Archive for category What The Heck Is That Thing?

Plyo Boxes

In an attempt to regain a certain “spring to my step” which seems to have dissipated with my battling of injuries over the last few years, I decided to get back to some bounding and jumping drills. As part of this little experiment I thought it might be nice to get some plyometric boxes. These can be rather expensive though, and being somewhat of a cheap bastard when it comes to things like this, I decided to build some. I am by no means an expert with tools but I have managed to build a few things over the years and I figured with the assistance of a friend who is an expert with tools involving wood, this shouldn’t take too long nor cost too much.

I decided to build three boxes of 4″, 8″, and 16″ height and 2’x2′ square. By stacking them I could get 4″ increments from 4″ to 28″. To keep them from separating I figured I could latch them together. 3/4″ plywood is plenty strong, especially when glued and screwed together, so that would be the body material. It turns out this takes a little more than one 4’x8′ sheet of plywood but I had an old treadmill deck sitting in the basement which would make up the shortfall (3/4″ MDF). So it was off to the lumber yard.  The sheet was about $40 plus another $8 for a box of wood screws. From there we went to my buddy’s shop and spent a few hours cutting, drilling, and assembling the units.

Fortunately, I had some left over exterior grade poly, so the boxes got two coats. Now I needed something to prevent slippage. I ordered something called “gymnastic rubber” from an online place but it turned out to be very flimsy. Even at 1/4″ thickness it could easily be torn with just your fingers. I returned it and wound up with a couple of 2’x6′ yoga mats ($9 each, on sale due to discontinued colors-oh the horror). The “gymnastic rubber” weighed a mere 1.3 ounces per square foot. The yoga mats are over 1/4 pound per square foot and should hold up nicely. These were cut into 2’x2′ squares and glued onto the top and bottom surfaces of each box. I had some acoustical sealant laying around which is like caulk that never fully dries, it stays rubbery, so I used that.

Then the latches. It seems you can’t buy decent latches at the local home improvement store. The ones I finally grabbed are made by GateHouse and came with perhaps the cheapest screws I have ever seen. The phillips head slot will strip out with only modest torque.  I replaced them with some beefier units I had (3/4″ #8 as I recall).

OK, so the whole thing was less than $100 (not counting supplies on hand) and in total took the better part of a day. The set weighs over 80 pounds. Here’s a pic:

We’ll see if they work.

 

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In Search of the Elusive Volume Control

Did you ever find yourself asking the question “How did I get here?”

The first pro-quality drum kit that I had was a Gretsch five piece with birch shells, Ludwig hardware, and Avedis Zildjian cymbals. It was purchased second hand in the mid 1970s. After being overly influenced by Bill Bruford, a set of six Remo Roto-toms was added a few years later. As much as I enjoyed the set there were two problems associated with it. First, in spite of some nice Shure and AKG mics, it was difficult to get a decent sound out of them in my home recording studio. Of course, being that the “studio” was a basement with scant acoustical treatment and a seven foot ceiling, the kit could hardly be blamed. The second and perhaps more confounding problem was the loudness level. In fair consideration to the rest of the family and neighbors, there were limits on when I could play. I simply could not afford any manner of “sound proof” room and unlike the ubiquitous guitars, basses, and keyboards that my friends played, there was no volume control on a drum kit. As I was finishing my degree in electrical engineering at the time, I was hopeful that there might be a technological solution down the road, something more advanced than the “beep-boop” Syndrums of the day.

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Hand It To The Austrians

Really. I think this is perfect.

http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/8272651/pastafarian-wins-right-wear-colander-in-licence

I don’t find a Pastafarian demanding to be able to wear a colander on his head for a license photo any more ridiculous than a Christian demanding to be able to wear a cross or a Jew wearing a star of David.

I do draw the line at practitioners of voodoo wearing dead chickens around their necks, though. Health concerns mostly.

