bookmark_borderSomething about getting a “charge” out of this

See what I did there?

Most big batteries (like the batteries in laptops and tools and phones) are actually just a bunch of smaller battery cells wired together.

It would be very useful, and a lot less wasteful, if there were a set of standard battery cell configurations that rechargeable batteries could be built out of, and batteries were built so that you could swap out bad cells.

  • You’d be able to replace only the cells that went bad in a given battery or device, not have to waste the whole piece, or chuck it in a landfill.
  • It  would probably make designing things easier.
  • It would mean more standard parts could be used, which would make things easier to repair
  • Standard parts can be made in higher volume, which means lower pricing
  • Chargers would be more likely to work with multiple devices

Unfortunately, all of this would mean that companies would sell fewer proprietary things over and over, and consumers would have to learn how to do stuff, so it’s probably not going to happen.

But this is still a cool example of how to make the idea work despite everyone’s best attempts to the contrary. (link via Hack a Day)


bookmark_borderFree to read

Beer and Computers
“Free” as in “How the HELL do I pay my rent?”

“What is ‘RSS?'”  Pooh asked, as if he’d forgotten how to use a search engine, which once again, he had.

“It’s short for ‘Rich Site Summary'” said Christopher Robin, though he liked to tell people it meant “Really Simple Syndication.” But he just couldn’t be mean to his friend like that.

“All the new information from a web site gets put into a ‘feed’ that you can read without having to go to the site and wade through all the advertising and bad design.  It’s a great way to get just the news from news sites, or blog posts, or any content from sites that update often. You can collect and read all  your feeds in one place, which allows you to organize, filter and read a lot of information from a lot of sources very quickly.”

“So it’s like a FaceyTwitPlusR newsfeedticker?”  asked Pooh, quoting Buddha, or maybe it was Ghandi.  Or Oprah.  Evs.

“Well, it’s the other way around–those are kind of like what you can do with RSS if you aren’t very clever and like seeing the same thing over and over”  said Christopher Robin, photographing his cat eating lunch.  

“You don’t sound very much like yourself today, Christopher Robin.”  said Pooh.  “You sound kind of like a cranky person who just had a tooth removed and is very tired of yoghurt and Jell-o and smoothies just wants something crunchy something goddamn crunchy for chissake is every ad on TV for goddamn crunchy goddamn things? “

“No, I’m afraid I don’t sound much like myself at all, and it was a terrible idea to think that I would.  I’m sorry.”  said Christopher Robin, who was in no mood to think of a better character to use.

“Let’s never do this again.” said Pooh.  And they never did.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to use Bloglines, which was an online RSS aggregator. That means that I signed up for an account, which was free, and then I subscribed to a bunch of RSS feeds, and then I could read and save the articles in those feeds on the Bloglines site.  That was really cool, because I could read my feeds from any computer that had an Interweresds connection.

Bloglines closed down, and then it didn’t, over and over.  I left the first time it closed.  I then started using Google Reader, which was pretty much exactly the same service as Bloglines, except I didn’t like the interface as much.  It worked just fine, but Google services are really a trade-off:  On one hand, the services are usually really good, and really reliable, for as long as Google feels like providing them.  On the other hand, it’s not much work to find the same services that don’t track and push advertising in my face all the time.

The other hand won, so I started using a desktop RSS feed reader. There are about infinity of these—you can get RSS feeds in your email client or through your web browser or whatever, if you want.  I was using a dedicated client for the Mac called Vienna, which is FOSS, and worked just great for me.

I don’t like being tied to one machine though, and I have hosting for my domains, so I knew that eventually I would want to set up my own web-based RSS reader on it.  I wanted something like Reader or Bloglines, that I could get at from anywhere, but not dependent on the whims of the pretend Inderenet “market.”

Then the power supply on my Mac let go.  That forced me to do something, because I couldn’t use Vienna to read my feeds.  Necessity is a mother, and all that.

I looked at a bunch of options.  I wanted Open Source stuff, and not just because I am cheap and clever and rugged and brave and very very handsome.  Generally when (when) the developer bails on an Open Source project, there is at least the chance that someone will pick it up, or at least document how to get your stuff out of it. With very few exceptions, when (WHEN) companies bail on closed-source, commercial software (or versions thereof), they give it  two to the chest and one to the head, lock the remains in a vault protected by ninja lawyers, and act like it never existed.

