Category Archives: Actual fun!

this could be interesting

Something more soon. I’m still catching up on sleep from traveling in the past week.

But this looks interesting — TechShop. Basically a shop where you can go and pay a day-pass fee to take classes and otherwise use industrial fabrication tools — for plastic, metal, cloth, whatever. They even have a laser-cutting machine, among their other tools.

They’re not in San Diego yet, but are apparently working on it.

this is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time

So I’m a big fan of electrostatic speakers; the kind that move a large diaphragm between two high voltage stators, instead of relying on an electromagnet to move a cone back and forth. They’re usually way too pricey for me; I have a pair I was lucky enough to pick up at a store-closing sale. I think they sound better and more natural than most standard (cone) speakers.

However, this plasma speaker seems impressive. I’m curious as to how it actually sounds in real life as opposed to through a camcorder; but I like the idea that the gas is basically pushing the air around, and nothing else.

I found this one at VideoSift:

and another plasma speaker where they do more playing around with the plasma arc. It also reminds me of the tesla coil guitar amp or the midi controlled tesla coil.

Not sure I’d actually want a plasma speaker. But the concept is cool.

The other piece of audio interestingness I’ve found recently is the Dodecasub, which apparently due to its configuration and the way in which they wire up the drivers, will give you wonderful bass in front of it up to a distance of about 15 feet, but almost nothing to the rear and outside the room you’re in. I’d have to see (hear) that to believe it, but I like the idea.

fiberglas insulation is shit/the shit

I haven’t forgotten to keep posting; the stuff I’ve been busy with has been more mundane, though.

The city approved the rough framing and electrical work a couple weeks ago; since then I’ve been having Fun With Insulation. I just finished the last of it, and while I don’t really have the energy for a full post, I just want to say that while I appreciate what it does and that it’s an incredibly efficient insulation material (we have one room that’s been insulated properly, and it doesn’t get above 80 degrees in the summer), i HATE HATE HATE installing the stuff.

I have installed 1 and a half packs of R-13 batts in the walls, 2 packs of R-30 batts in the exposed ceiling areas, and 3 packs of R-19 batts in the attic above existing insulation (which, installed in the early 80s, was only R-7, so we now have R-26 in those areas). That’s a lot of itchy fiberglas.

Here is what I have learned doing so:
* There aren’t a heck of a lot of fuzzies, though there are more when you cut the batts, but you can vacuum them up with a vacuum cleaner
* A HEPA filter, or ghetto HEPA filter, is a godsend (I’ll post about how to make one soon), but doesn’t prevent the itch
* If you even look at fiberglas funny, you will start to itch
* The paper facing on fiberglas batts is more durable than kleenex, but not by much
* (From one of our drywall guys) If you dust yourself with talcum powder or baby powder, you can look at fiberglas as funny as you want and you won’t itch as much, until you sweat the powder off
* Tyvek suits are not built for people taller than 6 feet or with a long torso.
* The Kimberly Clark tyvek suits are slightly better built than the other brand, but still rip in the crotch if a person taller than 6 feet bends over wrong.
* Either brand of tyvek suit makes you hot and sweaty
* Installing fiberglas in 90 degree weather in an attic is a good approximation of one of the levels of hell
* Showering in cold water FIRST, after dealing with fiberglas, and shampooing and soaping with the cold water will get rid of more fiberglas bits than warm water. You can switch to warm water later, after you had a good wash with cold water.

There are probably more things I’m forgetting, but the important part is that I am now done with fiberglas for a very long time. I hope. Will post more soon.

soundproofing a wall, part 1

Today, I bring you a post outlining how to start the process of soundproofing a wall.

I got a lot of help and advice on this part from the good folks at Super Soundproofing here in San Diego — I’m trying to do my best to follow their direction, but I may be missing something here and there. With that said, though, here’s how I’m doing soundproofing for the first wall between two bedrooms.

On this wall, I only pulled the drywall off of one side, so it’s not getting the full double-sided soundproofing treatment that the living room to bedroom wall is getting. But for sound transmission between two bedrooms, I think this’ll do OK.

