Thursday, March 23, 2017

HVAC Failure: That's Why They Call It Practice

Full Disclosure:  I will not use any real names so as not to embarrass anyone.  Instead I will address my fellow HVAC students as Harry Potter character's names.

I, Adrian, nay.... Albus Brian Wulfric Percival Dumbledore was working on an outdoor A/C unit in our HVAC lab.

I had "Mad-Eye" Moody and Dedalus Diggle with me working on changing out a bad compressor for a newer one.

Our Instructor (Ron Weasley) was working with our group as well as others.  It was then we heard a giant "Woosh!" 

I look fifteen yards away to where our walk-in cooler/chiller was, and out came running George and Charlie Weasley.

P.S.  You can tell it's George since he has the hole in his ear.

Also, Charlie likes dragons. 

Anyway, I see George and Charlie run like bats out of Hell out of the walk-in cooler/chiller.  Behind them comes Fred Weasley completely soaked.

It seemed like Fred was using a turbo torch to braze copper piping inside the walk-in.  He placed the torch too close to the fire sensor, and the sprinklers went off inside the walk-in. 

I then smelled an awful smell.  It was something like a chemical or oil of some sort.  I didn't wait around for the smell of it to fill our lab area.  I went over and opened up our bay door to let some fresh air in. 

It was about that time the school's fire alarm went off.  It was about 10 seconds after that our Vice Principal came through the doors and yelled for everyone to get out, and that this wasn't a drill. 

So the whole school had to go out to our assigned safety areas.  We waited about 10 minutes out there.  I later found out they had to shut down the water for the whole school to stop the sprinkler system from continuing to pour water everywhere. 

Since the water was turned off for the entire school they told the students to grab their stuff and leave.  I had to pick my tools up out off the newly flooded HVAC lab floor.  I managed to account for all of them, so that was good.  I, along with all my other students left campus.  So it ended up being a short day for the entire school.  I'm not sure if they had everything fixed in time for the nighttime classes.

The one thing I can predict?  We are going to rib the heck out of Fred until we graduate.  I do feel bad for him.  I mean, the least I could have done is offer him an extra shirt I had in my backpack.  But in all fairness, we were told to leave immediately.  So tomorrow I'm going to tell Fred that he needs to work on his, "Aquamenti" spell.  Of course, I hope he gets the Harry Potter reference.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Destruction for Palmettos: The Clean-up Begins

When it comes to the yard, I am the guy who mows.  Due to the size of the yard I have a riding mower.  It's a great thing to have since I live in Florida, and the grass and plants are always growing.  The mower can take care of the grass.  When it comes to the everything else, a guy has to get in there by hand.  Again, I'm in Florida and everything grows pretty much all of the time. 

This leads me to the back yard.  When the house was built, there was small batch of palmettos on the back right side of the property.  Over the years these palmettos have gotten out of control.  I try to drive by on the mower, and they do their best to cut me as I go by.  I cut them back every so often, but after twenty-some years, they have gotten massive. 

This also lead to another problem.  Since they were so thick, anything and everything that fell in there just piled up.  This includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Dead leaves.  Mostly from the oak trees above.
  2. Dead palm fronds.  (I could literally knock them down with my rake.)
  3. Dead tree branches.
  4. A huge number of pine needles.
  5. Small trees that somehow made it through the mess.  (Camphor and Cherry trees.)
  6. Garbage that was thrown off the road.
  7. Vines.
  8. More vines.
  9. Vines that manage to make it all the way up into the oak trees.
  10. Vines that have roots that stretch at least forty feet.
So to make a long story short, I took some time out of every Saturday for the last three Saturdays to clean it up.  I only had six large garbage cans, so I would clean until I ran out of cans.  Here's the "after" picture.

I really should have had a "before" picture.  You could have seen that the debris was piled over a foot high.  Also, do you see that utility pole in the center?  That's the electric pole for the neighbors.  So I had a fire hazard on my hands.  That's one reason I really wanted to clean this up.  Also, snakes.

I'm not afraid of snakes.  In fact, I like them.  But there are other people in the house who are terrified of snakes.  So that's one reason I wanted to show these pictures.  Note the nice little holes in these next two pictures.

I know those aren't the best pictures, but I could only get in so far.  The important part is that, I had two places that looked like where small animals could hide away. 

Here's what the palmettos looked like from a closer view.

