Monday, July 25, 2011

Re-Recording Test: I Am Sitting in a Room

A few years ago I ran across composer Alvin Lucier's work "I Am Sitting in a Room".

I thought that this was pretty cool, though excessively long. I've thought that it would be interesting to reproduce it, just for fun. Since the Makery is in a large multi-chambered concrete basement, it has some interesting acoustic properties.

So on Saturday I took my laptop down and plugged it into a little stereo and a USB microphone from the parts box at the Makery and tried some very simple re-recording experiments.

While I was doing the recording inside the Makery we noticed that the drywall was resonating fairly strongly, enough to rattle the array of hard disk platters hanging from the corkboard on that wall.

For recording I just used the Windows Sound Recorder. I mistakenly allowed it to save in the default WMA format which made getting the audio into Audacity tedious, since Audacity doesn't support WMA. For playback I just dropped the WMA files into Windows Media Player.

The work flow was pretty simple. I would listen to the recording to check the levels. If it sounded like it was clipping I'd adjust the volume on the stereo, delete the recording and rerun the one before it. To record I'd just hit play, wait a few moments, then hit record. Wait for the clip to end, then press stop and save the file. Repeat.

The microphone had to be pretty close to the speakers to get enough input level, but it picked up the room sound well enough. It would have been nice to get only the room sound by locating the microphone farther from the speakers, but on the other hand the original signal might degrade too fast to be as interesting to listen to.

The small speakers I was using have some pretty bad panel resonances, and don't have any low frequency extension to speak of, and I did get some pretty bad clipping in a couple of the samples, so the result is not nearly as clean as it could be, but it's a good first pass. For the next try I want to use some higher quality speakers and keep a closer eye on the input and output levels to avoid clipping anywhere in the signal path, and hopefully the speakers will be sufficiently constructed to eliminate most of the panel resonances.

A waterfall spectragraph shows the room modes, and how the sample degrades over time, which is interesting, but I want to do a higher quality recording before I post pictures of that.

Anyway, here are links to the clips. The first one is from inside the Makery, the second from the large room outside the Makery.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Testing the Aluminum Furnace

I and a couple guys from the Omaha Maker Group got together all the tools for doing some aluminum casting this morning. We're going to do a forge day with the group at some point, and we wanted to make sure my burner, the furnace body, and the crucible all work together.

Yesterday we fired it up at the Makery to make sure it at least worked well enough to go forward, which it did. We also made a box and a little ingot mold to use to cast some ingot-shaped ingots. We could use a muffin tin too, but we thought some traditional rectangular frustrum ingots would be cool.

For the second pour I rammed up a small mold from a previously made mold. We're thinking it will be fun to keep casting copies of copies and see how it degrades. While I was packing the cope we left the forge running. It went a little over temperature. The pouring temperature we aim for is about 1450F, when the aluminum has just a bit of a pink glow to it. This is way hotter than that.

Waiting around for some aluminum blocks to melt. There are some scrapped pieces of robot arm in there.

Opening up the mold after casting the skull.

Here is the setup for pouring from the crucible.

The crucible after pouring.

The inside of the furnace after running it up a bit too hot. Looking a little melty.

Hot ingots.

Here's a hard drive being recycled.


This was lots of fun, I'm looking forward to getting everyone together for forge day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ozone Generator

I've found that the fat cables that came with the robot arm I got from the Makery are out-gassing a horrid stink of damp basement. Whelwick is starting to smell like an old barn. To address this I'm going to take a two phase approach. I'll need to address the source of the odor, the cables, and also, mostly for fun, I'll build an ozone generator to eradicate the airborn odor through oxidation of whatever fumes it's been putting in the air here.

To treat the cables I intend to soak them in bleach solution for a few days. Before I do this, I want to leave the ozone generator running for a while, to see how effective it is at neutralizing the odor causing particles.

The simplest way to generate ozone, at least for me, is to use the corona discharge method to convert atmospheric oxygen, O2 to ozone, O3. I'll be using a 12kV 30mA neon sign transformer. This operates at the line frequency of 60Hz, which isn't great for ozone production, but it does work. Another way to do this is to repurpose the flyback transformer from an old CRT (I have half a dozen if anyone needs such a device). The flyback can be driven from a simple 555 or microcontroller circuit to produce a high voltage, high frequency signal which is more effective than 60Hz for ozone production. It's also smaller.