The steps to complete the wall are basically:

  • Seal all holes and butter any boxes with acoustical caulk
  • Install cotton insulation batts between studs
  • Lay and attach mass-loaded vinyl across the studs
  • Seal mass-loaded vinyl edges with acoustic caulk, and butt joints with lead tape
  • Lay green foam tape over each stud
  • Install 5/8″ sound deadening board (like GP HushRock) on wall
  • Seal seams with acoustical caulk
  • Install 5/8″ drywall, with seams running perpendicular to sound deadening board seams
  • Seal seams with acoustical caulk, leaving room for joint compound and taping

I used an SPL meter to measure the difference sound level after adding the various pieces, with the stereo in the next room turned to 25, playing The Puppini Sisters’ “Mister Sandman”. (Not quite pink noise, but it was something fun to listen to.)

So here are the steps I followed:

First, any wall penetration on the other side needs to be sealed with acoustical caulk that dries very flexible and rubbery (and stinky for the first week), to prevent sound transmission from air gaps. As well, any box (like the electrical boxes for power and ethernet/coax) needs to be buttered up with the stuff in order to reduce vibrations and resonances of the box.

The electrical boxes:

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our tibetan singing bowl doorbell

Last week, Make posted a link to a doorbell that I saw a few years ago that got me thinking. The doorbell — an exposed electromagnetic solenoid and two wine glasses — is basically just the mechanism from a standard hardware store doorbell with wine glasses instead of the metal xylophone-style (or metallophone, for the picky) bars that make the ding dong noise.

Upon seeing that, I thought it was rather neat, and tried to come up with something I could make that would be similarly cool, and far less pricey. In the course of random shopping, we found a singing bowl with a pleasant note; and it made the perfect candidate for a doorbell mod.

So we bought that, a wall platform at Cost Plus, and a cheap electromechanical doorbell at the hardware store. I think the total cost came out to about $70. It turned into this:

overall picture of doorbell on platform

It really wasn’t too hard to make; it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it sounds good, and is enough of a doorbell to make the dogs go nuts when they hear it.

Here’s how I did it:
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circuitry and such

One of the things I dabble with every now and then is electronic circuitry. I’m not nearly to the point of doing fun things with PIC boards and microcontrollers, but I do enjoy wiring up and playing with small circuits. And I’m currently somewhat fascinated with what one can do nowadays with LEDs.

I’ve ordered an MR16 light from SuperBrightLEDs — I got the 3W warm white spotlight bulb. It’s actually quite nice; I have some MR16 track light transformers I’m not using, one of which seems to work OK (no flicker or buzzing) with this bulb. The light given off is remarkably similar in color temperature to a nice halogen bulb, and reasonably bright — you’d need a few of them to come close to a 20W halogen bulb — more than I expected. It’s actually quite good as an accent/spot light. Unfortunately, it’s $35 per bulb, which isn’t cheap.

So I started investigating the parts. They use Philips’ Luxeon LED emitters from LumiLeds, which come in various configs. The ones I’m interested in are warm white (1W max — the 3W bulb uses three), and cool white (3W max). They’re like other LEDs except they’re much brighter, and use correspondingly more current (350mA instead of 20mA like normal LEDs).

I had the idea that I could put together a simple package of an LED and the support circuitry, and with any luck fit it all into a package that would go into a bi-pin Malibu light fixture, so I could purchase some reasonably inexpensive outdoor lighting, and add way more lights to my piddly 120W transformer (that’s already got 50-60W in use with 5 fixtures) for various bits of landscape lighting.

So I ordered 5 of the cool white 3W LEDs, which came out to about $27 for all of them, and have those. I ordered the star package which includes a bit of a heat sink; these things get hot.

For a support circuit, I didn’t want to use the traditional “just use a resistor” circuit to limit the current. I found the LED current controller circuit that uses a couple of resistors and a transistor to achieve the right current through the LED.