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Too Not Funny To Pass On

So today I received an email from an associate. It was entitled “Too Funny to Not Share”. It was a sort of photo essay called “Civilian Riot Helmets of Egypt”. It featured photos of Egyptian civilians from the recent demonstrations, and in particular, their homemade DIY head protection gear. Below each was an appropriately sarcastic humorous comment for the reader’s entertainment. Lots of pics of men with a cooking pot tied over their head, the inside stuffed with rags. Or maybe a plastic bucket or even a cardboard box stuffed with cloth, and tied around and under the chin with another piece of cloth. And add to that an old life vest to serve as some measure of upper body protection. One young man had a bunch of small, empty plastic soda bottles secured with a towel on his head, the pic featuring the caption “Your classic 1979 tri-bottle helmet – a must in any type of combat”. A real side-splitter for the basic Consumerus Americanus to be sure.

I don’t get it. Are people so dim that they think these protesters actually believe these items constitute effective cranial protection and actively prefer them over, say, surplus army gear or even an old bicycle helmet? Does it not occur to them that if a protester actually had an old bicycle helmet he’d use it and leave the cookware home? Does it not occur to them that this constitutes gear of last resort?

When did it become funny to mock people who are so poor that they have to use a rag-filled pot to protect their heads from rocks and other weapons when they take to the streets to fight for their political and economic rights?

 

 

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DIY Bass Trap

So I’ve been busy lately.  Built a new recording/practice studio this summer/fall and I’m finally getting a few finishing touches done. One of those “touches” is acoustic treatment.

One of the more important aspects of studio acoustics is making sure you have a reasonable reverberation time. At the bass end of things, most untreated rooms are filled with the acoustic equivalent of mud. Trying to mix in such an environment is difficult at best. So, the front line treatment is something called a “bass trap”. You can find decent bass traps from a variety of companies such as GIK. The job of the bass trap is to absorb low frequency energy thereby reducing the sonic mud for a more clear and detailed response. Many bass traps are little more than a frame filled with a rigid fiberglass or rock wool material (denser than typical house insulation) and covered with a fire-rated acoustical cloth (such as loudspeaker grill cloth).

As part of the construction, I wound up with a box of 12 two-by-four foot sheets of two inch thick Owens-Corning 703 rigid fiberglass left over. So I purchased eight yards of Guilford of Maine fabric from GIK and sew-on Velcro from Industrial Webbing, made a pattern that is essentially a two-by-four foot box with a lid, six inches high. The Velcro covers the three edges. I dropped in three sheets of the 703, closed the lid, and bingo, four nice bass traps. The photo below shows one of the units open, ready to receive the 703. Note that there is an extra 3″ of fabric beyond the Velcro to help keep any stray fibers contained.

Opened bass trap

Bass traps are most effective in the corners of the room. These units are stiff enough that they stand up by themselves so I simply propped them in each corner. Here is one sitting behind my drum kit:

Bass trap in corner

These were relatively inexpensive to make, especially considering that the 703 was surplus from the construction. I can barely sew on a button, so a faithful family member did the sewing duties for which I am extremely grateful.

FYI, a thread about the studio was started on the VDrums forum this past summer. You can find it here.

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This Might Actually Be Useful For Someone

In the midst of the general flotsam and jetsam that is the Refuge, I thought I would post something that some readers might actually find useful.
DIY Guitar Rack, Completed
It’s an inexpensive DIY multi-guitar/bass rack. The one I made holds six guitars/basses (seven in a pinch) and total parts cost was around $20. It’s made out of PVC and pipe insulation. It’s about 36 inches wide, 30 inches high and around 10 deep. It can be scaled easily for fewer or greater instruments. All you need to put it together is a hack saw (and a rat tail file can be useful too, which I’ll explain).
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Non Essential Sound Products

