Monday, August 31, 2009

Listen up!

by Lance Albertson for Sanity Preferred
From SLOrk (the Stanford Laptop Orchestra) comes these really cool speakers, well, at least the plans for them.
The orchestra uses these as monitors so the performers can better hear their own instrument when playing with the ensemble. There are six speakers attached to a dome made from an Ikea salad bowl. Really cool and I really wanted to build it, so skipped right over the about section and started reading their instructions.
The supply list has lots of little doodads. Not bad. Doable. Tool supply list, uh, wait. "Milling Machine/Drill Press of some sort". Hmm. Challenging. Might have to pick me up one of those babies. BTW: did I mention that I got a C+ in woodshop in junior high? So I look at the picture again: there are six holes carved into an semi-circular bowl with a base plate cut to fit. Did I also mention that I'm not particularly good with straight lines? My girlfriend won't even let me paint her house anymore. And curved lines are, uh, well, out of my league. And curved lines on a sphere? Let's just say that IANAAN - I am not an airplane navigator. The first 9 steps are entirely woodworking, with another 3 for mounting the speakers for a total of 12.
And the steps? The salad bowl is the only thing even remotely Ikea about this project. Take step 7, for example:
Once the center holes are in a good place, get ready for some body-shaking hole saw drilling. This is most likely the most dangerous and unsatisfactory step of assembly (must be a better way). Attach the salad bowl to a table using a 2''x4'' and two quick grip clamps. Make sure the bowl is securely fastened as the hole saw drilling can be a bit rough. Attach the 3.5'' hole saw (with counter sink) to a power drill and drill away one at a time. You can also pre-drill the starter hole in the bowl for an easier start. Once one of the holes is complete, readjust the clamps and continue. At this point, the bowl is quite delicate so don't tighten the clamps too tight otherwise it will crack.
Should I really be trusting instructions that say that there must be a better way?

Then there's the face plate. Only 5 steps, but somewhere between steps 2 and 3 the faceplate magically arcs to fit the shape of the bowl. Curved lines again, plus I feel cheated because putting the curve in the faceplate should be another step, so we'll call it 6 steps.

Then you construct the amplifier by sticking together three amplifiers (2 channels/amp * 3 amps = 6 speakers). So I scan down. Step 13 (13?!) begins "[a]t this point, one of the three amplifiers is complete". We've done 12 steps and only one amp is done? So I do some quick math and figure that means 36 steps all together. It turns out you only have to do step 1 once, so we're down to 34. Oh, most of the steps are just ripping the circuit card out of a commercial amp, like step 6 (pictured) where you "[c]ut off the headphone jack cabling as close as possible to the amp board. Some additional soldering will be required because of this, but in the end it reduce the extraneous wiring." (NOTE to self, can possibly save a step by hanging on to that extraneous wiring.)
Finally, you put it all together. 9 more steps (making 61 steps all told). But wait! Do you remember those tests they'd give you in school where the first instruction is to read all the questions (because, spoiler!, the last question tells you not to answer any of the questions)? Okay, so here's how the last step - the 61st step - begins: "Now to seal everything up. This part is a bit tricky..." - THIS part is tricky? THIS PART?
So I go back to the beginning and read the About section. would have helped if I had read this earlier:

The following will be a general overview and design of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) speaker. The SLOrk speaker was designed and built in the winter of 2008 by over twenty doctoral, masters, and undergrad students involved at CCRMA [Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics]...
This explains my general feeling of unease. It took more than 20 Stanford students to put this together. Now, being a Cal grad, I know that 1 Cal student is worth at least 5 Stanford students, but you know, it would still take at minumum of 4 of me to do this project. Plus, you know, in spite of starting out with an economical Ikea salad bowl, this speaker is going to end up costing me two or three thousand dollars (mostly for the drill press), a tremendous about of time and effort, and with my C+ woodshop experince I'll probably end up with something about as attractive Michael Palin in drag.
Maybe the instructions were right. Maybe there is a better way...

Fortunately, it didn't take long to find a functionally equivalent alternative: via Coolest Gadgets, I give you The Sound Bomb, which serves the same purpose, costs only £24.95 from the UK site, and is superior in that it runs off USB instead of requiring an external 12v power supply.
Ahh. Another project complete. What will I do tomorrow?
Thanks to Veronica Belmont for the inspiring SLOrk speaker tweet.

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