It's not a bare forest floor, but it's not piled up deep either.  It's where it should be.  Honestly, this should have been done years ago, but I finally got sick and tired of it, and just went ahead and took care of it.  Hopefully I won't have to do this for a few more years. 

With Great New Pickups, Come Great New Guitar Days

Yes, I know I have a problem.  I shouldn't be buying yet another guitar, but hear me out.  Here's the breakdown.  I have sold three guitars.  I traded one for an amplifier, and I will be selling that amplifier today.  So I am actually down four guitars. 

What I needed was a guitar to test pickups out on.  All the guitars I have now are set-up so perfectly with great pickups.  So what I really needed was a guitar that I could mod the hell out of, and didn't need to worry about it. 

I found the cheapest Epiphone Les Paul Standard I could on Reverb.  They guy didn't say why he needed to sell it fast, only that he did.  I saw that he had received a bunch of offers, but I figured they were all for $100 or so since the guitar was still for sale.  I made him an offer with the added point that he could ship the guitar by ground and save himself some shipping money.  He countered with an offer, and after thinking about it I accepted it. 

Here it is:

Once I received it I did the usual.  I fret-dressed it and set it up.  I also adjusted or added some lock washers under the pots.  I've also put in an order for another knob since one of them was broke. 

A few days ago I created a mutant pickup.  I installed that pickup in this guitar.  I wrote all about the creation of this pickup here.

I was dying to know what this pickup sounded like.  I have to admit, once I heard it, it was awesome.  If had to describe it in a short sentence it would be, "bright, but balanced."  I would break down the EQ like this:

Treble: 8
Mids:   5
Bass:   5
Presence:  10

With an Alnico 2 magnet I would have never guessed it would have sounded like it did.  I don't play with that much distortion, but this pickup can handle distortion with the best of them. 

So I feel great about this whole venture.  I had a few things surprised me about this guitar.  It reminds me of a former Epiphone Les Paul that I had.  My former one and this one were both made in the same manufacturing plant in the same year (1998.)  They are both Limited Editions (but different colors.)  Both of them are internally made similar.  Namely, where they cut the holes for the wiring to go through.  They really made them deep and wide.  That's one reason this guitar is so lightweight. 

So I'm really happy with all I've been able to do lately.  I'll admit, I love tinkering with guitars as much as I love playing them.  I think they go hand in hand.  The good news is that, this guitar is made for tinkering.  I'll have some fun with.  But with guitars, I'm always having fun. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Train Your Dragon: Doppelganger Edition

The greatest blog post I ever wrote was about the dragon "Toothless," from the movie, "How to train your dragon."  As of this writing is has 9,700 views.  Honestly, it even amazes me.

This time I was re-watching, "How to train your dragon 2."  That's when I noticed the main bad guy, "Drago Bludvist," looked a lot like someone else. 

Here's Drago.

Now, it's not uncommon for cartoonist to bad a character on someone, but I think it's just too coincidental that Drago Bludvist is actually .... TOM ARAYA FROM SLAYER!!!!!!

If you don't believe me, maybe this will change your mind.  (Push the button.  You know you want to.)

Wait?  That didn't change your mind?  Well, I tried. 

Tales From The Workbench: Mutant Guitar Pickup

I realize that a lot of my blog posts have been getting super technical lately.  So, in this one I'm going to speak very generally about a project I've recently working on.  (Okay, I'm going to try to.)

My project involved working on broken guitar pickups.  Now, I don't want to take credit for thinking up the idea for this.  I read about how to do this on the Seymour Duncan users forum.  What happened was that a forum member took apart a 59 model pickup and a Custom model pickup.  He took a coil from each of them, and put together a pickup combining one coil of the 59, and one coil of the Custom.  He then called this pickup, "The 59 Custom." 

So I happened to have a broken Seymour Duncan Custom pickup, and a Dimarzio FRED pickup.  However, I was lucky in that, I had a working slug side of the Custom.  The Dimarzio FRED has adjustable pole pieces on both sides, and one of the sides was still working.

So I decided to make a new pickup by combining both working coils.  This sounds easy, but there are a few steps.  First I had to figure out the start and stop of each coil.  Seymour Duncan and Dimarzio have different color codes so I had to keep them straight.

I'll go over this next part pretty quick, but I had to work with some very fine wires, and make sure I didn't burn up the coil windings.  I also used some heat shrink tubing to protect the where the wires came off the pickup and connected to outgoing wires.  That worked really well.  I also bought some cloth tape from Stew-Mac to wrap around the pickup.  That was one of my better purchases. 

