Archive for the ‘diy’ Category

truly excessive geekery ahead

All those posts I made about data cleanup and old hard drive data recovery got someone I know from my old SF club interested in his old Amiga hard drives, which he sent me, and which I imaged for him, and did as much file recovery as I could.

One of them was just fine – complete image, files pulled off separately as well, life is good. The other…

This is what’s actually in the disk’s partition table.

And for those who have no idea what that means: disks can be divided up into smaller disks, more or less. There are reasons to do this, mostly on servers, mostly not workstations, but whatever. These are called partitions.

This particular drive is cut up into six, count ’em, six partitions, sort of, except that two are completely broken and one is made up of parts that are also at the same time parts of two other partitions, and just kind of… overlayed atop each other.

Spoiler: this don’t work.

It’s like if you got to chapter two of a book, and midway through, chapter three appeared, overprinted and interleaved with the second half of chapter two. And after chapter two ended, chapter four picked up, printed underneath the rest of chapter three, making chapter four unreadable. But you can still make out chapter three if you squint.

There is no partition utility in the world which would let you do this.

The amazing thing is that I managed to recover the contents of both “TWork” partitions, which is a lot like getting chapters two and three from my analogy back and sorted out separately and readable. Couldn’t do anything for chapter four, though. And chapter six… I don’t know what happened there. It’s some kind of goddamn chainsaw murder scene with horror movie implications.

Sadly, both of these drives did the all-too-common very-old-drives-out-of-storage thing, where I managed to image them and pull contents, but after one last heat up/cool down, they just said “aaaaand we’re done here” ’cause that seems to be that. They’ll work long enough to come online, but the Viking won’t even stay up long enough to format it, and the Quantum ST will format, but will only let you write between 10 and 60 megs before taking itself offline and hiding from the controller until you reboot the machine. So no eBay listings for these.

Still, I’m happy. I made enough auctioning off all this old stuff to buy another microphone kit and I am closing in on another toy. Expect more DIY studio gear posts! It’ll be fun. 😀

so let’s say there’s an emergency

The new year is here, which means it’s time for the annual BIG CLEAN! But – living in earthquake territory and surrounded by active volcanoes – it’s also about emergency prep! Because it’s wise to have right the hell now, one-day, and two-or-three days plans for getting out.

(Some people also talk about having a month’s notice plan? But really, that’s a move, and I think it’s silly to think of that as ’emergency.’ Even one week isn’t a whole lot worse, even if you have a lot of junk – most of what people own that takes more than a week to sort out doesn’t really need to be sorted out.)

So! Let’s say you have one day, or worse, Mt. Rainier has just gone up and the Cascadia fault just tripped and everything is completely pear-shaped but a rescue boat is outside. For someone like me, who creates a lot of content, the key to getting out quickly without massive losses is already be ready.

What’s that mean? Well, you hear a lot about the three-day bag, of course. (At least, you do in Cascadia. It’s not really adequate, you should be prepared for at least a week, but three days is a start. Is this just us?) The three-day bag is one you can grab and take out the door as the building is falling down around you.

You should have data in that too. At very least, a recent backup of key data. For example: we back up our servers to USB flash drives. This sounds hilarious but it’s actually pretty good, because it means we can swap the flash drives monthly, and have a completely offline set of backups as well. And the monthly swap means they never have data-loss issues related to being unpowered for months.

Where do those offline backup flash drives live? The three-day pack.

If you have your creative works scattered across a bunch of formats – by which I mean other-than-digital formats – scan your stuff. And have your digital work collected – at least in backup form – in one place, and let that live in the three-day bag too. (But don’t use flash drives for this, they drop storage over time if left unpowered. They aren’t a good archive format.)

Alternatively, back your data up somewhere off-site. But that’s not always the best idea, for a lot of reasons – bandwidth being one of many, but there are many. If you can do it, great.

