Building of Fringelab, part 3

Written by peterkienle on November 29, 2016

Even though you sometimes see buildings and trailers wrapped with this Tyvek stuff exposed for longer periods – maybe the funds ran out before adding the siding – I liked to have a little more protection from the elements. As per recommendation by my good friend and indispensable advisor Dave Weber, I decided to use cement fiber board. I borrowed the truck once again to get a load of 4×8’ plywood panels for the interior and about 50 7”x14’ cement fiber planks. I thought loading these on the truck would be easy. But they are just about 6′ longer than the truck bed. And these panels are very elastic – or “floppy”. I wasn’t worried I would loose my load like a few months ago but going through potholes the boards would swing vertically enough to touch the road. But I made it home.

The key, again, was to figure out a way how to hold these 14’ boards up with one hand, at the correct vertical distance to the previous board, and keep it straight, while being high on a ladder – and then lift the nailer and pull the trigger… My muscles were very sore for a few days (I lost about 8 pounds of weight, too.)

October 11. Installing siding on this wall was relatively easy. No openings. Just straight up. You should always start with the easiest task, right?

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October 12. Cutting and installing these window frames on a good old miter saw was such a relaxing job in comparison.

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October 18. Monika was already on her Europe trip but I think the kids wouldn’t have been surprised to see me walking around in the house like that.

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Of course there is always something that doesn’t quite line up. That’s when you improvise.

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October 29. Most of the extra crucial exterior stuff was done and I started adding insulation and interior panels. I thought about using drywall but considering that I would attach countless racks, holders, shelves and other stuff to the walls plywood panels seemed a better choice.

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Wes and his assistant, my electricians from Atomic Electric, had already laid cable and installed boxes for the outlets, light fixtures and switchbox. In the picture below you can see my desperate attempt to fill some gaps with insulating foam. I guess this is easier when used with a sprayer machine of some sort but doing it through the flimsy plastic applicator that comes with the can is an insult.

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October 31. The final wall was paneled on Halloween. I used wood filler in the gaps. Hoping that Atomic Electric would soon have a day to connect the power so I could stop using that long extension cord.

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November 4. As long as I had been putting off starting this project, late Summer and Fall 2016 proved to be the right time. Probably due to global warming (I regret to say) there was an abundance of warm, dry days. Rarely did I get a break due to the weather.

I didn’t originally intend to build a little roof over the entrance but I thought it would be easier to add the bracing now rather than later have to break through the siding.

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At this point all the interior wall paneling was installed and painted. I found out that our local recycling center takes buckets of unused paint that you can pick up for free. Well, they had one white and one purple bucket. It was free. And it’s a nice color combo. I also added some cheap trim to the corners and the base of the walls. Just looks cleaner.

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How can you not like the purple?

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November 10. Major milestone. Two days earlier Atomic Electric finally had a day to swing by for the final electrical installation. This workshop is geographically at a nice sunny spot on our property but also exactly on the opposite side from where the power lines connect to the house. At first I was afraid I would have to dig a trench for the cable all around the house. But there is so much growing, especially some larger trees with big roots. It would have been a nightmare. So we decided to run the cable in a pipe along the underside of the deck in the back of the house, then along the side wall and finally through a relatively short 20’ trench under the driveway. Trenching under the driveway was hard enough. Very rocky and well compacted soil. My whole body was aching, but especially my hands. I tried to play a little guitar that evening but had no fine motor control left in my fingers.

Then Zack helped me move the workbench from the basement to the workshop. It wasn’t long now. Not October, not November, but it would be done before Christmas.

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November 15. One of the last things before a full move-in was insulation in the ceiling. There had been a few colder days and the little radiant oil heater I had to keep the place warm worked fine but you could tell that a lot of heat was escaping through the ceiling. So insulation it was and since you can’t leave that exposed I needed some sort of ceiling. More improvisation ensued. But who ever looks up?

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November 24. By Thanksgiving break I had most of the bigger machines and tools in the workshop. Including the CNC rig. I wanted the basement to look nice and clean for Monika’s return from Europe. While the mechanical part of the CNC setup worked I had just updated the Dell PC I use to control the CNC machine, which has the hot name Fireball, to a newer and different flavor of Linux. The Fireball control interface needs a computer with a parallel port and these old Dells still have them (I have two of the same type, with Linux they are quite usable.) Since the workshop is in clear line-of-sight of my office there is great Wifi reception out there but after the upgrade to Debian Wheezy neither of the Dells wanted to use Wifi. Another few afternoons of research and reinstalling. As so often the cause was obvious once I figured it out. As much as I love Linux but troubleshooting it sucks.

