• About
  • First time here?
  • Sitemap
  • Archives
  • Categories
  • Posts Tagged ‘little mind-blowing things’

    Music and the MathMagic connection


    2017 - 07.20

    Okay so on a whim I searched YouTube for this video I loved to watch on VHS as a child, “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land” and wow, it kinda blew my mind just how deeply this little half hour of cartoon imprinted upon my mind way back when.  I mean, the connection between music & math, the golden ratio, the way Donald wants to jam when he sees the musicians, and most ironically the inclusion of the Parthenon, aka the Acropolis which is the name of my band.  There’s so much in here that’s woven itself into the fabric of who I am today that it’s kinda eerie.  It goes to show how the right influence at a fork in the road can really stick with a person.

     

    This cartoon is actually part of a larger “Adventure in Color” program originally made in 1961 (wow!) but the video above is just the part that spoke to me personally.

    Games I Like: No Man’s Sky


    2016 - 09.20

    My third ship in No Man's Sky, the Green Meanie

    I like No Man’s Sky. That’s right, I said it. I’ll go a step further too: I like No Man’s Sky right now, one month after the PC release. This is not a popular viewpoint so let’s unpack it.

    Expectations can make or break the perception of music, movies, or videogames. From the very start this game had colossal expectations placed upon it, and I think that’s reason #1 behind the largely negative perception of the game right now. As documented previously I definitely rode the hype train hard on this title, but having put in well above 70 hours over the last month, right now I’m feeling like I actually got what I came for.  (Note that all screenshots in this post are captures that I took during my playthrough.  All were taken in 4k resolution although some are cropped; click to view them full size)

    red mountains and blue seas in No Man's Sky

    Solar eclipse (and moon!) over distant mountains in No Man's SkyReason #2 behind the negative perception of the game is that there’s a lot of things which were shown in trailers and talked about by the developers that were simply not in the game at all. You could call that a lot of different words. Mine would be strange and disappointing. Disingenuous might be another. But before we get too bogged down in the name-calling which inevitably results from dwelling on this for long, let me just back way, way up, and look at this whole thing from a top-level, macro perspective:

    No Man’s Sky has delivered a universe-sized universe and it’s magnificent. The thing I want to focus on more than anything else is the aesthetic, because that’s what drew me in long ago when I first heard about the game, and that’s what held my interest when lots of other space games started coming out but I refused to play them, intentionally waiting and keeping my outlook fresh. The look and the feel of No Man’s Sky is what keeps me playing now and it’s what blew me away when I picked up the mouse and keyboard for the first time. None of the other space games that compete in this same genre have this stunning artistic style to them. Right off the bat when you start playing the game it’s magical. Most players agree with that. And importantly, in regard to the overall aesthetic, the final game we have now is exactly what was shown in the trailers.

    Sunset on some ruins in a lush jungle world in No Man's Sky

    One of my favorite friendly dinosaurs I've encountered in No Man's SkySo my individual perception is admittedly slanted. One, it was mainly the look, the feel, the style I saw in the trailers that I wanted to get, and I got that. And two, I haven’t been playing other space games or really that many games in general. Witcher 3 was the only other game I’ve been putting serious time into during 2016. Ironically the contrast could hardly be stronger between these two games. Witcher is story-driven with huge set-pieces, has a lengthy list of characters, and is hand-crafted in practically all aspects. On the other end of the spectrum No Man’s Sky has only two reoccurring characters and turns you loose in a randomly generated universe that essentially has no objective at all! Sure, there are things you can do, but really when you boil it down, those objectives are not what you’re playing this game for. (“Wait a minute… we’re not playing the game to try to beat the objectives…???”) And that right there is what I think totally throws 95% of people off about this game!!

    I’m going to come back to that idea in a minute but first let me say this: I do think the main criticism being leveled at the game (boredom) would be there no matter what. If they added randomly generated fetch quests for NPCs, if they made the overall upgrade grind thirty times longer and more complex than it is now, if they made the periodic table eight times bigger, if they populated space with twenty times more bounties/battles/traders/cruisers—if they did all that and more, people will always get bored at some point.

    The "Wild Spineyback" forages in the dense tall forests of Big Things 50% modded No Man's Sky

    Just another amazing vista in No Man's SkyLook at a game like Skyrim. It’s packed to the gills with scripted quests, books to read, skill trees to expand, or just broadly speaking, stuff to do that some other human being took hours and hours to create for you. And still people say they’re bored with Skyrim because they exhausted all that or did enough of it that they felt the underlying repetition even though new tasks remained. So people start a new character and “roleplay” within the world of Skyrim, imagining boundaries of what their character will or won’t do, what their personal goals might be, and charting their own specific path through the world. In my own playing, this mentality is how I’ve had the most fun in No Man’s Sky.

