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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Newest Acquisition : A Commodore 64 Computer

On the bench today is a blast from my past. A clean Commodore 64 computer and Commodore 1702 monitor I just bought. I spent many nights pounding away at the keyboard on a computer exactly like this in my teen years, along with a dedicated tribe of friends many of whom still have their C64 computers. Despite how advanced emulators are today, there's nothing like having original 8-bit hardware running right in front of you.

I popped the top to have a look at the motherboard and everything looks to be in good condition. No bad capacitors or evidence of past repairs or disasters. It's a Version A Rev B motherboard made in Hong Kong in 1984 which makes it a very common board. It has the 8-pin video connector which offers separate chroma and luma signals to present the monitor with a very clear 320x200 NTSC picture. The sound chip (SID 6581) is also socketed in this version. I'm not going to get too geeky about it, as I just wanted to have a nice usable machine to have fun with. I have a stack of 5 1/4" floppy discs I saved from all those years ago with personal data and programs. I'll probably get a few extras along the way like an SD card based drive emulator, a real 1541 5 1/4" disk drive and perhaps a PC interface for the drive as well. 

These specs look really silly compared to modern day computers, but 35 years ago it was awesome to have such hardware in your home. Clever programmers optimized their code to make the most out of the hardware. Sloppy programming wasn't allowed and RAM wasn't cheap or in abundance like it is today.

Data Sheet

  CPU         : 6510 @ 0.9852484444MHz [1] (PAL)
                       1.0227277143MHz [1] (NTSC)
  RAM         : 64kB DRAM
                .5kB SRAM (color RAM $d800-dbff)
  ROM         : 20kB ROM total, consisting of three ROMs
                (BASIC and Kernal share one ROM on new boards):
                  - 8k BASIC V2      ($a000-bfff)
              - 8k Kernal        ($e000-ffff)
              - 4k character ROM ($d000-dfff)
  Graphics    : VIC-II ($d000-d3ff)
  Sound       : SID ($d400-d7ff)
  Int. drives : -
  Interfaces  : 2 x control port (CIA #1 ($dc00-dcff)),
               cassette port (CIA #1)
                  expansion port,
                  serial IEC (CIA #2 ($dd00-ddff)),
                user port (CIA #2)
  Keyboard    : 66 keys, controlled by CIA #1
  Power supply: external transformer (9VAC + 5V DC)
  Extras      : We don't need no frills ;-)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Saving Caulk Tubes

I've grown tired of ruined tubes of open caulk. For years I've just stuffed a nail or screw into the nozzle and hoped for the best. Looking over possible solutions I decided to give these red caps a try. They are essentially like a little condom that rolls down over the end of the nozzle providing an air tight seal. So far they seem to be working fine. They are semi-reusable. I had one with a little hardened product in the end that I had to toss, but otherwise I've had no issues with these, even with my favorite "glue", polyurethane adhesive. I am reading that if you use this in addition to a nail or screw shoved down into the end, the results are even better. If they save even one tube of caulk they are paid for! Do you have another favorite way to save opened caulk tubes? I'd love to hear your methods.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Weather Underground : The Best Weather App & Website

The weather affects everyone's lives daily, so it's important to pay attention to accurate forecasts to make the best use of your time. I used to rely on the Weather Channel's website and iPhone app. The Weather Channel has to be the best, right? Well last year sometime they redesigned their website and app to my dislike, and it forced me to look for viable alternatives. Let me tell you I'm so glad they botched their update, because I found something I liked much better - Weather Underground. I'm going to give a quick and dirty run down of why I like it so much.

As soon as the app loads, it uses your GPS location and searches for the nearest weather station. You get current weather data from the nearest source, not from the airport on the other side of the county, or the top of the hospital downtown. Some data does come from the National Weather Service (NWS), but local data mostly comes from a PWS - Personal Weather Station. Its great to see a crowd sourced community of 100,000 personal weather stations united in one app. When I'm at my home, I see the data from my own Netatmo weather station. It can't get much more local than that! Also here is a weather map summery. If you touch it, it opens the map full screen with lots of options, like past and present radar, overview of other weather station's data like temperature, rainfall & humidity. The smaller map on the main screen give you a quick preview of what might be in the area, along with the current readings of temps, humidity and winds.

