Archive for June, 2009

Flea Market Find – 8-Track Tape Player

Monday, June 29th, 2009

So for $5, I was able to nab a boxed (though used) Stereo 8 player. Not a common purchase I know, but it is bound to get at least some use as a stereo component.

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The Box, weighing about 7 pounds while full

Eight-tracks, for those who don’t know, were once the reigning format for portable music, later being replaced by the cassette tape. Like the four-track tape, the eight-track would have multiple programs per tape that could be switched from one to the other using a button on the player. Though eight-track tapes, like the name implies, can hold more music than a four-track tape, they do so in the same amount of space. Ultimately, the sound quality of an eight-track tape is less than the quality of a four-track tape.

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Queen’s News of the World

Upon adding the unit to my stereo, I can say that the sound quality is indeed low. If anything, eight-track tapes can be kept around for their novelty, or the off chance I find something on one that I cannot get anywhere else.

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Front of the 8-track tape player

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Angled view of the player with 8-track

Vinyl – A New Perspective

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I didn’t grow up with records. Sure, there were a few in the house, but they never would get any play. They were banished to one corner of the basement where they were easily forgotten. The ’90s were a time where a kid was surrounded by cassettes. I look back, and there were maybe a handful of CDs kicking around in the living room. All the cars were outfitted with cassette players, I had a Walkman and a little fisher price player; tape was king. As a teenager in the new millennium, everyone would be quick to assume that I have a evolved with technology, and sport a  substantial CD collection consisting of all the latest and greatest bands. Staring over at my stack of fifteen dusty CDs, I can’t say that I would agree that this particular mold fits me. For some reason, I tend to flock towards vinyl records.

There are numerous reasons why I choose vinyl. Up front, I would tell you that I enjoy the quality. I’m not necessarily saying that vinyl is far superior to CDs in terms of sound, as I have heard both sides of the argument. Records are of course analog while CDs are digital. There are numerous arguments about digital recording versus analog recording involving losslessness, compression, overall sound quality, etc. Honestly, it all seems to vary from recording to recording because of differences in recording hardware, and general human influence. One thing that seems to be consistent however is how music mastery has changed throughout the years. Vinyl mastering is thought to take much more care as modern mastering seems to focus more on loudness than other aspects. If some of today’s masters were put directly onto vinyl, the needle would jump around and the record would be unplayable making vinyl a far more delicate format. When I say I like the quality of records, I don’t imply that I think vinyl is always a crisp format offering the best possible sound. To me, vinyl offers a warmer sound that I don’t think I get from CDs. Sure, there are cracks and pops and hisses, but this all just adds to the experience and brings out character from the audio.

Another thing that I enjoy about records is the price. CDs brand new seem to hover around fifteen dollars, while used ones may situate around the ten dollar mark. Vinyl on the other hand, can be had for limited money. While there are, strangely enough, reproductions and new vinyl selling for around the same prices as CDs,  older vinyl is cheap. I can go out to a flea market and fill holes in my collection for ten cents to 2 dollars a record. So not only am I able to get titles I’m after, but for the price I can also experiment. Something looks interesting, I don’t feel bad putting down another dollar to bring it home.

Records also seem to have some interesting history that makes them appealing. Going around from vendor to vendor, you strike up conversation. Sometimes it’s about how the records came from a radio station, or maybe you get wrapped up in someone’s memory of a concert, or just a recollection of another time and place that fits perfectly with the music you are buying. Every record has its own personal story. Every scratch or scuff has its own place in history. Doodles line the faces off The Beatles on their Let it Be album, telephone numbers are scattered all over the back of Billy Joel’s The Stranger. No two records are the same, even if the music on them is.

There is also plenty of stuff you can get on records that you cannot find on anywhere else. There are some pieces in my collection that I know will not be released on CD, there are some things that were brought to CD, but are remixes of the original tracks, etc.