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It looks nice now….

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I still have to build and install lots of storage for tools, materials and all the stuff. The top of the workbench should really be free of all that crap. But for now it feels like home.

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November 28. While there is still some stuff to cover on the outside, painting the outside, maybe installing that little roof over the door…. But this day Fringelab is officially done and ready for full usage.

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What looks like playful decoration, the red thing under the ceiling is a hammock. Tried to nap in it but it’s a bit uncomfortable.

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November 29. And here is the simple firewood rack I started building earlier in the year, finally finished. The circle closes. The project is done, what do I do next?

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Building of Fringelab, part 2

Written by peterkienle on

Back from trip to Germany and Scotland on August 1. After measuring, I noticed that most of my posts had been seriously knocked out of alignment during the cement pour in July. I cut all of them off, except the front two 6×6” posts. Revised my plans and decided to go with a 12×12’ floor and use the front with the posts for something else.

August 28. In the past weeks I spread three tons of #3 crushed stone, built the stairs and we are now ready for the floor panels.

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Finally started framing after mounting the 3/4” plywood floor panels on a revised foundation frame. To get the considerable load of heavy lumber and panels from the store to my construction site I borrowed Dave Weber’s red truck a second time. I am not an expert in any of this stuff – apparently especially not in loading studs of various lengths, 4×8’ plywood panels, and 4×4″ posts. On the way from the store, in a shallow curve on the ramp from W 3rd St onto SR37, the whole load decided to slip off the truck. Luckily, it was Sunday afternoon and hardly any traffic. Like in a movie. I felt the load shift and then saw in the rear view mirror how $300 worth of lumber literally fell by the wayside – all in slow motion. Immediately another driver stopped and started diverting traffic. Another guy jumped out of his car and started helping me collecting the dozens of pieces of lumber. Only minutes later a police car arrived and put the lights on. I thought I was going to jail. But the officer made sure other drivers were aware of the situation until everything was loaded back on. Then I found a pair of super heavy duty cargo ratchet straps (or whatever they’re called) behind the seat. The rest of the 12 minute drive went smoothly. Unloading everything did me in for the day.

While mounting the floor panels I hit my left index finger with the hammer. That was the only injury from the whole project. The finger nail turned black and has only recently fully regrown, outlining the timeline of the project.

September 5. The rear wall was the easiest to frame. In all of this I can’t emphasize enough that clamps are super important to hold stuff. Also, Dave had borrowed me his pneumatic nail gun. What a time saver.

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Sepember 6. Wall framing is going smoothly.  No wonder, I had the plans and measurements all worked out. I thought I would be done by October….

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framing

 

 

September 12. It was really coming along and felt already pretty stable with the OSB side panels up. At that point I didn’t know yet what was going to happen with the front wall. I thought I might pick up some random used windows and do something creative. Also at that time I realized that the way I had intended to frame the roof was not going to be strong enough. Originally I had 16’ 2×4”’s with no support in the middle. This is where the improvisation started.

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September 15. After two days of building three major cross supports for the roof I realized that there would be a little attic. To come in handy for lumber storage. Also, strong enough to hang a hammock.

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September 18. Overall, one of the hardest things in the project was that I only had one pair of arms. While Zack helped me hold a few of the 4×8’ OSB side panels I just couldn’t wait every day until he was home from school. So, clamps again. A whole other adventure were the roof panels. Somehow I had to get four full size and four half size OSB panels on the roof before the next rain (the exposed plywood floorboards started to dislike the little rain we got). 4×8’ OSB panels are not only heavy but also not exactly easy for a single person to carry. Apart from starting the project in the first place figuring out a way to get the panels 12 feet up on the roof was probably the most challenging. I wish I had taken a picture. Where you see the ladder in the picture below, I built a guide at the roof edge using a short 2×4″ and a clamp (see, again). Now I could lean the panel that was going on the roof against the side of the structure and slowly push it up, while climbing the ladder. The critical point was when the center of the panel was balancing on the edge of the roof. One step higher on the ladder, one more push so that the panel was more than half up. Then let go and it would flip up while the guide piece prevented it from sliding down the back. Kinda a dangerous and painful but it worked.