I guesstimated some of the values, and ordered five each of the following from Mouser Electronics:

Component Price
Xicon 3W 5% Small Metal Oxide Resistors, 30 ohms $0.39 each
Xicon 3W 5% Small Metal Oxide Resistors, 2.2 ohms $0.39 each
Fairchild Small Signal Transistors TO-92 BC63916 NPN GP AMP $0.14 each
Rectron Rectifiers – Bridge RS-1 1A 200V $0.46 each

The total order comes out to about $7, not including shipping. This is why I’m posting; other than the exotic LEDs, getting components like this can be super cheap. If this works the way I think it should, I’ll have converted malibu halogen lights to LEDs for about $7.50 plus labor; not much more than the cost of the actual replacement bulbs.

If it works out, I’ll post a how-to with pictures. For now, gotta wait till the order comes through.

november car ride mix

So, here’s a concept, though I’m sure I’m not the one who pioneered it. We went on a couple-hour road trip a few days ago, and I made a mix CD for it. But since I can’t post the songs (copyright violation), or stream it (expensive), the only way I can share it with others is to post a table with the song, artist, and album. We’ll call it an open source mix tape. And just to be snarky, it’ll be web-2.0 as well (note hyphenated web-2.0 is similar to but for trademark purposes not identical to Mr. O’Reilly’s copyright) — each album takes you DIRECTLY to the Amazon page for that album, except for one obscure Japanese album. (Full disclosure: each is an Affiliate link.)

Listening to and evaluating the mix is left as an exercise for the reader. My notes are at the end.

# Song Artist Album
1 Thunderball Tom Jones 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection – The Best Of Tom Jones
2 The Way You Look Tonight Bryan Ferry As Time Goes By
3 Right Here, Right Now Fatboy Slim As Seen on TV: Songs from Commercials
4 Lust For Life Iggy Pop As Seen on TV: Songs from Commercials
5 Tigerbeat Ursula 1000 Kinda Kinky
6 Renaissance Hooverphonic Blue Wonder Power Milk
7 Ultra Samba Bossacucanova Café Samba, Vol. 2: A Brazilian Lounge Experience
8 3ZOZO12 Fabio Nobile Featuring Lorraine Bowen & Guido Pistocchi Café Roma, Vol. 2
9 Samba Tranquila Thievery Corporation Café Samba, Vol. 2: A Brazilian Lounge Experience
10 Elf’s Lament Barenaked Ladies Feat. Micheal Buble Barenaked for the Holidays
11 Short Skirt/Long Jacket Cake Comfort Eagle
12 Sweet Love (Marques Wyatt’s Deep Love Mix) Kaskade Destination Lounge: Bali
13 She’s A Lady Tom Jones 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection – The Best Of Tom Jones
14 Break-A-Dawn Richard Les Crees Destination Lounge: Bali
15 Party Happenin’ People Deee-Lite Dewdrops in the Garden
16 Pink Panther Theme Laurence Juber Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar
17 Commissioning A Symphony In C Cake Comfort Eagle
18 Jackie Go! Ursula 1000 Kinda Kinky
19 Sultans Of Swing Dire Straits Money for Nothing
20 Ballroom Blitz Tia Carrere Wayne’s World: Music from the Motion Picture
21 Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee Canibus With Biz Markie Office Space: The Motion Picture Soundtrack
22 Peter Gunn Pat Donohue Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar
23 Do You Know The Way To San Jose? Seks Bomba Operation B.O.M.B.A.
24 The Girl From Ipanema Pizzicato Five Pink Panther’s Penthouse Party
25 A Shot In The Dark Doug Smith & Mark Hanson Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar
26 Mucho Tequila Ursula 1000 Kinda Kinky
27 Money For Nothing Dire Straits Money for Nothing
28 Bachelor Pad Fantastic Plastic Machine Pink Panther’s Penthouse Party
29 Shot In The Dark/Peter Gunn (Under The Gunn Mix) Chris Mancini & Lennart Pink Panther’s Penthouse Party
30 GIMME SOME LOVIN’~inochi haterumade~ Southern All Stars Sakura
31 Kodachrome–Maybellene Simon and Garfunkel The Concert in Central Park
32 Mais Que Nada (Ma-sh Kay Nada) Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66: Greatest Hits
33 99 Barbara Feldon Hal Lifson’s Sex and the 60s
34 A Day In The Life The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
35 Casino Royale Seks Bomba Somewhere in This Town
36 The Pink Panther Theme (Malibu Remix) Henry Mancini Pink Panther’s Penthouse Party
37 Gambit Ursula 1000 The Now Sound of Ursula 1000
38 With A Little Help From My Friends Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66: Greatest Hits
39 The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Teddy Randazzo Hal Lifson’s Sex and the 60s
40 Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard Simon and Garfunkel The Concert in Central Park
41 Mrs. Robinson The Lemonheads The Best of the Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years
42 Mambo 1000 Ursula 1000 The Now Sound of Ursula 1000
43 A Hazy Shade Of Winter Simon & Garfunkel The Essential Simon and Garfunkel
44 Pleasure Unit Ursula 1000 The Now Sound of Ursula 1000
45 シークレット エージェント マン(Secret Agent Man) RCサクセション The Rc Succession – Covers
46 Boom Boom John Lee Hooker The Very Best of John Lee Hooker
47 Think Aretha Franklin Blues Brothers: The Definitive Collection
48 The Mad Scientwist Kaiser George Twist Party with Los Straitjackets
49 Gettin’ In The Mood The Brian Setzer Orchestra VaVoom
50 Let It Be Aretha Franklin Soul Tribute to the Beatles

