Archive for June, 2016

a close call with hiatus

Yeah, yesterday was fun.

Night before last I started having these visual effects in my left eye. Now, I have a history of repeated childhood head trauma, and visual effects are real bad because it turns out when you have that trauma history, your retina can start to disintegrate in adulthood. That’s how I lost most of 2014 to repeated eye surgeries.

So when I started seeing these odd effects in my left eye, some of which were similar to previous effects, I was pretty much freaking out, because Oh Shit Not Again. But they weren’t exactly the same as the previous times, and what I was seeing also matched the description of a strange and rare migraine variation called ocular migraine, where it’s basically a migraine, but entirely confined to your retina and optic nerve.

And that’s there the ophthalmologist went, too. The good news is: no surgery. The other, mostly good news: it’s probably a clean bit of vascular membrane separation. This happens all the time, including to you. If you see floaters in your eye for a while? That just happened to you.

For most people, it’s harmless. In large cases, there’s a small (2-3%) chance of retinal involvement, and that’s not at all good – if your field of vision changes, that’s the sign you need to see someone immediate.

For me, by contrast,, that percentage had so far been 75%, not 2%, because if there is the outer edge of a bell curve to be found, I will goddamn well find it.

Those odds now down to 60%, which is much better. He examined the hell out of my retina and couldn’t find any sign of disturbance. It looks healthy as all hell.

Which is why haven’t actually ruled out ocular migraine either, because what I’m seeing with the neon-like lights business actually fits that better. If I didn’t have a big new floater, that’d probably be the only thing under consideration. Good part of that is: nobody understands it, but it’s confined, and has no symptoms – no headache, even – other than the optical effects, and the prescription is “well, just put up with it, it’ll go away. And then come back, and then go away, but it doesn’t hurt and generally won’t change much.”

The doc doesn’t think anything will happen, I just have to keep an eye on it – EYE on it! HA! – for six weeks to be safe, and I have a follow-up appointment in July. If something retinal were to happen, well… I’d be back on hiatus.

But not today.

I gotta say, I have never been so happy to be working on a drum track all my life. 😀

i learned something today

I guess it’s obvious in retrospect, but Monday I learned that a drum machine is basically just an overgrown sequencer. I kind of wonder if the original progression was the opposite way.

This is new to me because I’ve never used one before – all those drum tracks on previous work is microphone on live drums. Timing edited, sure, but live. But now I need a drum kit for a thing and I’m not a kit drummer and don’t have a drum kit, so OFF WE GO.

I’m using Hydrogen. It’s pretty cool so far. And really easy to use and comes with a lot of sampled drums. I wish it had arbitrary label marks so you could make notes on where you are in a song other than by measure count. But maybe you can and I just haven’t found it yet.

aaaaaait has a mixer i just found the mixer i was trying to figure out how i would do this later in ardour and i don’t have to i can do it here 😀 \o/ \o\ /o/

I love discovering new useful tools. Have you discovered any lately?

when last we left our intrepid crystals

Okay, up front: I have built a working crystal microphone! It wants a fair amount of equalisation added to it, but that’s okay because I can do it in the digital audio workstation. (Normally there’d be some circuitry in the microphone to do that, but in this case there’s not. Reasons.) And, happily, it’s picking up the kind of range you’d expect out of one of these old mics. It may be boosting the midrange pretty hard – harder, I suspect, than traditionally – but it’s picking up a good chunk of the spectrum.

It also really should be used with a pop filter (I didn’t), because it has the biggest damn mic diaphragm you’ve ever seen:


So enjoy some old-school crystal microphone test recordings, made with a mic built from cardboard tubing, wires, piezo cristals, and old styrofoam cups(!), and I’ll tell you how everything I did last time got thrown out before I eventually got this to come together.

It’s 1944 Forever Faux BBC Radio: NO equalisation
Faux BBC Radio: WITH equalisation
Constant Sorrow: NO equalisation
Constant Sorrow: WITH equalisation

Okay, so, right. When last we left our intrepid crystals, I had a nice little circuit in a nice little modular box, so I could test about 90 kinds of resonating bodies without having to solder everything to everything, and maybe I could keep the most interesting ones and use them in different situations.

But it had a lot of noise – I mean, like goofy amounts – and wasn’t boosting signal the way I thought it should be. I just chalked all that up to being in a test harnesses, and all that.


I still don’t understand what was going on. I thought I’d built the circuit wrong, but taking a known good one and putting it into the modular box made it misbehave as well. Removing the plugs and soldering directly didn’t help either – just as much noise, just as little signal.

