monday was weird

Monday was weird. I mean, aside from the 15F record heat and ambush summer. That was part of it, tho’. Maybe setting the table.

I made a papercraft optical-illusion K-9 from Doctor Who Sunday night, and the video I posted early Monday morning has been played like 30,000 times already, because the official BBC Doctor Who tumblr reblogged it.

Two roofers apparently decided independently “eh, showing up is for other people” so now my lair improvements are problematic again. GUYS DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW THIS WORKS I CAN PAY YOU IT ISN’T EVEN STOLEN

Also, I think I am being trolled by China.

On the plus side, the new music store near the lair – Kennelly Keys, the one that used to be a gun shop and before that was custom window shutters – carries Black Widow merch. So… I guess that’s… still a little weird? But in a good way. At least it’s not Generic Stormtrooper.

More than Target

So, yeah. Monday was weird.

anechoic thunderdome

Thanks to Sean Zimmerman, who I met at Conflikt, I got to go poke around at and in Microsoft’s anechoic chambers! One of them just recently set the world record for the quietest place on earth. And it was really cool.

The Building. Massive. Brutalist. Stoic. Waiting. Quiet.

Sean and Christian, Our Tour Guides

These rooms are called “anechoic chambers” because they are rooms that don’t echo sound. (An-echo-ic: An – negation, “echo” – echos, “ic” – characteristics thereof.) All normal rooms echo sound all over the place, as I’ve talked quite a bit about previously. These… pretty much entirely don’t.

Microsoft actually built four of these chambers, at different sizes, for different purposes. Two are tiny – far too small to walk into. Those are for various kinds of small device testing. But the two we’re looking at today are both much larger.

The first one, which I’ll call the Green Room, has a really big door!

Not that door, you clowns, the other one!

Yeah, this one!

It also has a metal grate floor which brings the noise level up a bit. It’s like -8db from 0 reference, which doesn’t give you much of an idea of scale – but for pretty much everyone, 0db is completely inaudible. Anything below that starts getting crazy, and the lack of sound reflection will start freaking some people out. Sound just kind of …collapses. It dies around you. That’s the territory we’re in, and we aren’t even in the world record room yet!

The absolute minimum for sound in this measurement scale is brownian motion in air – the sounds produced by random collisions of gas molecules. That’s -23db, and more or less the absolute zero of sound in a standard atmosphere.

The Green Room is neon green on the outside. It needed painting for protective purposes, but nobody specified a colour, so when this chamber started going up they asked the contractor ‘why this neon green,’ and the contractors were all ‘you got something against the Seahawks?’ XD

Green Room connects to the building HVAC, but has its own control zone and is baffled heavily inside – which means it can be completely cut off from building HVAC when in use. From memory, I think it completely blocks out everything external below 180Hz, and almost everything below that as well. That may and may not sound super-impressive if you don’t know how this works, but trust me – it’s impressive.

This is an 80s Doctor Who set, right? Quickly, Tegan – this way!

But this isn’t even the big story. The bigger chamber you haven’t seen yet? That one holds the world record. It certified at -20db for the Guinness Book. When people talk about Microsoft’s Anechoic Chamber, they mean the bigger one.

The record holder is basically a separate isolated building. It’s completely surrounded by the large cement building pictured up top, including overhead, and has its own separate HVAC system. There’s a gap of about a metre between the two structures. The only common point is the ground on which the two buildings rest, and the power and sound cables, which are, themselves, sound-insulated nine ways to hell and back.

Mind the gap:

Looks like a Vault-Tec utilities corridor. Supermutants, probably. Careful.

This – okay, few people remember this, but there was a time when home audiophiles of the particularly batshit sort would do this sort of thing for their turntables. No, seriously, they’d cut a hole in the floor of their house, and pour a cement base and column, onto which they would mount the turntable, for complete isolation. And as goofy as that is in a home audio environment – I mean seriously, what? – it is meaningful here.

Anyway. The floor in the big chamber is just fun to walk on. It’s a coarse square mesh that feels like walking on a trampoline. Bouncie bouncie! Obviously, this is a flats-only room, no heels here:


Below that is a super-thin fine mesh which catches dropped objects, and below that, more of the same sound baffling as used on the walls. Then – in all directions but down – the aforementioned gap separating the two buildings.