A while back I offered my thoughts on a particular type of over-priced and over-hyped audio snake oil, namely power cables. So today I get my new issue of Bass Player magazine and what do I see? Why it’s an add from Essential Sound Products hawking their MusicCord AC power cord with the headline “Your stock power cord is choking your sound!” If you go to their site (which I won’t link to) you will find unsubstantiated claims about other AC power cords producing “Thin, One-Dimensional Tone; Attenuated, Gutless Bass Response; Hiss, Buzz and Noisy Backgrounds;  High-Frequency Roll-Off; Blurred Imaging; Bloated, Sluggish Bass Response” and other issues. Geez, I certainly wouldn’t want my bass guitar to suffer from “Bloated, sluggish, attenuated, gutless bass response”. Granted, I always thought that “bloated” was rather the opposite of “attenuated and gutless” in this sort of situation, but perhaps normal AC power cords are worse than I thought. Of course, you won’t find anything on their site in the way of serious double blind listening tests to validate these claims. As I offered a light critique in the afore-mentioned post, I won’t rehash it here. I only have three things to say regarding this company right now:

1. Apparently they have discovered (or are at least hoping) that naive musicians offer a profitable new market beyond tweak audiophiles. And hey, given that higher end basses are in the multi-thousand dollar range these days, maybe $100 for a power cord is well within the budget of the “tone paranoid”.

2. Not to be outdone by the power cord, the company also offers a six outlet power strip. With surge suppressor mind you! On sale, the bargain price of just a dollar short of $500. Why, you save $100 compared to the normal price! Gee, I can think of an alternate route: Go to the local hardware or electronics shop, pick up their most rugged surge suppressor power strip, give $100 to charity, buy a new stomp box, fold up a bunch of $20 bills and stuff them under the leg of that wobbly table in the back room to level it, and you’ll still be ahead.

3. They are not the worst offender. Look at this. That’s right, $3500 for an AC power cord.  This is nothing short of vile.

While searching for some material on this topic, I came across this article discussing whether or not there are audible differences attributable to power cords.  When I got to this part I just had to laugh:

To many in the engineering community, blind ABX is an accepted experimental design. Using the blind ABX protocol, we failed to hear any differences between an assortment of generic power cords and Nordost Valhalla. Therefore, we cannot conclude that different power cords produce a difference using the blind ABX protocol. However, we also cannot conclude that there are no differences. We simply failed to prove that differences can be detected to a statistically significant degree using a blind ABX protocol.

So in other words, if a proper double-blind test doesn’t reveal any differences, the only thing you have shown is that a double-blind test doesn’t reveal any differences. Apparently, there are no further consequences or conclusions to be drawn and it has nothing to do with what humans can or cannot hear. Brilliant!

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Hot Water Heat Pump

For most folks, the second most energy intensive activity in the home (after living space heating/cooling) is heating potable water. For a great many people the obvious choice is storage-based or on-demand fired by natural gas. But lots of folks (like me) don’t have natural gas service so we usually rely on storage-based electric water heaters. They’re relatively inexpensive to purchase (maybe $300-$350 or so for a halfway decent 50 gallon unit) but expensive to operate. Standard government estimates run around $500-$550 per year. This figure depends a lot on your usage and local electricity rates.

By themselves, electric resistive water heaters are relatively efficient in simple terms. Generally, between 90 and 95 percent of the electrical input is translated to heating water. This, of course, does not account for generation and transmission of said electricity, and as the average consumer is many miles from a generation plant, the system efficiency is much, much lower. In other words, bringing the fuel to the consumer (e.g. natural gas) and having them burn it on site achieves a much higher system efficiency.

Ultimately, an electric water heater is not much different from a toaster or space heater: You pass current through a resistive element, the element heats up, which in turn heats the water (or the bread, or the air).  So how do you make a system like this more efficient and less costly to operate?

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Sticky Snow

Lots of people tend to think of snow as some amorphous blob, kind of like sand that melts. It comes down, it piles up, it blows about, it lays around. But under the right conditions snow can behave in odd ways.

