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    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 1


    2015 - 02.15

    In tandem with the ongoing speakerbuilding project keeping my garage dusty, I’ve also been working on a custom pedalboard for my electrified trumpet setup. This was born out of necessity since I’ve outgrown the footprint of my hardshell Rockcase board, which itself is getting worn out from years of schlepping. I make take some time to recondition it for any music that happens outside my living room. But since I’m a lucky dude who mostly gets to jam at home, I’ve started working on this:

    electric trumpet pedalboard

    Yep, it’s a jungle of wires and nothing is securely attached at this point, it’s true. Consider this a “version 1.0” photo. My goals here are 1. to accomodate more pedals at waist height for easy manipulation 2. to achieve a cleaner signal by isolating the audio cables away from any power supplies and power cables and 3. to hopefully make it look nice?

    As far as goal #1 (capacity), adding a second level was a slam dunk for me, which allows interactive pedals to be accessible on top and neccessary but non-interactive components to be stashed underneath. I’ve got a signal combiner and a DI box, both of which are key parts of my setup but neither of which need to be touched during an entire session, so these can be hidden away without taking up valuable real estate.

    To achieve goal #2 (a cleaner signal), I have relocated the power bricks, 9v power supply, and the power strip all to beneath the pedalboard, on their own little board. Moving all that away from the pedals was the most important step. To go further, I have bought a thin sheet of aluminum, which will cover the bottom of the board and then be electrically connected to the ground pin of the power strip so that it can serve as a ground plane to shield against any residual noise from the power supplies beneath it and maybe dampen any local RF. That has not been installed yet. Finally, wiring is obviously a jungle at the moment, but ultimately I want to route all power cables thrugh holes in the board so they come in contact with the audio cables as little as possible.   Interestingly, when I initially built the board, I had the elevated section on the right side, which I immediately realized was a terrible idea when I started to play in front of it for the first time–my LEFT hand is free to move knobs, not the right.  So I’m not in a tremendous rush to make things permanent, since I want to try some experimentation to find the best physical location for as many of these pedals as I can.  I’ll make a detailed breakdown of what I use at some point in the future.  Haven’t gotten to that yet.

    Making the board look good will be accomplished with wood stain and some stainless steel accents. And cleaning up that mess of cables! I’ll post another shot when she’s further along.  For now, here’s my perspective when playing on it:

    electric trumpet pedalboard - pilot's perspective

    First Impressions on the Samsung Gear VR


    2015 - 01.03

    Gear VR

    This thing is… compelling. Awe-inspiring. Thought-provoking. I feel lucky to have it. It’s a virtual reality headset that uses a Samsung Note 4 smartphone as the processor/screen.  This is my first experience with real virtual reality–never tried Nintendo’s Virtual Boy from back in the day, and I’ve never put on one of the Oculus DK1 or DK2 headsets. Honestly my expectations were kind of high going in… and it delivers. Something you see is going to make you smile, something else you see is going to force you to shout out loud. It’s a glimpse into the future. Sure there’s nitpicks or quirks here and there but overall, dang. We’re living in the future. This is the next “thing”. It’s hard to even describe it. That’s my biggest takeaway: this is a new medium. Like movies, music, photos, paintings–those are all artistic mediums of capturing stories. This is a whole new medium of telling a story. VR.

    Right now this is a somewhat exclusive club: the Gear VR only works with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. I had the Note 2 and loved it, so when my 2 year upgrade time rolled around, the Note 4 was a logical choice. Once I read that Samsung had partnered with Oculus to create a virtual reality headset accessory for it (wait, what?!), the deal was sealed. I picked this phone just so I could get the Gear VR.

    The hardware is refined and still young at the same time. On one hand, a lot of technical challenges have been addressed; head tracking is smooth, responsive, and accurate. Overall it’s comfortable enough for long sessions and there is some great content already here. The screen on the Note 4 is pretty great! It’s been interesting to read reviews of the device around the web. One observation about these reviews needs to be emphasized: anyone who cares enough to make a review of the Gear VR is probably a MAJOR gadget geek. That is to say hyper-critical of technical minutia and hung up on details that honestly have little effect on the overall experience. Many reviews say the pixel count is still too low, the content isn’t there yet, that it’s not comfy enough, or that motion sickness may be an issue for people. Alright yes, there is something there which may disqualify the whole deal for certain people. And yet–guys, if we can stop fixating on pixels, there is something utterly mind-blowing going on here!!

