December 28

2008 WRAP-UP

Please forgive my extreme lack of presence here at the Lair; much has been going on behind the scenes, keeping me quite swamped with projects and little time for anything else.

I suppose at the top of the exciting list is the studio upgrade that I am nearly finished completing now. For 25 years, my work area has been the antithesis of ergonomic, a hodge-podge of thrown-together after-thoughts and a real workout to get around within. That is all changing now, as in mid-November, I was 'window shopping' with my wife in a Staples store, and, having been in search of the ultimate furniture for my work area, and finding either no such thing available, or astronomically-priced, I waited for nearly two decades. The wait came to an abrupt end last month, as I found the perfect modular desk units, complete with corner desks and wing desks to form my dream U-shaped workstation.

The concept was to have the computers arranged in a ring around a central chair position, and the MIDI keyboards on one leg of that "U". The modular desks I saw in the store were just perfect. And, the corner desk was a perfect place to put a full-sized 24/48-channel mixing desk. I'd been holding off on getting an MX9000 because of no available workstation surface to put it. Now I have a 48" corner that will be a perfect fit for the MX9000. All 81lbs of it.

This build out is being done on a very modest budget. It all started with a spare motherboard I had bought last summer. It was simply sitting in the closet building up negative amortization, so I decided to build up a second quad-core workstation. In fact, the plan was to clone the very successful video editing workstation that I'd built in August of 2007. That build cost me close to $4,000. This one would see a huge drop in RAM prices and would contain many previously-owned components this time. I bought a second nVidia GeForce 8800 GTS on eBay for about 1/3 of retail, a new Silverstone TJ-06 machined aluminum case (looks a lot like the Mac G5) for half of what the first one cost me on Newegg. I shopped around for pricing on every component. Bottom line is that the second workstation cost me 1/4 the money to build, owing to a combination of price drops and used market savings.

Then I decided to retire the last of my 21" CRT monitors. I shopped around for a used HP LP3065 30" four-megapixel flat panel display. I lucked out and found one on eBay. The owner had recently bought it and had that "oh shit--this is waaaay too big for my desk" epiphany and put in on eBay with a very modest Buy it Now price of $800--half of street price. I snatched that up immediately after asking a few questions about it. He even overnighted it to me for $30, which, I am sure, he must have had to cover some excess costs himself. It arrived on Christmas Eve day and I unpacked it from it's original factory packaging. Other than a few fingerprints that I washed off, the display appears to never have been used. Score one point for the Bass Pig. So now I have two identically-configured quad-core workstations, new workstation furniture and my MIDI gear all setup in a "U" configuration, making the work experience much better. And no more eye strain, as my advancing age is robbing me of the keen sight I once had, to be able to read 10pt type on a 21" display, so these LP3065 displays are a real eye-saver for me.

I bought a lot of cables and rewired my Kurzweil synth outputs through the furniture's cable troughs, which made it a neat installation. No more rats nest. I replaced some homemade cables with some good ProCo cable I got at Jack's Music Factory. For $60, I replaced ALL of the audio cabling from the MIDI rack to the mixer and what a difference. All trace of hum is gone now. The shielding on the new cables is THAT much better.

In other news, I did the first major upgrade to the heating system in 38 years. With the price of heating oil near $5/gallon last fall, I decided it was time to upgrade to a modern flame retention burner. I did an enormous amount of research, educated myself on combustion theory (and found it quite fascinating how oil burners work), and went ahead and bought components and assembled a new, state-of-the-art oil burner.

Our old burner was a real pig. Reliable and heck, but with a huge appetite for oil. It guzzled it at the rate of at least 1.65 gallons per hour (GPH). Probably more, given that the nozzle was 38 years old and due to erosion, the pinhole was probably larger than spec. No doubt it used oil like we were living in the 1920s.

The new burner is so efficient, that I decided to go way smaller on the GPH rate of the new nozzle. On top of that, I added a Hago "Eko-Valve", a pressure-sensitive valve that immediately cuts the flow of oil when the pressure drops below a specified value. This prevents waste caused by after-drip each time the burner shuts off. It also reduces smoke, soot build-up and coking. And the new nozzle is sized at 1.00 GPH.

That's not all. I discovered a new product that I myself was thinking of inventing, a means of reducing the number of short cycles of burner operation and extending the run-down time between firings to extract more heat from the boiler. It turns out a company known as Intellicon was already building a product called HW+ Heat Manager, which does just that. It is a computer-controlled module that modulates the oil burner firing cycle. It connects between the high-limit aquastat and the burner's AC power. How it works is pretty simple, but the benefit is tremendous: it uses a temperature probe to measure the rate of drop in water temperature out of the boiler as the circulators run. On colder days, this heat is radiated just a bit faster than on warm days, so the HW+ varies the burner cut-in point accordingly.

The result is that the circulators can run and continue to distribute heat in the building for up to 30 minutes longer, before the burner needs to fire. This results in morning recoveries that only cycle the burner once, instead of three times, as was the case in the past.