Here are some photos of snow behaving oddly at our house recently. First, we have snow that has decided to stick upside down to some PVC pipe:

Upside down snow

The pipe is a frame used to hold a bird net for blueberry bushes. Not to be outdone, we find snow behaving like a snake and undulating along the handrail of our deck:

Snakey snow

And finally, we have snow that has decided to behave like a torn sheet of fabric, and peels itself off of a car cover:

Fabric snow

I like the twisting effect particularly.

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ProAudio Review Jumps the Shark

As a long-time pro audio guy, I’ve been reading ProAudio Review for years. They do a good job of keeping me informed of the latest gear and spotting new trends. I received the September issue yesterday with the cover tease “Technically Speaking, Snake Oil Vs. Reality”. This was the topic of Editor Frank Wells’ column and I assumed that it was going to refer to a take-down of some dubious claims made by the “tweak audiophile” community from the perspective of audio professionals. What sorts of claims? Well, the audibility of $5000 loudspeaker cables, for example. What I discovered was pretty much the opposite.

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(In)famous Person Moves Next Door (Almost)

Check out this story from my local newspaper. It seems that one of “Charlie’s Girls”, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme will be moving to my town shortly. Fromme was just released from federal prison after serving an extended sentence for pointing a gun at then-president Gerald Ford in 1975.

I don’t have a clue why Fromme, now 60, would want to move to this area. As far as I can determine, she has no ties here. The area is relatively conservative and the winters can be a tad “harsh”. Our winter minimum temps are -20 to -25 F with seasonal snow totals of over 100 inches (the record being close to 200). If you don’t like snow and have no interest in outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, and the like, I don’t think this would be a great fit. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but I realize that it’s not for everyone.

Then again, maybe she’s come from the regional delicacies of tomato pie, chicken riggies, and half moon cookies.

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Ultra Jazz Bass

As much as I like my recent vintage Fender American Standard Jazz Bass, I’ve always wanted to get some different tones out of it. The stock pickups are OK but I figured that some after-market units might do the trick. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of adding active pickups, what with the need for batteries and all*, so I picked up a set of DiMarzio Ultra Jazz pickups and set to work modifying the bass.

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The Impending Purge

There are allusions to “bonobo scat spattered walls” here at the Refuge. Time to go one better. I am scheduled for a colonoscopy tomorrow. This will be my second such procedure so I have an idea of what to expect. I haven’t found any problem with the procedure itself, but the prep is tad, shall we say, messy. Here’s what it looks like:

Three days prior, no more fresh fruit or vegetables, and no nuts. This kills me because that’s about one third of my diet. OK, so I can live on canned fruit for a while, but morning cereal without my usual blueberries, strawberries, etc. is depressing. Oh, and no dried fruit stuff either due to skin and/or seeds. There goes more snack food.

So now the “fun” stuff. The day before the procedure (today) it’s a clear liquid only diet. And Jell-O. Joy of joys. At 2 PM I am to take 2 Dulcolax tablets to “get things moving”. At 6 PM, I am instructed to mix an entire 238 gram bottle of Miralax in a 64 ounce bottle of sports drink (I chose lemon-lime) and drink 8 ounces every 10-15 minutes until it’s finished. So that’s nearly two liters of laxative-spiked Gatorade in maybe an hour and a half. Here’s the part I love on the instruction sheet: “Expect everything you drink to pass through the rectum”. That’s an understatement. If past experience is any guide that should read “Expect everything you drink to rocket out of your anus at near hypersonic velocity. You may wish to flush mid-rifle to ensure that the bowl doesn’t overflow.”

And just in case that’s not enough, it’s two more Dulcolax tablets at 8 PM.

I think it would be easier if they just had you sit on a firehose. If there’s anything left in there after this procedure, I’d have to guess that it’s welded in place.

Obviously, there’s nothing to eat or drink after midnight. In fact, that’s one of the first things they ask when you check in: “Have you had anything to eat or drink since midnight?” The instructions are quite explicit, so asked if anyone ever answered “yes” to that query. The nurse said that it sometimes happens, and in fact, one fellow answered “Yes, I had a chili-dog for breakfast this morning.”