    You can put on these goggles and stand on top of the Empire State building. You can go to Egypt. You can go to MARS. You can explore imaginary worlds or sit inside of a IMAX theater on your couch at home. You can dive with dolphins and tour the solar system. You can watch a ballet performance from on-stage and share dinner with a family in Mongolia. You can literally do all of those things straight out of the box with this device. And it’s all happening ON YOUR PHONE. With no wires.

    Man.

    Let’s highlight a few of the things that resonated with me during my first couple weeks with this spiffy device…

    The included 360 photo library:

    There’s TONS in here. Each photo seems crisp and although you can see the individual pixels of the Note 4 screen if you stare at it, when you move your head around, the sharp resolution of the original image is clear, since the original has more pixels in it than the display can physically render. Some of my favorite photos I already described but there are plenty of them to examine, with each photo being rich enough that you can stand inside of it (yes, wrap your head around that!) and study all the details for quite some time if you want to. Ancient Amphitheaters, coral reefs, beehives, the top of the Eiffel Tower, Buddhist temples, the ruins of Chernobyl, take your pick. There’s whole worlds inside here, and you magically teleport around the globe at the flick of a finger. JEEZ.

    Strangers with Patrick Watson:

    I keep coming back to this 360 video, where you sit in the studio-space of a lone musician and he plays you a tune on the piano. What makes it are the casual, seemingly unscripted bits: the sounds of traffic from outside, the way he scrounges for a cigarette before he begins. Then he starts the song over because the drum machine is too loud and asks his dog, “yeah, that’s too loud isn’t it?” As he appears to finish, his phone rings. He grabs it, sees the name and laughs before hitting decline and continuing to sing a last final outro. It feels like a real moment. Believable. It puts you THERE. More than the other movies (which were all awesome in their own ways) this video showed me the possibility of what immersive VR video could bring. I wanna see the inside of a smokey jazz club or get strapped onto a guy in a birdman suit with this… the potential scenarios are dumbfounding.

    Playhead:

    It’s a game similar to Frequency, or Guitar Hero where you have note lanes you have to do things in conjunction with. Only now you’re inside of it! It’s the first music-based titled I’ve played and like “Strangers” above, this one shows you the promise of what’s possible. The whole experience is not very long, but the song is cool and there are two sections where you emerge from the note lanes into an expansive open landscape with cliffs on either side of you, a winding river far below, and eventally a rising pyramid before you. All this seems to groove with the music in a real neat way and it feels good! I look forward to more levels within this game or more games like it.

    Darknet:

    Okay, here’s the meat. Darknet is a slow burn, starting out as a nifty hacking puzzle game that borrows from many cyberpunk influences to create a dazzling world of stylized computer networks you stand inside of. At first it seems easy and bite sized. But then you complete your first hack and you do another one, and another one… and the brilliance of this game slowly reveals itself. It keeps getting harder and the time alloted doesn’t get longer. You unlock new options and you start to see there’s a lot of subtlety to how you can approach the puzzles, which have themselves added on new roadblocks. More than anything else on the Gear VR, this one has legs as an addictive way to spend time. The music sets a pitch-perfect vibe and when you experience that barely-made-it hack that only gets beaten in the last minute, the bug will bite you. If Gear VR has a “killer app” so far, this is it. As I write this, I’m excited to get back in and hack some more!

    looking at the inside of the lenses with the phone in... you're looking at the matrix code although it's too distorted to see from this distance.
    Returning back to the overall device, Oculus has been posting updates to the available content every Tuesday, which is fantastic! Each batch of new VR jams is a set of other dimensions to step inside of… because in VR a photo is not just a photo, it’s a place to be. It’s a new frontier in the way we view things. The content and the experiences may be just a few drips from a tap that’s slowly opening but what’s here already is mesmerizing, spellbinding. It really does feel like a kind of magic trick. It’s exciting to be in-on-the-scene here, with this technology that really feels like it is on the cusp of exploding. When you stand inside of it, it sweeps you up and you want to show it to other people. Everyone should see this. It amazes. And you wonder “why is this not everywhere?!” Pretty soon it will be. It just has to.