I didn’t want to get screwed AGAIN by some third party’s business plan, or lack thereof.

I quickly discovered the limitations of my hosting.  It’s running old versions of PHP, PostgreSQL and My SQL.  Most folks developing stuff will make it work with the current version of those packages, or only be one or two point versions behind. As a result, I couldn’t install the current versions of pretty much ANY web-based RSS reader I found. This is not the fault of the developers—in fact, it’s a virtue—but it meant more work for me.

Eventually, I found Tiny Tiny RSS.  It is small and light and simple and works very well.

Or at least, the version I am using does.  Because of my elderly PHP and database installs, I can not run Tiny Tiny RSS in a standard–or recommended–configuration.  Here are the problems, and how I solved them:

  • My PHP version is too old.  I found this very useful site by a person who has hacked/patched Tiny Tiny RSS to use older versions of PHP.  It works!  That is very cool, and I’m glad there are folks like this out there.
  • Tiny Tiny RSS can use either PostgrSQL or MySQL as the backend database.  The developer, along with everyone else who has tried both, recommends PostgreSQL, because the performance is just way better (faster).The version of PostgreSQL on my hosting is too old to work with Tiny Tiny RSS, so I used MySQL.  It works!
  • The developer, along with every non-annoying person who posts on the Tiny Tiny RSS discussion board, EXPLICITLY STATES that if you run Tiny Tiny RSS on shared hosting, you are on your own.  Also, probably dumb.  I am on shared hosting.  It works—ON MY HOSTING!  This does NOT mean that it will work on any other shared hosting, and if it doesn’t, tough. About the LAST thing you should do is bitch about that, because it says RIGHT ON THE TIN not to use shared hosting.

It took about an hour to get this up and running–most of which was spent reading and tracking down ways to make this work.  It took a few more minutes to subscribe to all my feeds.  It’s been working just splendidly for a couple of weeks or so now.

To recap:  Tiny Tiny RSS is FOSS, and I am running it in a configuration that it is NOT designed for—or supported under—and everything I am doing should give me terrible performance and problems.  And it is working just fine.

That is the highest, most backhanded compliment I can think of:  I am using this software the worst way I can, and I like how it works.  I am pretty sure the developer would slap me upside the head were I to tell him this over a beer, and I would not blame him if he did.  But I would still pay for the beer, because this is great stuff.

Speaking of which, Tiny Tiny RSS is developed by ONE guy, who is doing it in what probably used to be his spare time. He also posts on the discussion board for the product’s support.  The software is free, but he does take donations. I’d be shocked (and happy) if those donations bought him even a quarter of the beer and coffee it must take just to get through the discussion board posts every day.

He’s kinda crabby on to some people on the boards—those who ask stupid questions, bitch about how this free software doesn’t do what THEY want it to, or make stupid demands—and I find that incredible.  I don’t know how he finds the time to even respond to that kind of crap. Much more patient guy than me.

Think I’ll buy him a beer.

bookmark_borderPedal Mod – Ibanez LA Metal

Because after all, what IS the finest of the metals?

I’ve always believed two rules about bands and pedals:

  • Any group of three or more musicians with a decent amount of talent and commitment can write at least ONE good song
  • Any pedal has ONE usable sound in it.  It might only be usable in the most limited context, but you can always find ONE thing a pedal is good at

Just as the Doors were the exception that proved the first rule, the Ibanez LA Metal pedal was the exception that proved the second.  In its stock form, this pedal absolutely defies all attempts to make it sound better when on than when off.  It is fantastically, mind-blowingly useless.

I have some pedals that are INCREDIBLY BAD–the DOD FX-17 Wah-volume, a Yamaha CP-100 compressor, an Arion Stage Tuner–and I have used several others, but nothing compares to the almost exquisite frustration of trying to get ANYTHING good to happen with a stock LA Metal pedal.  It’s not even usefully horrible.


