Saturday, August 2, 2014


We've been married SEVENTEEN years.  I have some trouble wrapping my head around that number, because there are some days I forget I am older than seventeen.

I'll try and list a few "concrete" things, number wise, that occurred over the past 17 years.

[ No particular order ]
We've had 2 kids.
We've lived in 1 apartment, and 2 different houses.
I've had 3 jobs, Carly has done 2 stints with the same group.
5 cars, 2 of which we started with.
1 dog, 2 guinea pigs, and 3 aquariums.
3 guitars, 1 ukulele, and 2 harmonicas
4 PCs ( 3 of which I built during the course of our marriage ), and 2 laptops.
4 personal mobile phones
550GB of  digital pictures, 8 notebooks full of slides and negatives, and uncounted boxes of prints
2 couches
1 set of good kitchen knives

Not sure if listing this stuff really helps me put a perspective on things or not.  Not really.

As an aside if I got a do-over, we'd get the good set of knives much earlier -- like put it on the registry earlier.  Good knives changed my life.

When we reached twelve years, I did a post for that too.   Nothing I wrote there has changed, really.  I could add to it, but aside from stealing the picture theme I don't want to mimic it too much.  So, go read that one, and come back here.

But I want to focus a little on the future.  It seems to me my marriage is its own entity.  It was brought into being when we said some vows.  It is something that belongs to us, but at the same time it IS us.  I can't even think of myself apart from Carly.  I really simply think in terms of "us".

I'm kind of excited.  If the songs are to be believed 17 is the age when I person grows up, and starts becoming themselves.  It could be the same way for marriage, maybe any of the awkwardness or mistakes of the early years are built into something better.  The good gets magnified, and any of the not so good diminishes.  Despite how good the last 17 years were -- I want the next 17 to be better yet.  Its possible, no matter how good things are they can ALWAYS be better.

Now, I guess I should go.  As Meatloaf sings "We were barely seventeen... " [ ... and needed to go to sleep because, dang, we are old? ]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Beach Trip as Told through Interpretive Dance

As like previous summers we went to O.C. Maryland for a few days.  We weren't going to go this year, but Tobias really wanted to.  I should probably get this out of the way early. The title is a lie, there is no interpretive dance going on in this post.  I can't dance. Sorry to disappoint.

This was the first picture I took on the trip.  It still caught my attention going through the photos I took, so I thought I'd subject you to it also.

These next two are essentially record pictures of the Jesus sand sculptures that always are there.  One of my favorite things about them, aside from the religious and artistic aspects, is they are right across the boardwalk from some bars.  That makes me smile.

This is part of the decorations fora  "touristy" restaurant/bar called "Fish Tales".  Its an interesting place.  It seems setup for parents and kids.  The food is okay, but it is just noisy enough to be an enjoyable place to hang out.

Another restaurant decoration.  We didn't eat here.

This is part of the landscaping and design of a miniature golf course we played.  Tobias got three holes in one.  The first one was complete dumb luck.  He hit the ball way too hard, and it bounced off a wall, through a garden hazard, off a few rocks and tree in it, onto the retaining wall, onto the green, a few rolls and bounces and it stuck in the cup.  The other two were legit. 

It was his first time playing.

No wonder he wants to go the beach.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Headphone Amplifier - Part 2 - And Bad Mistakes, I Made a Few

Previously, I discussed that I started building a headphone amplifier.

I "finished" building it in about a week or so.  I took my time, and didn't spend a lot of time at once.
[ A few in progress pictures are at the top of the post.  Top picture has the hardware in place the capacitors on the input side, audio input wiring, and power rails connected to their source.  The other two show the box taped up for drilling. ]

"Finished" is a poor choice of term, it was assembled.  But it really wasn't finished, testing needed to be done. When powered up for the first time it lit up the tubes.  I took that as a good sign.  As I would learn later, they were WAY too brightly lit up.  Measuring voltages showed me it wasn't correct.