Scroll down and you'll find my favorite part. The 10 day forecast chart. Here at a glance you can see the forecast by the day and hour for temperature and precipitation. Its not enough to simply know the high will be 50 degrees or that there is a 10% chance of rain. When? How long? What is the trend for the week? Its all here and very easy to visualize whats going on when. Now you can easily decide the best day AND the best time to mow the grass, wash the car, go skiing, run errands, sleep in, plant your garden, work on the roof, or whatever you have going on without even reading a single number. If its supposed to rain on your parade, at a glance you can see perhaps the rain might be in the evening hours. This is what makes Weather Underground so useful.  Its such a great tool for time management. Your time is valuable and once its gone its gone. Plan accordingly!

The desktop site is even better, adding wind direction with speed. The precipitation graph turns pink when there is snow or ice. Its worth keeping as an open tab on your desktop browser to help plan your daily and weekly activities.

Continue scrolling down on the app and you'll see more local data, along with a video library of weather related news and information.

Keep on scrolling... This screen shows  the sunrise & sunset times in a nice pie chart. Complete with first light and last light. Click on the Moon tab and you'll see moonrise, moonset, next full and next new moons as well as the current moon. Handy for us amateur astronomers!

Next we have Webcams nearby. Some people volunteer outdoor webcams so you can SEE conditions in realtime. You can even set favorites and share your own photos.

Finally we have some social media links, forums, and your own personal blog if you choose to do so. Below that will be info about the NEAREST hurricane or cyclone anywhere in the world, even if its 4000 miles away.

Final notes...

If you're interested in installing your own personal weather station there are many different weather stations to choose from. Many are expensive and complex to setup with limited ways to view and chart data. You can start simple like I did with a $149 Netatmo sensor set. This gets you indoor and outdoor temps, humidity, air pressure, as well as indoor co2 and sound pollution levels. Later you can add a rain gauge and wind gauge.  Netatmo also has their own unique app and webpage thats really cool and worthy of its own review.  Note that you can choose to keep your outdoor weather station data to yourself, or share it with others either through Netatmo or the wider community on Weather Underground. 

Here's some useful links.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

LG's 2016 4k OLED TV : My Initial Impressions

After our 50" Pioneer Plasma TV died, we decided to replace it was an LG 55" 4K OLED purchased at a Black Friday discount plus 5% cash back via credit card, tax free and shipped free. This thing is amazing, as it's contrast ratio is infinite, producing true perfect black levels. Its pixels can turn off 100%, which even a plasma pixel cannot do. The perfect blacks combined with enough brightness give it a dynamic range able to properly display HDR content - unlike some current LCD HDR displays. The color capability is also impressive. Standard 8-bit panels, give you 256 color variations for each Red, Green and Blue subpixels, which totals 16.7 million possible colors. Tack on 2 more bits, and you get 1024 variations of each color for over a billion colors overall. I was also impressed with LG's WebOS GUI and gyro propelled remote control. I was never a fan of integrated smart TVs, but this is a pleasure to use. It will even natively stream local stations via my SiliconeDust HD HomeRun networked tuner, albeit not as fancy as the Apple TV STB. A small detail I later noticed was that the clear plastic base makes it appear as if it was floating above my sound bar. Slick.

I can't get a great screenshot with my iPhone. You have to see it in person to fully appreciate the details!

The screen itself is about as thick as a car's side window! Then halfway down the electronics enclosure adds maybe 2 inches of thickness.

As far as the poor Kuro plasma goes, I'll attempt a repair it at a later date and if successful I'll install it in my workshop, or try to sell it locally. I hear there are still Kuro fanatics out there willing to pay more than a penny for these displays. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Panel Bracing the Main Cabinets

Here you can see this loudspeaker cabinet has the internal bracing in place just prior to glue up. You'll notice I'm using pocket screws. Pocket screws are an easy way to firmly hold the bracing in place while glue is drying therefore no clamps are needed. I decided to use panel bracing along with a cross brace which anchors the baffle between the woofer and the waveguide cutout.

