Category Archives: Photos

Light hacks

I barely touched my desk lamp lampshade this evening and it broke, apparently quite brittle from many years of loyal service. Without the lampshade the light was too bright so I began devising plans to construct a replacement in the vague future.

Desk lamp using old jar as a lampshadeIn the meantime, Cassie fixed it =)

Creative Commons License

Images appearing in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Rewiring a Fender Strat

I have a Fender Squier (the cheapest model they make) guitar that was once a nice sunburst colour until I dropped it a few too many times, named it ‘Chip’ and decided to sand it back completely and put my own finish on it.  That was about ten years ago.

It was difficult to sand.  The annoying parts between the horns(?) required far too much work, by hand, that I put the project off and left it like that.  I put it back together and did a mediocre job of rewiring it with new parts I didn’t understand.

However, one recent Sunday I was feeling bored and decided to pull out this old guitar, finish sanding it, oil it and make plans to rewire it better.  I’d then have one less unfinished job nagging me, a nice guitar to play, and an excuse to share something else on my blog!  I sat on the balcony listening to Escape Pod podcasts and after a few vigorous hours of sanding it was ready.  I finished the body and neck with linseed oil which turned out darker than expected, but I actually quite like the contrast between the colour and the pickguard.

The Squier is quite a nice guitar, but it uses a lot of cheap parts.  Ages ago the pickup selector switch stopped working so I replaced it with a proper one.  While I was at it I upgraded the 250K volume and tone potentiometers (pots) to 500K ones, swapped the standard bridge pickup with a cheap humbucker I got second-hand, and rounded it all off with a new pickguard showing the fancy, three layer (white-black-white) colour scheme.

This time around I wanted to replace the humbucker with a new one and I found a second-hand Seymour Duncan HS4 on ebay for cheap.  My only other purchase was for a capacitor and resistor which, surprisingly, are the only things I had to buy new for this project.

Finished guitar ready to start

Wiring plan

I spent ages looking online for guitar wiring plans for inspiration.  I wanted to see what others were doing and think about how I wanted mine to work.  I’d never really used anything but the bridge pickup with full tone and volume before, electing to simply use an amplifier to alter the sound.  Now I had the opportunity to customise my guitar I’d be more conscious of and experimental with the sound options available when I play.

The Seymour Duncan site was helpful.  It had a wiring diagram that was printable and only required a few changes.  First, I wanted to use a separate tone pot for the humbucker and run the single-coil pickups through the other.  Second, instead of the .022 capacitor in the tone circuit I swapped the old Fender .0473 one I didn’t trust with a .0333 that was in my other guitar.  (I am unsure about units of measurement here!)  And lastly, I elected to include a resistor (100k) and capacitor (1000pF) in the volume pot to reduce ‘treble bleed‘.

An issue I have is that my amplifier is too damn loud for an apartment.  I nudge the volume knob just over zero and there’s a very small area between not being able to hear my guitar in all its glory and the point where I’m inviting number ten to hit their ceiling with broom handles.  But if I make this search for an appropriate volume easier by turning down the pot on the actual guitar, I lose a noticeable amount of quality in the sound.  The treble bleed hack helps retain the quality for the times where you actually need to use the volume knob.  I wasn’t certain about which capacitor and resistor values would be best for me so I chose commonly recommended ones.  If I could be bothered buying more parts I could experiment, but I think these are more than sufficient.

One Issue I’ve always has with (stratocaster) guitars is that when you take off the pickguard you need to use a soldering iron to detach a few cables before you remove it.  Annoying!  To avoid this I wanted to implement some kind of system where I only needed to disconnect a single cable by hand.  I looked around the garage and found a three-wire, CPU fan cable.  Perfect!  (For those wanting to try this, a simple CPU fan extension cable has both male and female connectors – and they’re cheap!)  This would work for the output and ground cables that go to the jack, and have one cable left for the ground connection to the bridge.  (I wonder if anyone has tried this before?)

Putting it all together

After removing all the old wires the first thing I did was solder in the treble bleed hack.  The capacitor was a little big so I had to move the volume pot around a bit so the tone pot wasn’t in the way.  I’d cut the wires shorter later.

Treble bleed hack in a Fender Strat

I then slid the female half of the CPU fan cable through the inside of the pickup selector switch.  If you try this, be careful not to damage the wires in the process, and try the switch once the cable is in to make sure it isn’t actually in the way.  Mine wasn’t, but perhaps I got lucky.  Also, make sure it’s the right way around for ease of connection – I reversed it after taking this picture.

Next, I separated one of the wires from the male half of the CPU fan cable (mine was yellow) and slid it through the hole in the body.  I soldered it to the bridge area.  This will be for ground.