    I would say this Skyrim roleplaying behavior, especially when taken to the extreme, is somewhat of an anomaly in the entertainment medium of videogames. Almost always, a game is telling you where to go and what to do. Sure you have choices and probably many other diversions but these ten quests and these five ways to build your character, these are what you’re supposed to be doing. Games constantly remind us, condition us to expect this framework. Broadly speaking, “task-completion” and “character-building” are the very foundation of practically all video games. And we expect that games will acknowledge this progression with a constant stream of trophies and points and pats on the back. This is the nearly universal “gaming mindset”. I do activities x, y, or z and the game tells me good job. Sitting on the couch and inventing some other activity for yourself that’s not an actual part of the game’s checklist—that’s not a normal game-playing behavior.

    For instance, visiting the inn and staying five nights there, talking to every NPC and inventing lines of dialogue or jokes that your own character may have said to each of them, that’s not something Skyrim tells you to do. Sure, you can do it, but the game doesn’t interact back with you when you do that. It doesn’t give you an achievement, it doesn’t unlock any new items, and moreover the game isn’t even aware that’s what you were doing. But those kinds of behaviors are what keep Skyrim fresh to many players out there, the kinds of activities that demand input from the players own imagination and a willingness to accept there will be no positive reinforcement for playing that way.

    Nothing like the feeling of blasting through space and landing on an unknown planet in No Man's Sky

    No Man’s Sky is a roleplayers game straight out of the gate. In this game it’s the opposite of what we normally expect. All main quests are all optional. Developing your character is optional. Both of these things, things which are usually the pillars on which nearly every game stands, are only excuses to drive the true “goal” in No Man’s Sky, which is simply wandering and finding something you personally think is weird, cool, or beautiful.

    The game doesn’t acknowledge when you succeed at that. There’s no points rewarded for seeing something cool. And I kind of love that. It’s true to life and it’s true to great art as well. When Wee Bay throws the soda can in The Wire, there’s no musical cue or camera zoom to blatantly telegraph “hey pay attention to this, this was the special moment that’s more important than all those other inconsequential moments! We’re going to bludgeon you in the face with obviousness right here because otherwise we’re afraid you might be too dumb to follow along!” When you succeed in real life it’s often just quiet moments in solitude where you did something right, possibly not realizing how important it was until later. And when you succeed at finding something really neat in NMS, there’s not much, if any, reward built into that from a game mechanics or player feedback standpoint. Seeing something cool IS the reward.

    The Majestic "Struttin Werewulf" in his natural habitat in No Man's Sky

    Chock full of life and giant green sunflowers on this arid planet in No Man's SkyAnd the universe is huge. So huge. It’s so indescribably huge. And you’re so tiny and mostly alone. The universe does not care at all about what insignificant resources you’re trying to scrap together to fix some broken thing you’re stuck on today. To the universe it doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail in your small little goals, and when you succeed and raise your hands to the sky in triumph there’s just silence. You have to find your own meaning in things. You have to decide what matters to you personally and set your own goals. Then find your own motivation for completing them, and develop the ability to enjoy the good moments when they happen. The cosmos simply will not spell everything out for you. All that’s true to life.

    To me, the point of No Man’s Sky is to find beauty or majesty and capture that. With a screenshot or with your eye or with your sense of wonder. That’s my goal when I play. It’s an exquisite universe full of things worth seeing, no other game looks quite like it, and whatever you see is uniquely yours. Sure lots of other people will see very similar things but never ever will someone see precisely what you saw, in the context you saw it. It’s impossible! And that, like life, is what makes it special and worth experiencing.

    The No Man's Sky spaceship design aesthetic is just off the charts

    MASSIVE dogfights in modded No Man's Sky! 171 fighters in this battle!

    Would it be a better game if it had rogue planets in deep space, working portals, orbital mechanics, desert planets, binary stars, and all that other stuff people are clamoring for? Hell yeah it would be! But would those things change the overall feeling I get while playing, or drastically alter the moment-to-moment of what I’m doing in the game? Well, no, probably not. They’d expand the replay and immersion yes, but their absence doesn’t kill the feeling I have when I crest a ridge and see a forest of blue trees with dragon-like creatures flying above the canopy. Whoa. It’s that feeling that we’re here for to begin with. And I think it’s amazing how many people have glossed over this. We all want more replay, yes, but stop and appreciate this feeling that’s being created right now, as-is. It’s fantastic.