To produce the corona discharge I'm going to try using conductive plates separated by an insulator. In this case, aluminum ductwork tape and glass. First I cut a bit of glass from a piece of scrap.

I then applied the tape to both sides and trimmed it clear of the edges to avoid arcing around the edges.

The corona discharge occurs at the edges of the plate, not where they overlap, so I want as much edge as I can get. Overlap provides capacitance, which for this application, I don't need or want, so I want a plate pattern with no overlap and plenty of edge. I went with an 'E' pattern. It's easy to cut.

I decided to use copper wire from a length of Romex 10/3 as connectors, so I could easily support the panel with the connectors. To maximize the contact area I made the wire long and gave it a right angle bend to prevent it twisting.

I secured the connectors with some Gorilla Tape (it was what was handy, and it's fun to use).

The corona panel is then connected to the transformer. For testing I've attached the neon sign transformer to a variable autotransformer so that I can start out at a low voltage and ramp up the output of the neon sign transformer. Too much voltage can puncture the glass dielectric, which will shatter the glass (another reason for the tape, to contain the glass). I don't think there is much danger of this, since I'm not reaching voltages where this should be a problem, but if there are flaws in the glass it is possible.

The wiring for the neon sign transformer also has a safety gap configured. The spacing of the gap is set so that any voltage much above the 12kV the transformer secondary is designed for will cause an arc across the safety gap to protect the transformer.

To verify that it is generating ozone, and just in case it bursts, I put a container over the corona panel until I ran it up to full voltage and let it sit for a while.

The corona is fairly faint unless your eyes are dark adapted. To get visualize it I've set the camera up for long exposure in the dark. My cameras are cheapie point-n-clicks, so you'll have to put up with the not-so-great quality. here it is from both sides.

Here's what happens if you up the voltage but forget to open up the safety gap.

From the corona images it is apparent that the sharp points of the 'E' pattern are producing a lot of corona (the shape of an electric field around sharp points encourage dielectric breakdown and corona discharge, this is why bulbous, polished surfaces are so popular in high voltage labs). If you look closely though, you can see that there is discharge along the edges as well, as was intended. I don't know which is better. Regardless, it generates enough ozone. The staticy odor of ozone is strong after running for a couple of seconds of running.

I guess that qualifies this as a success.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Robot Arm Obtained

One of the Omaha Maker Group's generous members donated some robot arms a while back. A couple of them had some mechanical issues, and we've stripped those for parts. Some of the remaining arms are reserved to possibly share with some other groups. This leaves a few that are mostly just being stored. Today while I was at the Makery I claimed one of the remaining arms and brought it home. I'm not down at the space often enough to make much progress working on an arm there, so I figure I'll work on it here at Whelwick.

First step is to hose the danged thing off; it's incrusted with old oil and grease, into which is embedded dust, grime, and cat hair, all of which is infused with a funk of barn with overtones of old machine shop and dank basement.

So, first a spray with the garden hose, then couple of good soakings with engine degreaser (my phone ate the picture of it coated in nice white foam :( ). This was followed by a couple more sprayings. This removed the bulk of the grime and cat hair. I followed this with some paper towels and Simple Green, some Oops for the tape gunk, etc. Then I spent a while blowing it all out with the leaf blower to get it reasonable dry.

As part of the cleaning and drying I removed the cover panels and discovered that the cast iron base on this particular arm has cracked. I could probably braze this, but since we scrapped a couple of identical arms, we've got a couple of spare bases sitting around. I'll pick one of those up next time I'm there and replace this one.

After a couple of hours of cleanup work, it still has a little bit of an odor, but it's fit to sit on the bench and wait for more technical attention.

Sand Casting Beads

For the sand casting demo for the Omaha Maker Group, I picked up some beads at Hobby Lobby to use as patterns. I thought that since these were convex they would make for an easier demo than the glass dish I used in my first attempt. These turned out to be pretty good patterns.

The two at the top are the original metal-finished plastic beads, the rest are my zinc castings. You can see on the larger casting on left that I had insufficient metal coming in to avoid a little bit of a shrinkage cavity at the top. The four smaller castings at the right were done in one pour. They came out better, with somewhat less shrinkage, but I didn't do quite as nice of a job of packing the sand, so the surface finish wasn't quite as nice. I took the best one and colored it with a sharpie and then polished it with a rag to remove the ink from the high points.

Casting these was pretty much like any other simple casting, nothing much to say about the process. For the demo I did a pretty rushed job of making the mold, so the results were fairly low quality, but the pour went well.