Dipping My Toe Into HI-FI Audio

Audiophiles exist in the world. You might have had a conversation with one of them. You can easily recognize an audiophile when they tell you how good music sounds on vinyl. I am not saying that I am an audiophile per se, but I see how someone gets there. This is my story.

Audiophile T-Shirt

With the stay-at-home order, I found myself looking for things to do around the house. I am doing my own yard work, starting a garden, and arranging things. I did notice stacks of CDs from my 90’s college days. Filter. Smashing Pumpkins. Nine Inch Nails. Tool. Christina Aguilera. For the past decade, I have been listening to music via MP3s or streaming services. Music has become background music in my life. Except for the Trolls soundtrack. I have heard the Trolls soundtrack on Amazon Echo for both movies probably 100 times. My son loves Daft Punk. We play the song One More Time, one more time frequently.

I wanted to listen to the CDs and I discovered that I have 3 devices in the house that play CDs: a CD drive in my PC, a disconnected Blu-ray player, and a Trolls themed CD player/radio. I got the “hug, sing, dance” player at the thrift store for my son which included the Frozen soundtrack disc in the player for $2.99.

The first CD that I listened to was Filter – Title of Record from 1999. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded coming out of my computer speakers. My ears have been listening to compressed, streaming audio for over 10 years. I started digging around the closet for a nice pair of headphones and tried my earbuds and a pair of AKG K240 Studio Monitors that I got as a gift. The earbuds were OK. The AKG headphones were worse. I expected a lot out of them, but they didn’t sound great. I turned to Google and search around for an hour and discovered that the AKG headphones have a high impedance of around 55 ohms and my computer doesn’t really support that. This finding led me to a number of high-fidelity audio forums. I learned about headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters (DAC).

I decided to experiment and ease my boredom a bit. I bought a the SUCA Audio tube headphone amplifier that was recommended to me on one of the forums. I waited a couple of weeks to get it and built up the anticipation of plugging in my AKG headphones.

Wow. Wowzer. I could believe how good the music sounded. I enjoyed the warmth and overall tone. The SUCA Audio amp is arguably a low entry point into headphone amps. My research over a few days showed me how deep this rabbit hole goes. There is an endless supply of gadgets to elevate your audio experience.

Going next level. I kept reading mentions of other vacuum tubes to try. I learned about the RCA 6AK5 tubes to get even better sound. I found a pair of “new” tubes on eBay and tried those. eBay tip. “NOS” means New Old Stock. They don’t make vacuum tubes anymore so you have to find new, old tubes. You also want to find a matched pair. And, yes, I can hear a difference. Or, I am not admitting that I can’t hear a difference – that’s part of the audiophile’s code.

This is my first toe into the deep waters of HI-FI audio and the water feels great. I have been enjoying some old tunes and hearing things that I never heard before. Maybe one day, I will be the guy at the party telling you about my audio gear.

How a Bald Guy Handles Haircuts During the Stay-at-Home Order

I keep seeing people post on social media about their hair getting out of control after several months of staying at home due to the global pandemic. Also, I have discovered TikTok.

I have been bald for over 20 years, so my haircare options are quite limited. I do my own “haircuts” every 2-4 weeks. For my wedding, I did splurge and used a barbershop. I wanted the full pampering experience, although, the experience lasted about 20 minutes. Hair washing took the longest amount of time.

The stay-at-home order has not impacted my hair care lifestyle. I decided to use TikTok as my platform to share my experience during the COVID-19 lockdown. Maybe others can relate. The struggle is no struggle.

‘On Air’ Light for Microsoft Teams and Zoom Meetings

Back in the 90’s, the 1990’s, I used to be a late-night radio show host on Froggy. I was known as Jeremiah Bullfrog. When I left the radio business to start my own software company, Troy, the head engineer, gave me a parting gift – an ‘On Air’ light. Our company had remodeled and consolidated studios and lots of surplus gear had accumulated. I had the On Air light on my office shelf for over 20 years. With the recent events, I came up with a project to put the On Air light to use.

On Air Light

Along with the rest of the world, I have been working at home for the past couple of weeks. All of my meetings are now online/virtual ones and we use Microsoft Teams and Zoom. We also use video to better facilitate a connection and help us focus on the meeting. The camera that I have doesn’t have a light indicator showing whether it is in use. So, I put two and two together and come up with a remote controllable ‘On Air’ light for online meetings. It was the perfect project to entertain my three-year-old for a few hours. He was delighted every time the light turned on.

George helping me hack the ‘On Air’ light in my shop

George and I ripped apart a Sunbeam Touch Light that I got for $1 in a surplus sale. This light had a strip of LEDs, a controller, and a power supply. I just added an ESP8266 module and connected it to ThingSpeak using my tutorial that I published a few years ago. I wrote a little Visual Basic.NET script based on a project that I found on CodeGuru to detect whether or not the webcam was in use or not. If it’s in use, the script sends a signal to ThingSpeak to turn on the light.

