2yo: "Thomas... robot?"
Me: "You want to know if Thomas the train is a robot?"
Me (after thinking a bit): "No honey, Thomas can't be a robot, he doesn't obey the three laws of robotics."
This is an ancient Michigan Tech elixir for keeping warm when you have to spend all day outside. You can get everything you need at the local co-op.
1 quart of water
1 rounded tsp cloves
1 rounded tsp peppercorns
1/2 to 1 full stick cinnamon
A fair sized chunk of ginger (about thumb sized)
2 rounded tsp. peppermint
Maple syrup (REAL maple syrup!) or agave syrup
Crack the cinnamon into chunks with a hammer. Simmer cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns in the water for about ten minutes. Thinly slice ginger and add it in. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, add peppermint. Steep for 5-10 minutes.
Strain out everything, return to pan, add milk and syrup to taste. You will probably have to add around half a cup to a full cup of milk, but add as much as you like. Real maple syrup is the traditional flavoring, but agave syrup will do in a pinch.
Put in a thermos and drink for as long as you are outside. It will keep you nice and warm. It's also absolutely wonderful when you are sick. The cinnamon really helps with throat problems.
Alternate directions: do not strain. Let cool, put in fridge overnight, and strain in the morning. It will be much stronger and more bitter. You will have to add more milk and syrup, to counteract the bitterness, but the final product is a little heartier.
Alternate alternate directions: Crack 1 rounded tsp cardamom pods, put them in with the cloves and peppercorns. Do not add ginger. Instead of mint tea, steep 2-4 tsp black tea for the recommended time for your particular tea. Strain, add milk and syrup as above. Now you have chai!
On Monday night I got to hang out with Ian and Dave of Down and Above. I made a couple of amps for them as Christmas presents and, well, between their schedules and my schedule, it took a while to come up with a mutually agreed upon time to hang out.
Here's Ian trying it out for the first time:
It was a lot of fun to hang out and get feedback on the Stella. Ian and Dave both really liked how it sounded at maximum volume levels. If you crank all the knobs, the Stella starts self-oscillating and sounding weird. But if you play a power chord through it, you get a super thick, fat fuzz. When you hold the sustain and let the chord naturally die out, the sound starts swelling and breaking up in a unique way that is hard to describe.
As a harmonica player, I don't crank it that high, since these kinds of volume levels lead to feedback problems. But for the guitar, it sounds awesome.
The nice thing is, the Stella doesn't start oscillating right away if you cut the note off, so you can get away with a little syncopation.
A little caveat: this is how it sounds if you power the Stella Amp with anything from 4.5-6 volts. At higher power supply levels, like 9 volts or so, it cuts out more instead of giving a nice sustained fuzz when playing it cranked. In the video above, the amp is running at 6 volts (4 AA batteries).
So I have been working like a madman getting ready for the Minne Faire. It's coming up in a week! April 13 and 14 at the Hack Factory.
I will have a booth again this year. If you are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area you should come by and check it out. Last year I had a solar powered amplifier, this year I still don't know what I'm going to bring because I don't know what I'll have time to finish. One thing I am 99 percent done with is my prototype optical theramin:
It's a ton of fun. $8.00 if you buy a ticket online, $10.00 at the door. Kids under 15 get in free.
Batter and fry up 4-5 chicken livers. Set aside to cool a bit. Crumble livers onto a bed of greens. Liberally apply some freshly made Penzey's Italian salad dressing. Toss.
A couple of months ago, I had a Christmas sale planned, but due to some bad planning on my part, followed by a supplier who accidentally sent the wrong parts, I ran out of things to sell before I could put them on sale. :-(
So instead of a Christmas Sale, I'm having a Valentines Day Sale! It's exactly the same discount only it's in a completely different month!
The sale is going to be three dollars off a Stella Amp kit, from now until February 14th. It's Christmas in February!
One more thing. If you want to get your special someone a battery powered guitar amplifier, but neither you nor your loved one knows how to solder, then don't forget you can pick up a pre-assembled Stella Amp kit from Solderbot! (I don't think they're having a Valentine's Day sale though.)
A friend of mine gave me an old Super Graphic recently. It had been in his basement for quite some time and had gotten a bit musty. After my experiences with the basement flooding and the mold, this was something I wasn't terribly happy about, but I figured I could do something about the problem and not vaguely ignore it.