The Pedal – Ibanez LM7 LA Metal

This pedal has three knobs:

  • Distortion – How much crappy fizz-bark you want to hear instead of notes
  • Tone – Whether the crappy fizz-bark should be dull or piercing
  • Level – How loud you want your crappy fizz-bark

The stock LA Metal pedal has three things going for it:

  • It is in a bad-ass looking matte silver case
  • It says “LA METAL” on it in big thick letters
  • It’s actually a dumbed-down version of a much better pedal

The first two things make you want to have this thing in your board just so people will understand how damn cool you are (answer: As cool as LA METAL, fool!). The third one makes the pedal extremely useful.

The LM7 was built by Maxon, who built a lot of stuff for Ibanez at the time.  Maxon also made a pedal for Ibanez called the “Fat Cat.”  The Fat Cat was kind of a cover version of the ProCo Rat pedal.  All they did to make the LA Metal pedal was remove the clipping diodes from the Fat Cat and move a few capacitors around.  They even used the Fat Cat PC board to make the LA Metal. If you open up an LA Metal, you’ll see that the board is marked “FC-10.”

Yes!  I am telling you that someone built a distortion pedal with NO CLIPPING DIODES.  Or MOSFETS. Or anything like that. It’s just the sound of an op-amp being overdriven!  YUMMY!  

Why would someone do that? My only guess is that they were sitting in a room full of open containers of solvents, doing some deep breathing and listening to RATT on a Walkman that was turned up way too loud, and they fell in love with the sound.  Then they married a canned ham.  So curvy…

Anyway, with a few fairly easy mods, you can add some clipping diodes to the LA METAL (screw it–I’m writing it in all-caps from here on), swap around some caps, and end up with what is now my favorite crunchy overdrive pedal.


The Mod

The main info on this mod is from this very useful thread, which has a nice summary of other threads/mods in it.  Look for the post from Analogguru time-stamped “18 Dec 2007, 19:42”  He runs down all the mods you need to do in order to convert the LA METAL to a Fat Cat.

I didn’t go all the way on this. I left the tone capacitor (C20) alone, to see if it would be useful as it is.

The end result is just a remarkably useful overdrive, with a wide range of tones available.

  • The Distortion knob now covers everything from nearly-clean gain through light overdrive through heavier and heavier to almost out-of-control fuzz at the far end.
  • The tone control is of MOST use between 10 and 2 o’clock. I could see changing the cap to use more of the knob’s range and get more fine control.
  • The pedal gets louder as you turn up the Distortion, so the Level control is mostly used to set the pedal’s output to where you want it relative to when the pedal is off.

This is now my go-to overdrive, which is shocking when you consider how crap the stock version is. It’s particularly good if you like snarly crunch tones, which I much prefer to smooth, compressed kinds of tones. If you watch late-night talk shows filmed in LA, and you like how the guitar in the band sounds, or if your guitar only has one cutaway, this might not be the pedal for you.

I like the snarl, and I like the ampy-ness of the pedal. It’s quite responsive to picking dynamics and pickup/tone/volume changes. Also, having an LA METAL pedal on my board makes it easy for people to recognize just how cool I am, which has sometimes been a challenge since I thinned out my poodle cut and started wearing looser pants.

The boxes in the Ibanez 7 (10?) series are an odd compromise. The cases themselves are super-solid metal, with which you could easily knock a larger man unconscious. The battery access is excellent, through the nice big, square, spring-loaded footswitch. And the switch itself is just kind of OK.  The switching feels solid under your foot, but the stompin’ area feels breakable.

I usually use this pedal in a true-bypass loop, so I don’t notice if there is any leakage when the pedal is off, and I don’t use the switch much.  I think the average user would be happier doing things this way.

I just acquired a second LA METAL pedal a couple of days ago, and I’m going to fiddle with diode combinations on the new one. I might also put in a socket and mess with op-amp options.

If I can just give the world the perfect LA METAL pedal, I will know I have not lived in vain.

bookmark_borderPedal Mod – BBE AM64

Circuit board
This is what science looks like when it is about to rock out

This one is really simple.

The BBE AM64 is a distortion pedal for guitar.  Yep.

I love overdrive pedals, particularly medium-gain ones, that let you control the amount of crunch with your picking or the volume knob/pdeal.

I love fuzz pedals, particularly the insanely gain-y ones where you hit the button and hold on for dear life.