I also changed the hex screws on the Dimarzio coil to Phillips head screws.  The hex screws were extremely rusted.  I also used a polished Alnico 2 bar magnet.  Here's what it looked like after I attached all the wires and put the pickup back together. 

I have blue tape over the slug side because I was about to put the cover on.  When the slug pole pieces touch a cover you can sometimes get microphonics/feedback.  Here's the view with the cover on.

Now, I haven't soldered the pickup to the cover for a reason.  I wanted to see how it sounded first.  But how do I do that without actually installing it in a guitar.  Well, there is a quick and hilarious way to do that.  First, I ran the wire directly to an output jack.

As you can see I then ran it to a cable that ran to my amplifier.  I then took one of my guitars and laid it down on my workbench.  Next I did this.

That's right, I held the pickup over the strings while strumming them.  That way I could move the pickup to the neck, middle, and bridge positions, and see how it sounded.  I have to say, it was pretty awesome.  I'll admit, I couldn't get a detailed or exact sound out of it.  But the fact that I managed to make this thing work made me do the happy dance. 

I know I said I wouldn't get technical, but I will list some specs just in case someone stumbles across this article, and wishes to know them.

Seymour Duncan Custom slug side DC resistance:  7.07K ohms.  (43 AWG wire.)
Dimarzio FRED screw side DC resistance:              5.65K ohms.  (43 AWG wire.)
Total DC resistance:                                                 12.72K ohms.
Polished Alnico 2 magnet from All-Star Magnetics.
Seymour Duncan nickel/silver baseplate.
Standard Seymour Duncan wiring schematic. 

I will soon actually install this in an Epiphone Les Paul.  I'm really excited to test this pickup out in a Les Paul.  I'm still ecstatic that I actually managed to get this pickup working.  Nevermind that I spent an hour and a half carefully dissecting and sewing two pickups into one.  Actually, for my first attempt, I don't think that's too long.  I kind of expected it to take longer. 

One important thing I do want to say is that, I did my homework before I took these pickups apart.  This chart from Guitar Electronics helped immensely. 

I had a custom diagram drawn out so that I would know which wire coming off the pickup was attached to which color coordinated wire that would go to the electronics.  That was extremely helpful so I didn't have to think about it every other second.  I just wrote it down so I could concentrate on being very careful with my soldering. 

I have to say, it's a lot of work, but it is rewarding.  I'm really interested in rewinding my own pickups.  I'd say this is a good start to that.  Again, I feel great about the way this turned out.  I hope to have some more projects like this in the future. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

View From The Recliner: Feed Me

My fish tank sits right by my recliner.  I like having it there.  Namely since I can look directly to my right, and see the fish tank in all it's glory.  However, I have noticed something.  My Angelfish are starting to become a little too smart.  I grabbed my camera, and took a photo.  Do you notice something?

They say to have a large fish tank for Angelfish to live in.  But do you notice what they are doing?  All five Angelfish are over in the corner looking right at me.  This is pretty much what they do all day.  I have a 46 gallon Euro-tank, and all they do is sit in the corner waiting for food.

I don't want to give the wrong idea.  Believe me, they get plenty of food.  I actually worry I'm overfeeding them.  It's just the giant danios and other fish don't hang out in the corner.  Only the Angelfish.  They sit there eyeballing me throughout most of the day.  Well, at least I know they are in the corner when I'm in my recliner.  I'm not sure what they do when I'm not there. 

I do like having Angelfish.  They are more personable than any other fish I've had.  I just wish they wouldn't eyeball me all the time.  There's a lot more tank to explore.  Maybe they can swim over to the other side and hang out there?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Intense Guitar Upgrade: The Blueridge

A few months ago I sold off a few guitars that I no longer played.  With 24 hours of selling one I bought another... to sell.  It was a Blueridge acoustic, and the price was right.

The problem is, I liked it too much.  However, I knew it would have to go.  But first, it needed a fret job.  I thought about just fret-dressing it, but the grooves were too deep.  Someone had really played this one.  The good news was that, it didn't really have any marks, cuts, dents on the body.  So while the frets seemed old the rest of the guitar appeared to be in good shape.  I ended up installing some new frets into it.

Here's a few pictures of the work I performed.  I won't show all of them since that would involve an insane amount of pictures. 