I googled some variation of 'clean musty super graphic' and came upon a few pages that recommended wiping it down with [vinegar / dilute vinegar / dilute bleach / Formula 409] and letting it dry for a few days.
I didn't have any Formula 409. I do have this amazing cleaning solution that I made from vinegar and orange peels (fill jar with orange peels, fill jar with vinegar, put in fridge for a few weeks). The vinegar / orange peel solution is really thick though, so I diluted it down with a little extra vinegar and some water.
I grabbed a bunch of q-tips and cotton balls, and started to work. Of course, I had my ever-present helper elves with me.
(Fortunately these older cameras are fairly sturdy. My 20 month old son (that's his hand at the extreme left in the picture above) thinks that "gentle" means "I'm not throwing it at the moment.")
I left the camera opened up for a few days and now everything on the camera smells faintly of plastic from the 1970s. I call that a success.
A week ago I went to a Down and Above concert, and I took a ton of photos, which I am still editing because I'm slow at editing. I think it was a fairly successful concert shot, but it was probably a bit unusual from a photographic gear standpoint, so I figured I'd talk about that.
My 20D broke in August, so I switched to doing film photography for a while. About a month ago, I really needed a digital camera, so I bought a 30D with a cracked back screen from a co-worker for 100 bucks. The 30D and the 20D have the same sensor, so I didn't gain anything in picture quality, but the 30D is ever so slightly more responsive, and the bigger RAW buffer means fewer lost shots.
But the back LCD screen is horribly broken and displays no useful image.
For day to day usage this is not really a problem. For one thing, I have been shooting film for the past five months. I know about what the proper exposure should be in my house, and with no screen to check my shots, I'm much more careful than usual in making sure my settings aren't goofy before I press the shutter button.
But concert photography is a whole other ball game. The lights are constantly changing, constantly swinging around and constantly never exactly in the right spot when you need them to be. Normally in a situation like that I would take a guess, shoot, chimp, and iterate. But with no screen, how could I chimp?
Fortunately I had shot a concert at this same venue 4 or 5 years ago. Unfortunately, try as I might, I could not find my raw files from that night. I found the edited jpegs, but those were well nigh useless because they did not have any camera metadata in them to help me figure out the exposure settings I used last time!
In desperation I googled around to find out what I could about camera settings for concert photography and I came upon a useful article by Tom Di Maggio. In the article, Mr. Di Maggio says he starts with ISO 1600, f2.8 at 1/160th of a second.
Well that was good news for me. My camera only usefully goes up to ISO 1600. My three lenses only go up to f2.8 (OM Zuiko 24mm, 35mm, and 100mm). And hey, my long lens is a 100mm lens, which on my camera gives me an effective focal length of 160mm. So as long as I was reasonably careful, I could get reasonably sharp shots with my 100mm.
(The 100mm f2.8 OM Zuiko is the Best Lens in the Universe, by the way. It's relatively cheap because everyone wants the f2.0 version. But the 2.8 lens is very lightweight, and the rendering quality is absolutely stunning. [Yes, it's manual focus only. According to one of my photographer friends, any lens that does not have autofocus is "a steaming pile of crap!" I suppose for him it would not be the Best Lens in the Universe. But for me it certainly is.])
Anyway, back to the metering problem. I resolved to use those settings as a starting point, and to check the actual lighting conditions with the "spot meter" in my camera (the spot meter in my 30D is not very tight, and not really a true spot meter. But it would do in a pinch.)
Every time I checked the light with the spot meter, it was spot on at 1/160th, f2.8, and ISO 1600. I did shoot a few dozen back up frames at 1/250th of a second and 1/80th. of a second. No matter what settings I was using, because of the constantly changing light show, some were over exposed, some were under exposed. But overall I was mostly pleased with how the pictures came out.
One thing that worked surprisingly well was to put the camera in spot meter mode, and then have the camera pick the shutter speed with a fixed aperture. You'd think that would never work, but as I mentioned before, the "spot" meter on the 30D is really a big center patch, and even though I wanted to place the center of attention outside the center of my photos, enough of the subject was in the center so it was able to meter off the spot, and then ignore the vast spots of black behind the performers.