I’ve never been a fan of distortion-distortion pedals, because they’ve always seemed like a kind of boring middle ground. Like the porridge that Goldilocks chose, and we all know that she just played the same damn pentatonic licks over and over until the bears ate her or whatever.  Not sure on that–I didn’t read the book, because I knew it would just spoil the movie.

Anyway, what?  Oh, yes–distortion pedals.  Right. They have no real sensitivity to them, but they are also not crazy.  That seemed pretty boring.

I just didn’t get it at all until I had to switch quickly between singing and playing guitar parts and soloing in the same song. Then I understood the value of just pushing a button and automatically getting That One Sound for Just This Bit of the Song.

Which brings us to…


The Pedal – BBE AM64

I happened upon this wonderfully cheap example of just how well production pedals CAN be made, did a bit of reading up, and it seemed really dumb not to get it.  I think these things sold for well under $100 in their heyday, and then ended up getting cleared out at something like $30 a year or two ago.

For that, you got:

  • A metal box (with a heavy plastic bottom, which is quite solid).
  •  Mechanical true-bypass switching, using one of them blue 3pdt switches just like the big kids use.
  • Box film capacitors.  Really.
  • Full-sized Alpha pots.  Really.
  • Cleanly made board with all human-fixable (no SMC) parts.

This is a long way from sucking.  It’s really how everyone should be doing it, PARTICULARLY folks who charge more than $30 for pedals.

The pedal has three knobs:

  • Level is the output level
  • Tone is the tone control
  • Gain is how much crunch you get

There is no useful clean setting on the stock pedal. If you turn the gain all the way down, and the level all the way up, you’ll end up quieter with the pedal on than with it off. With the gain up at all, you start to clip.  Yep, it’s a distortion pedal, and that’s what you’d expect it to do.

The circuit is based around a TL072 op-amp, and uses a pair of LEDs for clipping.  Sometimes I like LEDs for clipping–I’ve used them in a couple of other mods I have done–but in this case, the result was pretty fizzly.  I tried the pedal with a few guitars, and found:

  • It’s kind of OK with humbuckers, but I don’t use them much
  • On a Strat with regular passive pickups, it’s meh.  Works fine on the bridge pickup, if you really jack up the gain on the pedal, but almost everything can do that trick.  Boring in other positions, and notes fizz as they decay.
  • Surprisingly good on my Tele-ish guitar.  It’s got a P90 in the neck, and got along pretty well with this pedal
  • Quite unpleasant with my Strat with Lace Sensors.  No sir, I did not like it.  The fizziness was really pronounced, and there was nowhere to set the tone on the pedal that wasn’t either a cloud of low mid or a piece of piano wire in your eye.

The Mod

I did about the simplest thing I could do:  I swapped one of the clipping LEDs for a 1n4148.

That seems to have sorted things out nicely.  The disto is now thicker and finer-grained, which lets the notes have more body and the sustain makes more sense.

i figured that this would be a good first step.  This pedal is a good candidate for putting in a socket and some switches and trying out a bunch of op-amp and diode combos.  It might also benefit from some messing with the tone stack, as the stock set up has too much range.  There are simply too many places you can turn the tone knob that sound awful.

But for now,  this one change has made it a fine punch-it-and-go pedal for all those times you just can’t say with flowers.

Overall, this might be the best platform for distortion modding , because the base pedal is very well-made, most of the parts you’d want are already in the pedal, and the stock configuration sounds far worse than it should.  I’d certainly pick up another one or two if I got them at the same price.

bookmark_borderA beer in time

Beer is for mouths, not amps!

A friend of mine got a really great deal on an amp.  It’s a Traynor YCV40, of which I am a big fan.  In fact, I have a Traynor YCV40WR, and I love it.

The YCV40 is a 40 watt tube combo amp with a single 12″ speaker.  Like a lot of combos, the amp brain is mounted “upside-down” at the top of the cabinet, with the tubes pointing down and the controls at the top rear of the box.  The front of the amp is rounded slightly, which means the speaker points up a bit, which means it projects sound a bit higher, and that is useful.  It also means that the top of the amp is NOT flat.