The Microsoft audio-testing crew want to put a tentacle in the gap space, or at very least an inflatable alligator. (This came out after I said that in Fallout 3, that gap would have water in it. And ghouls.)

Both walk-in chambers use special lighting. I don’t know the technical details, but they’re designed so what incredibly tiny amounts of noise they might make is at 40,000Hz, well outside human hearing. This to avoid the 60Hz hum of many light bulbs – even incandescent. I don’t know if they’re supplying DC power or very high frequency AC or whether that’s possibly a trade secret. Could be!

Quietest photon cannons on the planet

Oh, wait, you didn’t know light bulbs made noise? Surprise! When lighting out my studio I went through several different bulbs, testing for quietness. I didn’t go to the extremes shown here, of course, but still.

I did the same for my computer monitors, which is one of the reasons why I’m afraid to upgrade my digital audio workstation to widescreen – I don’t know what kind of noise profile the new ones might have, and going to a store will not help. Everything below air horn sounds quiet at Best Buy.

This room, like the green one, also has a Really Big Door. This one opens inward, instead of outward, which creates a problem – and check out how the back of this door interfaces with the wall it has to open into as a result. It’s pretty cool.

That interfacing is important; those wedge panels are interlinked. Damage one, and you have to disassemble all the way back to the door to replace it. Bill Gates once sent a memo to Microsoft Security saying, “Yes, the developers are allowed to play golf in the halls,” but that would not apply here.

That door – and the walls, and everything else, of course – mean that all sound above 150Hz is blocked completely out of the room, as is damn near everything below that. Then the wall treatment takes care of anything generated inside. And the microphones and mic preamp combinations they use for testing cost like $10,000 each – well more than my entire studio!

I’d like to say that I fruck out a bit when they let me stand in there in the dark and in quiet, but really, I didn’t. I found it calming and nice. They only kept the doors closed and lights off for four or five minutes; they say people can get pretty antsy in that short a period of time, but I was still rather enjoying it. To me, it sounded like a very quiet studio, just… lots more so.

I’d’ve liked a couch or something to lay down on. And would no doubt have fallen asleep almost instantly. No Sith Lord would have anything on me!

Meditate on this, Darth Asthma

Relatedly, Minion Paul doesn’t like being in my studio for long, because even that is too quiet and it freaks him out. So there you are. 😀

All in all: super-cool experience, and I can 100% legit say I have stood in the quietest place on Earth. Pretty awesome day. Thanks again, Sean! And as always, larger versions of the pictures are on Flickr.

floral riot

I haven’t posted a flower picture in a while. I like it when flowering plants grow together like this. Click to enlarge:

station II station

Station II Station
(photo Christian C.)

A few weeks ago, I got to go to visit Microsoft’s anechoic chambers. This was super cool, particularly since I got to visit the world record holder, which was neat. A lot of people find them eerie and/or creepy; I just thought it was awesome. I have a big post queued up next week, with lots of pictures.

But I also wanted – since I had a unique opportunity here – to snap a thematic variant of David Bowie’s icon Station to Station album cover, from his Thin White Duke era, wherein he is also walking into an anechoic chamber. Mission accomplished!

(I wanted originally to do a straight-up re-creation, but the setting was too different. Science of sound damping has progressed since 1978! 😀 And inversion and variation is better art anyway!)

I’m really pleased with it. Thanks for the help, Christian – and, for that matter, the tour, Sean! And I’ll post about the whole experience next week.

vox day, eric raymond, and the lambda conference blacklist

LambdaConf – a functional programming conference – invited an active and overt white supremacist as a speaker. A bunch of people signed a petition protesting that; LambdaConf told them more or less to fuck off. Now the neofascists are targeting all the petitioners, and Eric Raymond, noted open source developer, has jumped in endorsing a do-not-hire blacklist.

What makes this vaguely relevant here is that our old white supremacist and neofascist Hugo Award-scamming pal, Vox Day, has jumped in on the side of the neofascists, and is the one organising the blacklist. When I went checking to verify that Eric Raymond screencap, I also checked comments, where he’s stridently defending Vox. What a clusterfuck of horrible people this is!