Bill Gates Warned Us. We Didn’t Listen.

Stop. Watch Bill Gates give a TED Talk: The next outbreak? We’re not ready.

When YouTube recommended this video to me last night, I assumed that Bill Gates recently recorded his TED Talk and TED just released it. While I watched it, I couldn’t believe what he was saying. It was as if Bill Gates predicted the future and got it right. I was shocked to see this video was released on April 3, 2015. I admit that I probably watched this video before. I didn’t do anything to help. I ignored Bill’s call to action.

Polarization

In the United States, the COVID-19 epidemic has further divided us. Nothing pulls us together. This pandemic will be the worst thing that Americans face in recent memory. People’s lives will be impacted by sickness and death. The economic impacts will be felt for a long time. We should be working together. We are not. A virus is not political. How we handle the virus is. If you view all the information through a political lens, you only see what you want to see. Everything validates what you believe. We keep dividing.

Microbes and Misinformation

There are two epidemics happening at the same time. COVID-19 is being passed all around the world at an alarming rate, but misinformation is propagating faster.

“More people will buy toilet paper than will vote in the 2020 presidential election.”

Hans Scharler

Imagine a world where we mobilize for a common cause. People literally bought all of the toilet paper in a manner of days because of memes being shared on social media. This incited panic. Misinformation leverages the same mechanism. Ideas of all sorts of validity spread like wildfire across Facebook. People believe what they hear from their friends. Where did their friends get the information? Where did your friends of friends get their information? Information can be injected into the system and at some point hordes of people believe what they are reading since their friend from high school shared it.

I felt bad when I heard the innocent words of Bill Gates. He said that we have an advantage with the next outbreak since people can use their phones to tell central bodies where issues are and have them get information out to people. He said all of those words in 2015 before the presidential election in 2016. Bill didn’t realize how phones and communications channels were going to be used and how easily they are manipulated. The communications channels work well, but they are agnostic about the type of information.

$3 Trillion Impact on the Global Economy

Bill tried to estimate the budget needed to prepare for the next epidemic. He was concerned that the next virus would be spread through the air and have a long incubation period. A virus like the one he described would have a $3 trillion impact on the global economy. With a figure like that in mind, he estimated that the budget would be far less to get prepared for the next outbreak. The Fed has already injected $1.5 trillion in loans. Imagine if we would have spent some percentage of that on diagnostic systems, information channels, preparedness, germ games, and vaccine research.

Call To Action

What are the key pieces to deal with an epidemic? Where should we invest?

  1. Strengthen health systems
  2. Create a medical reserve corps
  3. Pair medical and military
  4. Run germ games and simulations
  5. Step up research and development with vaccines and diagnostics

“There’s no need to panic … but we need to get going.”

Bill Gates

Ebola and H1N1 should have served as a wake call. Now, it’s COVID-19. Will we wake up?

Thanks, Bill Gates. Keep predicting the future. It would be great if we didn’t have to keep proving you right by doing nothing. We should be trying to prove you wrong.

New Episode of The NotHans Podcast

Have you checked out my podcast lately? I started one back in 2008 and have faithfully produced episodes and have been your voice of reason in this chaotic world.

On my latest episode, I invite George to co-host with me. He was drawn to my glowing new microphone in my office. I recently bought the HyperX QuadCast to refresh my old set up. George loved the red LEDs illuminating the pop filter.

After a few minutes of making sounds and talking gibberish, I decided to record a new episode of The NotHans Podcast. George was an excellent co-host. He was rolling with the conversation and even told a joke. You have to check it out.

Subscribe to The NotHans Podcast: Apple Podcasts | Android | RSS

Arkham Horror: The Card Game Acrylic Player Mats

I recently built a board game table that included custom Arkham Horror: The Card Game artwork inspired by The Dunwich Legacy expansion. I love the artwork and the look of the table when playing Arkham Horror.

I was looking around BoardGameGeek and Etsy for any player mats that I could print out and use to play Arkham Horror: The Card Game. While searching, I thought of an idea. “What if the player mat was on transparent acrylic? Then, you could see the awesome artwork on the game table through the player mat.”

I reached out to MomoMonsterCo on Etsy to see if they would provide the artwork assets for their player mats as individual files with transparent backgrounds. They sent me a link to the files a few days later and I had them printed on acrylic using the Custom Acrylic Signs option on Signs.com. These were not cheap, but I really love how they turned out.

Elfa Utility Board + Cricut Hacks

I recently updated my board game design workshop with Elfa custom shelving. Elfa is provided by The Container Store.

Light Fun Game Design Workshop

Warning

If you like stuff organized and have things put away into bins, stay away from The Container Store. I am addicted to organization hacks and The Container Store is my drug of choice.

