Goodbye old music equipment

I write a lot of posts in this blog about making and acquiring new music equipment, but this time I’m writing to say goodbye to a few pieces. I’m donating four pieces of well-loved but lightly used equipment to a local charity.

  • Pearl Short Fuse 4″x11″ snare drum and hi-hat mount: this drum featured in some of my busking drum kits but eventually I determined that the strong cross stick sound and stable base of a traditional 14″ snare drum is worth the extra size.
  • Sabian 20″ XS ride cymbal: this cymbal was my starter ride for many years. I purchased it to match my 18″ XS medium crash and only when I got home did I realize ride cymbals had a thing called a bell sound! Years later and after a lot of hunting I chose a Zildjian 20″ K ride so my old starter ride is ready to find a new home.
  • Sela Snare Cajon Kit: this cajon was my first foray into hand drums, and I assembled it from a kit. Although building the structure and finishing the wood was fun, the poor ergonomics of playing cajon and my desire to use drumsticks and pedals turned this cajon into a glorified chair for many years.
  • Novation Launchkey Mini: this compact MIDI controller came with a copy of Ableton Live Lite which I still use, but the hardware itself was just a little too small for me to play comfortably. I played a few basslines on the 25-keys and drum beats with the 16 RGB pads, but these days I prefer using a bass guitar and my e-drums instead.

Screen Shot 2020-06-28 at 12.39.35 PM

Goodbye everyone!

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Lighting retrofit

I just finished a kitchen lighting retrofit so I thought I would share some of the things I learned. Our kitchen had four 40W T12 fluorescent bulbs when we moved in and by the time two of bulbs stopped working the kitchen was noticeably darker. As you may know, I am an evangelist for LED lightning retrofit, so I immediately purchased some LED bulbs branded “InstantFit” or “Universal Fit” that would act as drop-in replacements. Unfortunately, two bulb positions were still not working – but to my surprise it was not the same positions as had originally failed. Turns out I had both bad bulbs and bad ballasts with the original installation.

Rather than try to replace the crusty old ballasts I decided to go with a “Direct Wire” LED retrofit which completely removes the old wiring and ballast and hooks up directly to the 120V lines. Next time you have some fluorescent lights fail, my advice is ditch the ballasts and go direct wire!


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PV module imaging and quality assurance

Near-infrared imaging and lock-in thermography provide detailed, complementary information for studying the performance of PV modules. In previous work, we described how to extract both local efficiency and nonuniformity characteristics from high-resolution images (as low as 22 μm/pixel). Near-infrared images show electroluminescence from the absorber layer which serves as a proxy for local photovoltage, whereas infrared images show local power dissipation which serves as a proxy for source of power loss under operations.

The images above show nominal behavior of thin film modules under forward and reverse bias. In forward bias, the near-infrared image of show good electroluminescence signal and consistent uniformity. In forward bias, the lock-in thermography image shows uniform power dissipation. In reverse bias, the lock-in thermography shows the point-sources of power dissipation at the protective bypass diodes.

Not all modules show nominal behavior! Here are two images showing critical PV module quality issues. The left image shows delamination features based on regions of very low near-infrared emission, and the right image show shunting features based on parasitic, point sources of power dissipation.

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Mt Umunhum ride

If you’ve spent time in San Jose, you’ve probably noticed the large concrete building on a mountain peak to the south in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The peak is Mt. Umunhum and the building is part of a radar tower that was operated by the US Air Force until 1980. Once I started exploring the San Jose foothills on my road bike, reaching the Umunhum summit and that radar tower became my goal.

Once you pass the Gaudalupe Reservoir the road enters 5 miles of about 10% average grade with a few nasty hairpin turns before Hicks Rd meets Mt Umunhum Rd. Along the way you’ll be treated by beautiful vistas of San Jose and closer views of the radar tower. For me the ride clocked in at 40 miles and 3500 ft of climbing.