Eventually I figured out that if I had the circuit in the modular box, it would be full of noise and lacking amplification. But it could be the box, she said, desperately clinging to sanity, that doesn’t make sense! Besides, I’d taken the circuit out of the modular box, and set it nearby, and that didn’t help.

Then for unrelated reasons I moved the circuit further from the box. A lot further – like, up to head level.


Given that behaviour also improved when I shortened the cable leading to the piezo pickup, I suspect there is Something about My Cable Stock, and for now, I’m just going to leave it at that. But really, I don’t know.

That case is now Gone. It can be Someone Else’s Problem Forever.

I had also mentioned in comments a couple of places that I had a Really Cool Idea for a suspension harness to hold up the resonating element, which I’d chosen to be the base of a styrofoam cup, as it tested best overall. I was so pleased with this idea that when it utterly failed I was a whole ‘nother layer of So Very Angry.

Anwyay, the idea: take some nylon mesh, the kind used for pop filters. Stretch it across the resonating body. Adhere it to the styrofoam’s outer ring using – hm, This to That says hot glue. OKAY!

Then take that same foam and nylon assembly, and stretch the outer nylon across the microphone case’s front opening. Hold the nylon in place on the outside of the can with a rubber band. It’s perfect! The nylon is acoustically transparent, so will have no effect on sound, and being so lightweight, it won’t dampen responsiveness! It’s GENIUS!

We’ll cut away that middle mesh as soon as the glue is stable

Another can! This one make of shipping tube and aluminium tape.


Well, okay, it was pretty transparent in terms of frequency blocking, I guess that part was true, but even at nearly slack, the amount of response damping just… okay, when I was testing this, I was still testing it with the EVIL CASE OF EVIL, so that was probably part of it, but the amount of signal reduction just depressed me. SOUND SOUND WHAT IS SOUND NONE FOR YOU.

I don’t have any pictures of that setup, which is again because SO ANGRY. So there y’are.

After that, things started turning around. That’s about when I realised how light the styrofoam disc resonating body was. It’s made of sides of two styro cups, flattened a bit and adhesed together with very permanent double-sided tape and cut into a circle, and weighs practically nothing. It is, in fact, so light, that…

…the wire connecting it to the circuit board could maybe be used to hold it up. As long as we can hold the wire in place, that’s worth a try, right? And I’m taking everything apart anyway, so let’s try it:

Piezo crystal is on back of that foam

Circuits just kind of hanging out the back, lol

Foam pushed into the can. Giant resonating disc in front. Hit it.

And it worked. FINALLY SOMETHING ON THIS PROJECT WORKED it was such a relief – on Friday, with things just exploding everywhere, I was pretty damn crazy because seriously it was one of those escalating-personal-chaos-field days, and physics just took a holiday or something and it took a few days to hammer it back towards reality.

So then it was time to make a more proper kit. First, of course, cut some foam more precisely, so the resonator would stay held firmly in place, making sure you leave enough room for all the circuitry bits.

I used some of the leftover delrin plastic to make a back cap for the microphone can. This let me use a standard XLR connector, which I really wanted to do – wire nuts and twisting may’ve been okay in 1938, but with the amount of RF flying around the Lair (and off me!) I really can’t do that. It has to be shielded, too – more copper tape solved that problem just fine.

I still need to build a proper hanging system, so it can hang the way these are supposed to. It’s not as cool looking as the carbon microphone, I’ll just acknowledge that up front. But it’s nice and compact – relatively speaking – and it works.

Another variant will be to replace the styro with that clear Boeing plastic. When I was running tests, the signal level on that was… not real high. But neither was the signal level for anything else, and in the breakthrough moment when I figured out that somehow the plastic case was A Problem, I was using the clear Boeing resonator. And of all the things I tested, that had the best sound. So I think that’s worth another go, and I do have a spare circuit.

(I think. I think I have a spare circuit. I also have more and larger pictures, like usual, over here on Flickr.)

But even if that works, and if I prefer it, I’ll keep this one. It does have a very old-time-radio sound – newer than the carbon mic, but still… old-time.

Plus, the damn thing functions. After this past weekend, that counts for a lot.

This is part of a collection of posts on building microphones and microphone-related kit, such as mic pre-amps.

confused by background radiation

A really weird thing is happening with the crystal mic. I do NOT understand this.

The same circuit board taken from another box and put in this box is much noisier. Like, 15-20db noiser. Both boxes are metal or metal-lined, and I’ve checked – repeatedly -the metal lining on this one is grounding.

This is true even with no crystal element attached.

Also, any board put in this box is quieter – less signal. This makes even less sense.

I’m so confused.