Grounding a Fender Strat

Back of the guitar

The other two wires on this cable were then attached to the output jack.  I used red as output and black as ground.  The picture below shows the finished preparation of the male CPU cable.  It’s also in the rough position it would be if it was connected to the pickguard.

I can’t stress how happy I am that this hack worked so perfectly.  It will save me some time later on, of course, but I’ll also be reminded of how awesome I am whenever I see it.  It can also be used for stereo output (using a four-wire cable, using a separate cable for the bridge grounding, or ignoring the bridge grounding altogether), but I didn’t want to play with multiple channels just yet.

Simple connection for Fender Strat pickguard

Next job was to neaten up the pickup wires and solder them on.  That’s fairly straightforward (just check the Seymour Duncan diagram) so I won’t go into detail.  The image below shows the completed wiring for the volume pot (the CPU cable and the pickup selector switch have been connected) and we would actually be done now if we didn’t want to use the tone pots.

Wiring of pickups and volume pot

A bit of fancy wiring for the tone pots . . .

Finalised wiring

. . . connecting the cable . . .

Connecting the CPU fan cable

. . . and we’re done!

I was sure to test the circuits were working correctly before screwing on the pickguard, putting on a set of 10-46 gauge strings, adjusting the height and intonation of the strings and then playing for a minute or two to stretch the strings a little.

Here are some photos of the finished product!  (As usual, click on any of the photos on this post to see the large version!)

Finished guitar lookin' all shiny

Obligatory macro Shot

Verdict

It’s amazing!  I know much of this is because I’m now very conscious of how it’s all working (and for that reason alone I’d recommend such a project to others), but I can hear many distinct sounds coming from each of the pickups.  For the first time I’ve found a good setting on the amplifier and then refined it by using the tone controls on the guitar.  I can use the humbucker and then switch to a predefined tone using the bridge and neck.

I’m also quite impressed with the treble bleed hack.  There is a slight loss of quality but it’s more than sufficient until I get down to 4.  Usually it would sound awfully muddy at 8.

I noticed that the only original hardware remaining are the single-coil pickups (I think they’re fine) and the output jack.  The latter may actually need replacing.  There’s a noise if the cable isn’t pushed in at the right angle, even though the circuit connects clean.  I tried two separate cables (four ends) so it’s likely that it’s simply a low quality output jack.  I probably have something in the garage that’s better, but this isn’t urgent.

Another lingering issue is that the Squire Strats, for some reason, use a slightly different set of rules for its placement of pickguard holes.  Out of the eleven holes on the board, only six match with corresponding holes in the wood.  I’ll have to drill five more one day, and get a hold of four additional screws.

Lastly, one thing I liked about this guitar is that it was made in 1996, Fender’s fiftieth anniversary.  To commemorate this, they put a gold, embossed sticker stating so on the back of the headstock.  I had to remove this for sanding, but I wanted to put it back somewhere.  I just don’t know where.  Again, not urgent – like my plan to draw a dinosaur design on the headstock with ink.

Apart from being a fun and educational project, I now have a guitar that sounds great and is easy to use.  (My other one has a locking nut and floating bridge, which makes it nigh impossible to alter tuning, and the pots and switch are all scratchy.)  I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back into playing guitar regularly for years.  I hope this helps get me there.

Creative Commons License
Images appearing in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Caring is sharing

Some of you may have noticed that I have added a Creative Commons (CC) license to the photos posted on this blog.  As a person who loves the idea of free culture, the decision was actually a bit more complicated than I expected.

Privacy

First of all, I’m a fairly private person so I’m hesitant to publish images of myself for the rest of the world to share and remix.  What if they are used in a way that makes me uncomfortable?

Of course, this is a case of me trying to control my public identity.  A similar example is the fact that I am yet to post images of myself on here.  Yes, I don’t currently have a photo I like enough to share, but I believe the main reason is that I don’t want my appearance to have too much of an effect on how others read the content.  I don’t believe it’s all that relevant.

CC licensing, then, isn’t such an issue for privacy right now so I can safely ignore it.  However, it does highlight a possible future need for the publication of some images that are not for others to use.  I don’t yet know where I stand here.  Perhaps I’ll return to this later.

Non-commercial

I then needed to determine where I stand on commercial use of cultural works.

I don’t want something of mine that I have shared lovingly with the world to be used by an evil corporation in order to make more money.  This is a typical sentiment that leads to a ‘non-commercial’ condition being included in many CC licenses.  However, in reality, the effects of such licenses are much more complex than that.