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24″ Pancake Monster

As much fun as I’ve been having with my pancake drum kit, I keep wondering how it would sound with a huge bass drum. One feature of a pancake rack tom is that it leaves plenty of room for big bass drums underneath without having to raise the height as you would with a traditional two-headed rack tom. After a little searching I found this old beast – a 1970s 14″x24″ Premier marching bass drum converted to a drum kit bass drum. When you take a picture of an instrument in a music store you know you’ll be back…

Screen Shot bass drum

After a few days of pounding on this drum as a traditional bass drum, it finally came time for pancake surgery. I set up my skillsaw with a custom jig and made the 6″ ring cut into the drum. Once the cut was complete, I realized the drum wrap was actually a thin metal sheet, probably chrome, but no match for my saw.

With my new 24″ pancake bass drum, I reconfigured the kit and here we are with four cymbals and four shelled drums again. It seems like my drum hardware journey follows a sawtooth pattern where I strip down to the fewest components and then add new ones into the mix until its time to strip things down again. Next time you hear from me I’ll just be playing a finger cymbal and a coffee can!


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Screen door for the foster room

Earlier this year we started volunteering as part of the The Dancing Cat foster network, a group that cares for cats while they are looking for their forever home. We have two resident cats so keeping a two-week quarantine with foster cats is important to prevent disease transmission, parasite spreading and territorial fighting. We have a separate room for the foster cats, so of course we can close the door to enforce the quarantine, but then we have to deal with escape attempts whenever we open the door. I tried a removable screen but it required constant supervision and ended up too fragile for the task.

Then I decided to install a screen door to create two cat zones in our house. Even though the door is meant for outdoor doorways, it works great on the bedroom doorway. We have the original solid door opening inwards and the screen door opening outwards so we can decide which door to use based on the circumstances. For us it’s made the foster room feel like part of the house while maintaining separation between resident and foster cats for as long as we need.


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Pancake drum kit

Ever since my trashcan bass drum project I’ve been trying to find the minimum requirements for making a drum. After a few sessions of use, the trashcan “bearing edge” started getting a little warped so I went back on the hunt for a new improvised shell. I asked myself, “Where can I find a round, sturdy object that fit drum heads?” It only took me a few days to realize that a DRUM SHELL would be a great option here, but only after cutting it down of course!

After selecting a few drums to become single-headed “pancake” drums, I used a jigsaw to cut a 5″ wide ring from an 18″ bass drum, a 3.5″ ring from a 13″ tom drum and a 3.5″ ring from an 11″ tom drum. After subjecting the drums to such brutal treatment, I thought they deserved a few coats of Danish oil gingerly applied.  Here are the results of the 18″ and 13″:


With three new pancake drums in hand, I assembled them into an expanded busking kit. Here we are with my 10″ splash hats, 14″ crash, 16″ dark crash, 4″x10″ tiny snare plus the pancake 11″, 13″ toms and 18″ bass drum. Just look at how well this guy packs up!


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Updated busking kit

Using my new bass drum I updated my busking kit for playing on the street.  The requirement is that the hardware and throne have to fit in a rollerboard suitcase and the cymbals have to fit in the bass drum.

  • 10″ splash hats
  • 14″ Paiste fast crash
  • 10″ Pearl M80 snare
  • 16″ Meinl Byzance dark crash


Splash hats keep the volume under control for acoustic settings and 14″ crash is good for bright accents.  The 16″ crash is dry to keep its ride sound dark and under control while also providing a lower crash pitch than the 14″ fast (=very thin) crash.  Then the snare and bass drum can be the stars of the show!

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Cannondale Synapse

After 5 years without a road bike I decided to invest in some new equipment.  I was lucky enough to get a huge discount on a 2018 Cannondale Synapse.

Carbon frame and fork, Shimano RS505 discs with 105 hardware and RD 2.0 wheels with 700x28c tires.  All in all the best bicycle I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding!


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Trash can bass drum

I’ve been looking for a portable bass drum for busking for month now and I finally have a solution.  I had some spare 18″ bass drum hardware and figured if I went to the hardware store I could find something to act as a drum shell.  Armed with my tape measure I found the perfect candidate – the 32 Gallon 28×22″ BRUTE trash can!

First I measured an 8″ band around the trash can and used a dremel to cut off the top.  Then I mapped out holes for the hoop mounting hardware and legs, cleaned up the edges and installed the drum head.  [Check out the handles!]  The sound is deep and loud and without much sustain because there is no resonant head.  Works great for the streets!



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