    At this moment in time the fan community is enraged, fixated on what’s absent rather than what exists. I understand the reasons why and I even agree with those reasons but obsessing over a hypothetical future and ignoring the present moment is the life-trap that Buddhists struggle to overcome. The present moment is sublime, if you can pause and truly see it. It’s like what astronaut Edgar Mitchell said about how our political squabbles seem so trite when you view the universe from a bigger lens, and how he wanted to take the political squabblers, “by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch!’” Look at it! The grandeur of the cosmos. Every time I hear some infant crying about lies or refunds or after 60 hours why they’ve given up on the game and it was only worth $20 I want to grab them by the scruff of the neck, show them the incredible screenshots and the wonder I have felt on my journey and tell them Look At That You Son Of A Bitch! They built a whole universe for you–a good one–and all you do is complain. It’s possibly the coolest-looking Sci-Fi random world generator ever made. In the words of Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction, “What we saw was a miracle, and I want you to acknowledge that!!”

    Spaceship #2, my favorite so far, "The Creamsicle" in No Man's Sky

    Starry skies on a "dark-space" system in No Man's SkyIt’s human nature to want more and to constantly be thinking of ways to make things better. It’s a strength that drives improvement but also need to be balanced against the knowledge that these tendencies are also handicaps that prevent us from enjoying what IS. By this point I’ve easily read 20 peoples different lists of what they wish MNS had in it or ways it could be better or features that they are hoping for. And I could make my own but I’m resisting that urge because let’s face it, Hello Games is 15 people, this is an indie game, and there will always be another list of “ten great features that could save No Man’s Sky”. Forget all that.

    So back to what I was talking about with expectations and the “gaming mindset”. People expect a firm list of goals, a questline, and a character expansion tree all of which will score points which are the end-all-be-all of playing every game ever. Before the game came out everyone kept asking the question “but what do you do in No Man’s Sky?” Many times the creators answered that question it was followed with the statement “Or you could NOT do that”, the subtext of which was that those proposed activities were not the real point of the game. Which turned out to be the underlying truth I think. The point is to be in the universe and to see it. To enjoy that.

    No Man’s Sky is sort of like the videogame equivalent of the movie Koyaanisqatsi; an ambitious, beautiful art piece that ditches all the usual tropes that bring people in.  No real dialogue, no real plot, no characters, none of that stuff.  It’s all up to you to find something for yourself within it.  Can a film be considered a great film if it’s purely incredible photography and practically nothing else?  Absolutely it can.  But if you walked into the theater to see Koyaanisqatsi and you were expecting a rom com instead, you’d almost surely hate it.  One it’s expectations and two, I think to even appreciate a film like Koyaanisqatsi you sort of have to know a little bit about what it’s trying to do and maybe even have someone else explain what you’re supposed to be getting out of it first.

    Dinosaurs surround my ship on a toxic mushroom world in No Man's Sky

    The underwater scenes in No Man's Sky can be quite striking tooPersonally, I predict that this game will be seen as a landmark title once the dust has settled and the years have passed. Right now there’s a ton of confusion over what it actually is, and that’s muddying the water. I think it’s going to be a lot like Mirror’s Edge. When that game came out it got lots of bad reviews in the game journalism world and negative attention in general, centered around how the combat was awful. But this was an intentional choice by the designers! In most games containing combat you’re supposed to do that, but in Mirror’s Edge combat is the quicksand that drags you down, something to be avoided unless it’s a last resort. So people took a long time to wrap their heads around that! People hated on it and hated on it until enough time went by that the haters just moved on to something else and the voices singing its praise won out. Maybe it’s a niche audience, maybe it was never meant to be grouped in with so many other AAA titles out there, maybe it’s just a little different and you need to go in expecting that to properly enjoy it… Sound familiar?

    Me, I’ve been loving my time in the Euclid Galaxy. I’ve seen more badass, sleek looking spaceships than I can remember, more strange dinosaurs, creepy insects, and peaceful forest animals than I can think of names for. The plant life is often times cooler than the animal life: vast meadows that flow in the breeze, space cacti, weird neon things that grow on toxic planets, giant 200 foot tall mushrooms, and all manner of trees from familiar to exotic. Then there’s the stuff that strikes you as you look around: the huge planet that hangs in the sky when you’ve landed on a moon, the sunset over a sea filled with schools of what look like banana-peels, the two spaceships which sail overhead as you walk out of a bioluminescence-filled cave, the feeling of sudden alarm as you jetpack over a deep ravine you didn’t realize was there. The visuals of No Man’s Sky are spectacular, end of story, full-stop.

    That feeling of safety inside a cave, and the cool view when you step outside it in No Man's Sky

    The wonder is real, and the Red-Dead-esque moments of captivation at the vistas are there. But if you’re pillaging through without slowing down to look around and smile at these little bits as you go along, too obsessed with 48 slots, too possessed by the grind, too hung up on all those video-gamey mechanics that prevent you from actually seeing what’s right in front of your face–you’re gonna miss the magic. That’s a fact, jack. First and foremost No Man’s Sky is a world generator, second an arcade-style space shooter, third a survival game, and lastly a resource-management trader/crafter/upgrader game. Sure, each of those categories could be more fleshed-out with deeper choices and consequences, but as it is today, it hasn’t stopped me from having fun.