I plugged some cheap earbuds in anyway.  This caused a high pitch whine of protest to emanate from the power supply.  So I shut it down.

The power supply was so pissed at me at this point it stopped working until the next morning.

The capacitors in the output stage were hot.  Even I knew this wasn't correct!

That led me to discover the first problem.  I put the wire from pin 3 of my mosfet on the wrong side of the output caps.  I had misremembered a photograph of a finished build.  Lesson learned, pictures maybe worth a thousand words, but schematics are more meaningful.  Especially when you don't recall the picture correctly.

When I noticed that I pulled the capacitors I ruined out of both channels and alligator clipped the left channel back together with a new capacitor.   No sense in making things permanent until I had it correct this time.  Voltages were measured.  Voltages were still incorrect.

Plugging in cheap earbuds at this time didn't create any squeals of protest (one problem solved). Measured the output rail again.  Still wrong.  Put audio through it.  Still wrong.  No sound.

This led me to start investigating this problem.

Through some trial, error, and conversations I realized I used my soldering iron way too hot for the mosfets.  Aha!  I learned how to check mosfets, and sure enough they were broken.  I put a new mosfet in the left channel and checked it prior to power up.  The mosfet worked.


The circuit didn't.  I was getting 30 volts on pin 3 of the mosfet/pin 4 of the tube.  I should only have had 12-13.

For giggles I tried to put audio through it.  It didn't work.

This led to a bit of frustration.

It also led to an accidental and very poor decision --  Somehow I ended up putting the power supply's full 48 volts on one of my tube's heaters.  It lit up in a beautifully bright golden light, and went dim.  Poop.

Dead tubes aren't much fun.

I'm not sure how I actually hit upon the solution, but while staring at the schematic one morning I simply realized I was feeding pin 1 of the mosfet from the wrong point in the circuit.  I fed it from the wrong side of a resistor.  When I made the change, magic, the voltage was correct at the output stage.

I put audio on it.  It worked. I was partially shocked, and I partially felt like a German soccer fan watching them kick Brazil's butt in the semi-final.

Fast forward a bit and I soldered it in place and redid the right channel too.

So, I got it working.

At times I found this a bit frustrating, but I learned a lot, and this is a lot cheaper than a semester of electronics school.

Things learned:
How to really read a schematic
Soldering is getting better
How to test a mosfet
How to use various functions of a multimeter
Don't trust memories of pictures

Tuition paid:
5 broken mosfets ( some were ruined while building before discovering the iron issue )
2 broken capacitors
1 smoked 12AU7 tube
~30 hours reading, gathering parts, building, thinking, troubleshooting, and correcting. [ I think I could build one in an afternoon now... and it would look more tidy. ]

Curse words invented:
0 [ But I may have used some conventional ones in creative ways.   I can't remember. ]

I've listened to it for a couple of days now and have a few general impressions of the amplifier. For headphones it is the best thing I have.  Bass is tight and big, even out of my headphones which are known for "anemic" bass response.  Mids and highs sound good to me.  I guess I'm not too much of an audiophile, I have no terms to wax poetic about the sound, but it is good.  I don't have any ground buzz which seems to be a common problem if you read some of the build threads on do-it-yourself forums.  This is probably because I used a ground plane, and not about anything skillful I did.

I also appreciate having a physical volume knob while listening from my computer now ( sound board is ASUS Sonar STX and I've got the amp connected through the RCA outs on it ).

This experience also cemented an idea I've always had.  Most audiophiles are full of crap.  If you ever go researching speakers or amplifiers like I did a while back you will encounter all manners people who, if their words are true, possess super-human hearing.   But, I think they should all build their own amplifier at some point.  It SHOULD dispel any of their magic faerie-dust notions regarding audio once and for all.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Headphone Amplifier - Part 1 - For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

This is going to be a bit of a departure from the norm.  Although I am including some pictures.  To keep it somewhat on topic the setup for the pictures is an Octagon softbox in front of the stuff, and a gridded light with enough power to make the background not completely grey.

