredevils. It’s all out there, literally.
The quest to understand space is also the quest to understand the origins of life–as well the scarcity, diversity, preciousness, and potential fruits of life. These are the BIG questions. Should we stop asking these? Should we just give up and admit that because the answers are unknowable within the span of thousands of lifetimes that they are not meant for our kind to comprehend? Should we abandon the quest for intelligence?
Even if our species just never quite amasses the smarts needed to travel to the nearest star, even if we remain stuck here in our stellar oasis, surrounded by bigger, better civilzations who laugh at the smallness of our attempts, there is an inherent value in TRYING. Even if our brains are too limited to grok the interconnectedness of the cosmos, or the purpose of our collective Endeavour within it, there is inherent value in attempting.
The following video made the rounds a little while ago with the discussion of SETI; it holds relevance here too. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth your time.
I’ll keep things rolling on the space tip with this incredible compilation of slow-motion footage of the space shuttle. Some of you may have seen this already; it made the rounds sometime around christmas last year. And it’s LONG! If you want to skip right to the money shot, go to 34 minutes, on the dot. Don’t forget to hit the 720p! Simply breathtaking.
You can listen with the commentary on if you really want. I recommend putting on your own tunes while watching this gorgeous explosion of rocketry. This is what I liked the best. It’s good for reflecting on the ends of things. The conclusion of something glorious. On one hand, it makes me feel like I just got handed a copy of this:
On the other hand, I suppose all things, both good and bad, must come to an end; phases of life, our favorite restaurants, our favorite thursday night routines… and our lives, our planet, our sun, and the space shuttle program. A clichéd expression that does give me some optimism is “don’t be sad that it’s over; be glad that it happened.” That is true. It’s been an excellent 30 year run.
I’m still buzzing from what went on this weekend! I spent maybe two or three solid nights last week putting together that SETI infographic and wow, was it ever worthwhile! (Understatement.) On a lark, I sent an email to Phil Plait, formerly of the Hubble Telescope project and famous astro-blogger extraordinaire who has a devout following on his site Bad Astronomy, where he writes about all things cosmical and skeptical. I’m surmising most of you are probably intimately familiar already, but just in case, this whole incident made me notice that I never called out his site on here–I check it nearly every single day and there is always something wonderful there. If you aren’t familiar, get at it, post-haste!
Yeah, so Phil liked it, put up the infographic on his site which also linked here, and then posted it to reddit. Ho-leee bandwidth batman. Site=crashed. Blown up. I was floored.
This is my first time experiencing something of this magnitude. Quickly the image was captured and rehosted elsewhere since the site was barely accessible. I awoke Sunday morning to a whole bunch of email and a rapidly exploding string of comments, especially on reddit. Reading the wealth of opinions has been fascinating! Phil sent a message saying I should swap the infographic over to flickr, which I hastily did. As of this writing it’s at 21,031 views and still climbing almost every time I hit refresh. The one the redditors used for a mirror is at 3,983 views. Considering it had almost 12,000 of those in the first 12 hours… That kinda blows my mind.
And delights me. I’m happy that after reading science blogs and surfing sites like digg and reddit for so long I finally made something of interest to give back, something worth looking at. Reading all the thoughts people have chimed in with has been simply excellent, and, AND!! There have been some even cooler things that happened! Let’s go down the list:
1. People started talking. Other bloggers chimed in, and Florian Freistetter, a PhD astronomer in Germany even wrote a blog post about it. (tip: use google translate) This thing went around the whole world! CRA-ZEE
2. I got to talk with the Bad Astronomer a little. Phil is a really cool guy! He was super nice to me, and generally a peach about everything. I hope that maybe in the future I will come up with something else worth emailing him about (hint: it’s not this post!)
3. Crossing over into the realm of ridicu-cool: one of the comments on Bad Astromony was from Jill Tarter. Yeah. That’s the woman who Jodie Foster’s character is based upon in the movie Contact. Wow.
So hey, there you go! I really should try infographics more often. I guess having a good idea for one is really the hard part.
Part Deux: So You’re Here! Now what?
Well, I suspect that there is now a new crowd around here, or at the very least, a handful of elite surfers still hanging out. And you’re probably interested in space. Okay, space, we can do that! I’ll separate it into two nice categories for you:
Category Alpha: “I’m one of those brainy types who needs in-depth, thoughtful prose to hold my attention”
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??
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.
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 #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!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
This last weekend had cause for celebration: the loudspeakers are 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!