So obviously, I’m greatly influenced by a few things — techno lounge music and Soma FM’s Secret Agent music stream. I am amused by cheese, but do require a certain quality to the music I listen to. I can’t do techno that’s either just noise (is that “industrial?”) or only has a beat; I need something at least slightly melodic. Some of the Ursula-1000 style sampler artists do it for me. And well, I’m entertained by goofy music and energized by things approaching punk (but again, not noise punk).

Most of the music more or less flows; some of it could stand to be mixed together because a few have strange intros and such, but for the most part there aren’t any jarring transitions. (I used to help out a DJ a long time ago, who tried to teach me some of the finer points of choosing music.) Some songs are fun to listen to; Secret Agent Man is done by a Japanese band (RC Succession) that released an album of song covers where all the lyrics are literal translations into Japanese, including Summertime Blues and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Others just have a good driving beat (“Take This Job and Shove It”, “Ballroom Blitz”).

Still others are peppy covers of older good songs (various Henry Mancini/Pink Panther tunes, Seks Bomba songs, the Lemonheads’ Mrs. Robinson). And later on it goes into some good funky soul (Aretha could sing Hot Cross Buns and it’d still be good). For good measure (only 41 more shopping days) there’s a Barenaked Ladies’ Christmas song thrown in as well.

Anyway, use the links to check out song previews, buy some new albums if you’re feeling like it, and enjoy the open source mix tape.

who needs a rackmount fridge?

So I’m putzing around with web logs, and one of the search terms that brings up my site is “rackmount fridge”. Nonplussed, I do the search; apparently these things do exist.

picture of rackmount fridge
Image from & copyright Canford Audio PLC

Not sure exactly what purpose these serve; I suppose we could order one and send our facilities folks into tizzies (no food or drink in the server room, don’t you know). But I thought the extent of weird was rack mounting a playstation 2– I suppose there’s always something weirder…

moisture meters for irrigation

A while ago, after putting in sprinklers around the house, instead of getting a standard sprinkler timer at Home Depot, I bought an RS-485 digital output module, some relays, and an RS232-RS485 converter. I wrote a *really* basic perl program to control the thing, and basically set it up so that the sprinklers come on now and again via cron; the only real ‘computerized’ thing I did was to have it check weather.com to see if it said “rain” and not water if it was supposed to rain.