    I just might be part of some specially-geared sub-set of players who always relished the exploration more than the explosions in GTA, or in the minority who felt “the map” was the true main character in so many plot-driven open-world adventures (yes, even Red Dead), but c’mon, the firehose of gorgeous scenery this game engine is delivering cannot be denied and that’s not nothing. If Hello Games can put their resources into polishing what’s here and expanding the busywork for players in this universe over the next year, I think history will still be kind to this intergalactic trip through endless book-cover scenes.

    On a verdant planet, goodbye from No Man's Sky

    Where the Magic Happens


    2016 - 07.31

    There’s been a few awesome milestones lately in my world of recording.  Let’s rattle em off:

    Electra MAXXED1. I’ve got “www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet”!

    My YouTube channel now has enough subscribers that I could acquire a custom URL.  Now all of my Electric Trumpet exploits can now be seen at the easy-to-remember address of www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet which is pretty nifty indeed (although the embedded link here takes you right to the full videos page).  I have continued to upload more content there and there shall be a steady stream to come as well so check it out both now and later.

    2. The size of my musical exploits is now crossing one Terrabyte in size!!

    As you can see by the hard drive properties in the screenshot at left, my recording hard drive is soon to be full.  The only thing on this hard drive is audio recordings I have made!  There is maybe a small bit of filler in there in terms of mp3s of songs I need to practice or other bloat like zip files of sessions to be uploaded and shared but it’s mostly jams, wavs, and things happenin.  It feels so great to see this.  It’s one thing to stack up a big pile of gear and spend a bunch of cash on the tools of the trade, but it feels a lot better to see the proof in the pudding so to speak, the walking of the walk in actually creating stuff.  There’s a ton of people out there who spend boatloads of money on expensive hardware, be it photography or music or whatever, but I always find myself internally asking the question, “Yeah, but what have you MADE?”  Here I am, earning the right to talk that trash.  Hell yeah.

    3. The input capacity of my setup has expanded to THIRTY!!!

    I’m pretty psyched up about the fact that I’ve now acquired enough gear to extend my recording setup from 16 channels up to 30!  I’m adding a sweet “The Moment Of Genesis” tag to this post for this milestone.  On the face of it, it seems like 16 channels should be plenty, right?  But as time has gone on I have expanded and expanded my methods of recording, and we’re now at the point that I’ve used the max of 16 channels for many consecutive sessions now, wishing that I had the capability to go higher.  If that seems unlikely, let me rattle them off: 1.overhead high-hat 2. overhead ride 3. snare 4. kick 5. electric bass 6. electric guitar 7. Leslie organ horn left 8. Leslie organ horn right 9. trumpet stand mic 10. Leslie bottom (15″) 11. trumpet pedalboard left 12. trumpet pedalboard right 13. trumpet clip-on mic (blended with stand for tone) 14. lower snare mic 15. room mic left 16. room mic right…  And there’s 16!  First thing I’m going to add over that will be 3 tom mics so that I can high pass the overheads, cutting the bass and the snare out of my overhead track without killing the life of the toms.  I have also been dreaming of adding an auxiliary percussion/conguero now and then, or having the ability to add other horn players, or a doubling of guitar or keys maybe.  So this unlocks all that capability although the main thing immediately is the addition of tom mics which I hope will clean up the low and high end overall.  Behold the glorious rack which will bring all that to life:

    recording rack setup 8/16

    Planet or not…


    2015 - 09.09

    So obviously I haven’t written much about space exploration in quite a while. Some of the projects I wrote about long ago have pretty much fulfilled their missions; the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is now thousands and thousands of exoplanets deep, and the ice-cube neutrino observatory has found its high energy neutrinos. I haven’t lost my love for all-things space related, but I have had somewhat of a philosophical shift on this site that what I write about here is more focused on either my own creations or journaling for myself, rather than reporting the current news.