    Back in Action: Pro-Ject Debut III USB


    2014 - 11.04

    Probably for the last three months now the nicer of my two turntables turntables has been in the service center.  It was seemingly destroyed by a power surge although nothing else in the house was damaged.  Right after a big storm I tried running it and it was dead.  Multimeter confirmed no juice from the power supply and the “protected” light on the surge protector it was hooked up to had gone out.  Upon replacing the power supply with a generic one, either my off-brand replacement destroyed the motor, or the motor was already toast too because it just made a bad smell and refused to turn.  So three months later, my Pro-Ject is back and back in action.  I broke it in with a clear 45 of Orgone.  It’s good to see this guy again!

    Pro-Ject Debut III USB

    First Infrared Timelapse Video


    2014 - 03.30

    So I actually made this a long time ago but am just now getting around to posting it.  It’s a short video of 4 timelapses that I shot on my infrared-converted Canon XTi.  One really important trick which allowed me to do this easily was told to me by the guy who did the conversion for me: take a photo of green leaves or grass, preferrably blurred out.  Then use that image as the source for a custom white balance.  Now if you take a photo using that custom white balance, it looks exactly as you see in the video!  No processing required, no color shifting.  Now that is a convenient tip!

    First IR Timelapse from Microcosmologist on Vimeo.

    There’s also a color night sky timelapse from the T3i in there, shot on the night I proposed to my wife.  Obviously pretty special to me!  The sky looks really awesome in that IR landscape shot.  I want to do some more timelapses like this with moving clouds since the sky shows up so contrasty and dark in IR.

    Closer…


    2013 - 07.13

    These are cool:

    For years I’ve been wishing for a convergence device between smart phone and high-end point-n-shoot. The perfect camera inches one step closer with the release of two intriguing products from Samsung which come from opposite ends of the spectrum: an android-powered SLR and an optical-zoom equipped Galaxy phone. At this point I think neither device is exactly what I’d find ideal–the SLR is non-pocket-compatible and thus too big to carry 24/7, and the Galaxy S4 Zoom is reported to perform more like a lower-end point-n-shoot, although it does have manual modes. The max aperture of 2.8 is surprisingly awesome on the wide end.  It’d be neat to have one of these, even if the reviews don’t sound all that positive thus far… Still. I think it’s awesome that a giant company like Samsung is willing to push this deeply into the small-volume niche markets that both of these devices fill.

    Fixin Up Some-a-Them Vintage ‘lectronics From The Texas Countryside


    2013 - 07.05

    This week I welcomed another neat vintage piece of gear to the collection, the Panasonic RA-6600. Featuring an 8-track recorder. 8-track, kids! It’s like cassette but bigger! I bought this puppy for $20 from an oddball fellow with a loud-mouthed pet bird way out in the Texas countryside. His girlfriend, who had been sunbathing in the back yard, walked through the living room in a bikini and said sorry. Dude responed “ain’t like this feller’s never been to a beach before!” I tell you I felt right at home.

    Anyway at the time I bought it he said he thought it wasn’t working due to blown fuses on the back. Well, I replaced the fuses, still no dice. I noticed that the speaker cones would move all the way out to their max position when I hooked everything up and turned her on. That means DC voltage was going out the speaker terminals, thereby a blown transistor on the power amp section. Fortunately, this receiver uses a modular power amp design, so I just got on eBay and found a replacement STK-040, which clocks in at a devastating 10 watts RMS.

    Opened it up and removed the old power amp with the help of me mate Vincente and discovered that the solder pads fall right off the 1970s PCB. Hmmm. Can’t solder anything into a circuit without solder pads. I put up a thread about it on a forum, and the helpful folks at all about circuits said hey no problem, just add some extra wires that follow the traces and connect to the next component lead. DUH! So I added the wires and bam, the right channel started working! The taste of sweet half-success!

    I was feeling happy, having replaced the modular power amp and fixed the right channel, but also feeling a little daunted by the prospect of trying to troubleshoot the left channel which was still out. If it wasn’t the power amp, it could be something much trickier to locate. Hmmm. The Panasonic, along with a whole mess of tools and other junk, cluttered up my dining room table for a few weeks. My buddy who helped me install the modular power amp came back for another visit last weekend and we had sat down to chow on some tasty salmon burger action.

    I had turned on the radio because it was there, and there was a blues station on. My buddy, a guitarist, decided he wanted to hear this better, so he turned up the volume a bit. A ferocious crackle came from the dead channel… followed by music! Apparently Vince has got the magic touch?!