And somehow, at the same time, you have the Horror Writers Association appointing fascist David A Riley to their award jury, and people are fighting over what’s wrong with that.

Now, Nick Mamatas argues that there’s a bit of a difference, in that awards are specifically bringing an entire aesthetic to a function, and Moldbug – the LambdaConf white supremacist speaker – was only going to be talking about code. True, but for me, it’s not really different, just different in degree, because developers are making decisions that affect the aesthetics of real life, all the time.

Take that flap recently where a GeoIP company sent every person looking up an IP address’s geographic location to a specific address in the middle of the US if they didn’t have an actual, correct hit for that IP address. They literally chose an old woman’s farm as their default, because it was the nearest address to geographical US centre.

As a result, she’s been facing years of abuse from strangers, because the company never thought somebody would look up some woman’s address online and go harass her.

They outright said that. Tell me that’s not bringing an aesthetic to software.

And just as much as that sort of programming aesthetic, there’s simple flat out personal safety. White supremacists – like misogynists – don’t believe that everybody in the room is an actual person, right? Unless the croud is whites only, or male only, or both, of course. Preferably both.

Take Dave Sim as an example of an overt misogynist. I won’t be in the same room with that man. Preferably not the same building; certainly not at the same event. That’s because he quite literally believes that women are not people, and that women exist only to drain off of real people, meaning men.

If I have to be in the same room with him, I want a gun, because I don’t trust him not to attack me or some other woman. I think it’s very unlikely, of course. But I’ve read his writing about women, and I would not rule it out. And if we woke up tomorrow and found he’d cut up some woman and put her parts in a dumpster, I would have exactly zero surprise.

And given that this shit happens, and happens routinely, I don’t think that’s irrational. I think it’s called real life impact.

So in the case of an overt white supremacist like Moldbug, you’d have to be profoundly stupid – on an emotional/empathetic level at very, very least – to think people of colour aren’t going to have the same reaction. Because that also happens, in real life.

And I don’t think most of these people are stupid. I just think they’re fine with that.

Which is much worse.

This is part of a collection of posts on racism, sexism, and homophobia in geek culture, covering a variety of specific subtopics. A sorted list of posts can be found here.

experiments in DIY pickups, part two

A couple of months ago, I built a Zeppelin Labs cortado instrument pickup from a kit. I ended up using it on stage, attached to my octave mandolin with a plastic clamp.

It worked well enough, but needed a fair bit of equalisation, plus there was that whole “giant blue clamp” thing. It also had a fairly metallic sound, which is either good or bad, depending upon what you’re looking for. In this case, that was good, but that’s not always true.

So I had an idea – I’d try to work around all of the above by building a second pickup, with this one’s piezo disc affixed to a hardwood plate. To do that, of course, I’d need a new bridge for the octoman, just so the strings wouldn’t be pushed super-high up in the air by the addition of the plate. Fortunately, those are cheap on eBay.

And now I’ve built it. To wit:

It’s Alive

Installed on the octave mandolin

I was hoping for something akin to the sound I got with the clamp… no. That’s not true. That still had issues. No, I was hoping for the held-down-by-hand sound, the best sound I could get with version one, which I could get no other way, and thus no useful way, since I kind of need my hands to play the instrument. They’re too busy to also press the pickup plate onto the face of the octoman. Hence: this approach.

The result… it’s better. But I didn’t quite get there. I didn’t even get the amount of bass pickup I did with the clamp solution on the first pickup. But what I did get was a more naturalistic sound, and more importantly, a better curve of sound, one that I could get into the area of live sound with a simple single-point parametric equalisation curve.

That curve looks like this. Simple, clean, ignore the red line (unrelated) and the small jagged spikes (room noise):

Simple… but kind of a lot. (+19db peak)

Here’s the riff from “Thirteen,” played back with that single curve added. If you want something in more normal octave mandolin tuning, here’s a short bit of Pirate Bill, played with medium force. I find this instrument really uncomfortable to play in GDAE, so forgive the shakiness. I really don’t like the way the fretboard works on this thing.) No other processing, including compression; those are just the raw recordings plus that one EQ point added.