Once I had two panels up I climbed up to nail them down so I had something to sit on. Then I “transported” the rest of the panels up and was so proud of myself. I was going to beat the rain after all. I moved the ladder inside the structure and put all the tools on the roof. Now, when you use a nail gun you want to wear ear muffs to protect your hearing. Also, some safety goggles are good. So my visual and aural senses were well shielded from the outside world as I was nail-gunning away on the roof. It had been cloudy and muggy all day. I was sweat drenched and didn’t realize that a very light rain had set in – until  a lightning bolt came down really close (the thunder was almost instantaneous).  I was one half panel away from finishing but realized that I had to leave it at that. Luckily, I had a few of my clamps (see, again) up on the roof and was able to clamp the loose panel so it wouldn’t fly off in the storm. There was now one 4×4’ opening in the roof – but the ladder was at another spot, not where I needed it. This was when I would have screamed for help but nobody was home. I had to somehow get off the roof. Eventually, I managed to climb into the rafters and under the roof to the front where I could let myself down. Felt like a monkey.

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Some of the improvised roof supports.

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September 23. Finally, it was save to start storing some of the tools and materials under the new roof. Before, I spent every day half an hour in the morning, schlepping air compressor, nailer, miter saw, table saw, etc. From the basement to the construction site. And the same in reverse in the evening.

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September 27. As I mentioned earlier, I was going to think about that front wall and windows when it was the right time (improvising again). Well, the right time came and I picked up three really nice looking windows plus a cool, large door at the Repo Store in Bloomington. Luckily, it was 50% off sale and with other rebates everything was less than $20. It turned out that the windows were unusable because they required a specific frame that nobody knew where to get from. I picked up three plain vanilla windows that were on sale from the hardware store. Then I started adding some (improvised) framing to the front wall. By the time I had put the panels in I needed a lot more studs – the panels need to be attached to something.

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September 29. At last. Fully enclosed (sort of) and a panel blocking the entrance opening so that the cat can’t go in to poop.

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October 2. I had thought that I might be done by early October. But there were so many little and big things to do, still. Since I wanted this structure to be reasonably dry, heatable and comfy (after all, computers and all sorts of electronics are supposed to be in there, not to mention a hammock for the occasional break) I decided to use house wrap. Sounds easy. But again, a single person has to be very creative to find ways to hold these large, slippery sheets in place while putting the fasteners in.

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October 5. By the time I started installing the windows the usefulness of that strange front bracing had itself proven again and again. Strong enough to stand on, lay on heavy boards as scaffolding, and accommodate eventual visitors on camels or giraffes.

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I had planned on a wider door because I was concerned that my CNC machine wouldn’t fit through. After some measuring I was convinced that this 30” door from the Repo Store would be fine. Actually hanging the door and making it fit was a bit nerve wrecking.

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Adding some extra framing and panels to fill the gap by the door finally gave me a fully enclosed space. Another landmark. I thought I would be done within a week or two.

Continued in part 3.

Building of Fringelab, part 1

Written by peterkienle on

It all started with Dave Weber’s drill press.

After last Winter (2016) I thought I should build a little rack to stack the firewood in our crowded basement. This was from a neat plan in Popular Mechanics magazine. Among other things it required some easy metal working. When I asked my friend Dave what drill bits would best drill through metal he said: “Here, I have this old drill press. Do you want it?” After taking the big, heavy hunk of tool home I realized that it would have to be taken apart, cleaned, oiled and then some. Over the course of a few mild days in March I carried the machine, in various stages of disassembly, outside to do the thing and then back in before it turned too wet or dark. After it was all put together it looked (almost) like new and worked – but where was I going to put it? The large basement room, which was supposed to be a rehearsal and ping-pong facility, was already full of saws, computers, a CNC machine and wood scraps of varying sizes….

This is the point in time when I knew I needed an external workshop where I could paint, and make a mess and noise year round.

Not that it was such an original idea. A few years earlier I had toyed with the idea and even staked out a small plot next to the garden shed. But that project then fell by the wayside because it looked for a time that we might actually move and sell our house. But the stakes and the marker lines where still there – I mowed around them every time I cut the grass.

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Like with every project of that size I dreaded getting started. Like the kitchen remodel from 2012, once you start you have to finish. And this one would be seen by every one of our neighbors. Nevertheless, in late May 2016 I broke ground. The first holes on June 30, 2016….