This amp was used, but it seemed in pretty good shape. The speaker is fine, the amp sounds great, all appeared to be well.  My friend had the amp for a little while, and we noticed that the channel switch on the top of the amp was pretty sticky.  It was obvious that someone had spilled something on the amp, and some of the something had run into that switch.  It was hard to change channels with the switch on the amp, though the remote foot-switch works just fine.  There was also some rust under the paint on the top of the amp brain.

Then the carry-strap on the top broke.  I said “No problem!  I’ll fix that for you.”

I tried to unscrew the handle.  It became clear that whoever owned the amp before had indeed spilled something on the amp–my best guess is that it was an entire beer. He had probably tried to sit it on top of the amp, probably with the bottom against the strap, which is in the middle, right where the channel switch is, it had fallen over and dumped all over the amp.  And then he had just left it.

There’s no sign that anything was done to try to clean or dry the amp.  Maybe the top was wiped off.

The liquid had run into the handle, and along the top of the amp brain itself. The bolts holding the strap in place had rusted, and then had come loose, and someone had stripped them by trying to tighten them and/or remove them with the wrong screwdriver head. Then they had been left a bit loose, so the strap, which was rusting, worked back and forth against the threads every time he picked the amp up, and eventually wore away. It had broken on one side, and he had driven a screw into that side of the handle.   And finally the whole thing had given up, and the amp had been dropped when the handle broke.  After that, the channel switch on the top of the amp had given up completely, so you can only switch channels with a footpedal.

The bolts were far to stripped to get out any other way, so I had to use a tapping screw puller.  And both of the bolts broke off halfway with very little pressure.  I am not a strong man. In fact, I am widely known for my utterly laughable physique. Those bolts were rusted all to ratshit.

I ordered a replacement strap from Direct Pro Audio here in Omaha.  It cost five dollars for the strap handle (which is steel sandwiched with vinyl) AND both of the shiny metal mounts that hold it on.  Yes!  Original parts, from the manufacturer, reasonably priced–ANOTHER reason why I like Traynor.

I took the back plank off the amp, took out the bolts that hold the brain in place, along with the RCA jacks to the reverb and the plug for the speaker, and pulled out the brain.  I opened it up and checked to see if there was any other damage inside, and I was pretty sure there would be.  Nope. Traynor had done a good job of designing the amp so that the top is pretty well-sealed.  Apart from the little opening around the switch, there was nowhere for the liquid to go in.

The top of the brain was covered with rusty gunk though, and all the bolts in the top of the brain were rusted. I cleaned the top of the brain, then took out all the rusty bolts, cleaned them off, put them back in, and then wiped all the rusty gunk off the top of the amp brain again.

And there were a couple of very dead beetles inside the brain.  Very dead, very dry beetles.   By the time I found those, I was starting to really dislike the old owner.

I measured for what I would need, and bought a couple of T-nuts and new bolts. Traynor had done a nice tidy job of putting the mounting hardware under the Tolex covering, so I would have to lift that off to replace them. Sometimes that can be a pain, because the tolex is glued down so hard that it tears. That wasn’t the case though, because this dude had spilled so much liquid in there and left it that when I picked up a corner of the Tolex, it all just popped off.  What luck.

Underneath, the surface of the wood was a disgusting mess of rot and mold. The beer had to go somewhere, and where went was into the wood.  The bolts and nuts were rusted into a single piece, which had rusted to the plywood as well.  When I tried to take out the T-nuts, a whole bunch of the top two plies of wood came out as well.   I took the picture above so that you can share the beauty.

The rest of the wood is solid–luckily, Traynor uses good-quality plywood to build their cabs. If this had been MDF, like a lot of amps, the cabinet would have been a write-off.  I cleaned stuff up a bit, put in the new T-nuts, mounted the strap and bolted it on, and then glued the Tolex back down with some spray adhesive–You know, like in the Blues Brothers. Strong stuff.

The amp works and sounds great, and the handle is solid as new, but I’ve got replacement channel switches on order (~$2 each for factory replacements!  YAY TRAYNOR), and then I’ll open up the brain and replace the channel switch on the PCB.

All because of one beer.

There’s a moral to this story, and it’s s simple one: Kids, PLEASE don’t be like this guy–give your gear some basic care and attention.