This is part of a collection of posts on building microphones and microphone-related kit, such as mic pre-amps.

presumably the crystal gems would use this kind of microphone

Apparently, I’m really into old-fashioned microphone technologies at the moment, and really, I’m just fine with that. I’ve had this boundary-microphone idea in my head for a while – I even ordered a bunch of parts to build it – and that idea and crystal microphone technologies go together!

Okay, first, crystal microphones were an actual thing. Popular from the mid-1930s through the early 1950s, they were used on-air and in music recording. They’re still in use in certain applications, much like carbon microphones are, but more widely – if you’ve heard of a “piezo buzzer” or “piezo instrument pickup”, that’s exactly the same technology, only applied to a different goal.

The underlying physics: there are crystals which, when flexed, will produce electricity. The charge is positive or negative, depending upon how the flexing is done. Sound waves are enough to do it, which means bing! Microphone technology! This is Neat. And, yes, I have a sample mp3 below.

Hey, that 60s and 70s Skiffy fascination with crystals had to come from somewhere.
(Speak clearly into the pinky ring, Zed.)

It works the other direction, too – current one way will flex the crystal one way, current the other way will flex it back. You can make speakers out of this, and that’s been done. This is also how piezo buzzers work – cycling AC power through a piezo-effect crystal.

I’ve built a couple of piezo-based pickups before, using the Cortado kits, so that seemed like a good place to start. I’m not bothering with a second board-construction write-up; the first one is here, if you’re curious.

But building the carbon microphone driver circuit as an external box made me realise that I should build this mic using an external driver circuit as well, so I can experiment without taking apart the box every time. So I used the housing from a dead laptop power supply I’d recycled a while ago.

The best part was that the AC mains connector slot was almost exactly the right size to hold the XLR connector. I just had to file away a bit at the narrowest points. And, of course, I had to line the whole thing in conductive metal tape, for RF shielding, and ground it.

The Now-Modular Cortado. Piezo lead on the right, XLR to board on the left.

Looks almost professional!

TRS: Tip is outer disc, ring is crystal disc, sleeve is shield ground

Standard balanced XLR mic-level output

This lets me plug in anything crystal or crystal-signal-level-like and use this amplifier on it, just as with the carbon microphone, but for carbon-technology elements. In this case, I’ll be plugging in a piezo disc. But since that’s just the crystal, the real question becomes, what resonates it? What vibrates in the presense of the sound, causing the crystal to flex?

My initial idea for materials involved a lightweight, rigid plastic. I’d also thought briefly about metal, but decided that would be too heavy, and I was right about that. The bad news is, that also turned out to be true for the plastic – it takes too much energy to make it move, so it doesn’t move very much just from soundwaves, and the signal levels were really low.

This is the best I got, using the lightest of the “heavy” plastics. That recording was made talking into a small, clear rigid plastic sheet – I think it’s some sort of acrylic, but I don’t know. It came from Boeing! But does not fly.

I love distant-shortwave-sound of this recording, but that hiss isn’t an added effect – it’s amplifier noise from boosting the signal high enough to hear properly. So, obviously, that won’t work as planned – unless I need exactly this effect, of course.

Still, I’m thinking I could put it in front of a guitar amp or something else VERY LOUD. It’s modular, so there’s no huge reason not to keep it, and I have like 50 of these piezo discs. It also works as a gigantic contact microphone/pickup.

So I started working my way down material weights until I found something too lightweight.


The thin and tinny base of a styrofoam cup


More and larger pictures on Flickr, as usual.

The lighter I got, the more response to sound I got, and the more signal – to a point, of course.

It turns out that the best weight is way closer to the styrofoam cup bottom than to any of the plastics I’d hoped would work out. A pair of thin foam dinner plates did actually rather well – I’d thought it was just one thicker plate, but no, it was two plates! – and I’ll try that again with a better (by which I mean actually shielded) test harness pickup, and plates that don’t have divided food sections.

And also, that styrofoam plate with the last 15mm or so of the “cup” still attached worked pretty darned well, without the echoy effect of a “cup” microphone. Some people want that; I am not one of those people. (But again, modular! And I have 50 of these piezo discs, I could make one anyway.)

This gets closer to the original construction materials used in the original crystal microphones, so really, I have no business being surprised here. I was just hoping that with improvements in crystal technologies that a heavier plate would work. But it’s just not generating enough signal output.

And that’s really kind of putting the kibosh on my whole boundary-microphone idea – at least, using this technology. Nothing strong enough to deal with the requirements of a boundary microphone – they’re quite large – is going to react enough to sound to give a decent amount of signal. Unless there’s some unexpectedly light and strong foam.

At least, not with these discs.