    I had previously tried working the volume control around, wondering if the potentiometer might be dirty, but I didn’t get any crackles at that time. Guess I just didn’t try long enough. Or maybe that inital round of deox-it had a delayed effect? Sweeeet. While the unit was apart I gave the volume pot a good blast of deox-it, and the crackles seem to have gone away. Also replaced the burnt out bulb and the dials light up now too. So it’s seemingly 100% now! I don’t have any 8-tracks to test out the player, but maybe I might get on eBay and pick some up soon. It’d be pretty neat to make some 8-track tapes…..

    You Might Be Cool. But You’ll Never Be ‘Personal Disco Component’-Equipped Cool.


    2013 - 07.02

    So recently I was looking to possibly purchase a boombox and, like I always do, I had to go research this matter and determine what is the coolest possible boombox as a point from which to work backwards in determining my final choice.  And I totally found the coolest boombox.  Ever.  In world history.  It’s this:

    image

    First IR light for the XTi


    2013 - 03.31

    So it’s nothing too amazing yet, but here is the first alright looking shot from my Canon XTi which was recently modified with the removal of the internal Infrared-block glass that covers the sensor.  I used a 720nm filter to block all visible light.  So nothing but infrared here.  Not really an amazing shot but I’m pleased with how the plants look nice and white.  I need to play with it more and maybe try a timelapse if I can find a cool subject.  But hey, it’s working, neat!!

    I did a relatively mild post processing on it.  Since it was at sunset, it wasn’t a good candidate for the red/blue channel swap like people do to make the sky look blue.  That’s more suited to afternoon images.  I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the subtleties of IR post-processing.  But I’ve started learning and that’s sweet.

    That Vinyl Sound: The Marantz 6100 Turntable w/ Grado Green & +1%


    2013 - 03.17

    So I picked up one Svelte (with a capital S!) looking turntable a little while back: the Marantz 6100. It had been up on Craigslist for quite some time and I had been eyeing it up, especially since it would match my Marantz amp I like so much. Finally I pulled the trigger. Immediately when I got it home I started noticing a series of issues. This post chronicles all that I’ve done to upgrade and fix it, for anyone who should want to do the same to theirs.

    First thing wrong with it was that only one channel worked. Yikes, that’s a showstopper! Step one was to diagnose: swap the L/R channels as they were connected to my amp to make sure it was the turntable at fault and not the amplifier. It was the turntable. I took the bottom off and used the “beep”/continuity test setting on my multimeter to see where the signal was getting lost. Note that on older turntables like this, with no internal pre-amps, the four connecting pins off your turntable needle/cartridge are, electrically, connected directly to your receiver/amplifier. That means if you’re missing a channel, it’s a continuity problem: The guts of the turntable are simply wires.

    First, I checked the continuity between the connections right at the needle and the solder joints on the inside of the deck. All beeped, so they’re good. Then I checked the solder connections to the end of the RCA ring/tip connectors. Sure enough, one was bad! I was surprised that old RCA jacks would actually fail like that. Hmph. I took a spare RCA cable, and cut off one end. Then I stripped the wires, revealing four different wire paths. I unsoldered the old one and soldered in the new one, making sure to leave a stress-relief knot, so the cable couldn’t be yanked out by accident.

    Second thing I noticed was that the speed of this turntable is slightly slow. I searched around online and found that this is a well-chronicled issue with the model 6100 turntable. It’s driven by an AC motor, so a simple adjustment of the input voltage to the motor won’t remedy this issue. Somewhere online in a forum I saw someone recommend getting a slightly shorter belt. I called a few hi-fi stores and came to the conclusion that 25″ belts are common but 24.9″ belts, in fact, do not exist.

    Then I got the idea of adding something to make the motor shaft very slightly larger in diameter, since that would effectively make it turn the belt faster. Scotch tape, maybe?? Sure enough, it works! At first I added two layers of tape and now my speed went from like 5% slow to like 5% too fast–a thin layer sure goes a long way. I took off one layer of the scotch tape so now it’s just a single loop around the motor shaft. With only one loop, now the turntable runs very, very slightly fast; maybe like 1-2% faster than normal. It’s the kind of thing where, if you’re listening hard for it, you could pick it out with effort, but if you sat down not knowing that the table was ever so slightly fast, you’d probably never notice.