    But there was one thing that happened recently which was pretty amazing: the New Horizons space probe finally reached Pluto! (talk about earning that “tremendous voyages” tag) Dwarf planet or not, this is a new achievement in the exploration of distant worlds. This mission’s a high water mark in terms of pure kilometers that, let’s be real, won’t be exceeded in my lifetime. And that’s awesome to think about. Seldom do we get to watch something happen and know within that very moment that history is being witnessed… but this is one of those times. These pictures are a kind of rebuttal against that refrain “born too late to explore the Earth, born too early to explore the galaxy.” Well here’s a new part of your galaxy to admire:

    2015-8-12-15-PlutoEnhancedColor

    Pre-Release Hype: No Man’s Sky


    2015 - 07.27

    I just want to go on official record as having raised my alert status to super-mega-stoked for this PC/PS4 game which might get released later this year called “No Man’s Sky.” For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the game is a sandbox/exploration game where you begin on a generic planet and start hunting for resources. Eventually you find a weapon and a ship, which frees you up to either explore more of the planet… or leave and go find another planet to explore. It is an incredibly open concept just at this level, but here’s the kicker: everything in the game is procedurally generated. That loosely means that your computer is “inventing” everything on-screen as you go. It has a broad set of rules regarding what types of air/plants/animals/stuff should appear on a given planet which is situated a given distance from its star, but that’s it. No one has “designed” these worlds–they are the output of a complex mathematical system.

    The information (and the names of all the things you encounter) are cataloged on a central database that all the other players are feeding into, so effectively a whole universe (yes, with multiple galaxies) is being created/populated by the players of this game as they explore it. Hooooo. I mean, there’s an idea that’s never been done before in gaming, at least not on this level. It’s a heady concept and I’m captivated by the idea.  And the scale of it all is preposterous: the creators estimate the universe contains 18 quintillion planets.  That’s 18,000,000,000,000,000,000… and no that’s not a typo.

    At this stage there’s still a lot which is unknown about how the gameplay will flow, but it seems heavily influenced by the game Journey… a sparsely populated but strikingly beautiful landscape that appeals to explorers and open-world fans. That’s me! I eagerly await this one. There’s a lot of great videos including long gameplay ones if you search on youtube but I really like this one for the pure excitement value:

     

     

    Hurrah for New Speakers!


    2015 - 05.02

    The culmination of my most recent loudspeaker construction project is finally here! The JB mk.IV’s are now complete. I spent a good amount of time listening and I’m feeling great about how they turned out. Some digression:

    On the enclosure: I would use Red Oak again, for sure. My nervousness for working with hardwood for the first time was totally misplaced. When cut with my circular saw, it was essentially the same as pine or any other softwood. Only with the router did I get burning of the surface and it was fairly easy to simply sand that away. If I did another pair like this, I’d probably pay extra to go to a lumberyard instead of Lowes though, since I suspect that some of the porosity I saw on the inside of my cuts wouldn’t be there with a higher quality of board. You can only expect so much from a big box store.

    2-in-1 polyurethane/stain; I would use that again. Wipe-on polyurethane was simply too thin though. That’s good for a final finish only but any sanding is going to take it straight back off again. As my final step I used a triple-thick polyurethane that worked well, although I notice that it did irritate my eyes for about 24 hours afterward, and that’s even with a fan blowing the vapors away from me in the garage. Maybe that stuff has to be used strictly outdoors. The end finish came out quite glossy as you can see in the pictures although it’s not a mirror finish since I did eventually reach the point of no longer caring about how perfect they looked, especially with the flaws already noted in my carpentry. I was too anxious to get to the listening!

    On the design: It’s a minimalist design, really. Two driver system with the simplest crossover possible: the -6dB/octave Butterworth filter, which uses only a single capacitor and a single inductor. That’s somewhat of a major feature on these speakers since nearly all popular designs opt for a Linkwitz-Riley filter with the steeper -12dB/octave rolloff that allows the tweeter to be crossed off lower and/or play louder. The values I selected for the components do leave a slight gap: the cap rolls off at 2.65kHz while the inductor rolls off at 2.55kHz.

    crossover components

    With my mastering and EQing experience, I figured a slight dip at 2.6kHz would actually be pleasing to the ear anyway. The major advantage to the Butterworth filter is a linear phase response to the rolloff region–that is to say there will be no phase cancellation or comb filter effects around the crossover frequency, which all of the other crossover designs suffer from in varying severity. Judging by online reviews of the tweeter and its response curve, I should be able to get away with loud volumes at this crossover point since the resonance frequency of the tweeter is 1.1kHz. Both the tweeter and the woofer had very smooth response curves, so the expected character of the system should be quite neutral. As with my brothers speakers I knew right away I wanted to use an L-pad to compensate for the impedance and sensitivity mismatch between the woofer and the tweeter. The L-pad is a fun way to get a lot of different sonic flavors from a single system as well, since it’s essentially an extra tone control for your stereo system. Never again would I build a speaker without one.

