Sunday, 5 June 2016

1988, in a former life

So one of the things I used to do a lot was record and/or do live broadcast mixes at music events.  I still love dong it but rarely get the opportunity any more.

The letter below (not an email!  It is actually signed!) was sent to me after a particularly fascinating incident at the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival in 1988.

The author of the letter and the guy in charge of the broadcast on WEMU stopped in where we were mixing the music from the Pyramid stage at Hart Plaza.  After a few pleasantries he asked "So are you using a lot of EQ or something in your mix?"  I said "No, just listen to what is coming out of the speakers.  Why do you ask?"

He said he had been listening to the broadcast on the monaural radio in the TV in his hotel room, and when the broadcast switched from the other stage to ours the sound was awful!  He came scooting right over to our mixing room and started the conversation.

So once he heard what we were actually doing he said it really did sound great; superb, in fact.  After a little bit more genial conversation I had eliminated any doubts from Jim's mind that it was me creating the problem.  I knew that what we were doing was fine: I just wanted to get to the bottom of the issue.

So, being an engineer kind of guy, I started looking for what I thought was the likely culprit: one of the Left/Right lines from our room to the booth had been wired out of phase, effectively canceling most of the audio in our mix and leaving sounding very thin and awful - but ONLY when heard in mono, as it was on his hotel TV.

I followed the approximately 700' of wire all the way to the final broadcast feed mixer, where I discovered that indeed the Right channel balanced line had been incorrectly wired and was therefore electrically canceling out most of our mix.  And it had been that way for a day and a half.  Apparently the Engineer in charge of the broadcast had not bothered to check the lines.

I gathered up a soldering iron, pliers and a tabletop clamp and quickly fixed the problem.  Ten days later I got this letter in the mail.  Ain't life grand?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

WCBN Tapes at the Bentley Historical Library

In the summer of 201`5 I spent some time at the Bentley cataloguing the tape archive of WCBN.  These tapes had been there for several years waiting for this to happen.  The next step is to find money to hire a student to digitize them - hopefully this summer.

Here is the first photo of that work: a bunch of reels in a box.  I'll add more photos and some video soon.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

2015 Fool Moon

Fool Moon was way better this year than last year: it didn't snow or have 50 mile an hour winds.

On Friday April 10 Vodo Jumato - VO-ratima Orawannukul, DO-nald Harrison, JU-stin Dykhouse, MA-rtin Thoburn and TO-m Bray - set up their giant projection monolith and painted the side of the office building at Main & Washington with appropriately foolish visuals.

I was prepared for inclement weather this year. I had tarps and a plan.   Once I had a couple of people to help it only took about 5-10 minutes to completely secure it from the wind and rain.  And once again we had Donald's guitar amp strapped to the lower plank for ballast.

Here are shots of "before" and "after" wrapping:


In the above photos you can see the planks we used as a work surface and to support projectors.
We had a small projector pointing out the back showing the twitter feed.

In the above photos you can see the 'windows' I made out of 8 mil clear plastic, for the projector up top and for the VJs below.

The view from the top, showing the VJ work surface, Voratima and Donald.

Martin and Donald at work.  Martin's laptop was a source for Donald's laptop
via a Blackmagic Intensity Pro.  You can see the window.

Donald's laptop, my darkroom timer and the Hard Hat Cam.  We used the
timer to turn off a light to remind us it was time to run a sponsor logo.

The view from outside the window.

Me! From outside the "Rear Window" from where we projected the
Twitter feed on the wall behind us.

My Live Feed Hard Hat Camera:

Tiny camera on the left of this photo, batteries and Xmtr on top.

Battery packs for the camera secured with the camera headband.

Another side view.

I walked out into the crowd and got in front of someone and said "Look at the wall!".  When they did they would see themselves as part of the projection.  It was a big hit, even though it was not great video quality.  The piece missing form the QTVR is the headlamp I attached so I could both aim the camera and light my subject.

Here is a link to a QTVR movie of my live video camera hard hat (you may have to download it; it's small).


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

UM Museum of Natural History Display Repair

I got a call from Matt Linke, our friend at the Museum, asking if I could take a look at a display that stopped working.  It had some kind of media player and played some video loops when a visitor pushed a button.