This year one my goals was to clean up our basement's storage side.  I did.  I also ended up building a workbench down there, because the space presented itself.

This has lead me to doing a bunch of things, such as building speaker stands,  I'd otherwise not have been able to do.  I would have WANTED to do them, but lack of a proper workspace would not have allowed it.

Lately I wanted a headphone amplifier.  Specifically, I wanted a tube-based headphone amplifier.  There are a few inexpensive tube amps floating around out there, but I felt compelled to attempt to build one.  It is a lot cheaper to buy one, especially if you factor in some of the tools I didn't already have.

But shopping is easy (and not particularly amusing to me), making stuff is more interesting.  That in a nutshell is the point of building stuff yourself.  It is interesting.  Also taking the "easy" factor out of it really makes you consider how much you really want the said gizmo.  The only things I have regularly built for myself are dekstop computers.  With those I think I gain a bit more quality, but I pay for it with time.  Cost is the same as buying a pre-built.  I'm not sure I will be able to say the same about this amplifier!

I ended up stumbling across a hybrid tube amp on the 'net nicknamed the "Starving Student".  I discovered the original design helped deplete the world of 19J6 tubes, and an adventurous soul modified the design to work with the more readily available12AU7 tube.  That is the design I am using.  Even though there are PCBs available I decided to attempt this as a point to point build. 

The goal of this little sub-corner of my blog is to (somewhat) document my attempt to turn the piles of stuff pictured into a headphone amplifier following this design.

Most of the bits were ordered from Mouser, with tubes and sockets sourced on Amazon.

This was going way way out on a limb for me, because schematics, in general, look like this to me...

There were also a few tools I needed, like Unibits to do the casework. I had already convinced myself I needed a "real" soldering iron and multimeter, and had them on hand. If I was honest, I probably didn't "need" any of these things but I did put them to use.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

New Character

Coorporate Drone

Its been a while since Tobias agreed to do one of these.  He's reaching an age where he doesn't want to cooperate anymore.  So we made him older and conforming in this picture.

I had a whole bunch of stuff I was thinking about writing when we came up with this idea.  But I'm not going to write any of them.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Kindergarten Graduation

E.  Kindergarten Graduation

Kindergarten "graduation" has become a thing. I didn't have one, even Kathryn didn't have one. But Tobias did, and so did my nephew.

Events like this require photos, pretty much just because.

I decided to approach this similar to how I work with high school seniors. The main difference is this is WAY scaled back because I would lose his attention otherwise.

However, it still had lights, it still had cameras, it had slightly less action-- but its only Kindergarten, we'll have another shot at this in 12 years.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

First Carnival of the Year

On a night of graduations, eighth grade formals, and wedding preparations for everyone else we know, we went to a carnival.  In 50 degree weather.  It was the coldest night I can remember attending this carnival.

The Mother Seton School's carnival is the opening of carnival season for us.  I think there might be some earlier, but they aren't too close and we don't go to those anyway.  Before putting these pictures up here I checked out posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011.

What immediately struck me is how little the kids were in 2009.  So much has changed.  Kathryn, for example, is too tall for the dragon roller coaster now.  I suspect Tobias will be too tall next year.

This is the first time in a while I brought a dSLR in "light" mode.  "Light" mode -- for me -- is a single camera on a strap, one lens on the camera, and nothing else.  No bag, no extra cards, no extra batteries, no other lenses etc. I realized how heavy these are.  In comparison the bag I carry nearly everyday has my x100s, an extra battery, some filters, a tripod QR plate, my phone, my card holder, a kindle, a small notebook, a pen, and my glasses case.  It weighs the same amount as the dSLR and lens.  I can add a bottle of water to that bag, and it weighs just slightly more.  SLRs are heavy, and their advantages over APC-sized sensor mirrorless cameras ( like Fujis ) are diminishing. They are nearly non-existent for most (but alas, not all) of what I tend to do.  This almost makes me want to sell most of my Nikon gear, and replace it with a Fuji system.  Almost.