A small thing, like trying to sit a beer on an amp that is NOT FLAT ON TOP can lead to a small problem, like spilling a drink on your amp, and if you do nothing, that can lead to big problems, like rusting and rotting an otherwise perfectly good amp.  It takes five minutes to get this amp apart and dry it out. You don’t need anything more complex than a Phillips screwdriver and a towel to do the job, and you don’t need any more brains than it takes to vacuum under the floormats of your car.

bookmark_borderThe baked beans are off.

not spam
With lots of pepper!

A while back, there were some big takedowns of a couple very large spam sources, which caused an enormous drop in the amount of spam worldwide. It appears that other parties have recently picked up the slack.

There has been a marked increase in the amount of email spam firing around over the last week or two.  I’ve been seeing a few hundred showing up in my filters daily, and the number seems to be growing.  There are a couple of things that can be done to protect yourself and others.

Luckily, these new attempts are pretty clumsy (eg emails claiming to be from MySpace containing warnings about bank accounts), but these new spammers won’t stay clumsy forever.

Also, because so many people are depending more on “private” messaging services (Facebook, Skype, etc), and/or have got new devices that use mail apps with limited  or hard-to-find controls, a lot of folks simply aren’t aware of what spam is and how to deal with it.

There are lots and lot of resources on the Weebs to help you find out if a message is spam.  Here’s an old one that is still pretty good,  and here is one more with more detail and a charmingly naive opening sentence.   I recommend you learn more about this stuff, but the most basic way to protect yourself is simply not click on anything–either a link or an attachment–unless you know FOR SURE that it is OK.  This applies even if the message has made it past your spam filters.  You can always send a reply to whomever sent you the message and ask if it is legit.

Oh, and spam occurs–and usually looks similar, on all them fancy chip jewelries you kids spend all day rubbing as well.

A quick and simple way to identify spam is copy a couple of sentences from the message and then paste them into a Google search, surrounded by quotes. It doesn’t always work, but if the spam has been around for a day or two, you’ll usually see search results about it.  This also works quite well with heartwarming stories and pithy quotes that have political overtones, talk about “a local [profession]” or use the term “studies have shown” but don’t cite any ACTUAL studies.

Some basic mail account maintenance would also go a long way in slowing this stuff down.

A lot of people have moved to newer email providers (Gmail being the most common) over the last two or three years, and just abandoned their old accounts without emptying or deleting them.  This provides a great hunting ground for bad guys, because:

  •  Those old addresses still seem legit to the people who used to receive mail from them
  • A lot of those old accounts were started back before people learned to use stronger passwords
  • Those old accounts are full of email addresses that are probably exploitable as well

If you have old accounts out there that you no longer use–especially if they are web mail accounts  (like or whatever MS is calling hotmail this week), please take a moment to shut them down.

If the mail provider is foolish enough NOT to provide means to delete your old account, you can do the following:

  1. Log into the old account
  2. Send a message to all your contacts telling them that you are no longer using that address, won’t be receiving messages sent to it,  and that they are free to block it.

    You should probably include something that makes it obvious that you are you, such as your current email address, in case they have questions.

  3. Delete everything in the account, including all sent messages and especially all contact/address book entries.
  4. When you are sure that you will never need to get back into the account, reset the password to a very long string of gibberish with capital letters and numbers.  At that point, you can just mash the keys at random, using caps and numbers and stuff, and make as long a password as the thing will accept.

Spamming asshats will always be with us, but we don’t have to make it easy for them.

bookmark_borderSeymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz Repair

Nice warm clipping
Nice warm clipping

Should you ever need to repair a Seymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz, you will probably find this schematic.

It is largely accurate, and I am always grateful to anyone who takes the time to make such things available. But there is one correction you should know about:

P2 (the Gain potentiometer) is a 2KC. That is, a 2K pot with a REVERSE AUDIO taper. At the time of writing, the only manufacturer for this part appears to Alpha, and this part is only available from Mouser in North America. Here is a link to the exact part.

I’m going to say Seymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz one more time. For the search engines.

bookmark_borderWhere do you FIND this stuff?