The HW+ has a nifty hours meter on it. It displays two time values: the time that the burner would have fired (the aquastat calls for heat) and the time the burner actually fired. Since the second week of November, when this was installed, that's about 71 hours and 14 hours. My burner would have run 71 hours without the HW+. Since I know the burner nozzle is at 1.00 GPH, and the accumulated run timer shows the burner's actual run time, it is possible to make a rough calculation of oil usage: 14 hours X 1 gallon per hour. Can it be that the furnace used only 14 gallons of heating oil? We'd normally have used 80-100 gallons by now. That's 44 days and 14 gallons of oil used. Now if it were the old burner, and 71 hours at 1.65 GPH, that would have been over 117 gallons of oil used! Of course, the real verdict will come in when I measure the oil level in the tank next spring. But this is very encouraging.

Back to audio news, I did two more recording sessions with the GBSO this fall. A prodigal genius violin and piano virtuoso at the tender age of 17 wowed the audience last October with her stunning capabilities on two very diverse instruments. Her father hired me to make a video of the concert, which I did in grand style, with two XDCams and two HDV cameras this time, plus the full compliment of my surround sound mic array, plus secondary balcony array. I designed a gorgeous DVD menu for the whole concert and complimentary packaging that speaks of the high quality of the performance contained within. The client was pleased beyond all expectation.

The following month, I was hired again, this time by a local composer, to make a recording of his compositions debut performance. The concert also contained a roster of American composers and the music was rousing and rich in percussion, making this a very enjoyable recording to hear. Once again, we banged out another masterpiece that just stunned everybody.

The GBSO is now considering hiring me to record every concert. Their double-bass player called me last week to tell me how ecstatic he was about the recent recording of the orchestra. He is pushing for making commercial recordings, an idea I fully support. So now I have an ally in my quest to help this regional orchestra gain the international listenership it deserves. The potential looks interesting.

Back to mechanical things, my wife retired her old car last summer and we'd been down to one SUV for a few months, so her comments about getting a second car were getting more frequent, as were her printouts of deals she was looking at on the internet. I finally gave in last month and we went to our local Ford dealer and looked at a couple of prospects. Boy, this sure was a great time to buy a gas-guzzling SUV! Prices were practically at givaway levels--dealers were loaded up with SUVs traded in by scared drivers, recently shocked by $5/gallon gas.

We found an '06 Explorer for $5,000 less than we paid for our '98 Explorer in 2001. And it's a much more valuable vehicle from the standpoint of improvements in ride, handling, quietness, features and power. The truck is spotless inside & out and my daughter loves it. It sits a little higher than our '98, though I do have a problem with the slightly lower entrance headroom, being the genetic freak/giant that I am, but once I'm in, it's very comfortable. I was fairly stunned by the power of the overhead cam engine, when, as I was climbing the 40% grade (very steep hill) heading up the mountain to our neighborhood, I tromped on the accelerator and it picked up speed like a rocket. I think it would have been a tie between this and my '55 Olds--very impressive for 6,000lbs of 4WD truck. Getting up to freeway speed just takes a couple of seconds from a standing stop on the level. And the surprising thing is that if one drives sensibly, it gets over 26 mpg on cross-state driving without a lot of stops.

The only drawback is the same one that irked me about the '98: crummy headlight systems. Last August, I finally found a biXenon HID headlamp kit for the '98 Ford and installed it. It transformed that vehicle into a very safe night driving machine. So I did the same thing for the '06. Only problem is the new-fangled computerized control systems complain about the missing bulbs and the ECM doesn't send a steady 12V DC to the headlights, but a pulsed square wave, as a filament life-extending measure. So I have to wait for some connectors to arrive and make a harness with some resistors and a capacitor to cure these compatibility issues. But the low beams work fine and they are so much brighter that my wife and I find no need to use the high beams so far. We got good financing on the truck and put a big down payment down, so payments are small--about 1/3 of what Amanda's daycare was costing.

Speaking of Amanda, my daughter, she became inspired by the violin while watching me edit the October concert. So my wife bought her a violin. Then I tried to give her some basic lessons, but since her violin is sized for her, I realized I'd better get a 4/4 for myself. I mentioned it to my good friend Ethan Winer, and, surprise, he buys me a violin! So now I've been working with my daughter and she has an example to follow. Well, not the greatest. I play about as well as Jack Benny did. It's time to hire a professional instructor, which I am in the middle of discussion with.

Oh, speaking of my friend Ethan, he recently hired me to shoot a rather, eh, interesting video. Acoustic Treatment Exposed was intended to be full of metaphors and a playful, sexy humorous delivery. He hired an actress who was willing to reveal all, as well as the services of a professional comedy writer who writes the script for a certain late night talk show. I was contracted to shoot and edit the video. Overall, it turned out pretty good. Albeit not my style of delivery method, but the video serves to playfully poke fun at some of his competitors in the acoustic treatment business as well as educate the viewer on what acoustic treatments do and how to apply them. I must admit that I had fun producing some of the special effects for this video.