The Return of the Funky Robot Chicken

After many years in the wilderness, my funky electronic horn experience has returned!


BEHOLD! My Yamaha WX-5 Electronic Wind Instrument and its mate the VL70-M Tone Module!

What’s that, you ask? It’s basically an electronic wind instrument that’s played like a saxophone and can sound like anything! It has hundreds of voices, and contains *no* prerecorded sound. The tones are generated entirely using acoustic math based on a physical model of the instrument. Here’s an example of what it can do:

As fans of my Oboe Hero t-shirt know, I played oboe in junior high. This is like having a magical oboe that can sound like anything from a saxophone to trumpet to heavy metal distortion guitar! It comes with hundreds of instruments, and new ones can be created from scratch. You can say “it’s made of brass, has three reeds, and squeaks badly when you overblow.”

I’m super excited! It’s a little fussy, but I’ve already partially resurrected my Star Wars Medley, a Chuck Mangione piece, and several oboe solos I did in junior high.

Both units have been discontinued by Yamaha, so they’re worth a *lot* of money, but they can also both be repaired if something breaks. I already had the horn apart when it wasn’t working and was able to restore it. Its guts aren’t actually that complicated. Part of me feels like I might be investing in a dead end, but the truth is that these skills are directly transferable to a real instrument, and if I *really* want to buy a replacement, I can. Mainly I’m super happy to be in the horn game again be able to just pick up the instrument and play!

Eventually I’d like to combine this with Kid Beyond-style Ableton loop beatboxing. I was a little misleading when I said that the oboe was the instrument I have the most practice with. I was in choir for *six* years, had professional vocal training, regularly participated in contests, and was even briefly in a singing and dancing group in high school. If I could get those two things working together, the possibilities are endless!

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Reclaiming Van Life!

I’m eating my first gas-stove-cooked meal inside Junior, my Sprinter van conversion!


On Junior’s maiden voyage through Yellowstone all the way to Portland, Oregon, I chose to do all my cooking with electric because I wanted to really push the solar system hard to find out how well it worked. I was able to cook for 30-45 minutes a day most days and still have enough power to run the fridge, lights, and inverter. But it’s hard on the system, and since I also have a Olypmic Wave 6 gas heater, it makes a lot more sense to cook on propane.

After returning from that trip, the prototype interior of the van fell apart, and I’ve mostly been using the cabin as a storage compartment for my resale business. It feels good to be reclaiming the space so I can go back out on the road!

This Ramblewood Green stove was recommended by Tynan in his fabulous van life book The Tiniest Mansion. Eventually I’d like to recess it into the countertop, but for now I build this movable wooden frame for more flexibility. I’m typing this from a Chromebook I rescued from the landfill, and I can picture myself doing computer work here while living in town to sell my big collection of merchandise that’s too big to sell on Ebay.

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Three-Hundred and Fifteen Dollars

IMG_20180205_134602.jpgAfter hitting Calculate, I had to admit that $315 isn’t much money for two months of work.

After not having a “regular” job since 2010, I’ve been formalizing my incurable thrifting addiction into a business. I love the thrill of the hunt and getting great stuff super cheap. My life is full of prestigious, high end devices from Apple, Dyson, Android, Kitchen Aid, etc., and I rarely paid more than $20 each for any of them. I also love fixing broken things, and keeping things out of the landfill, like the $1100 Saeco Intellia superautomatic expresso maker sitting here on the counter that I *also* got for $20.

Although it’s not much money, the fact that I know how much I’ve made shows that my business accounting is solidifying. I’m keeping track of how much profit I think I’ll make vs. how much I actually do. Right now it’s in a spreadsheet, but I want to turn it into a formal database so I can instantly answer questions like “how much is inventory purchased since January is still unsold?”, etc.

That $315 is just the profit from the Ebay part of my resale business, which was the easiest to get off the ground. Just photograph, list, and ship! However, I have a ton of inventory to sell locally, it just requires getting the interior of Junior, my Sprinter van stealth conversion, ready for full-time use again. I’ve lived inside him for two months on the road, he’s simply backslid into junk storage. I’ve wanted to try van camping in town in Austin since I got back, and this is my chance. A big help would be getting my propane stove installed, since this would not only be much better than cooking on electric, but would also allow me to use my propane RV heater for the cold nights we’ll still have for a few more months.