It’s not where I hoped to get, but it’s pretty good – particularly for live. I think that the clamp – and my fingertip, holding the pickup down directly – has been damping down the high end, the higher frequency sounds. The pickup still needs EQ when I do that, just less, and this has the advantage of being… well, it’s a large shift, but a simple one. That has major advantages in real life.

Part of the problem is, honestly, that these little discs are really sensitive, which is good, but that sensitivity starts falling off pretty hard below 300hz. They still pick up the sound, but not nearly as strongly. That in turn implies that the dampening approach might be best, but that has its own problems, even if the idea of building in some sort of adjustable pressure device is kind of hilarious. And… maybe worth trying anyway, actually. Hm.

Regardless, given that the amount of LOUD in this kit is very goddamn high – it’s very sensitive, with a nice low noise floor – I’m wondering if a low-pass filter in the pickup circuit hardware itself would be the best approach. Sure, you’d lose some signal, but it currently needs so little amplification that a subtractive approach might just be… fine.

After making those recordings, I added some tape to hold down the cord – wouldn’t want to yank that cable off the kit, now would we:

I’ve got one more of these kits, and I want to build a boundary mic with it. And I’m wondering whether I can add such a filter directly onboard. That might be all it needs.

emerald city comicon!

I went to ECCC as Shadowcat – Kitty Pryde of the early 1990s, when she was with the superhero group Excalibur – because I felt like being retro and also because reasons – and of course the first thing that happened is Lockheed stole one of my goddamn gloves, about which I was tweeting in character all day. I even had period money!

This era of Kitty Pryde is so old (and short-lived, really) that I wasn’t getting recognised until I started fistbumping other mutants. My favourite of that was running into Beast, I was all “yo, Hank!” and he reflexively returned the fistbump, and then was all, “…Kitty? KITTY PRYDE?! OH MY GOD” and it was awesome. XD

I also have like 750 photos that I collectively refer to as Shit Got Arty which were all taken when I accidentally phased a little into my phone. Phone doesn’t like that. At least I didn’t short the thing out completely. XD

Anyway, here are a few samples that I liked. There are lots more photos – including a bunch of group shots from the Marvel fan meet up on Saturday – On Flickr. Plus, of course, they’re larger. Enjoy!

Goddammit Lockheed!

Shadowcat, phasing. Wearing the glove Lockheed didn’t steal.


This is what I’m going to do to that damn dragon if he doesn’t bring my glove back

Bill Cipher, interpreted, Gravity Falls

Shit Got Arty (538)

Photos Continue on Flickr

this is incredibly goofy and yet also somehow cool

Sansui apparently made an all-analogue physical-slider graphic equaliser… with memory function. Yes, you could save multiple settings.

How did this work?


It is hilariously slow. Jump ahead to 1m 13s, that’s right before this guy hits recall.


I’ve only got a single day pass for ECCC this year, I thought I had other things going on and I didn’t – well, I kind of do, but not exciting fun show things, the most fun I’m having is building a special pickup for the octave mandolin so I can loan it to some else for a show. Maybe I’ll maybe talk more about that later.

BUT! I’m going tomorrow. I’ll be 1990s Shadowcat, if all goes well, as I have no reason to believe it shouldn’t. I had a Shadowcat costume back in the way, but I haven’t worn it in years for Reasons, and also I’m making it better, so that’s fun.

So, yeah – ECCC Saturday! I hear rumours of a PDX Broadsides ninja show. See you there!

irish bouzouki v superman

This comic cover was going around yesterday on Twitter. It would’ve been better than Batman v Superman. Tell me I’m wrong.

irish bouzouki v superman

And yes, since the zouk was invented three years before this comic was published, I am headcanoning that this instrument (which nobody else seems to be able to identify online) is in fact an Irish bouzouki with a weird strap attachment point and not an odd cutout in the upper body. It probably has eight strings based on what we can see of the peg configuration, and that’s a reasonably Irish resonating chamber, and it’s a narrow, Greek neck. And sure, the body’s a little small, but it’s the right shape, I’ve actually seen an oddball zouk in that proportion, and it was very early in the history of the instrument.

Therefore, silver-age Superman’s Kryptonite was officially the Irish bouzouki.

obWakeUpSheeple: WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!

ps – this also happened, perhaps it was a prequel:

ukelele v buster keaton

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