    L fully assembled, R in progress

    For the crossover components, I did go a bit higher end since there’s only 4 total parts. German copper foil inductor for that precision midrange and a French polypropylene film cap for that snooty, refined treble. I did not even both mounting these to a PCB, instead screwing in a spare piece of wood to clamp down the heavy inductor, and a glob of silicone to secure the cap. Both are soldered directly to the inside lug of the + binding post to eliminate an extra set of connection points. The opposite end of the copper foil inductor was also attached directly to the woofer binding post, so it actually has no extra internal wiring on the + connection. For the rest of the wires I used 14 AWG solid copper wire that I also employ as the main bus wire on my railroad. It’s the same type of wire an electrician would use to wire light switches and outlets in a house, so very heavy duty. Totally overkill considering the stranded speaker wire which will probably be connecting these to any amp. It is somewhat difficult to work with though, since it’s stiff and fights against every bend. I’m 50/50 on whether I’d use it in another design.

    Philosophically, these units are quite different than the large speakers I built back in high school that are serving in my living room: those are 3-way with a dome mid, powerful low-reachingwoofer, and a complex computer-designed crossover that has like 40 elements in it. Since there are so many possible choices to make with speaker design it’s almost stupid to do the same thing twice but what can I say, I loved the tweeters from my brother’s green speakers so much that I had to use the same model again on these units since I missed their sound. Every speaker I’ve ever done has used cloth dome tweeters since I prefer their gentle timbre over a metal dome or a horn.

    crossover and foam installed, L-pad visible on the inside

    On the sound: I already knew that these tweeters were fantastic so they have been a joy to have back in my life again, so the ScanSpeak midwoofer is really the new player of intrigue for me here. Prior to building my brothers green speakers I had always wondered about the revered ScanSpeak brand and having been blown away by how good their tweets sounded I resolved to use a woofer of theirs as well on my own design.

    Initially my impression was neutral. The effect that a quality midwoofer has on the overall sound is more subtle, compared to the airy, delicate treble of fine tweeters.  Woofers typically do need a break-in period to loosen up and these seem like they needed that more than other drivers I have known… In my initial listening I did listen to “Spotlight” by SPC ECO and while experimenting with the tone controls on my Kenwood, I flipped on the 800Hz presence boost and immediately exclaimed “Oooh! Oh yeah!” after just a few moments of taking in the sound. Since the midwoofer is taking charge of everything from 2.55kHz and below, that’s definitely all his doing. I’ll need to spend some time breaking these in first, then listening to familiar material to give a true appraisal….

    As for the bass, it does not extend very low, but that was an intentional feature of the overall design. These speakers are intended to be paired with a subwoofer, not yet built. Knowing that, I purposely chose a midwoofer that had a high roll off and a good high end. Ideally I would have preferred a closed box but without making it a three-way design I could not find a driver that satisfied me. Everything that would go low enough in a closed box had a poor top-end response, either not reaching far enough or having too rough of a curve for my taste. Perhaps in the future I may experiment with drivers that do have coarse resonances and choppy curves. Like I did mention before, some dips in the response curve can sound pleasing in the right spots.

    response plots JB mk4 both drivers black

    I have superimposed the response/impedance plots of both drivers here; the plot is remarkably smooth for both drivers and with a 1.5×4″ port, an F3 of 80Hz is achievable with this woofer according to the Madisound website. Final enclosure volume is 4.5 liters or 0.16 cubic feet which is fairly small. The intended volume was 4 liters for the port design, but it’s good to go slightly over for internal bracing, components and stuffing; factoring those variables in, we’re probably beneath 4 liters again, but I have read that stuffing makes a box “look” bigger to a woofer. Another point of compromise was the ratio of sizes between front/top/sides. Ideally I would use 1.618, the fabled golden ratio. However the size of the driver faceplates dictated that wasn’t going to be possible, so I ended up with 1.3 and 1.9 instead.

    One other thing I did was to router off a smooth rounded edge on all sides of the front to reduce diffraction of the high end. The tweeter faceplace comes right up to the edge of the front panel though, so a harsh edge was unavoidable there. Curiously, I like the way the treble sounds when standing slightly above the axis of the tweeter so maybe a certain amount of diffraction is good sometimes? Or that could just be the overall directional response of both drivers that I’m hearing or something else entirely, who knows.

    More for my own later reference down the line than anything else, here is a breakdown of the parts:

    10uF Solen PB10 mfd Metalized Polypropylene film fast cap
    0.50mH Goertz CF.5 (16AWG) copper foil inductor
    ScanSpeak discovery D2606/9200 1″ textile dome tweeter
    ScanSpeak discovery 15W/8434G00 5.25″ midwoofer
    Yung 100W 8ohm L-pad
    Goldwood 1.5×4″ flared port
    Lowes Red Oak panel x2, 7.25″ wide
    Generic gold binding posts

    And some further reports as my listening extends into the weeks:

     Moving these speakers from my Kenwood receiver over to my Marantz PM750DC yielded a major difference in the sound.  Maybe it’s a combination of the room and the speaker placement but they have a new life to them near the railroad now.