So as part of this year’s Big Clean, I’ve been getting my data situation together. I’ve made an image of my recording archives, and I’ve ripped all those old Commodore and Amiga floppies, and right now, and I’m scanning those old fanzines I put out back in the 90s, because why not? All that old stuff’s so small it can live in backed-up archive directories on my laptop, and the laptop is effectively part of the three-day kit anyway.

This is me, following my own advice, and being generally ready, like y’should. I was hoping to be done with all of this by the end of the 2nd, New Year’s Day Observed Bank Holiday Whatever, but I’m not quite done. But I’m close.

Anyway, here’s my RIGHT THE HELL NOW list:

  • three-day pack (yours should have a solid week of meds, if any)
  • laptop
  • instruments (at least the zouk)
  • phone
  • purse (which includes passport)

That gets me almost all of my creative output, food, meds, srs bsns ID, and so on. If you don’t have a passport – or passport card – you should have one if you can afford it. It’s better ID than a driver’s license or ID card, and doesn’t get questioned.

My ONE DAY’S NOTICE list – basically like going on tour with less gear but more paperwork. All of the above plus:

  • one suitcase of clothes
  • all hard drives
  • the One Day Warning box (important legal papers, pretty much)
  • studio tablet and custom studio hardware (one box max)

Anything more starts getting into “well, now, it’s just a move,” but with 2-3 days, I’d start with more general lab and studio gear, and favourite books and art.

For an emergency, doesn’t that sound luxurious? I’d have that luxury – all that time – because my Right the Hell Now and One Day plans are together. If you live anywhere that can get Abruptly Dangerous? Yours should be too.

oh look, the feet… ran. and computer case feet should not do that.

This is what’s left of the rubber feet of my 1994 Commodore Amiga 4000/040.

Yep. That’s a viscous tar-like residue that ran along the bottom of the case and into the gap between the bottom case and the cover. It’s very sticky and resistant to detergent, but, fortunately, not to citrus-based sticky tape removers. Isn’t it gross? I mean, seriously, doesn’t this look like some sort of OOZE OF SATAN special effect?

Oddly, the stickytape used to hold the rubber feet on was intact! And, as far as I can tell, fine. This actually saved me a lot of cleanup, because the cores of the old feet were pretty solid? The further I removed down, the more like rubber it became. The thickest material had an actual rubber-like consistency.

Fortunately, all the rubber that ran could be cleaned up pretty easily with an old spudger and a lot of orange oil. But goddamn.

I’ve repaired tube equipment from the second world war and this is the most bizarre materials degradation I’ve ever encountered.

and some days things don’t work

I wanted to post about the cool second-generation crystal microphone today BUT NO IT’S ALL STUPID AND NOISY AND I DON’T KNOW WHY but it sounds like either a really bad cold solder joint (please be that) or a bad transistor (@&*$&!!! special orders please don’t be that) and I don’t know which.

It’s too bad because I came up with a nice little jury-rig jig (say that five times fast) and so the backplate of the housing came out really well and I was looking forward to showing that off. Fingers crossed this is some sort of Surprise It’s Easy! fix – that would indeed be a surprise, to be honest about it, but a pleasant one.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Overwatch players in custom game mode making some genuinely gorgeous Genji Beams. These are effects created by lining up opposing teams of Genji players opposite each other, in continuous-shot-deflection mode, and hitting them with various weapons. The shots bounce back and forth between the teams, and you get some really neat graphics interactions. It’s pretty cool and occasionally hilarious. Enjoy:

cyberrrrrrrr mondaaaaaaaay

It’s Cyber Monday, apparently, which means LET’S PUT EVERYTHING ON SALE. I’m doing my part – I’ve put out four singles this year, so I’m putting all of them on pay-what-you-like.

It’s funny, but the most recent one – We’re Not Friends (The Future Has a Place) – has really changed on me since the election. Particularly with Mr. Pence involved, it’s stopped being a celebration, and has turned into a declaration of defiance.