    At first I wondered if it would annoy me (5% too slow DEFINITELY annoyed me!) but after listening to a whole bunch of albums, I think I actually enjoy everything sped up by an almost imperceptible amount. It’s not enough to affect the pitch of familiar records; or if it is, being slightly sharp is less offensive to my ear than being flat. It does add a subtle extra ‘kick’ or energy, having that increase in tempo–an extra bpm or two. I’m digging it!

    Lastly, I was getting distortion in the sound, like the signal was being overdriven or something. I figured since the turntable is nothing more than wires and mechanical support for the stylus, it was probably the stylus. Spoiler alert: it was. The old stylus was a Pickering VX-15 with a dust brush on the front. That dust brush seems like a great idea in theory, but it sort of sucks in reality: seems like it makes the record skip more, and you need lots more tracking force to prevent that. I’m not sure how old that needle was, but from the looks of it… OLD.

    The Pickering was swapped out with a Grado “Green 1” cartridge. Ka-BAM! This baby breathed a whole new life into the 6100. The anti-skate weight was missing from my deck, so I improvised with a couple zinc washers and some thread. I kept getting skips at the very start of every record, even when I had a lot of tracking force on the arm. Adding the anti-skate weight got rid of those skips at the beginning and allowed me to dial back the amount of tracking force needed. It’s still probably too much right now, but it is nice not getting any skips at all even on records which have known spots prone to it. I’ll keep dialing it back in the weeks to come.

    The 6100 has two simple but nice features that I’ve enjoyed: auto-return and auto-shutdown, and buttons to toggle between 33/45 rpm. My other deck, the venerable Pro-Ject Debut III doesn’t have either of these. Auto return/shutdown means that you don’t have to worry about accidentally letting the turntable skip on the last groove all night because you forgot to shut it off, which I’ve totally done. The 33/45 buttons are a very basic feature the Pro-Ject lacks–you actually have to remove the platter and move the belt by hand, which gets old. Maybe that sounds lazy, but you end up yanking on the spindle too much to get the platter off, and I worry about long-term wear that might be causing. It just makes me nervous doing it, so I listened to less 45s on that deck. No longer!

    But oh man, this Grado Green cartridge is awesome. The Pro-Ject Debut III has an Ortofon OM 5E cartridge, and that turntable sounds excellent. For the Marantz, I wanted to get a different brand, for the sake of sonic variety. Since I love my Grado headphones, it was a logical choice to try out their cartridge line. I’d describe the Ortofon as the “cleaner” of the two, and the Grado as the “warmer” of the two. That said, it’s not a jaw-dropping difference between them.

    I hooked up the headphone extension cable and put on my Grado SR-225 headphones for a long listening session this last weekend… now that was really enjoyable!! Laying on the carpet with my eyes closed, blasting familiar recordings and oh yes, hearing a bunch of new details within them, thanks to yet another different listening setup. It’s chicken soup for the soul, just doing nothing but soaking in the awesome sounds of your favorite albums. After the soldering, reassembly, and tweaking this is the reward; not critical listening but blissful listening. I’m going to make it a point to just hang out and listen to records over the next few weeks, reaquainting myself with the collection again and enjoying the tunes. That’s what it’s all about!

    What’s redder than red?


    2013 - 03.02

    Ever since I got my wonderful Canon T3i a couple years ago (which I STILL think is the sweet-spot in DSLR price/performance/features), I’ve had a perfectly good 10MP Canon XTi body which has been essentially gathering dust.  What to do about this…. I could sell it, although unfortunately, older generations of DSLR bodies depreciate pretty severely  in spite of the fact that it’s still eminently capable.

    A better option: convert it to an Infrared body.  This procedure can be a DIY modification, although it is NOT for the faint of heart.  I’d been thinking about this for a long time so I was excited when it came up in conversation that a coworker of mine repairs/resells DSLRs as a hobby.  It sounds like this might actually happen sometime in the next few months.

    In the meantime, I noticed this really badass timelapse video shot with an infrared DSLR:

    There’s a great explanation on Bad Astronomy of why thing appear they way they do in infrared.  Basically plants reflect a lot more infrared light than any other color–including green!  When you get these photos out of the camera, they appear almost all red in color, so heavy-duty post-processing is needed to get these greyscale scenes with blue skies.  I’ll need to learn about all that to get to the point of making videos like the one shown above, but I don’t think it’s anything beyond my abilities.  Time will tell, but it’d be awesome to make something like this…