Due to changing landscaping (some of our plants survive, but others died) and the fact that the drip system on one of the circuits has some persistent (and annoying) leaks, and the fact that when we got the Electro-Gun termite treatment we had to disconnect it, along with everything else electronic that connected to in-wall or in-attic wires (yeah, that kind of sucked at lot) we kind of stopped using it.

We’ve been doing more potted plants lately; we have a lovely dwarf orange tree, some mint and chives, and a couple of plumerias that refuse to die no matter how much we neglect them. Lately it’s been getting a little much to remember to water everything with the hose though, so I figured it was time to fix up the sprinklers and such again.

The sprinklers are back and hooked up (had to repair a pipe break from a dog that pulled too hard on a leash wrapped around the valves), and the drip systems go to all the potted plants now. The drip system still leaks in a couple of places, but I may try some X-Treme Tape on those spots.

One thing that I’ve started wondering about, though, has been how hard it would be to set up moisture meters to figure out when to turn on the sprinklers. The same place that sells the digital output interface also sells an RS-485 analog input module (and since RS-485 can be a ‘network’, I can use the same serial port on the same computer to monitor it too). I just have to figure out how to measure the moisture in the dirt around various plants.

Turns out the wine industry (and probably other parts of the agriculture industry) have been doing this for a while. There are a couple of places that sell moisture monitors; it’s basically electrical probes stuck in some kind of gypsum compound that’s connected to a probe to measure moisture content.

Upon further research, it looks like I may have to refigure this a bit. The standard “insert two nails in the ground and measure the resistance” won’t work because the salinity (and hence the resistance) of the soil may vary with the fertilizer content. “Insert two nails in gypsum (plaster of paris) and bury in the ground and measure the resistance” appears to work a bit better, but a) if you use DC instead of AC to measure you’ll get a galvanic effect and one of the probes will degrade, and b) it’s longer lasting than two nails in the ground, but still degrades after 3-5 years.

So I’ll have to use some kind of AC current to measure (maybe use the 24VAC sprinkler transformer for this plus a bunch of rectifiers), figure out how to quickly make a bunch of probes that are similar enough that I don’t have to spend a lot of time calibrating them, and then see if it’ll work at all for being a useful measure of “when to turn on the sprinklers”.

But on the plus side, it’s easier to water our plants again. Now to remember to fertilize…

oh also — a rusc plug

I almost forgot — one more thing I wanted to do was to plug RUSC.com. “R U Sitting Comfortably” is a web site that collects recordings of old-time (30s & 40s) radio shows. When I was growing up there was an AM radio station that would replay shows like Burns and Allen, The Life of Riley, The Jack Benny Program, You Bet Your Life, and the Green Hornet. All great fun.

So recently I got a bug up my ass (not sure why) to find one of those shows, and lo and behold there are websites that collect them! RUSC seems to be one of the most complete; they have some of all of the above shows and tons which I had no idea existed or had only heard mention of. (Did you know that Allen Funt did “Candid Microphone” before he went on TV for “Candid Camera”?) They’ve also got old time baseball and football broadcasts, as well as some historical stuff (news/NPR-type broadcasts from Europe during WWII).

I’m a bit of a history buff in that it can be interesting to find out what went on during a time period and who influenced what. I love James Burke’s show “Connections” which traces a thread of connection from one seemingly unrelated item to another and another. (I don’t like going to the extent of writing papers proving a theory, though.)

So it’s also interesting to see shows like “I was a Communist for the FBI” from the middle of the Red Scare, or “Boston Blackie” and “Charlie Chan”, presenting an oh-wow-that’s-really-bad stereotyped view of certain ethnic groups. The shows even have commercials from the time; it really is something of a look into people’s lives (okay, as much as radio reflected that) and society’s views and values from sixty to seventy years ago.

Anyway — the SO and I are having fun listening to shows from old time radio, and the subscription fee is pretty tiny for what it is (we’re paying about $6/month). They have a few samplers; I heartily recommend them.