Maybe NASA has something I could, you know, appropriate. And I wonder if I can find that crystal material in, oh, one big giant sheet, and stick that to something strong enough. It has to come from somewhere

This is part of a collection of posts on building microphones and microphone-related kit, such as mic pre-amps.

the kalamazoo gals: gibson guitar’s erased women

It’s a common story – lots of women enter the workforce during World War II, doing all the jobs normally restricted only to men, before millions had to go off to fight Fascism. Then the war was won, the soldiers came back, the women were forced back out.

But, at least, it was acknowledged, and, at least, some credit was given.

But not at Gibson Guitar. They officially say that they shipped no instruments during World War II at all – not a one. But that’s simply not true. They did – they made and shipped thousands of instruments, with a wartime workforce of women. Some even went with GIs overseas.

Women instrument makers, Gibson Guitars, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Apparently, management decided that people wouldn’t want instruments made by women, so they erased the Kalamazoo Gals from history. When law professor and music journalist John Thomas got a hint there had actually been wartime production, and found out the story, the acoustic department was initially very interested – and then corporate found out he had been digging, and started threatening him for revealing it. It’s fascinating:

Women guitar makers scratched from Gibson history
By Ryan Grimes

Women are constantly being erased from history, including music history. Sometimes more aggressively – and pointlessly – than others. Never forget that.

some days you just gotta write soviet disco, apparently

kawaiilluminatii on Tumblr demanded, and I quote, “YMCA but instead of young man they say comrade and YMCA is USSR,” and liquidcoma threw in a first line. And, of course, I followed up…

…and then I couldn’t stop myself. I tried, I swear, but I kept adding more chunks in a series of reblogs.

The Biggest, Hottest Communist Disco Club of 1978
2016 Crime and the Forces of Evil, I guess?

Comrade! Steel production is down,
I said comrade! Pick yourself off the ground
I said comrade! Seize the factory in town
There’s no need to be a wage slave

Comrade! Marx’s principles show
clearly (Comrade!) There’s no meaning to dough –
it’s all shackles! You must cast them aside
if you want to gain class freedom

(in the video in my head, the five horn hits going into the chorus are red flags popping up –

The workers rule in the U S S R
The workers rule in the U S S R
We have thrown down our chains, we have taken the reigns,
In the name of the working class!

The workers rule in the U S S R
The workers rule in the U S S R
We have seized control from the capitalists
Private property won’t exist

Comrade! Have the peasants been armed? I ask
Comrade! Have collectives been formed? I ask
Comrade! Are the bourgeois informed?
That their ruling days are over

No one, does it all by themselves
I said no one! or you’ll end up in cells
So come join us! In the U S S R
Be the in-ter-na-tion-al-ist!


The workers rule in the U S S R
The workers rule in the U S S R
We have thrown down our chains, we have taken the reigns,
In the name of the working class!

The workers rule in the U S S R
The workers rule in the U S S R
We have seized control from the capitalists
Private property won’t exist

Comrade! I was once in your shoes
I said Comrade! Down and out with the blues
I felt no one! cared if I would survive
The whole system was just jive and

That’s when someone, came right up to me
And said comrade, there’s solutions you see
There’s a system, in the U S S R
That can start you back on your way


The workers rule in the U S S R
The workers rule in the U S S R
We have seized control from the capitalists
Private property won’t exist

U S S R! The workers rule in the U S S R
Comrade, Comrade, there’s no need to feel down
Comrade, Comrade, pick yourself off the ground

U S S R! The workers rule in the U S S R!
Comrade, Comrade, I was once in your shoes
Comrade, Comrade, down and out with the blues


I’m actually kind of pleased with myself both over making “internationalist” scan, and for extensively paraphrasing Lenin’s letter to the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in a disco song.

But come on, brain, what? XD

(((nazi punks))) fuck off

You might have seen a bunch of (((this))) going around on Twitter. What’s it about?

It’s basically a target. Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are using it to target Jewish people (specifically) for online harassment, including violent threats and abuse. It’s useful because by default it’s extremely difficult to search for using standard tools – they had to put together a Google Chrome extension, which Google has now pulled – but who knows how many copies were already downloaded and are in use?

So one response is to flood their data streams with bad data, by having everybody put (((and))) around their usernames. I’ve done it, because Nazi punks fuck off is why.

(h/t Vixy of the band Vixy & Tony)

what the hell is wrong with me

There’s a webcomic called Dumbing of Age that I like quite a lot (I have all the books and supported the latest Kickstarter) and search for “tiny baby hand” in today’s strip’s comments and that might explain:

…but, y’know, no promises. XD

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