Martian Sunrise

I just realized Neil deGrasse Tyson is several orders of magnatude more cool than I possibly imagined. Here, Dr. Tyson creates a new mixed drink at The Bell House bar celebrating the exploration of Mars during the StarTalk Live event last month.


  • Rum
  • Cranberry juice
  • Orange juice
  • A lemon slice

This proves to me again that Tyson Hour is possibly one of the most uplifting lifestyle changes I’ve made as of late.


Mobile Recording Studio?

The Urbanrancher is off to build a studio he can wheel his piano in and asked for some input, but the suggestions he’s been getting usually involve “just don’t use that piano”, which kinda defeats the purpose. So here’s my whack at it.

People who’re telling you to get an e-piano are kinda missing the point. Also, I think you’re going about this the wrong way. French doors, no matter  how romantic, will never be made sufficiently sound proof and you run the risk of an animal running through the doors in a panic after hearing a ballad. Soothing to the human ear, I’m sure, but it may be abject terror for ye critter folk. I’ve seen deer run into cars blowing their horns.

I imagine the other equipment will be quite expensive and French doors don’t provide much security, provided someone has sticky fingers.

And you may still not fit the piano through.

Assuming a single-wide with double doors would never be made sufficiently soundproof and the doors will still be too narrow to fit the piano, you really only have one option :

Egg, then the Chicken

Rather than building a structure to house your piano, you could instead build it around the piano. If you build the floor first, tumbleweed style (this will need to be 16 on center joists with minimum 1 inch plywood to support the weight), you can roll the piano onto it and build the walls and roof after the fact.

Naturally, you’ll need to pad the heck out of the piano to make sure it’s safe during construction. You may even be able to use it as a makeshift step ladder to reach the ceiling if you’re really, really careful.

Of course, this means you’ll need to destroy the studio to get the piano out if you don’t want it in there anymore.

Making a studio will also mean it needs at least 6 inch studs (or 4 inch studs staggered) to allow for sufficient insulation which can double as soundproofing (Roxul mineral wool batts will do nicely) and maybe some extra space for sound isolation rails (Resilient Channel or similar product) so the drywall will be mostly “air-gapped” from the structure allowing further sound attenuation. The ceiling will have to undergo similar sound isolation.

In transit, you will need to screw down “anchors” into the baseboard around the wheels of the piano to keep it from moving around, plus any equipment will need to go inside lockable cabinets to prevent them from falling onto the piano or onto themselves.

You need to make sure there is still enough space on the walls to create sound dampening modules. These are usually wood frames, resembling picture frames, that usually follow a very similar recipie :

  1. A layer of thick canvas forming the outer envelope. Usually pulled taut from the front and stapled in the back (similar to a painting canvas).
  2. A free floating piece of  thick carpet. Only attached on top to let it move internally.
  3. A Roxul or similar product (I’ve seen fiberglass insulation used too, but they’re not as good at sound absorption).
  4. Wood under frame.

In profile, a sound absorbing panel would be arranged like this :

Typical sound dampening panel. Overall thickness is usually around 4 – 8 inches and 4 feet or so tall (any bigger and it gets cumbersome).

The nice thing about this is that the whole thing is fire resistant unlike a lot of the sound absorbing foam products out there. There are fire resistant variaties too, but those are expensive. This one can be built for less than $20 or so and you can make several and attach to the walls of the studio. If you get artistic on the canvases, they can be made to look just like ordinary paintings (modern art?) while still serving their purpose.

This won’t make your studio “soundproof”, but will attenuate a lot of the extra noise as well as keep your neighbors (human or not) happy. Put in a triple-glazed window or two and you can still enjoy nature while singing away.

I’m no Luddite

I’ve been having a conversation with someone over email about what it is that I’m hoping to accomplish by hating technology. This will follow a bit of a rant, but I want this out first.

These are some of the ideas I’m planning for the cabin, but I’m not going to fall apart if they don’t happen. First step is building the bloody thing, so everything else will naturally come later, if at all. If this doesn’t make people realize what I’ve been saying all along about technology is tongue-in-cheek, I don’t know what will.