Take Ubuntu, for example.  (Actually, I recommend taking Linux Mint, instead – download it here!)  Many GNU/Linux distributions are put together by people or companies that in some way receive money from their work.  This could be through donations, support, licensing or CD/DVD sales (even if they break even, or lose money).  The point is, if the many pieces of software that have informed these distributions had specified a non-commercial license, their compilation would not be financially feasible and, in some cases, technically impossible.

The problem is imagining a worst-case scenario, like I did at the beginning of this section, and doing all you can to prevent its eventuation, however unlikely, at the expense of legitimate cultural use of your work.  I kinda like living in a world with Ubuntu, so I don’t support the non-commercial licensing of (potential) cultural works.

(Nina Paley has written and spoken on this issue, if you’re interested in finding out more.)

Clarity and metadata

The third issue I encountered wonders how best to ‘advertise’ these licenses.  I want people to feel free to use my images so this needs to be fairly prominent.  Listing details at the bottom of each image post (I’m using a WordPress template plug-in for this) helps.

But I wanted to embed license and author details within the images themselves, as this would make them easier to find.  I installed a handy program called ExifTool and wrote a script on my server computer so I could easily write the desired ‘author’ and ‘comment’ data in all the .jpg files within a single folder.  It worked great!

(However, when using a Windows PC I notice the data are not readable in the standard file properties window.  I’ll have to play around to make sure I’m editing the correct thing.)

 Current license choices

The following image is of a cute spider.  It was crawling on the outside of a car while I was a passenger.  My favourite part is how one of its weird feeler thinggies (a ‘palpus’, apparently) appears to be covering its eyes (actually, they’re fangs, but they look like eyes) from the sun so it can look in on us.

Click for full-size version

If you would like to put a funny caption on this and post it to icanhazcheezburger (remix), use it on wikipedia or simply put it on your own blog or whatever, you can! – under the following conditions.

  1. You must attribute me as the author.  (Attribution)
  2. You distribute any altered image under the same or similar license to this one.  (Share Alike)

If you would prefer to use it in a way that conflicts with one of the above conditions, you can ask for permission to do so.

This appears to be a fairly good license because it allows for a lot of flexibility. (And also helps to diffuse any lingering fears of corporate exploitation.)  However, I do have concerns that the presence of these conditions, although simple, may deter some from using my images.  Perhaps one day I’ll change the license and simply declare such images as being part of the public domain.

Just more to think about, I guess.

 

Creative Commons License

Images appearing in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You are here

Earlier this year I mentioned to my dad I’d like to set up a web server at home. I’d want something second-hand with low power consumption that has an SSD and is effectively silent. You know, kinda like an ASUS EeePC. Dad had the crazy idea that I could actually just use an EeePC. ‘Brilliant’, I thought, and shortly got a 900A model very cheap from the Internet.

( I know I can host a wordpress blog with my domain name using my ISP’s webspace, and that this might actually be much easier, but this would mean I couldn’t play around with technology and have as much fun!)

I initially tried Ubuntu 11.04 on it but had a few small, technical problems. That, and I hated the Unity interface. For some reason I had it in my head that Ubuntu would be an easier distribution to use as a web server than Linux Mint 11, which I use on my other computers. I finally replaced it last week and, after many hours spent installing and reinstalling WordPress, it worked! I thought it could be nice to celebrate my week of uptime by posting a few photos of my physical server setup.

Click for full-size version

Internet, this is my web (and printer) server, sheeelob. (You can thank Cassie for the great name idea!) sheeelob lives on my desk under a small, wooden bookcase thing(?) that I once found on the side of the road. I leave the battery out to conserve power, but leave it close by for emergency relocations or power cable rearranging. Keeping the system simple, only essential programs have been installed – look how tidy the desktop is! That big orange thing is the security cable that makes it extremely inconvenient to use an external monitor.

(And to answer your question, yes, the composition of the above photo did take into account the prominence of my dinosaur card.)

Click for full-size version

And when I’m not configuring software or transferring images manually (I’ll eventually set it up so I can do all of this externally) sheeelob slides neatly out of the way.

 

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Images appearing in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You will be awarded a cake

In celebration of yesterday’s inaugural International Robot Day, a few friends came around, we ate some food and watched Short Circuit. We called an intermission in order to enjoy some amazing robot cupcakes.

 Click for full-size version

 Click for full-size version

These lemon and macadamia cupcakes came from Baking Bird whose products are all vegan, made with natural ingredients and come in recycled packaging.

They tasted amazing! (Surprisingly, there are a few left for later!) The only problem was that the intermission occurred shortly after Johnny 5’s cries of “No disassemble!”, making it difficult to separate and eat the robots without a strong sense of guilt =)

Creative Commons License
Images appearing in this post are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.