I don’t remember exactly how I got into collecting records. I probably saw a copy of Dark Side of the Moon or something equally as substantial for one dollar and decided if anything, it is at least interesting to have around. This has grown, however. My collection increases almost weekly, and I now have over one thousand individual albums on the medium. All that can deter me at this point is where to put them.

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A wall of my records

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My stereo and a few more records

Piradio

Monday, June 8th, 2009

A month ago, I was in preparation for a charity event, Relay for Life. Whether or not you agree with their practices doesn’t matter. I simply used the event as a vehicle for a new project. The idea of the event is you and a group of people camp out on a football field while doing a 24-hour walkathon. I got the bright idea of creating a portable radio station for this event, so members of the group walking with radios could all get the same music from a central base of operations on the field. This was also an idea for doing an on-location podcast.

My mission started by going to Best Buy and picking up a cheap Dynex brand 4-station FM transmitter. I hooked it up to my iPod and saw that I got maybe 60 feet of good signal from the transmitter. My goal was to try to push the transmitter to do over 100 yards. A seemingly impossible goal, but I knew since this thing had no external antenna, I could solder one on somewhere and get some improvement, right?

After taking apart the unit, I was left with this,

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Front of the board

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Back of the board

I didn’t know where to start in my attempt to add an antenna. I tried googling off some of the numbers on the pcb but couldn’t make heads or tails of what I was looking at. I then got some help from an old friend by the name of TestMAD who was more savvy in this area than I was. He conferred with his father on this project, and they deduced that I would solder one wire to one of the three pads (you can see them on the bottom left of the pcb in the first picture) and I would have to solder another wire to ground, which I did by scraping away some of the green on the back of the board and soldering onto that.

Next, there was the matter of antenna size. The antenna size had to correspond with a particular frequency I would broadcast on. If I were to change the broadcast frequency, I would have to change the antenna size as well. Making it too long or too short could hurt the signal. So, I decided to keep transmission at 88.1MHz which would require an antenna around 33.5 inches long. There was next the choice of what type of antenna to use. A dipole or a quarter wave vertical antenna were suitable options.

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A quarter wave vertical antenna using radials (picture from radio-electronics.com)

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A dipole antenna (picture from wikipedia.org)

I settled on the dipole as I had an adjustable tv antenna that could fit the specifications. It was also good for portability. Later I was told that using the other antenna design could have provided more coverage, which could be something to try at a later date.

After the final assembly, I had something that looked like this,

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Yep, pretty classy. I might as well point out that in that picture, the antennae are too long. The length or 33.5 inches is supposed to include both the length of the actual antenna as well as the wire used to connect it to the pcb.

So on the day I was to use this, it turns out the event was pushed inside due to possible bad weather. However, this was great news in that the football field where the event was supposed to be held was completely empty. The field also had yard markers, so I could easily see how much coverage I was getting. After sizing the antennae, powering up and walking out into the field with nothing more than a battery powered radio, I got about 75 yards before I lost the signal. I didn’t hit my goal, but I squeezed a noticeable amount of coverage out of the transmitter.

If anything, I leared a few things about transmitters and antenna design. Also, hey, now I have an FM transmitter I can use just about anywhere, for anything. Maybe it’ll pop it’s way into some other projects.

Appleslices

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

A few weeks ago I struck up a conversation via twitter with a fellow by the name of ionfarmer. I thanked him for a throwback to me from a blog post he did while I, along with ethan, was still was involved with the Hak5 BBS project. We got to talking and he wrote a nice blog post regarding the ordeal on his website, which I advise everyone to check out.  Most of the posts there discuss Apple computers, as the title would suggest, but there are other topics for those out there who don’t want to keep the doctor away. The main subject of our discussion was a little-known website I started while I must have been around 14 years old entitled HackInACan. I can tell you that I don’t think anyone would want to be known by the body of work they produced at such an age, but as I once heard in a Jason Scott documentary, as a teenager you end up writing a bunch of stuff that belongs to the world and you can’t take it back. So, I present you with something that at this point belongs to the world. Please be gentle.