All the engine you need, baby!I read a LOT. I use an RSS reader (Right now, I use Vienna on my Mac.  It’s good.) and get somewhere over 2000 stories a day in there.  Because I follow a bunch of shopping feeds, and shopping feeds just crank out posts, about half of that number is completely irrelevant on any given day, and I just delete it without looking at it.

I used to spend a lot of time going sideways through search engines and indexes (like Yahoo! used to be).  I’d search for something that interested me, hit one of the results, and hop from links on one site to links on another.  It was great back when there were quite a few engines and indexes, because you would get different results from each.  You could get a really well-rounded view of a topic that way.  Think critically. Draw your own conclusions.  Learn.

Search and indexing on the Web keeps getting worse and worse.  Once the focus moved from cataloguing information to simply repeating the most popular results, and people started using just one source as their authoritative guide to the Web, it started to get harder and harder to go sideways.  Add to that SEO, paid search results, and results based on your past preferences, no-one wanting to look at anything more than the first 10 search results, and searching the Web pretty much sucks any more, if you actually want to learn stuff.

It is now much easier to be told what a bunch of people who didn’t know anything considered useful.

Now pretty much everything I link to I arrive at from something I read in an RSS feed. I still go sideways from there as much as I can, though.

I have about 10 feeds from conventional news sources–CBC, BBC, Reuters, stuff like that.  These feeds add a LOT of stories every day, though a lot of the same stories appear in multiple feeds.  I don’t have any commercial US news feeds.  I live in the US Midwest, where there is really good television news coverage….for about 10 minutes a day.  There are also approximately infinity hours of utterly worthless television news entertainment. Seeing this dreck is pretty much unavoidable if you own a television or go anywhere that more than 50 people pass a day.  Popular US news is like Guns ‘N’ Roses: You will hear more of it by accident than you will ever want to hear on purpose.

You can learn a lot more about a story when you find out how the outside world sees it, and that’s why I stick to RSS feeds from other countries, or raw news feeds which deliver a lot of stories without a lot of editorialising.  I don’t like to be told how to think about a story.  I like to see it from as many sides as I can.

Commercial news sources concentrate on the kind of news that sells well–they HAVE to.  That means mostly crime, mass-marketed products, stories involving well-known people or companies, politics and other big disasters.  The fact that these sources try to make space for arts, or technology, or the odd human-interest story underscores the more important fact that they have to MAKE space for that kind of story.  It’s not their stock-in-trade, it’s a purposeful inclusion of things outside their stock-in-trade.  They make their money as big-story generalists. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, as a commercial venture. You can make money at it, but producing that kind of stuff takes the kind of money that you can only generate from a large audience and lots of advertising.

In the main, that’s not what I look for online.  Because of their need to deliver stories for a mass audience, and my oddball weirdohead, the stuff I find really interesting doesn’t filter out to these sources for at least a few days after it’s been talked about on the Web or the TwitBooks or whatever, if at all. It’s rare for me to find anything in conventional news feeds that is worth comment or repeating–maybe ten stories a week, so I read a lot of other sources.

As with conventional news, there are a lot of sites/feeds that just link to the same stories as other sites/feeds, or repost them without adding any information, insight, or at least some funny.  I follow links back to the original content and read that, and usually, that’s what I link to. Sometimes I link to the site where I first saw the content mentioned, and always try to do so if secondary site has added anything interesting

Quite often, I find things by following a link on another site, then kind of skipping sideways or searching somewhere, or I find supporting information that’s more interesting than the original topic/page I was researching.  It is sometimes difficult to figure out how to attribute anything to the site that started the trip that ultimately lead to the link, so I often haven’t in the past.

I’ve sometimes been bit of a jerk about attribution, just to save time and confusion.  I’m lots of other kinds of jerk, not OK with being that kind of jerk.

Luckily, the very hard-working person who compiles, writes and curates Brain Pickings (which is one of my RSS feeds, and is very good) has co-authored a Curator’s Code for the Internet.  It mostly boils down to either stating where you got the link, or giving a tip of the hat to whoever lead you to find the link.

I like this basic idea, and I hope it catches on.  I tried using their bookmarklet and the symbols they are trying to standardise for these two types of attribution, but those symbols seem to get messed up by WordPress’ annoying text cleaning elves when I save drafts. I hope that changes, but in the meantime I will at least stick to the idea of attribution and hat tips.