This last picture here was taken with the 24mm (all the rest were taken with the 100mm):
The 24mm OM Zuiko lens is really a poor performer with my Canon 30D. It imparts a bizarre, uneven color cast, and the photos have a plasticy feel to them. When shooting film, it's really a nice little lens. Nothing spectacular, but it's still pretty solid.
But one cure for that stupid color cast is to shoot in black and white! I don't know why I didn't think of that before. Now that I have thought of that, I think I might spend a weekend shooting black and white digital with just the 24 and see how it goes.
Here is how I noticed that going wheat free helped me out. I like cooking, but only on a creative basis. I have to be in the mood for it. If my mind is creatively elsewhere, I want to show up where food is, eat food, and get back to creating. So for a time, a large number of my meals were "Open can of southwest flavored canned tomatoes, eat with chips, done."
At Chipotle, I started getting the burrito bowl instead of the burrito, just to see what it was like, and I discovered that I liked the bowl better than the burrito. I often found myself feeling subjectively better after eating Chipotle, and I started wondering why.
I started paying attention to what I was eating, and I noticed that if I had spent the past few days eating meals without wheat (entirely by happenstance: beef stew for dinner, chips and salsa for breakfast, left over stew for lunch, cheesy salmon rice for dinner, leftover salmon rice for breakfast, and then Chipotle), and then followed that up with a good steak burrito bowl, I felt pretty good. If I went from a wheat based diet directly to Chipotle, I didn't get as much of a *pow* good feeling of well being.
I think what it is, is that there are a number of different whole, high nutritional foods in a steak burrito bowl, or at least there is the way I make it (with plenty of mild tomato and medium corn salsa, and all of the vegetables.) If there are any vitamin deficiencies I have foisted upon myself (chips and tomato salsa, tasty, but not too nutritional) then the diversity of the ingredients in the Chipotle is going to help that out.
Sorry, this probably sounds like an ad for Chipotle! I wish there were more, similar restaurant chains or other kinds of food I could make that was similarly tasty. Unfortunately, to make something like this at home would require following a number of different recipes and dirtying most of the dishes in the kitchen, at least as far as the taste is concerned. For me, a big part of the taste is that there are a bunch of individually cooked ingredients that all come together in the final plate. Cooking the vegetables with the meat (like in a stir fry) isn't the same.
As far as dark wheat bread goes, for a time in college I ate nearly nothing but whole grain, whole wheat sunflower seed / raisin bread. I was extremely broke, I bought all of the ingredients in bulk, and I used my roomate's automatic bread machine's timer function to make a loaf every morning before I left for class. I'd wrap that loaf up in a towel and throw it in my bag, and all day I would rip parts off the loaf whenever I would get hungry. It was wonderful and extremely convenient.
10 or 12 years later I discovered my old recipe, so I picked up a second hand bread maker, and started making delicious loaves of bread again. Unfortunately, I discovered that every time I ate a bunch of bread, I felt absolutely horrible a few hours later. Sadly, I suspect that gluten intolerance is a cumulative disease.
And finally, I also had great luck with traditional sourdough breads. Especially using spelt. Spelt is a harder grain to work with, baking wise, but I didn't get the usual gluten blahs when I used it. Unfortunately, Peggy doesn't like the taste of a strong sourdough! And maintaining a starter is too much work for just me.
But I don't have a life threatening allergy to wheat. Usually what happens is I go wheat free for a while, but then I forget and eat a whole bunch of it. I do like egg noodles.
I'm really excited to announce that my friend Luke has started up a new site called Solderbot! Solderbot is a service that will pre-assemble kits for you. So if you have an interest in a product, but don't have the time, or if you are a little apprehensive about the assembly process, Solderbot will sell you an assembled kit.
I'm even more excited to announce that the Stella Amp is one of the first kits that Solderbot has available for sale! The number one request I have for the Stella Amp is "Where can I get a pre-assembled kit?" Now I have an answer: you can pick one up from Solderbot!
UPDATE: They are back in stock!
Look at your walls. If you are like I was, your walls are fairly bare, because when you think of putting something up on them, you feel like, well, what if you make a mistake?
Listen. Don't worry about making a mistake. If you see something you like, buy it, and put it on your wall. You will be a much happier person.
I want to tell you about my friend Noah. He is an amazing photographer, and that is not something I say lightly. Check out his portfolio. When you see something you like, be bold and buy it. You will not see art that is this good, for this good of a price, anywhere else.