Fortunately, I’m real good at defiance.

Here’s the 2016 tracks. I think they’re real good. Pay what you like – and thanks.

orycon this weekend, with show and tell

I’ll be at Orycon this weekend! I have panels and workshops and a concert on Sunday afternoon, so please come out for it!

They’ve actually given me a panel on building old-technology microphones, which is pretty cool, and I’ll let people record themselves on a 1920s-ish carbon mic and a 1940s-ish crystal mic, so hopefully that will be fun. People really seemed to enjoy it when I had the setup running at my dealer table at CBCC.

I need to find time – somehow – to wedge in building a new amp board for the microphone panel, because I don’t want to take apart the existing crystal microphone for show-and-tell, and I think it’ll be neat to show that off. Later today. Hopefully. Assuming nothing else explodes.

Like, Monday, right? Things Happened, and then I got to spend the afternoon pulling unimaginably gross material out of a fluid pump system while going, “oh gods, oh gods, I hope this is only cat litter, please let this just be cat litter,” and when that’s happening, you have officially reached what one might call a BAD SCENE.

Not “darkest timeline” bad scene, but: bad.

so disgusting

Anyway. Thank the gods that’s over. See you this weekend!

as of 2:30am saturday morning

As of 2:30am Saturday morning, I had a digital audio workstation again, lost partitions recovered – or, well, the important one recovered, the swap was damaged somehow but who cares, it’s swap.

It’s a good thing I was able to stop Tech Sport 7 from making trying to make the free space “active,” who knows what that would’ve done.

But, like a fool, I’m still trying to fix the Windows side, so I’ve been making a backup of the current Windows partition (validation pass just finishing up now) and then I’ll restore from a July backup, made before it stopped accepting security updates. Getting that out of the archives took 37 hours because yeah I’ll be re-evaluating my backup system. (It’s fine in theory but anything that involves making 1T images is probably not the best solution.) But it’s out, so as soon as validation of the backup of current Windows passes, we’ll be ready to try it.

What a mess.

i kind of had a plan for today, but

i was going to post the more than vaguely punchdrunk tweetstorm from my 13-hours-and-counting marathon run-in with Microsoft technical support about why windows hadn’t been letting me install security updates since AUGUST directly into the blog, because some of it is pretty funny

and i’m gonna do that anyway

but the seventh (7th!) tech sport did something i specifically said we cannot and must not do and destroyed my desktop machine, which drives all my audio software

(seriously, completely levelled it, i’ve got partition recovery running right now)

(broken boot table, no more linux system partition, no more swap partition, can’t even get to windows loader because grub2 is 100% made of “wot?”)

so i just storified the twitter rant instead of making a fake collection here (it’s pretty ragehappy) and then played the hilariously stupid current special brawl in overwatch, which is all pharah and mercy (phamercy brawl! <3) and double TriplQUADRUPLE kill Play of the Game until i felt better.

because it turns out i get pretty good at smashy brawls when i’m, like, really mad and have rocket launchers.

so, yeah. fun? enjoy my ranty goodness while I’m rebuilding my machine, again.

mod report: oktava mk-012/mc-012 microphone

Oktava has some great microphone designs. But the quality of the components can be pretty random, particularly in the used market, since a nontrival number of those were made in the early post-Soviet era. My two 012s sounded pretty different – one in particular rather unpleasantly harsh – so I implemented Recording Magazine’s recommended component upgrade* on the harsh one, which we’ll call Nr. 1.

Nr. 1 may have been modded a bit before. It’s certainly been opened before; one of the three screws was stripped and useless, the other was jammed badly. I had to drill both out, so I’m hoping I can order replacements. The third was fine.

As soon as I had the microphone open, I saw what Recording meant by random components. The key transistor was a make so old that it had a metal shield ground cap, and separate lead to that cap, something I haven’t seen in gear made after about, I don’t even know, 1978? I also saw what they meant by “fragile circuit board,” because wow, you could lift these circuit board traces with an overly-aggressive hair dryer. Take care!