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2016 turned out to be a dry Summer and work progressed quickly. My wife Monika left for a longer stay in Europe in early June while younger daughter Jasmin and I were to follow for a two week stay on July 16. The plan was to have the foundation done and concrete poured before the trip and finish after in August.

July 1 saw me setting and aligning posts. At that time I hadn’t really planned the rest of the structure. Rather I thought I was roughly going to follow a plan from an issue of MAKE:, which called for a 12×16 foundation. My maximum size was 12×14 feet and I hoped to adapt their plan.

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July 5. If I could travel back in time I would tell myself that these holes really should be better aligned. Boards and panels are 4×8’ for a reason and your foundation should take that into account.

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July 7. Looks good so far.

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July 12, the evening before the cement delivery, I realize that I also need some sort of stairs. Extra digging ensues.

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July 13, morning. One last picture before cement truck covers everything.

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July 13, afternoon. Why would I use long 6×6” and 4×4” posts that would make it nearly impossible for the cement truck operator to navigate the chute through – in the process throwing off my careful alignment? I had finally decided to not go with the MAKE: plans. They were using some sort of arch/girder system to make sides and roof. It would have required 11 of these pieces in my structure. Each piece comprised of four large OSB side pieces cut from a 4×8′ panel by a huge CNC machine (or a hand saw?) This would have been 44 large, complicated pieces, cut by hand. Glad I abandoned that idea. I was going to go with a more normal framed structure. But I wanted to incorporate the foundation posts, at least the 6×6″ corners. And now they were knocked out of alignment.

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July 13, evening. Our little puppy Joy looks at the mess (construction site and constructeur).  That day, with the frantic last minute hole-digging and 90 minute non-stop concrete pour did me in. I haven’t been drinking much alcohol since a few years, but I thought I would drink a cold one that evening – and promptly passed out on the couch.

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Two days later off to Germany. We’ll deal with the kinks when we come back.

To be continued in Fringelab, part 2……..

Semantics and the lowest common denominator

Written by peterkienle on December 25, 2015

I have been interested in books, TV shows and lately Podcasts about supernatural, paranormal, extraterrestrial and other such stuff for a long time. Lately I have been listening to lots (lots) of Podcasts dealing with all sorts of topics somewhat from the fringe. Sometimes the host(s) of the show and the guest are very careful how they talk about a subject. Often, though, words (or memes) such as reincarnation, near-death-experience, ghost, alien, UFO, etc, are dropped as if they (and we, the listener) know exactly what that is. The guest sometimes talks about the afterlife in such specific ways as if they had just finished a college course on it. Of course that kind of language usage and specific words and terms dominate our daily life. Terms, such as food, sleep, super market are spoken and used in written form and usually they are understood close to what they were intended to mean.

Quickly, though, we come to more dubious words that are used in everyday language by a large number of people and on the surface we go: “Sure, I know what a conservative (or liberal, or progressive) is.” Except, that you have two different people trying to explain it and their understanding will most likely not overlap much. How about the word god? How about the phrase “I believe in god?” What does that mean? This could conceivably take a lifetime to explain – and the explanation would again contain usage of terms that are assumed to convey clear, unambiguous information but in turn require more explanation.

In a way, isn’t this what the working body of science has tried to mend? When ‘normal’ people talk about a theory they usually mean something they think is an explanation – not necessarily backed by any evidence or any logical or rational path of reasoning. In science the word theory has a very specific meaning and is clearly defined. It seems science strives to implement very strict definitions of the language and terminology it uses. That means, ideally, that those who have studied specific scientific fields can communicate in very precise and unambiguous terms. While this is the ideal situation, more often than not it has turned out that established scientific fact (along with the terminology) was simply wrong. Luckily, science can admit errors and correct them

Now we get to the fringey stuff, where two folks talk about reincarnation or ghosts as if they both knew exactly what is being talked about, assuming that they are also talking about the same thing, and (before I forget) that those things actually exist. Can there even be a meaningful discussion under such circumstances? Again: the thing that is being discussed is most likely not the same for each party, often one or both of the parties have not experienced anything like a ghost personally but get their information from other sources, who also use terms and words which are not defined but are taken as truth. This is how huge pyramids of fringe theories are built on hot air.