I'm going to tell you a secret. When you see one of his photos, and you say "Wow!" to yourself, you're still going to say "Wow!" to yourself 5 months from now when it is hanging up in your house. Every now and then I pass one of his photos in my hallway and I just stop and stare at it. And I've had it up on the wall for three years!
And if you don't see anything of his that you like, go find something you like and buy that instead. Or if capitalism isn't really your bag, you can go get a big piece of poster board and paint a picture of a dolphin or a giraffe or Elvis or whatever floats your boat and hang it on your wall.
Surround yourself with beautiful things. Life is too short for blank, off-white walls.
Jeremy from the Mandolin Blues Blog wrote in:
I just wanted to say thanks for getting my kit out so quickly. I recieved it Friday and by this afternoon, I had a working amplifier. Kit was/is great and went together really well.
I built up my 'cabinet' and the little thing rocks. I play blues guitar, mandolin and harmonica. All sound great through the little amp.
PS, the little blue 4 stringer is my BluesBird. A 4 string electric blues mandolin I designed and built. Sounds awesome with its little 4 pole humbucker through my Stella.
Wow! I am jealous, I want one of those mandolins! Jeremy has a few posts about the Stella Amp: one when he got the kit, one with the build in progress, and one when he finished the amp. Thanks Jeremy!
So I decided to try my hand at soldering surface mount components. I mean, lots of people are doing it these days, how hard can it be?
I read a bunch of how to solder SMT tutorials, and they all said the same thing. They said, start out with the larger passives, like 805s, and once you get the hang of those, 603s are relatively straightforward.
Being a bit of an idiot, I thought to myself, I'll just start with the 603s, how hard can it be? So I ordered some, and they came in the mail. You want to know how small a 603 1k resistor is?
About the size of a single digit of the date on a nickel. Thereabouts.
I was at The Hack Factory last night helping a gentleman put together a Stella Amp that he had bought from the vending machine. (We have a kit vending machine at the Hack Factory, it's great. And although my kit is in the machine, I have to be honest and say I've put more money into the machine buying other kits than I have made from kit sales. It's a little addictive.)
William wrote in with a great photo of his new Stella Amp:
Thank you very much for sending the replacement resistor. The Stella
amp is fantastic. Not only is it the best clean sounding battery
powered amp, but the overdrive sounds are stellar. It's so good that I
made it into an amp head so I can use it with any number of speaker
combinations. I've included a picture of the Stella connected to my
Emery Sound mahogany cabinet with a 10 inch Weber Alnico Blue Pup.
I love that clear case! You can see the jack when you are plugging and unplugging the guitar cable, and everything.
Phil Graham (@Roadstead) wrote in on twitter with a question and a comment. My reply was just a bit long for twitter, so I thought I'd answer it here.
Going to build my brother in law a Stella. Have you played with diode pairs or bridge between trim -> level or trim -> ground?
No I haven't! One of the things I did when I designed the front end was to put a little op amp distortion in there. Playing with diode distortion is on my list of things to do. I know a lot of theory behind it but I haven't played around with actual circuits before.
If you get something working that you like the sound of, let me know! Make a video of it if you can, and I'll post it here.
Also, you could add a cap in series with R1 to bleed off some of the higher harmonics like the miller capacitance does
I also have not played around with adding a tone circuit but if I did want a tone circuit, that's pretty much where I would put it. Except I would put it after the trim and level pots and before R1, or before the two trim and level pots entirely. I did experiment with a funky tone circuit that was integrated in to the entire backend, and it should have worked but it did absolutely nothing. So I got discouraged, but I should really dig that out and see if I can get it working. The idea was that it would cut the higher harmonics even if the back end amplifier was distorting, which sounded awesome on paper but in real life did not work at all.
A leaky dishwasher while we were on vacation lead to some flooding in our basement. The flooding led to moisture and the moisture led to mold!
The worst of the mold damage was confined to my electronics workbench and my collection of antique cameras, of course.
Cleaning up the mess has taken up every bit of free time available over the past week. Of course I had just recently moved my shipping operations to the basement, so that's where all of my stock of kits was, and everything. It will be a while before I have more kits in stock. More information can be found on the status page.
If you want to be notified when Stella amp kits are back in stock, sign up for my email list!