This will leave me more time to be the kind of jerks I know I can be.

bookmark_borderWhooper Looper!

Whooper LooperHoly crap! It’s a true-bypass effects loop, with a wacky twist!

I use bypass loop pedals all the time in my pedalboard.  I have two double loops made by Loooper which are just great–he does excellent and tidy work.  If you don’t want to build your own stuff, I highly recommend getting one made by Loooper.

I wanted to build one of my own, and added a wrinkle I had seen before and wanted.  On this box, Pedal 2 is the loop switch. Pedal 1 feeds some of the output of the loop back to the input of the loop. The big ugly knob controls how much output is fed back.

I’m not the first–or even the 100th–to make a pedal like this. I used a schematic from the excellent Beavis Audio site, to which I would link, but the dude who runs it let the domain expire.  Today. This is an excellent resource for DIY stuff, and I’m going to donate to help keep the thing up.  You can find similar schematics all over the Web, but this one was extremely clear and well-drawn.

This is a very simple circuit–all it does is route your guitar signal one way or another, not actually create any effect–but bypass loops are extremely useful.  It’s also the first pedal I have built from scratch.  I’ve fixed lots of things, and built the odd channel switch and whatnot, but not really tried building anything audio passes through from the get-go.

There are several reasons why this one worked out so well:

  • I went PAINFULLY slowly, measuring, cutting, cleaning up, and continuity testing after every step.  I don’t want to be this slow forever, so the more I learn with each build, the better.  I don’t mind learning from mistakes, but avoiding them is even better.
  • I built it in my lovely prototype box, which as you can see is an old Vox channel switching pedal. What you can’t see is that this box has about 10 holes drilled in it from various prototyping things I have done previously. Putting this in a box I ultimately didn’t want to use pretty much ensured the pedal would work perfectly.
  • After I had drilled the hole for the LED, I decided to change the switch positions around. And that is why you can’t see the LED.  It works, but it’s still inside the box.  Very proud of that. Yep.

I planned to get the circuit working, and then move it into a nicer enclosure, but I have a fondness for good things that look bad, so it might end up staying where it is.

Here’s what I learned from this build, which might be useful to anyone else who is starting out building or repairing circuits like this:

  • You will be much happier if you have lots of different colours of wire.  Really. You won’t remember which bit of wire is which the moment you close the box, so if you have to troubleshoot a mess of say, white wire, you will hate life.
  • Really get to know the circuit. Figure out how you want to do the build BEFORE you start melting any lead.
  • Look for points where multiple bits of wire need to connect to the same place. Figure out ways to do that as neatly as possible BEFORE you melt any lead.
  • Lay out all your components, measure where they should go.  Make sure that there is room to actually fit all the components in your enclosure, that nothing touches that shouldn’t, and there is room for the jacks to fit into the plugs without wrecking anything.
  • Drill and test-mount EVERYTHING before you start melting any lead.
  • Label your jacks!  I just wrote what they did (in, out, send, return) beside them in pencil inside the case. This WILL save you time.  Make sure you turn the box over, so that you are looking at it the same way you will be using it when you label things.
  • Go through and tin all your components. If you don’t know what that means, look it up.
  • Measure your wire. Measure it again.  Then cut it, then tin it.
  • Soldering should be the fast part of the job.  By the time you actually start melting lead, all your thinking should be done.
  • If you are using a switch with lots of poles, plan the order in which you are going to connect things, so you don’t end up getting in your own way.  You will probably want to connect the inside poles first.
  • If you are using a two-part box like this one (Bonus hint: Don’t use a two-part box like this one), you might need to leave the wires a bit long so that you can put the box back together without ripping any connections out.  It’s OK to go back later and shorten/redo the wires later, but start with them long so that you can get the thing working and check the circuit without wondering if you broke it by building it.
  • Make really sure you know what side you want the LED on.  I mean, what kind of IDIOT doesn’t do that?

I tested this with my beloved DOD Phasor 490.  With the feedback knob set just right, it made a completely excellent whooping noise, which is pretty much unusable in any context in which I currently play.

That made it all worthwhile.