Sunday, August 9, 2009

PVC Luthier

I love Blue Man Group music. It's all about taking a bunch of little things to create a complex whole. The rhythmic motifs are simple, but they interlock to form a very intricate song. Then there's the really cool part - the PVC instruments.

I have wanted one of their instruments, preferably a base-range one, for a while. Now that there's no longer an imminent move, I am building one. The whole dynamic of the acoustic, yet synthesizer-like tone produced by plumbing parts and paddles intrigues me. I want to see how it fits with other music.

Basically, there's four kinds of the instruments.

1. Original instrument
It's almost a xylophone made of PVC. The major difference is that instead of hitting a pole or plate on its side, you use a paddle to strike the air column in the end of the tube. They usually are made of 14 tubes arranged in two rows. They have one octave doubled so faster notes can be played. It used to occupy all three octaves, but now the tubulum holds down the base. It has a very clean "donk" sound. Used almost everywhere, but exemplified in "PVC IV."

2. Tubulum
This is an updated version of the first instrument. It has rubber reeds that are struck with sticks. It can be found in the newer albums doing all the low-range stuff. It has a growlier sound thanks to the rubber, and it's usually going pretty fast, so it sounds like "doodoodoodoo." It has fewer notes than the original instrument because you can fit two drumsticks onto a reed, rather than one paddle to a tube. Used for the main riff in "I Feel Love" and inspired them to cover the song in the first place.

3. Backpack tubulum
One of the PVC instruments mounted onto a backpack. It has flexible draining for its resonating tubes. These vary so widely, they're hard to classify and they're indistinguishable in sound from their floor-bound counterparts. Used in Vegas for "Rods and Cones."

4. Drumbone
This is the most special of the instruments. It consists of a larger and a smaller J-shaped section. One Blue Man holds each section, and the other plays them with drumsticks. Each section has a telescoping part like a trombone (hence the name). Disassembled, each section gets two notes, and it gets four notes when the two are joined end to end. It's easy to build sloppily, but if you want to do it right, it's a bit harder. It's used only in the song "Drumbone."

I am going for a mid-range original instrument using 3" triple-wall pipe. The triple-wall has some internal resonance, which gives it a slightly more tubulum-like sound.

1. Testing tubes
2. Building paddles
3. Designing instrument
4. Assembling tubes
5. Assembling stand
6. Final assembly

Sunday, July 19, 2009

World Budgie Project

After the first day or so on our trip, I got to thinking about one of Mom's swap-bot buddies. This buddy was organizing a "world bear project," where you mail off a teddy bear to someone, and they take pictures of it around town before sending it off. I wanted to do something like that, but I had a problem. I had no bear. I had packed my dragon puppet, who would have been nice, in the trailer. Getting him out through all the stuff around his box, then finding a place for the box in one of the cars, would be a pain (massive understatement). But I did have two cute budgies who would work. Thus, while we were in Colorado, the World Wide Budgie project was born. 

This went concurrently with the disposable cameras Amy G. sent us and Mom's digital, so Amy may have some better pictures where the little guys were more photogenic. Also, I often had no place to set the cage where the little guys wouldn't flip out, so please excuse the occasional wonky camera angle or arm in the frame.

So here they are, Sprite (the green one) and Buttercream (the white one), the globetrotting parakeets!

Granny's backyard in Colorado:

Our hotel in Greenriver, Utah:

Just before Salt Lake City:

Sitting pretty in Helena, Montana:

Dad with the budgies in Sangudo:

On the kitchenette at Fort Nelson:

With me at the signpost forest in Watson Lake:

Outisde our hotel in Whitehorse, facing into the sun:

At the Galactic Cinnamon Roll Center, somewhere along the Alaska Highway:

Same place, but with the dog, instead.

At Haines Junction, looking at the mountains.

In Beaver Creek, our first stop in Alaska. Fast Eddy's is just behind the camera. Go there and split an order of fried mushrooms with two friends sometime.

At home, looking over our lake. I think there are some better pictures from here on Amy's last camera.

They had a good ride, but I think they're glad to be home!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On the road! First stop, parentheses city.

Big shoutout to Gramps for helping us pack (read: putting a bunch of our crud in his truck and helping us get it out and to various places)! 
We left at 6:30 PM today, and have driven to Vernon, Tx.We got in 3:30hr of driving, and have gone about 180 mi. Dog is getting along fine, as are the birds riding in the back of the CR-V with her. I think Tate has more room than I do. I have a bunch of stuff at my feet (not that I'm complaining), and a bag on my lap (which is less than ideal). 
Amy G. sent us each bags of goodies, including snacks we've started on a little. Tate's bag has some cool stuff in it, and mine was really nice. Amy seems to have remembered my earlier post on economics and starburst, so there's a pack of those, and there's the world's awesomest pen, because it's shaped like a dragon. (sometimes, I'm easy to shop for XP). 

Already my Spore forum friends are missing me, because I told hem I likely wouldn't be on until the tenth. One of their RP's has died in my absence, and one of them was regretting that I wasn't there to post in it. Oh well, she promised to put off making one that is important to me until I get home.

Must get to bed soon, got a long day ahead.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A little something extra

I've been on the new machine for a few days now, and it runs great. Methinks it's a little too new to run the scanner properly, but other than that it's great. Not only that, but there's also the free engraved ipod touch...
Mom has moved out of the past, having gotten Dad's previous laptop and my 30G video ipod.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Computer issues and what follows

For about a month now, my laptop has been having a weird graphics glitch. It comes in several varieties:
1. A line of random pixels going across a window.
2. A 1-px line of my desktop picture scooted half a screen to the right.
3. A bunch of static attached to an icon.