     Basslines on Donny Hathaway’s rendition of “What’s Going On” come out clear and defined from my Marantz 6100 turntable.  I underestimated the capabilities of these midwoofers on their low end.  Happily thus far I haven’t heard a tune that exposes any bloated notes on basslines.  That’s always a pet peeve for me.  These speakers will really shine with a sub, afterall that’s how they are meant to be paired.  But until that’s built I can be content with what’s here.

     A whole new amount of depth and life appeared on Royksopp’s “Senior” album, one I have not listened to on a great set of speakers intently.

     Found a few new details in familiar recordings: you can hear the snare rattle as the toms are played at the beginning of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle”.  And there is some kind of percussion instrument I never noticed before despite listening to Seal’s “Dreaming in Metaphors” hundreds of times–a song I used to be all about in high school.

     Something totally unexpected: I often listen with an extra compressor plugin “juicing up” anything being played over the PC, but who knew–with these new speakers I find myself turning the compressor off more and more, just listening to the original audio exactly as it was.  Compressors can often bring out extra details but jeez, these speakers are exposing how a wide dynamic range actually sounds better than a totally squashed signal that has all information crunched into a narrow volume range.  That’s a beautiful realization I did not anticipate.

     Getting a new pair of speakers sure is a great excuse to go back and listen to familiar music you may have listened to over and over at one point in your life…. which takes it all back to what this whole pursuit is really about

    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.

    You Might Be Preferred 45 Cool. But You’ll Never Be Xtra-Repaint Ghosted Preferred 45 Cool.


    2013 - 07.17

    It’s been a while since I did a model train post. One thing I’ve been working on lately is a set of blank 45 foot trailers which I’ve been decaling for the Milwaukee Road’s trailer service. They have a number of neat paint schemes which had caught my eye, namely the “Preferred 45”, “Preferred 102”, and “Preferred Pool” trailers. One of each is on display here:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The decals are by Micro Scale and although they have been out of production for probably 10 years, you can still find them floating around (pun intended?). Old decals can be tough to work with, since they like to fall apart on you, but with some patience I think I nailed it. The trailers are also out of production models, from the Promotex line by a Canadian company called Herpa. I went with these simply because I liked the amount of detail on them. The reflective stripes on the sides are probably an anachronism, but eh, whatever, I think it looks neat so let’s run with it.

    It was actually really tough to find reference photos taken of the prototype (aka the real thing for the non-modelers out there). Below are two which were shared with me from the slide collection of Mr Nathan Dahms. Thank you for these helpful images Nathan!  And thank you for permission to post them here so that others in search of reference images will have something to use :

     

    I got this first image after decaling mine.  Although I followed the decal sheet instructions (which are consistent with the image below), this trailer is a bit different.  I think for the next ones I do, I will mimic this photo instead…

    And lastly, in the process of searching for images, I rediscovered this dude who goes by the handle Mellow Mike. I had seen his stuff on weathering forums years and years ago, then lost track of what he was up to when those forums closed. This guy is seriously god-like with an airbrush (and whatever other secret alchemy sauces he uses). If this kind of thing interests you, his website will totally blow your mind. Anyway I randomly found a trailer he had done via google image search. It’s a Milwaukee Road Preferred 45 trailer which was sold and painted over, although the original scheme remains faintly visible, a state referred to as ‘ghosted’. He said he based this off a photo. So my little decaling project is neat and all, but check out the real master at work:

    JUST.  WOW.

    That New Propellerhead Thang.


    2013 - 02.24

    Here’s an awesome milestone in my electronic music-making pursuits: this Thursday a copy of Reason 6.5 showed up on the doorstep!  Having used every update back to 2.0, it’s very exciting to have my own legit copy of the latest and greatest iteration. Probably the best part about Reason 6 is that it added support for recording external sounds directly into the program to layer them on top of your tracks; the lack of this was the single biggest downfall of previous versions. They’ve changed several other things and added some new devices which I’ll need to explore as well… it’s time for me to spend some quality time here and do some learning. PUMPED UP!

    Beginners Mind again, for this: The Hubble Extreme Deep Field


    2012 - 10.21

    One of the first cosmological images which really and truly blew my mind as a young adult was the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field. Basically the idea was “Hey, what happens if we take our most powerful telescope and point it somewhere that’s pretty much empty and just stare at that spot for a really long time. What would we see?” The answer to that question was “We see somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 very distant galaxies.” Pause and let that marinate for a moment.