Needless to say, his procedure was cancelled for that day.

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Where Hummingbirds and Ants Meet

Time for a gear shift on the Refuge. Handy-dandy tip number 105: “How to keep ants out of your hummingbird feeders”. I can’t say that I blame the ants for swarming over the feeders. After all, who doesn’t love a little sucrose in solution with water? Heck, as my brother, an avid cyclist at one time, used to say “I never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like.”
Anyway, no matter how careful I am about not spilling nectar, the local ants always seem to find the feeders. I don’t know if they bother the hummers (mostly ruby throated where we live), but as the feeders are hanging off of our decks, I’m not really crazy about them getting in my way. I am adverse to using poisons for obvious reasons. I tried using various kinds of materials on the hangers, such as vegetable oil and petroleum jelly, but they didn’t work too well. I also tried to figure out some way of interrupting their “chemical trail” so they’d get lost. Ultimately, that led to a very simple and effective solution (no pun intended).
Here it is:
HumFeeder.jpg
All I did was take a used margarine tub, trim off the lip, poke a whole in the bottom, and then slip it over the hanger wire. I then slopped on a little silicone gel adhesive at the base to make it water-tight. Then it gets filled about halfway with water. Ants are not very good swimmers. If they climb down the wire and see the water, they will tend to go no further. If the ants happen to fall in, they have a very hard time climbing out as the tubs are made of polypropylene which is rather slippery (and which also happens to make a nice dielectric for capacitors, but that’s for another entry). It’s important not to fill the container full of water as this will make it easier for the ants to crawl out. These little things have been extremely effective and are ridiculously simple. You can even decorate them if you’re not keen on advertising which margarine you buy (note the very artistic application of automotive spray paint in the picture above).

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Raspberry Cane Borer Infestation

The raspberry cane borer, Oberea bimaculata, is a particularly nasty garden pest and for some reason there seems to be an unusually large infestation of them this year. Our property contains all manner of cane berries including a large patch of local wild black raspberries (my favorite), wild blackberries, wild raspberries (usually too small to bother with) and various cultivars of red raspberry, yellow raspberry, and blackberry. Cane borer damage occurs pretty much every year but it tends to be isolated and infrequent. Several days ago I noticed that one or two of the red cultivars had wilting tips. As we had been a little shy on rain, I assumed that was the cause. Stupid me. Then I saw a few more and upon closer inspection of a black raspberry saw this:
CaneBorer1.jpg
That’s what I call “the “purple death”. If left unchecked, the cane will be dead the following year.

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Fun with Resistive Position Sensors

As part of my continuing adventures in drumming symmetry, I have been working on a dual electronic hi-hat pedal. The idea is to have a single hi-hat pad respond equally well to either a left or a right foot pedal. It is similar to having both left and right kick drum pedals. For the hi-hat, this effect is sometimes realized through the use of a switch, but that requires some extra motion and it’s not possible to use both pedals at the same time. These pedals (both an FD-7 and an FD-8) are used with a Roland TD20 drum controller. The hi-hat pedal uses a resistive position sensor to indicate the location of the hi-hat pedal, be it fully up, fully down, or somewhere in between, to the TD20.
So, how do these sensors work? Well, let’s go back to some basics. The electrical resistance of a material depends on the inherent characteristics of that material (its resistivity) and its physical layout:
resistance = resistivity * length / cross-sectional area
In other words, if you take a certain amount of stuff and make it very long and skinny in shape, it will have a much higher resistance than if you shape it short and stout. Below is a photo of the sensor used in the Roland FD-7 (the FD-8 sensor is very similar).
HiHat_ResistiveFilm.jpg

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Wild Turkey Nest

What could’ve been the national symbol of the USA if Ben Franklin had his way, the wild turkey (meleagris gallopavo) is having a bit of a resurgence as of late. In our neck of the woods (central New York state) they have become a common sight and small bands of them are often seen crossing the country roads during the day.
But we had a lovely surprise these past few weeks. Recently, I had begun clearing some trails through the woods behind our house. This project included building three bridges across a couple of small creeks (the construction of which may be the topic of a future blog post). While working on one of them, I came across what at first appeared to be a dead turkey plopped amid some branches and twigs at the crest of a small cliff that overlooks the main creek. It blended in so beautifully that in spite of walking past the same spot several times in the course of the previous hour, I had missed it completely. Upon further inspection from a distance, it was apparent that this was a live turkey. I assumed that it had been injured or was sick, and let it be.