It's not the display, because the errors move around. That leaves basically two possibilities:
1. OS failure, or
2. hardware failure, likely the logic board or VRAM.

There was another error, too. The Windows side of the computer (for those who don't know, I use a Macbook Pro running both Leopard and XP. (Why Microsoft made an OS named after a smiley, I'll never know.) Windows would let me be logged in for 10 seconds or so, then simply reboot to the Mac side without warning. What gets me is that this one disappeared last week, seemingly at random. I know computers aren't random in nature. That's what scares me.

So on Tuesday morning, Dad backed up the whole computer to one of his 2 TB hard drives. Then at about 5:00, when the backup finished, I took my (painfully hot) computer back and reinstalled Leopard. Not ten minutes later, the graphics glitch came back. That means, it's not an easy fix. Dad and I took the computer to the Apple Store at the mall, and dropped it off with them. At this point, we were looking at, at best, a $100 diagnosis fee. At worst, $300 for replacing parts until everything worked (and oh yeah, we found out while reinstalling that my internal CD drive is shot - again. This makes two.).

Now for the better news. Yesterday, Dad gave me a note that asked me to give him a best offer on his current laptop, including a trade-in of mine. After he started throwing in options on my best offer (first more warranty, then more RAM, then better CPU's) beyond what I knew his current machine could handle, I figured he had something planned. He did - planned and executed. he had already ordered me a refurbished MBP of the kind that were state-of-the-art until last Sunday. On top of that, he cut me a great deal (I won't say how much) on the new machine and told me to cancel the repairs.

So today, I canceled the order and picked up the computer. Fortunately, they hadn't done anything to it yet, so there was no service charge.

Long story short, I've gained an LED monitor sans graphics error, 1.06 GHz, 2G ram, and a Radeon 9600M video card. The last part makes me happy, because the 1600M card in my old machine isn't even on the ATI website anymore.

Dads rock.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

An interesting idea

I haven't shown my economist side too much on my blog. It tends to come out in conversation,whether Im' making a casual quip about marginal utility, or using a facetious argument involving utils (since utils are rubbish) in order to mooch something from Dad.*

So, on a random thought last night at work, based from a strip of salmon jerky, I got to thinking about my scout camping trips and money. Not just dollar bills, but media of exchange in general. 
One thing I noticed is that trade almost never pops up on normal campouts. There, we have a somewhat socialist system: Everyone buys about the same amount of food (theoretically), then everyone eats what they need. Food is taken care of entirely by the patrol, and personal snacks are largely forbidden. No trade.

Hiking campouts are another story. There, personal snacks are commonplace. The last Carlsbad trip was a great example - the entire troop, with daypacks full of snackies, all stuck on the same bus for a whole weekend. I had learned a few things over the last few years of camping:

1. Packing things like pop-tarts takes space.
2. Beef jerky is expensive. Very.
3. No matter what you bring, someone will always have brought cooler snacks than you.
4. I like Starburst.
5. Starburst exhibit many of the major qualities of money: Durability, when sealed properly; ease of divisibility due to small size; intrinsic value; marketability; easy transportation and storage; and consistency.
6. Starburst come in a 5-pound bag.
7. I'm probably the only person in the troop who would associate all of this in this way.

Thus, I came up with a brilliant plan: don't buy snacks. Just buy a big bag of Starburst and trade for what I need. Such is similar to how money takes hold naturally: People encounter barriers to bartering (my inability to buy and pack all the snacks I want), so they barter indirectly. How did my plan go? Quite nicely.
Steve has Pop-tarts? A generous handful of starburst, and I get him to share. Now we've both gained. Bob has jerky? That takes a bit more starburst, but that's doable too. 

I ended up with a lot of spare starburst (which was fine by me), but I still managed to do a heck of a lot of trade. 

What I would really like to see is a longer campout, with larger stores of snacks.** What I would want to see is what shows up as the general medium of exchange and what the exchange rates are. Or for that matter, how willing the scouts are to trade, rather than eat their own supplies. I suspect some sort of candy, most likely starburst or skittles, would rapidly dominate. These are the most common types of sweets available on a campout. Starburst, which comes in larger denominations would be somewhat analogous to gold, and skittles to silver. 

The next most common goods are cookies and jerky. Why neither of these? Jerky is difficult to divide precisely in the field, and it's just too darn scarce to trade commonly. Cookies crumble easily, and take up a lot of room. They're best left in the chuckbox, then gotten as needed from there.

Maybe the exchange would even extend into services, like helping with camp chores or building pioneering projects. 
This is all speculative, since it hasn't had time to develop in this scenario, but I'm reminded of an old article. It basically documented WWII POW's in Germany, who established an economy based on cigarettes. There was a set of regularly updated exchange rates posted on the wall, and stale cigs would be traded at different rates to fresh ones, etc. 

The basic idea of the concept is elaborated on in "Economics for Real People" by Gene Calahan, available for free download at 

I was just trying to figure out where salmon jerky fit in, when the chef asked my why I was smiling. "Oh, just thinking," I said.

*this never works with Mom. She has no idea what I'm talking about, so she's never convinced.
**Summer camps don't work, since there's a trading post, which brings dollars into play.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Looking ahead

There are apparently several Renfaires in Anchorage (thanks Amy G. for the sleuthing!), and I'm already psyched. I will admit I'm already spending a lot of money in my head with improvements to the costume - namely, getting feet and probably commissioning a custom face. NF mentioned to me that they'll be making the "large dragon muzzle" eventually anyway, so that would mean I'd only have to pay the additional fees for mold-making, sans sculpting costs. Seems good. I'll also look into getting a set of realistic claws for use when I don't want to wear my gloves. Three fingers look awesome, but they really reduce your grasping ability.  That's still a ways off yet - next June - so I've got some time to work it out.