The "glue" I'm using is called PL Premium. Its a polyurethane construction adhesive commonly found in home improvement stores, or here on Amazon. It expands as it cures which helps fill in gaps, unlike your typical wood glue which shrinks. Its very messy to work with however, so wear nitrile gloves and be careful. It has the consistency of peanut butter and sticks to whatever it touches. Once you get it on a surface, its very hard to remove.

Panel bracing is a bracing scheme which increases the resonant frequency of a panel by physically subdividing it so acoustically it appears as several smaller panels. Panels tend to vibrate at a frequency determined by a formula which takes in consideration the dimensions of the panel as well as its density, bending stiffness and a few constants.

Our goal is to attenuate these resonances enough that they won't color the sound of the loudspeaker's output. We do this by first pushing the panel's resonance frequencies up and out of the band used by the woofer by altering the panels apparent dimensions via bracing.  Second we then attenuate those resonances with mass and stiffness. One could write a book on this topic alone. I've studied cabinet construction of JBL's 4xxx line of classic studio monitors and note they have done a great deal of research in this department. Not trying to reinvent the wheel, I've chosen this tried and true method to quiet these enclosures, plus a few other considerations not seen here to add a degree of overkill.

If you're interested in pocket screws, I started out with this kit Kreg K4MS Jig Master System with Pocket Hole Screw Joinery Kit. If you're a DIY type, you'll be amazed how many uses you'll find for pocket screws!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Facebook Page

Join me for a social media experiment..

Please like my new FACEBOOK PAGE for more updates.

Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Links of Interest #002

Why CDs sounds better than vinyl - Its all in the sample rate!

Roger Rusell's Speaker Wire - A History - Busting those wire myths. The bottom line is you want lots of copper. Everything else is marketing.

Rod Elliot's Article on Passive & Active Crossovers - Why a passive crossover will never be as good as an active one.

The High Life - An audiophile rants. While I agree with a few things and not others, its a short, fun read if you have a couple minutes.

Project Free TV - Find those TV shows you love. Online. Free.

And lastly I leave you with a music video. The is the Main Title from Star Wars, played by Jelani Eddington, on a majestic 50/80 Wurlitzer pipe organ at Sanfilippo Residence.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Speaker Upgrade Project Begins

This will be the first post about my new speaker project. I saved up enough money to purchase pretty much any high performance speaker system I wanted, however after much research and debate I decided to build my own. I could not turn down the opportunity to learn new things and use my skills to fabricate something with my own two hands. I'm going to divide the project into 4 distinct phases.

Phase I - The Left, Center, Right top cabinets. Top I define as the tweeter and midrange cabinet. These cabinets will be of high sensitivity and cover roughly 80hz to 20Khz without use of a Helmholtz resonator.

Phase II - The midbass system. This system will relieve the tops from somehwhere around 120-200Hz on down to about 40Hz. Final crossovers will be determined during implementation.

Phase III - Surrounds. Timber matched as close as possible to the tops, using the same tweeter. I place lowest priority on the surrounds and may actually complete the subsystem before surrounds?

Phase IV - Subwoofer system. As potent as the dual Acoupower 18" system is, at this point it will be the weak link and will be upgraded with a system capable of more air displacement for the lowest octaves.

My primary focus on this upgrade will be on the left and right channels. The midbass system will ONLY apply to the left and right. The center "top" will be identical to the left and right and extend to 80Hz only, which will satisfy movie playback to the THX standard. Center channel information below 80Hz will be routed to the left and right channels. The system will be modular in nature and a a versatile as I can make it. As Steve Guttenburg recently stated, something like 99% of all the recordings out there are 2 channel. I want to do that REALLY well and the rest is a bonus. I hope you follow my journey!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Audio & Video System Expectations

It's been quite some time since I've written to the blog. This year summer & fall had a way of running amok due to household projects, yard work, working overtime at my job, ect. While I may not had had time to spend working or enjoying my entertainment system as much as I'd like, my mind is still abuzz with where it's going with respects to future upgrades and it's direction. Having said that today I'll write a little about my system expectations.

Most audio enthusiasts are typically in one of two camps. The 2-channel music lover and the multichannel channel movie lover. A lot of folks aim for the best of both worlds, which is sometimes a compromise and sometimes very successful. Myself, I am a music fan. I have somewhat different goals than a movie fan might have. I always hesitate to call my room a "Home Theater". Actually I think the moniker is a complete misnomer. "Home Cinema" is a much more accurate description. Still I prefer to think of my room as a media room or entertainment center. Most movies I'll watch once or twice, but a good concert is enjoyed over and over again. Bluray delivers that experience with a high quality lossless multichannel sound track and 1080p picture, so it's suited for both movies and music playback. Bluray is my format of choice - but times are changing!