And here is it with all new frets.

The client that was going to buy it wanted a pre-amp installed into it.  So I suggested a system, and he ordered it.  Now it was time to install it. 

I was insanely careful on cutting the hole for the pre-amp.  It turned out perfectly.  I couldn't make it any better if I were to do it another 100 times. 

However, I ran into a problem.  The slot for the saddle was not deep enough to add a piezo pickup.  This lead to a bit of a problem.  The only way I knew to make the slot deeper was to use a jig from Stewart MacDonald.  However, that was dang near $200 dollars.  So I looked for other solutions. 

To make a long story short, I bought a router base and a downward spiral cutting bit for my Dremel.  On a side note, I already had a router base, but not like this one.  This one had an attachment so that I could cut in a straight line.  I also had to make a jig that set at the angle of a pickup saddle. 

Making the jig and setting up the router took longer than actually cutting the slot.  Here's some photos.

Believe it or not, that's my jig.  The good news is that, it is exactly, and I mean exactly, the same angle as the saddle. 

Here's my Dremel in the router base. 

Since I am not a CNC machine, I knew I would cut the slot wider than the saddle.  To compensate, I used an oversized piece of bone nut, and cut it down to the correct size for a new saddle.  I followed the angle of the old saddle since it was cut just right.  Here's the finished product.

It came out perfectly.  I'll admit, I did the happy dance when I tuned it up, and took final measurements.  Every little thing came out exactly as I wanted.  It looks like it came from the factory with all the changes I made to it.  My client was exceptionally happy with all the work I performed.

Since I managed to make everything so perfect, I decided to work on my own personal guitar, a Walden D-710.  I bought the guitar as a 2nd.  The neck angle on it was incorrect so that it made the strings too high. 

Years ago, I had attempted to bring the saddle height down with not so great results.  I even had to shave down the bridge with a hand planner since the strings were so high.   

Since I now had a new jig, new router base, and a new carbide downward cutting bit, I thought I should fix it.  I also bought another oversized piece of bone nut to cut down to size.  I'll skip the long story, and just show the pictures on how it turned out. 

It came out exactly as I wanted.  The string height is finally where it should be.  The bone saddle is sitting in the slot correctly.  And I even think the sound is better.  But in all fairness, I did add a new set of strings on the Walden. 

I have to say I felt so good about all the work I performed that I felt great the entire week.  I was happy with both guitars.  My client was happy with his guitar.  And everyone was just plain happy.  It made for a good time.  I'll chalk this one up in the win column. 

Overhauling the Fish Tank: New Light, New Fish, New Look

In an earlier post I showed the pictures of the new fake plants I had bought.  It gave the fish tank a great look.  Here's the link:

In the past week I have really spruced up the tank.  First up was a new light.  It's amazing what technology can do these days.  Check out the Current's website for what this light can do:

I won't go into everything it can do since I would just be repeating what the website link would say.  But here is the view of my fish tank with the full spectrum setting on the light-strip. 

Here is the moonlight setting.  I use it at nighttime when the fish "go to bed."

There are a lot of other settings, but my camera is not nuanced enough to display the difference in colors. 

I was able to make a few additions to the tank.  Two new angel fish followed me home.  When I saw them in the pet store they caught my eye.  They were no bigger than black tetras. 

What's neat is that, when I had them in the bag from the pet store, when I would hold them up to the light they were incandescent.  I could actually see through parts of them.  I could also see the heart and insides of the gills.  As they get older I'm sure some of their color will come in.

It's hard to get a good picture with my camera.  It doesn't have a fast shutter speed, and the fish don't like to hold still.  Anyway, you can get a glimpse of how small the little angelfish is next to my oldest one. 

I have to say the lighting from the new light really makes the fish look awesome.  It really highlights the plants and rocks as well.

In addition to the two new angelfish I brought home some giant danios.  They move really fast so it was hard to get a decent picture of them, but I think I did okay with these shots.

So I feel really great about the fish tank at the moment.  I really needed to update it, and I think I did a great job.  I like having it right by my chair.  I can stare off into it, and feel a nice calming sense flow over me. 

I should really invite some hippies to sit by the fish tank.  That way, they could just stare into it for a few hours.  Of course, I risk a drum circle breaking out.  But that's okay.  Nothing can get me down.  I have a pretty awesome fish tank, and that makes me feel pretty good.