The problem was that the "attract loop" would play fine, but the 3 buttons meant to trigger 3 different video clips were not triggering the clips: it just kept playing the attract loop.  The buttons would light up while the button was pushed, but that was it.

Well, that sounded like a job for me!  I've been doing a lot with media players recently, with or without triggered playback.  And I figured that if I could not get it working, I could likely swap his box out for one of my AKMAN 1080HD media players until they decided what to do.

Here's what was on Matt's bench when I arrived:

Matt Linke at his bench with the exhibit housing
You see the box on the right for containing everything, with the front panel that holds the video display and a speaker leaning up against it.  The small TV was just used for troubleshooting.

Imagine my surprise to see that the media player was an AKMAN product: the Flash A/V media player.   We have a handful of their more current models of HD video players and I like this company's products.

The AKMAN media player
This discontinued model plays MPEG2 files out as standard definition composite or s-video, and has both audio line outputs and speaker outputs.  It has 3 sets of "Input" contacts that are connected to the external buttons.  They were using one set with three inputs it's that sliver of green block connector with 4 wires coming out at the top of the unit.  That toggle switch adhered to the top is for changing the audio output level.  It connects to a couple of contacts on the back for VOL+ and VOL-.  This setting is intended to be done once, and then left alone.  This device resets to FULL LOUD at every restart, which is why one needs some sort of control like this.

The Button - Relay - AKMAN controller
This Direct Logic 05 controller senses button closures and then sends out appropriate control signals to the AKMAN player.  A pressed button would light up and stay lit for the duration of the video clip triggered.  This unit also prevented any other button pushes from registering during playback of a clip (except the attract loop).  It's a pretty nice little box. 

Lighting the buttons can not be done by the AKMAN units, but the other logic parts of what it does can be done by our current AKMAN units without an external controller.

So it turned out that the main reason it had not been playing back any files for a while is because the relay controller wires were plugged into the wrong block.  Took a while for us to get there, because that connector block had been clearly labeled to go into the *wrong* spot.  Go figure.  But we didn't get there right away.  We did some investigating on whether the files on the card were set up properly, etc.  We renamed some folders to match what was given in the manual for this device (found on the AKMAN web site) but still didn't have a fix.

I called my friend Jason Akman, son of the founder of the company, to ask if he knew anything about these units.  He was surprised - in a good way - to hear that one of these old units was still out there and sort of working.  He didn't have any ideas we had not thought of yet, so we did the last thing that might make a difference: go to a Windows machine and delete all the invisible files that a Mac writes on the storage card.

That worked, and everything was working as intended once again.  Below is a shot of the thing looping the silent "attract loop", waiting for button input.

It's turned sideways so I could show you how it would look to a visitor, but here's a photo once it was all working.  A satisfying task for the morning!

Oh yes - the video clips are about ants!


Friday, 24 October 2014

Chinese Documentary crew in Lester Monts' Lab

This week, a Chinese documentary crew was in town to shoot interviews and other footage with Dr. Lester Monts about his role in creation of the UM's Confucius Institute.  These photos show the shoot in Lester's new lab on the second floor of the Duderstadt Center, and what the interview setup looked like at his house that evening.

Shot by the Producer with her iPhone - that's me in the lab coat!

Shot from about the vantage point where you saw me above - reverse angle.

"OK - now turn those knobs..." Lester in action for the crew.
The crew really liked Lester's 'fish pole' boom for his field mic.

After dinner at his house, Lester gets the 'formal' part of the interview in his family room.
The crew is off to NYC, where they had thought they were going to get some time with the Rockefeller and Fulbright Foundations, but both unexpectedly declined this week.  They are scrambling to find others that might help.

I'll let you know when the documentary is finished.  
And I guess I should post about Lester's new lab, too.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

UMTRI Renovation

Photo of the newly renovated Library at UMTRI. Note the familiar looking cart on the back right of the photo. It is based on our unit in DL3 at the DMC. I consulted with UMTRI when they were starting this redesign. One thing you can't see is the Free Coffee maker behind me.