My video system was built with a 2.05:1 constant image area screen utilizing the maximum height I felt comfortable with. This means 16:9 video is shown as large as practically possible in my room, yet I also get to horizontally expand the picture to a wider CinemaScope 2.35:1 in order to maximize a movie if desired. Since most concert footage is 16:9 format, I've got the biggest picture for that application and still a really wide screen for the occasional movie flick. The traditional downside to a constant image area screen is that you have black bars on the horizontal or vertical image edges depending on which ratio video you are projecting. I've thought about implementing  some manual masking in the future, but the superb black levels of the JVC D-ILA technology in the RS40 projector make for black bars that are very undestracting. For now I'm pretty happy the way it is. I'm already thinking about the next generation DIY screen, so this might be it for the time being.

Now let's talk about the audio side. I've come to the conclusion that my ideal audio system must be capable of two different modes of operation. 

First and most important is the exact reproduction of what is recorded on the source material. This is typically everyone's goal. Flat frequency response, low distortion, good behavior in the time domain, ect. While these are respectable goals, they can fall short in the entertainment factor. Let me explain. Not all recordings are high quality and when faithfully reproduced can sound quite hideous. Such recordings that come to mind are mass produced rock music from the 80's and 90's, most streaming services, poorly digitized lossy MP3s and other bandwidth limited distribution methods such as Sirus/XM. Satellite radio music is so poor and compressed they it is often unlistenable even in my car! Fact is there are more recordings I'm interested in that cannot be sourced in high fidelity or high definition.  I won't NOT watch or listen to something I'm interested in, so what can I do about this?

The second goal of my ideal audio system is to modify the signal in an attempt to add back some of the lost pizzaz. One can alter the frequency response via equalization, add back in lost fundamentals with a subharmonic synthesizer, restore dynamics with range expanders, ect. The purist audiophile will poo-poo at this but if it's not enjoyable, what's the point? I'd much rather be absorbed into an enhanced performance than being distracted by a lousy faithful reproduction. The problem lies in the fact that it's not the media type that defines audio quality, but the work that goes into putting it there isn't always done with the best efforts. Even modern media can be poorly mixed or mastered. Streaming however is slowly catching up in quality and has an exciting future, with services like Netflix, Quello and YouTube. Yes I said YouTube! There are more and more high quality 1080p videos with well recorded sound out there. There are even a few 4K videos posted for those of us with capable displays. There are also products from companies like Darbee Visual Presence that are able to enhance video in ways that don't subtract details or add artifacts to the picture while increasing the viewing pleasure. 

My next few posts will be about my next level of system upgrades which support these ideas.

I'll end this post with a 720p YouTube video that has well recorded sound. This is Tool's 46 and 2 performed by the students of Aaron Okeefe's Music Instruction at The Tracking Room studio in Nashville, TN. It gives me goosebumps to see these talented young kids nail down this song!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Links of Interest Series #001

The first installment of regularly posted links of interest that I stumble upon. I'll have a permanent link to show only these posts on the sidebar to the right. Enjoy!

The Best Turntable (Entry Level) $400

I need to try vinyl one of these days. Maybe this is a good starting point?

"After consulting experts in the field and reading countless reviews, the entry level turntable to buy today is the Pro-ject Debut Carbon. It comes with the best combination of tonearm and cartridge of the entry level models out there, and is built well enough that you can upgrade the cartridge or other components down the road without needing to replace the table first."

The Dynamic Range Database

Does that new album sound better on CD, Vinyl or HDTracks?  Find out here before you spend your hard earned money.

24/192 Music Downloads... and why they make no sense

A very good article on why you DONT want a high sampling rate. Open this in a tab and read it later if you don't have the time. Its worth it. I like articles that have solid science backing them up. This is one of them. I'll also link the video accompanying this article because it demonstrates how science backs up facts and dispels myths about DA/AD conversions. I hope Monty makes more videos like this.