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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Carver C-9 Sonic Hologram Generator

I just installed an interesting piece of gear into the signal processing rack of my sound system, a Carver C-9 Sonic Hologram Generator. Designed by Bob Carver in the 80's, his Sonic Hologram Generator has been a feature in various Carver preamps at the time. The C-9 is a stand alone unit that some have called his finest implementation of the technology. I've wanted to tinker with Sonic Holography in my own system ever since it was demonstrated to me by a friend, Mark "Basspig" Weiss in his incredible sound system

The problem it attempts to solve is called acoustical crosstalk. What's that? For example the sound from your LEFT speaker is heard by your LEFT ear. Inevitably some of this sound is also heard by your RIGHT ear slightly delayed, otherwise known as acoustical crosstalk. This can cause some anomalies in our perception of the sound. Headphone aficionados don't experience this crosstalk at all as you can imagine, which is one of the reasons people love the sound of headphones.

So what does this thing do?

It's basic function is to take a 2-channel audio recording and attempt to eliminate acoustical crosstalk between the speakers and your ears. The Sonic Hologram Generator does this by sending an inverted copy of the audio signal to the opposing speaker with amplitude and delay such that it actively cancels the crosstalk at your ear. This can create a similar effect to using headphones, only instead of the sound appearing only inside your head as headphones do, the sound can appear in front of you anywhere in a 180 degree hemisphere. When implemented correctly, it sounds incredible. For a very detailed explanation you can read about it in the patent here. Simplified in the diagram below the Lr and Rl paths get nulled out by producing an inverted signal from the opposing speaker mixed in with the wanted direct sound paths Ll and Rr.

This all sounds interesting but there are a few downsides to be aware of. 

1. It's very dependent on the program material chosen. Not all music lends itself to the effect. 

2. Some rooms it just doesn't work well in. Speaker placement and listening position is critical. See the manual for more information. 

3. You must be in the "sweet spot" to hear the effect. If you move about 18" in either direction the effect goes away. This can be adjusted by a small amount with the Listening Aperture button. 

Despite these shortcomings I look forward to playing around with the C-9 with my 2-channel recordings. You can find the C-9 on EBay for $100 or less most of the time, which is where I bought mine. Upon receiving I opened its up to examine the inside and it looked really clean and in good condition. The power supply electrolytic capacitors showed no signs of distress and the rest of the caps are green polyester film types. I did clean the switches and RCA connectors with Deoxit D5 while it was apart. You can install this in series with any music source like a CD player or if your processor has an external tape loop connection you can use that. There are 2 sets of RCA connectors on the rear, in and out for the left and right. The unit itself has no power on/off button, but it does have a bypass/engage switch. I might add a power switch to the front panel in the future. There are also some other switches for varying parameters to a degree. Listening Aperture can be set to narrow or wide and Injection Ratio can be set to normal or theoretical. This is the amount of crosstalk correction applied. Also note that you may use this device to encode the Sonic Holography signals into a recording itself for playback on a system without the hardware.

While I find discrete multichannel audio greatly enjoyable to listen to, the selection is limited. There are a lot more 2-channel recordings in the world to hear. Sure we have Dolby PL2x and DTS's Neo:6 and many other processing modes that create multichannel surround from a 2-channel source but properly dialed in stereo sounds good too. Add in a Sonic Hologram Generator and if your setup is just right you will swear there are speakers in places none exist. That's magical! 

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.