Still, it was mostly a matter of being methodical and not rushing things, and in good time, I had the key components upgraded, with no surprises other than the transistor’s extra lead.

These are three unmodified before/after snippets in one recording – recorded under identical conditions other than the internal microphone electronics – of Oktava mk-012/mc-012 nr. 1 in my studio. Even on laptop speakers, I can hear the harshness, particularly in the first sample. In all cases, it’s pre-modification first, then post-modification after:

Oktava MC-012 nr. 2 sounded very different to nr. 1, before; opening it, I could see that the components used were of a significantly more modern variety. It may well have been made later, which would be part of that. Now, the two microphones sound much more like each other, indicating that nr. 1 really was meaningfully different in component quality.

Here is a recorded comparison of nr. 2 (still factory) and nr. 1 (upgraded). These recordings were made simultaneously, with the two microphones right next to each other. The differences are much subtler, but I think the upgraded nr. 1 has a bit more presence – or maybe sense of stage – than the factory nr. 2. Despite being mono recordings, it’s almost like there’s a slightly better stereo image in the modified nr. 1… but give a listen and hear for yourself, see what you think.

You’ll definitely need headphones to have any chance of hearing anything interesting here. Factory nr. 2 comes first in all cases:

So, all in all, very glad I did this to nr. 1; pretty sure I’m going to go ahead and do it with nr. 2 as well, though I expect a much less dramatic change.

The only thing I’m thinking about now is – there’s a bank of capacitors in back. They’re good ones – Philips, not generic, which have a good durability and spec-compliance record. (I don’t know whether they’re original; some Oktava 012s shipped with quality caps already in place, and their track record has improved with time.) So I shouldn’t need to upgrade them – and the article at Recording Magazine says not to bother if you already have “improved” capacitors.

But I don’t know how old these are, and electrolytics have a lifespan. That’s measured both in calendar time (years), and in use – tho’ the latter is in tens of thousands of hours, and these mics are certainly nowhere near that.

The small downside is time spent, the large downside is the possibility of circuit board damage, which wow I don’t want. The upsides would be 1. possible sound improvement if they are aging already, and 2. Never having to think about it again, in practical terms.

So I dunno. Get it out of the way, or leave sleeping caps lie? Hm.

*: errata for the linked article: Capacitor “C6” in the parts list is actually capacitor C1; there is no “C6” in the build description or circuit diagramme; I assume this is a typo.

Also, some of the items in their parts list are no longer made, but they have exact replacements. R1/R2 exact replacement part number as per my October 2016 Digi-Key invoice: MOX200J-1000ME-ND. Capacitor C1 (listed as “C6” in parts list, see previous paragraph) current part number: 445-4737-ND. Capacitor C2 current part number: 399-1418-ND. Capacitors C3 and C4: 4073PHCT-ND. Capacitor C5: 4047PHCT-ND. Mostly, the substitutions are lead-free versions replacing earlier versions with lead.

hard, hard candy

I made a thing! It’s called a focus knob. It’s quite simple and normally you’d built it into an electric guitar as a guitar mod, but since I don’t have an electric guitar, I built it as a pluggable external box.

Basically a mild high-pass filter that serves to pull out ‘boominess’ from instruments, it puts a bit more of an edge on an instrument’s sound – the more you turn it up, the greater the change. As effects go – on my zouk, anyway – it’s pretty subtle. But it’s also the kind of shift that is multiplied by later effects added in, and changes how later-in-chain boxes like distortion pedals work.

As you can see from the instructions here, the wiring takes all of about 20 minutes’ time. But it’s good warmup for making a bunch of component upgrades to my Oktava 012s, and I already had all the parts from the Great Radio Shack Lootfest of 2014. Plus, hey, cool hard candy tin!

So I have a a HARD CANDY knob now. It goes from Hard to Candy. Yum. 😀

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