Epiphone logo hammer and sickle


I bought this hardshell case at Austin’s Guitar Resurrection in 1999, shortly after I moved from Dallas for school, to house the nice red sunburst slimline acoustic there on the left. When the clerk handed it to me, it looked very like the new case shown to right.

I pointed at the gold motif  and  said, “Whassat?”

“That,” he replied, “is the logo of the great guitarist Epiphone. I recommend black spray paint.”

He got the backstory pretty much right. (Turns out the man’s name was Epaminondas Stathopoulos, and “Epi” was just a nickname. But whatevs.) I considered his spray paint suggestion for awhile before opting for gold instead of black. A bit of masking tape here and there, a quick spray, and the logo was much improved.

Stay tab lamp shade with factory-anodized color tabs

This is an old trick of mine which I published a few months back on Make: Projects. I’ve always wanted to experiment with using factory-anodized color pull tabs in the “weave,” but cans with color tabs are fairly rare and it was impractical for me to gather so many. Then I discovered there was a small but steady supply to be had through eBay, from folks who collect them off recycled cans and sell them in small lots to crafters. This shade is rainbow-colored to show off the technique and the array of colors that are available.

I miss Mojo’s

Tactile guitar cues applied with tape embosser

I’ve been playing Rocksmith a lot, lately, and the “Ducks” minigame has me moving up and down the length of the fretboard pretty quickly and pretty accurately, now, without looking.  But I’m still concerned my 30-something reflexes will never be able to keep up with the obsessive Japanese preteens I just know are monopolizing the top ten spots on the leaderboard.

Not without an edge, that is.

This trick—using a Dymo embosser to put tactile indicators on the backside of the neck—works pretty well. At least so far as the physical hack itself, goes: The labels are cheap, don’t look awful, stick firmly even after a lot of use, and yet can be removed easily enough without damaging the neck or its finish. In use, they index against the thumbpad on the fretting hand.

The strips are centered behind each of the “dotted” frets: three, five, seven, nine, and 12. Originally, I embossed the corresponding number characters into the tapes, but found in practice that my thumb cannot really feel the difference between a “5” and a “3.” But this ternary scheme (using capital letters “O,” dashes, and a single blank strip of tape at the seventh fret) works pretty well. These are easily distinguishable by touch. So far it hasn’t made too much difference, in practice, but I think in the long run it will.

So look out, IEatzBilletzNomNomNom.  I am coming for you.

Huge first surface mirror

This is a huge high quality mirror I salvaged from the corpse of my folks’ old Mitsubishi rear-projection HDTV. Unlike the mirror in, say, your bathroom, it is silvered on the front surface, instead of the back. A front-silvered mirror is much easier to scratch, but it is also more desirable for optical purposes because light reflects off the silvering without having to be refracted through a layer of glass, first.

This one is trapezoidal, and measures four feet on the long edge, three feet on the short edge, and 27″ across the short dimension.

I was going to hang it on the wall, but it seems a waste of its unique properties. There ought to be some cool application for it. But I’m damned if I can think of what it might be. I don’t want to sell it on eBay because I don’t want to mess with packing and shipping it. Right now I’ve got it listed on Austin craigslist for $50, but so far I haven’t had any takers.

Suggestions, anyone?

120 laser-cut acrylic RepTiles, mounted to wall with small pins

I had Angus Hines make these for me—thirty in each of four colors. Three of the colors are fluorescent and one is not; all are transparent. The choice of colors in this tiling is purely random.

I modified my earlier vector art by the addition of a 1/16″ diameter pinhole in the tiling center of each lizard, which allows it to be secured to the wall with a #18 x 3/4″ brass-plated escutcheon pin (Crown Bolt #45304), pushed in with a brad driver rather than hammered. The pinhole version of the vector art has now been uploaded to Thingiverse, as well.

By far the most tedious part of this process was peeling the protective film from both sides of each tile. The side with the raster etching was particularly obnoxious, because the film came off in little bits, strips, and pieces around the areas that had been etched away. There’s probably some straightforward process I didn’t think of to remove it without all the manual fingernail work. Mild heat, perhaps? A hairdryer?

Alligator clip, with symbiote

Bass drum button for drumcycle

My idea of mounting a digital drum controller on a stationary bike didn’t make much of a splash when I recently posted it on Make: Projects, but for me, at least, it has been absolutely revolutionary. It makes the 30-45 minutes I spend on the bike five days a week, now, not only bearable, but actually enjoyable. It’s a step beyond “gamification” of the workout chore (or “exergaming,” if you like), because I feel like I’m not just jumping through arbitrary hoops in a game to distract myself—I’m learning an instrument. Or re-learning, anyway. I was a pretty fair drummer, in high school, and it feels great to be dusting off those skills again.

And I just upgraded it, a bit. The Yamaha DR-55c controller comes with two 1/4″ phono plugs for foot switches for “hi-hat” and “bass drum” pedals. The box included one such switch, and there’s a second port for an aftermarket add-on. Unlike the dynamically-sensitive percussion pads on the controller itself, the foot switches are simple momentary switches that do not respond with louder or softer sounds depending on how hard you hit them.

Because I’m using my feet to operate the bike pedals, however, they are not free to operate foot-switches, so I wired up a simple arcade cabinet momentary switch (the odd member of the pair I bought for my secret garage door opener project) to a 1/4″ phono plug and mounted it inside a screw-top black plastic vitamin powder container. There’s a “large” size broom clip on the bottom of the container, as well, which secures it to the bike’s handlebar. I went all out and installed a rubber grommet on the cord exit hole, too.

In practice, the arcade cabinet button is no more difficult to strike than the pads themselves, and the static volume isn’t much of an issue since the dynamic sensitivity on the pads is not all that great to begin with, especially when you’re playing without drumsticks (as I do) using the DD-55c’s “hand percussion” setting. It is mechanically much louder than the pads, however, due to the button’s “clicking” action, which detracts the system’s “quiet mode” operation: Playing just on the pads, wearing headphones, I can exercise at 3AM and not disturb anyone in the house, rocking out all the while. Add in the arcade cabinet button on the pedal trigger switch, though, and the noise could start to be a problem.

Still, it’s worked out well enough that I will probably build another one ,to almost exactly the same plan, to mount on the left handlebar. Just need to score another arcade cabinet button. Since I’ll probably have to buy one, this time, I may opt for a pair, and look for buttons that are specifically designed to operate quietly.

Bike rack shaped like a bike

I tend to share the trendy distaste for Wal-Mart and all things Wal-Mart, but this orange bike-shaped bike rack I just saw outside store #2133 here in Austin is certainly a win. I like anything orange or yellow for visibility, and it’s another good example of functional pseudomorphism, where a thing looks like something what-it-ain’t in order to unambiguously identify its function. I’m beginning to learn something about my own taste, which is that I look for functional excuses/justifications for features that are also childishly delightful, like a bright orange paint job or a shape that imitates a familiar form.

Valentine’s Day 2012

A nice surprise on the kitchen counter, this morning, from my roommate Jennifer.

We talk about “Platonic” relationships, a lot, but sometimes forget the connotation: “Ideal.” In a Platonic relationship, neither party really needs anything of the other, and chooses the association for its own sake. Little or no diplomacy is required, whereas with more “serious” relationships, sooner or later, both sides have to set up embassies and start thinking like ambassadors.