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Tongue Drum

And now for something completely different, the tongue drum:
TongueDrum.jpg
The tongue drum is also known as the slit drum or xylo-slit drum. It is the modern descendant of the ancient log drum. This is a large 14 key unit tuned to a pentatonic scale in G. It can be played with mallets or your fingers (with somewhat of a quick, snapping-back style). The sound is very mellow and pleasing. Organic might be a good term. This particular item came from here.
Besides the tone, what I find interesting about the drum is that unlike most musical instruments, it doesn’t have a “normal” orientation. That is, the instrument can be approached and played from any of its four sides. You just don’t do that with other instruments. Nobody walks up to a piano, lays across the closed lid, and proceeds to play with bass keys to the right and treble to the left. There’s really only one way to hold a saxophone in all practicality. While some people have been known to arrange drum kits in non-standard ways, I don’t know of anything as simple and direct as a tongue drum which exhibits this sort of free-wheeling, play-me-from-any-side nature.
Why would anyone care? Well, the way you interact with an instrument, the way it talks to you and you get it to talk, depends in part on the way you approach it, both figuratively and literally. While my first inclination was play it in the horizontal mode pictured above, it quickly occurred to me that a 180 degree rotation changed the locations of the notes and thus an identical hand pattern produced a different, though related, melody. It was a short step from there to a vertical orientation, more like a glockenspiel than a xylophone. It’s almost like getting four instruments in one.
And ultimately, this reminds of another useful thing about electronic drums, and that’s the ability to assign sounds and pitches anywhere on the kit. I think it’s time to create a few new kits where the tom pitches are lowest toward the front and higher off to the sides.

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Jesus on a Pizza It Ain’t

Humans have an ability to recognize patterns, even if they’re not really there, like the face of Jesus in a pizza or Elvis on the side of a Holstein. Apparently, a local lumberjack recognized something in a certain tree trunk and decided to flip it upside down and paint it blue in order to help passersby see the illusion. This little bit of “found art” is located less than two miles from my house and I had a good laugh when I first saw it:
BlueJeanTree.jpg
Jesus on a pizza it ain’t, but it sure is entertaining nonetheless.

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World’s Largest LED Chandelier

How does a 7000 pound, 35 foot diameter chandelier using high-brightness LEDs sound to you? Well that’s what was installed the other day at the Stanley Theatre in Utica, NY. The manufacturer, Meyda Tiffany based in nearby Yorkville, claims that it is the world’s largest LED chandelier. Here are details from the local newspaper and from an industry magazine.
The Stanley is one of those grand old movie houses from the 1920s, in an opulent style called “Mexican Baroque”. It’s one of the jewels of Central New York. I love going to the place and just looking around. Recently it has undergone a major renovation, including the creation of this world-record lighting fixture. There are two huge advantages to using high brightness LEDs over traditional incandescents: energy efficiency and lifespan. Typical household incandescents last around 1000 hours. By comparison, compact fluorescents last in the neighborhood of 5000 to 7000 hours. LEDs beat both by wide margins, lasting in the vicinity of 50,000 to 100,000 hours.
It is estimated that using traditional incandescents the chandelier would draw around 7400 watts. The LED version draws about 1100 watts for a 6300 watt savings. Assuming the unit is on for 10 hours per day, seven days per week and energy costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, that’s an annual energy bill savings of nearly $3000. On top of this, the maintenance time is a very small fraction of a traditional system.
Of course, none of this even begins to touch on how beautiful it is.

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