What the heck is this?

Does anyone know what this is…?

Do you know what this is?

It appears to be some sort of a pod. There are several dozen of these attached to the bottoms of numerous leaves on a tree of unknown variety that is in my yard.

At first I thought it was some sort of an insect pod. I was ready to start researching pesticides to wipe out whatever awful creature it might be. Eventually, though, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to split one open. I carefully sliced it with surgical precision using my brother’s old license plate, which happened to be sitting on my back step.

I didn’t snap a photo of the cross-section, but it appeared to have a small green seed-like inner core, surrounded by a grape-like material. The skin was also grape-like. It didn’t smell like a grape, though. And if it is a grape– which I seriously doubt– it is the first grape I have ever heard of that grows as a parasite on a mature tree.

So, any takers on what this might be?

Christmas in May

Yeah, Christmas in May. It’s not that I’m celebrating some sort of quasi-Christmas or anything. It’s all about the gifts.

For the last few Christmases, Jaime and I have asked for Visa gift cards. That way, we can each decide what we want, or even pool our gifts and get something big and cool.

Two Christmases ago, we spent the money right away on radio show equipment. But this past Christmas, we couldn’t decide what we wanted with the last $300 of our gifts. So, we sat on it. Until yesterday, that is.

We decided each to split the money– $100 for Jaim, $100 for me, and $100 for an item we would both use. I spent my $100 (along with $25 I had left from my birthday), as well as the combined $100. Here’s what I got:

For the combined $100, I bought something to complement another gift we had already acquired using gift cards. I had purchased some studio monitors (speakers). They are hooked up to my computer. We use them all the time to listen to music and Internet radio, and we also use them for the radio show.

Well, at least we did. We don’t anymore. Our computers used to sit in the room right next to our office/studio, but my brother is staying with us for six months or so, and that room is now filled with him, his stuff, and his cat. So, the computers are in our office, getting ready to be moved into a different adjoining room. That means that the speakers aren’t hooked up– the cables simply won’t reach. At the same time, there was no way for me to hook up both the speakers and the headphone amplifier (one signal split to four headphones, each with their own volume controls). Switching between the two was a constant cable-swap.

So, my solution. I’m building a simple parallel splitter box that will take two balanced feeds (left and right, three wires each) and split it into four balanced feeds (two left and two right, three wires each). It sounds simple, but it adds up: an enclosure, six jacks, six lengths of cable, and twelve balanced connectors. It ended up costing about $75 (and I have to build it myself). I took the remaining $25 combined money and bought some replacement XLR connectors for some failing connectors in our studio setup. Here’s a picture of what I’m building:
2 Channel Passive Balanced Audio Splitter (case only)

So now for my $100. Basically, I’m buying a boatload of electronics parts for several projects I have going. The projects are as follows:

  • Guitar Improvements. $5.49. I’m finishing the electronics portion of the upgrade of my Stratocaster. This involves replacing a standard polyester film capacitor with a higher quality polypropylene film Orange Drop capacitor. I’m also adding a treble bleed circuit. This will make it so that when I roll the volume down on my guitar, the treble is not removed at a greater proportion than the bass and midrange. Basically, it’s a 130K Ohm resistor in series with a 0.0012µF placed between two tabs on the volume potentiometer. And last, I’m getting a new instrument jack to replace the original one that was installed on my guitar before I bought it fifteen years ago.
  • Guitar Cables. $32.50. I’m making three new guitar cables to replace the cables that I’ve been using for the past fifteen years. I’m making them out of Canare GS-6 cable and Neutrik NP2X connectors.
  • NPN Booster. $29.34. I’m building the Gus Smalley NPN Booster project, as featured on DIY Stompboxes. It’s a basic volume booster, and I’m adding the range control modification to make it more versatile by allowing me to boost certain ranges of frequencies. It’ll be the first pedal I’ll build, and I’m excited. I’m sure I’ll have a post about it as I build it.
  • Orange Squeezer. $35.58. I’m building an Orange Squeezer compressor. Compressors are too involved to explain here, but they basically lower the volume of loud parts of an audio passage. As an example, one use for a compressor is to tighten a guitar piece. The Orange Squeezer is a vintage pedal. According to Analogman:

    The Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer (OS) is legendary for its smooth compression and “squashing” tone as used on many Steely Dan (My Old School by Jeff Baxter etc), Doobie Brothers, Dire Straits (Sultans Of Swing), and other classic albums.

    You can read more about it here: http://www.analogman.com/os.htm

  • Valve Junior Modifications. $25.84. I’m doing a bunch of modifications to my Epiphone Valve Junior amplifier. I’ve never worked on a tube amp before, so this should be fun. I’ll post about this in a later post.

So that’s it. Christmas in May. I’ve got a lot of work to do– building 9 cables, two guitar pedals, and a splitter box, rewiring a guitar, and overhauling an amp. I hope it goes well because I’ve already picked out my next two pedals, tentatively dubbed the “birthday pedals” (I plan on buying them with birthday gift money): a Colorsound Power Boost and a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face.