Monday, May 22, 2006

shiny new toys

Well, I'm taking a break from writing about my own attempts to be creative so that I may tell you about several new consumer goods I bought over the weekend.

First - wireless speakers from Home Depot. I plugged the transmitter into my computer, and tuned it to my internet jazz radio station. Then I put one speaker in the sunroom, and one in the kitchen. Now there's instant muzak on demand. They actually sound pretty good to me, since I had really low expectations from what is basically baby-monitor technology.

Second - a Roland Micro Cube guitar amp. I've always been skeptical of digital guitar effects and amps, since what I've heard has sounded like crap. But - this has changed my mind. I went into Guitar Center looking for a distortion pedal. For $125, this is a complete amp that can sound like a jazz amp, a little british combo, a Marshall, or a high-gain Mesa-Boogie. I'm not kidding about the last 2, either - it really does. They've done a freakishly amazing job. It has a 5 inch speaker and runs off of 6 AA batteries, and it gives your head problems. Your eyes just can't believe that the sounds are coming from this little thing that you can pick up and swing around your head.

Plus the interface is great - 2 knobs for all the effects. They realized that hey, this is a practice amp. People don't want to sit there and diddle with 16 knobs just to get a bit of a swooshy sound, so they put 4 effects on one knob.

And the amp modeling. Yes, ok, digital technology really is amazing. It doesn't quite respond to touch in the same way that my little tube amp does, but it's close, and it has a much fuller sound when played clean. I believe the way it works is this:
  • an electric guitar is hooked up to an amp. (say, a Marshall stack).
  • the signal right out of the guitar is recorded (before it hits the amp)
  • the signal out of the amp is recorded
  • the signals are compared, and a mathematical model is constructed of how they differ, ie, here's what you have to do to the raw signal to get it to sound like the output from the amp.
  • That model is encoded onto a hardware chip, and placed into the amp.
So now, instead of your distortion effect coming from a diode clipping, a chip is taking your signal and transforming it in the same way that the Marshall would have transformed it (compressing it, distorting it, speaker cone interacting with air), and it comes out of the amp sounding like a Marshall.

Third - the best of all. The Nelson RainTrain sprinkler. 20 pounds of cast iron, shaped like a tractor with a sprinkler head on top of it. Every time you have to water your lawn, you get to lay out the hose like a little train track, then put the shut-off ramp at one end and the sprinkler on the other. Then you turn the water on, water spins the sprinkler arms, arms turn the worm gear, worm gear turns the (2-speed!) transmission, sprinkler crawls across the lawn, following the hose track that you set out for it, and stops when it hits the ramp.

Great sprinkler to play in, too - you don't have to choose between dry and drenched. Abby loves it, I love it (possibly too much). I mean, it combines trains, tractors, and hydro-power, and mostly incidentally, does something that you're supposed to be doing.

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