The intention is to go into town in the van full of for-sale merchandise and do deals during the week. The van can be set up as a showroom with full 120V power, potential upsells, etc. I can ride the Brompton to local deliveries to get more exercise and do more thrifting when I don’t have appointments. I’m also turning my thrift store accounting into a mobile game, which will advance my plan of getting back into high tech work. Finally, I’m pushing myself to live as cheaply as I possibly can, just to define my bottom-end. This means living entirely off of what I make with the resale business and still staying in the black. At $174/month, I’m obviously not there yet.

But I’m moving the right direction.

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Welcome to My Parlour!

My old yurt door is pretty fucked up right now. I used it because it was already the right width, so all I had to do to make it fit was cut off the bottom. It’s an interior door made out of MDF, and despite my best efforts to waterproof it, it’s had some problems. 🙂 Fiberboard, the crappy sawdust material that many cheap pieces of furniture are made out of these days is, as John Cleese might say, “Super Absorbant!” The door is warped, puckered, and full of mold. In order to even get it to close, I’ve had to shave off the parts that have puffed out as it’s gotten more wet with every rainstorm.

So I decided to build a new one. It will be made out of 100% cedar. I originally bought all the parts from Lowes for over $250, but I later realized I could use some reclaimed cedar fence boards for the verticals if I were willing to cut tongues and grooves into them with the table saw.

Although I took some rough measurements from the old door, it’s so warped and distorted it’s not a good reference. Instead, I went with the doorframe size, with 1/8″ of clearance on the top and sides, and 1/2″ on the bottom for the sweep to keep the wood out of the water. That might be a little tight on a doorframe as likely to be out of square as this one, but since the door will have a 1″ outside frame around the whole thing, cutting it down a bit will be a snap.

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Springy Lecturing

If you are someone who, knowing you could get a complete replacement Victorinox mini Swiss Army Knife at the Texas State Resale shop for $1, simply *bought another one* when the scissor spring broke, YOU ARE A BAD PERSON. The correct and *only* response is to order a surplus of these tiny springs and REPLACE THE BAD ONES, because if you don’t, THERE ARE KNIVES IN THE WORLD WITHOUT SPRINGS.


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The Return of the Photographic Cybernetic Connection with My New Lumix LX7!

Lumix LX7 HDR Demo

I used to be a fairly hopeless shutterbug. I got out of it because of the convenience of smart phones, and not being able to reproduce the cybernetic sub-conscious level of control I’d had with previous most-loved cameras. I went looking for the most serious camera I could fit into my pocket for under $200, and the Panasonic Lumix LX-7 quickly floated to the top of the list. I’ve had it for a few weeks, and even if I’m mostly happy with a new unit I still usually have a list yards long of things I hate about it. Not so with this one!

The lens is super fast at F1.4 – F2.3, making it great for the kind of low ambient light photography I tend to favor. It has a huge number of features and customized controls, but has them set up so that it’s possible to get to the ones I want intuitively without pulling me out of the moment. So far my only real complaint is that the telephoto only goes to 3.8x, but I accept the tradeoff for speed at closer distances. I also currently own a little Canon Elph 340 with a 12x optical zoom I can use for more distant subjects.

One of my favorite features is the built-in HDR shown in the Flickr album above. With a single press, the camera takes several exposures and combines them into one .jpg. The results in this super-high-contrast midway scene are vastly superior to my ham-fisted attempt at manual HDR using three exposures and Photoshop CS6.

It feels good to love a camera again, and I can’t wait to continue discovering new things as I put it through its paces.


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I Finished Inktober 2018!

Inktober 2018 Montage

Not on time, and with a few bumps along the way, I’ve completed Inktober 2018! You can see the originals on Instagram.

What’s Inktober you say? It’s a challenge to make 31 illustrations in the month of October from a list of prompts provided by its creator, Mr. Jade Parker.

I started with the prompts from the wrong year before realizing my mistake at Day 8. Oops! I wasn’t going to go back and re-do them, so I’m giving myself a pass this time.

There are no set rules about how Inktober is to be done, but to challenge myself I decided no underdrawing or pencil sketches first, and no do-overs. The first ink to hit the page stays there, and I publish whatever I get done. I’m not sure I did this 100% of the time, but mostly I did, and it definitely changes the way I draw. It forces me to get better both at seeing the image in my head/on the page better *before* I draw, and getting past my tendency to over-analyze everything and just sketch.

Many of the images are pretty bad, and some are barely recognizable, but I don’t *feel* bad about any of them. And that, perhaps, is the biggest sign of progress!

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