If I have microcontrollers and such governing everything from light and heat to detecting whether it’s time for my shower and pre-heating the water and starting the bathroom fan; I want it to just work as if my home knows me. I want it to unlock the front door when it detects I’m near via RFID or via the Bluetooth on my phone. I want it to call me when it’s running low on fuel for heat, there’s lightning nearby and it needs to shut of all electrical power or if someone is trying to break in.

If none of these come to fruition, guess what, I’ll go about as normal.

These are just ideas floating around my head, but note: All have a purpose.

I’m not anti-technology. I’m anti having my life consumed by it.

The whole point of simplifying my life and moving to a cabin isn’t so I can go “to hell with technology”. It’s “to hell with having to crave it so much all the time without reason or purpose”.

This is something I’ve been criticized for by several readers by email in the past and I don’t think it’s really fair to call me a Luddite in any sense of the term. The only reason I responded to this email is because it was one of the more calmly composed ones; the rest, I just ignore.

Although I’ve repeatedly stated that I hate technology, what I really hate is having to look at it and, even more than that, having to tend to it as if my life revolves around it. I’ve said this all these years and it’s been on my About page for just as long:

I believe the best kind of technology stays out of your way when not needed.
Appears and does it’s job with minimal input when needed.
Upon completion of its task, quietly disappears into the background.

When technology serves its purpose well, we don’t even know it’s there.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

– Arthur C. Clarke

We’re living in a culture of seeking technology for the sake of its existence and this to me is completely pointless. Technology works for us and not the other way around and I don’t see how drooling over the latest gadget/toy/e-placebo will make me any happier.

In fact, we have definite proof that things can’t make you happy and not having these pointless cravings satiated have the exact same effect.

Lovely, eh?

Tell me how my aversion to flashy technology and all things new because they’re new is in any way worse than this.

First Ever Tumbleweed House for Sale (video Tour)

When Jay Shafer first built the Tumbleweed House, I doubt he imagined it would become the phenomenon it is now. Granted, Jay isn’t the first one to build these types of houses, he’s arguably the progenitor of the current enthusiasm of living in small self-made dwellings while maintaining a high quality of life. The latter seems to be overlooked quite a bit among the McMansionites who seem to live to work rather than work for a living, just so they can maintain the appearance of happiness.

Derek (Deek) Diedricksen of gives a tour of the first ever tiny house built by Jay, the Tumbleweed. The current owner is Patti Moreno of GardenGirlTV.

On Pragmatism

This started off as just a reply to a comment on my previous post. I thought I’d do it proper justice and explain the “why” of my move to simplicity.

You and I are almost the same age and we’re in very similar fields so we’re sort of approaching the same fork in the road. You’re also seeing the world on fire around you and the woeful lack of water to put it out. You understand the appeal of sorts of getting away from it all, but at the risk of reinventing yourself (not a fun prospect, especially when you’ve done it before) and possibly losing the safety net of familiarity.

The thing is that I already do much of my work not in-person, but via telecommute. I have to travel occasionally to New York City, but this isn’t crucial to what I do unless I’m training someone or there is something that cannot be done remotely (and the list of those things has reduced dramatically in the last two years).

Skype has pretty much revolutionized conference calls, as have email and Dropbox for sharing documents and internal communication. There’s no reason these things need to be changed immediately so I’ll still have income.

So I say, instead of reinventing myself, I’ll reinvent my surroundings. I’ll reinvent what I consider to be really important and stick with that. I’ll still be me; I’ll have the same skills I do now so I’ll keep working in the same field at least for the moment. But I do want to move away from it gradually until I can become self-sufficient in another line.

The grand plan, of course, is to gradually move away from the tech world into something else. Something like making soap.

But any job someone started purely out of love is doomed to failure. Business is usually about forming alliances, not friends, and while that sounds Machiavellian, it’s the nature of our current economic structure. I’m hoping to do something I will enjoy, but I’m not naive enough to think it’s something I’ll do just for the love of it. Hopefully we can move away from the harshness that has come to define the way we do business.

And realistically, I’ll need to work harder first to maintain myself in the initial phase of moving out of this lifestyle. Needing less will do a great deal to lessen the demand to earn more later on.