    Here is a closeup on one small area of the image, a random part that I thought looked cool:

    For a long time I left that as the wallpaper for my computer at work and I’d come in every morning and stare at the image while my slow computer took forever to finish loading windows. What was cool about having it as the wallpaper I had to look at while I waited for the machine to become usable was just how much there is to look at in there. As long as I stared at it, I’m certain there’s oodles of things I still didn’t notice. Looking at it first thing in the morning too, when the mind is raw and still gradually awakening surely added some awe to the effect as well. It’s staring into an abyss. Staring into infinity. And knowing that it stares back at you too…

    As a humorous aside, I’ll note that the “Hubble Ultra-Deep Field” is actually the sucessor to the “Hubble Deep Field” which showed a different region in space. And this new image, the “Hubble Extreme-Deep Field” is a closeup of a smaller section within the Ultra-Deep Field image, adding around 5,500 galaxies to the original 10,000+. When the James Webb Space Telescope goes online, they have plans to image the same area with it’s mighty Infrared sensing capability. What will that image be called? The Ultra-Extreme Uber-Deep Field Tournament Edition Plus. Director’s cut. Enhanced, expanded edition. Two. Strikes Back. Reloaded. Chopped and Screwed. Remix. Turbo.

    Whatever, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. Just, everyone, do me a favor: full rez this new baby and spend at least two minutes staring, thinking about what it shows:

    Everything on the internet, everything in a book, everything you’ve ever heard, learned, imagined, or even dreamed, in the most remote recess of your subconscious, is all within the realm of the ‘Earth’ experience. And Earth is a single, small terrestrial planet out in some sleepy backwater arm of the Milky Way, a perfectly average spiral galaxy with about 300 billion stars, and about as many planets, with maybe 10 billion of these being in the goldilocks “habitable” zone. Or at least habitable to “life as we know it”. Nevermind moons, nevermind thermally-supported life, nevermind ‘Steppenwolf’ planets that were flung from their parent stars. If the entire breadth of human knowledge, emotion, and experience resides within our differential-unit-small grain of sand that’s floating in the Milky Way swimming pool, then try to concieve of the vast diversity of lifeforms, cultures, natural wonders, and sub-realities residing within the oceanic field of view of this image, depicting thousands upon thousands of distant galaxies. Try to imagine traveling there, surveying them. Imagine exploring just a handful of those galaxies and chronicling the habits of their residents.

    How could we explore it? First we’d need to aggressively master interplanetary voyages, remote communication and colonization. Fly probes and listening devices to the Kuiper Belt. Mount them to passing comets for a long voyage back out to the Oort cloud. Use those to learn about the radiation and galactic wind in interstellar space. Develop shielding, life prolonging and hybernation capabilities for deep space travel. Contact alien cultures within our own galaxy and master inter-species diplomacy. Develop non-invasive, non-destructive ways to study primitive life still early in its evolutionary tree. Catch the best bacteria to help us live longer, retain more knowledge. Authoritively chronicle the Milky Way with billion-year data storage capability. Pool resources with other intelligences to build intergalactic ships or probes. Scatter them in all directions to search for points of interest. Then, finally, research ways to reach the most distant of galactic neighborhoods like the ones we see in these pictures. My point: The actual exploration of these places is not something that’s a few ‘ages’ away in terms of a civilization. Exploring these places is an act for intelligences unthinkably more sophisticated than our own… But we can dream of it.

    When I look at this, I like to focus in on individual places and try to imagine what might be there. I like to find a pretty looking galaxy and think about what planets might be inside of it. Or sometimes find a teeny sub-pixel dot and wonder if that less-than-a-pixel point is a whole giant supergalaxy, burgeoning with life forms, interstellar commerce & conflict, culture & craftsmanship. Maybe these two galaxies colliding are locked in an interspecies war millions of years long. Maybe they’ve evolved organic-electronic synthetic intelligences that can instantly teleport between host bodies, allowing them to be anywhere their race has ever traveled instantaneously. I wonder what their music sounds like. I wonder what senses they have. Can they “see” radio waves? Does their culture have money, or government? I wonder what “pleasure” or “sex” means to them? Or consciousness? I wonder what THEIR telescopes have discovered about the formation of the cosmos. Does it look “the same in all directions” from the far-far edge of what we humans can see?

    It’s fun to try envisioning all these things. And then humorous, in a zen sort of way, genuinely humorous, knowing that it’s impossible. You can’t. You’re looking at something so much bigger, ancient, and wilder than the capability of the feeble human brain to comprehend. The are not human words in any language to meaningfully describe what any of these Hubble Fields show. These images, obscured by the thick, nearly-opaque veil of distance, give the most fuzzy, teasing glimpse of something beyond us. Something beyond even what our most distant descendant will ever become. I find that deeply exciting. This picture shows, unquestionably, indisputably, that the universe has more to explore than is possible to explore. What better reason to be alive in this cosmos?