Cricut Cutting Mat Storage

The sticky cutting mats used for the Cricut cutting machine are really important to keep dust free and stored properly. I never know what to do with them. I now store them on the Elfa Utility Board using a slim hook. This keeps the mats in a convenient place and protected from accidentally sitting things on them. Also, write the date of their first use on them with a marker. The mats do not last long, but I recommend using the Monicut brand of mats. The Monicut mats are about 66% cheaper and work just as well.

Cricut Tools

The Elfa slim hooks are also perfect for hanging the Cricut tools. By handing up the tools, you get easy access to them and keep the sharp parts out of the way.

Magnetic Storage Bins

The Elfa Utility Board is made out of metal and magnets like metal. Over at the Dollar Tree, I found magnetic storage bins for $1. This is a great deal. The bins also have a clear lid. I use them to store game components and keep them in view while designing games.

Building My Own Board Game Table

Thou shalt not covet. When it comes to board game tables, I am almost willing to break a commandment. Very fancy board game tables have popped up at conventions, Kickstarter, and Etsy. I want it.

Board Game Table on Etsy

In most cases, a game table is just a dedicated surface for playing all manner of tabletop games. They usually include a spongy surface for being able to pick up cards and tokens easily, a wide frame to place your cards or area to write, and cup holders.

I decided to make my own gaming table.

The decision to make my own versus buying was helped by the fact that I had an attic filled with two-by-four pieces of wood and a giant 6’x3′ sheet of subflooring. The previous homeowner was in the middle of some unfinished woodworking projects. Since the sub-flooring sheet was 6’x3′, I made that my dimensions for the table. This also means that many gaming mats will fit perfectly. Gaming mats are like giant mouse pads with a print and made of a spongy backing.

Design

My design was simple. Build a 6’x’3 frame out of the two-by-fours. Add table legs. Put 6’x3′ subflooring panel on top. And, finally frame the whole thing to give the table a small ledge. I used 6″ oak panels from Lowes to build the ledge. The ledge is a separate piece so I can swap out the gaming mat if needed or clean up spills without ruining the whole thing.

Tools and Things

I didn’t have any woodworking tools. So, I assembled a short list of tools and things needed to build this table…

  1. Snacks
  2. Beverages
  3. Friend with tools
    1. Miter saw
    2. Power drill and screwdriver
    3. Power sander
  4. Screws
  5. Corner brackets
  6. Sandpaper
  7. Pre-stain
  8. Stain
  9. Polycrylic sealer

To keep the costs down, I bribed a friend to help me. They get a lifetime pass for gaming action on a cool DIY game table… and, snacks and beverages. The main tool needed was a miter saw. This was used to make nice straight cuts. Other tools needed: power drill to drill holes for screws and a screwdriver to screw the screws into the holes.

Table Frame

I was only trying to make sure that the outside dimensions were 6’x3′. I made up the configuration on the spot.

Table Ledge

The ledge acts as a frame around the sub-flooring panel. This gives you a nice place to hold cards or write notes. I used corner brackets to square up the ledge and used the sub-flooring panel as my guide.

Table Assembly

The table is three separate parts: frame, subflooring surface, and ledge. Obligatory selfie. First Game = Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Finishing

For a while, I tried to talk myself out of sanding and staining the wood. The wood had sharp edges and rough spots. It took some convincing, but I decided to finish this off and it made a huge difference. The finishing process took way longer than the assembly.

My Process

  • Sanding – so much sanding – this creates a lot of dust – wear a mask – be prepared to clean up dust for months – use 80 grit first, 120 second, and 220 third – be patient
  • Pre-staining – apply pre-stain to the wood and let dry – this really helps with staining or so YouTube says
  • Staining – apply stain within 2 hours of the pre-stain and repeat
  • Sealing – use a water-based polyacrylic sealer to seal the ledge – this will help with spills and cup rings and protect the wood or so YouTube says – let dry for 30 minutes – lightly sand with 220 grit and repeat two more times – it’s worth doing this as many times as you can fit into a weekend

Going Next Level

Deep-Cut Studio creates custom gaming mats for any size surface. I uploaded a custom piece of art to enhance my Arkham Horror: The Card Game campaign. Deep-Cut is based in England and it took less than two weeks to get my custom gaming mat. More on that on a later date.

Get Automated Email with the Latest Arkham Horror: The Card Game News

It’s hard to follow what’s going on with Arkham Horror: The Card Game without consistently checking out the Fantasy Flight Games blog. Fantasy Flight publishes several posts per month and they cover many of their active game properties. The news articles about Arkham Horror: The Card Game are important. Fantasy Flight often announced special events where they give out promos for participation or when they announce new products where you get promos by pre-ordering directly from them. It is possible to generate an RSS feed of just Arkham Horror: The Card Game news. I use IFTTT to monitor the RSS feed and send me an email when new posts are published about Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

Here’s how to get an email when the latest news gets announced on the Fantasy Flight Games blog:

Check out more Arkham Horror: The Card Game tips, checklists, and stories chronicling my latest game obsession.