You could claim that much of the scientific body of work and knowledge is equally built on hot air. Perhaps it is, I don’t care, but the rigorous definition of terms and relationships plus a high internal consistency amounts to something and has changed material reality. It’s akin to a bunch of musicians knowing the same tune in the same key, agreeing on how to start, when to modulate to where and how to end. It may all be made up from hot air, but it works. While you put a bunch of people together, some who may not know how to hold their instrument, you tell them to play a tune that everybody should know from listening to the radio, nobody counts off, nobody knows the key (or even what a key is). What you’ll hear could be very adventurous, maybe interesting but probably won’t resemble the song they were supposed to play. And if they try it again it will sound totally different.

I guess here comes the clincher. Is it possible that nothing has any meaning unless it is given meaning by what or who consciously experiences it? And then that experience will be incredibly deep, valuable and detailed until the experiencer tries to explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced exactly the same thing – at which point the experiencer will start accepting the verbalized, official version him or herself. Makes you wish for something like telepathy, where an experiencer could transmit the experience directly to somebody else….

Some podcasts I really like (warts and all):

Skeptiko

Mysterious Universe

Paranormal Podcast

The Paracast

and on the skeptical side:

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe

Geologic Podcast

Big Picture Science

Skepticality

There are of course a lot more but the day is only so long….

Who controls the 8th string?

Written by peterkienle on November 18, 2014
6 strings - perfect!

6 strings – perfect!

A few years ago I started playing seven string guitar. It’s only an added B string below the low E. And while I am practicing quite a bit, composed several pieces for seven string classical guitar and adapted J. S. Bach’s 15 Two Part Inventions and all of the Well Tempered Clavier for the instrument, only now do I start feeling somewhat comfortable. Sure, there is the issue of smaller string spacing on my seven string electrics. Then there is my habit of using the note on the low E string as sort of an anchor point for the notes on the other strings. And then, maybe, the extra neurons needed in the brain to add control over that added string may not grow as quickly in an older person.

add a low B string and make your brain grow new neurons

add a low B string and make your brain grow new neurons

To add insult to injury, this past summer I found a really nice eight string guitar on eBay – and when I pick that up my musical-guitaristic instincts are once again of no help. This time however I seem to experience it from a more neutral observer. As long as I totally ignore any of the strings on the bottom (let’s say the low E, B and F#) I can just pretend it’s a normal guitar. When I then try to incorporate the E and B strings I “know” what the notes are called and I see the patterns they form with what I play on the upper strings – at least to a certain degree and when I am not looking at the fingerboard but imagine where my fingers are in my head.

But now I get to that eighth string. That F#. As long as I play by ear and just extend the scales downward to the eighth string I am fine. My fingers know where to put themselves. But when I try to play chords based off of that eighth string I notice that I have to “calculate” the note name just like a beginner – relative to the open F#. It doesn’t help that my brain also thinks that the lowest string is a B.

add a low F# string feels like a new limb

add a low F# string feels like a new limb

The funny thing about this effect is that the low F# string feels like an added third arm might feel. It’s there but there is no software in place to control it. Just like when you hook up an external device (printer, hard drive, etc) to your computer and there is no driver installed – the computer might notice that something was connected but it has no idea what to do with it.

Like I mentioned, I went through this process after I started the seven string guitar thing. I realized that over about 35 years of playing guitar there were so many patterns, shortcuts, good and bad habits, chord and scale shapes (and much more) in my brain that I was never thinking on a note by note level. Almost as if certain chord voicings were attached to practice sessions or gigs where I discovered them. Or whole musical passages where associated with a specific person or date. Adding an extra string seemed to require to rearrange many of these associations or make new ones.

Now, as I am going through the eighth string learning pains, I observe from a third person perspective. While I am playing I can almost “feel” the blank spots of my guitaristic brain as I torture that new, unknown string. It feels a lot like stepping from firm ground onto an ice sheet. Somewhat dangerous on a gig but a lot of fun. And it also includes some personal research into how I learn.

The Parabola of Life

Written by peterkienle on October 28, 2014

Around 2006 I read a book by Ray Kurzweil called “Fantastic Voyage”. Somebody had recommended it. There are many recommendations in there about how to lead a healthier life and how to live long enough to get in on the “singularity”. Kurzweil is part of a group of people who believe that technological developments will rapidly accelerate towards a point when there will be true artificial or machine intelligence and, more specifically, when it will be possible to upload a complete human consciousness into some sort of electronic brain – this is referred to as the “singularity”. As I was reading that book I did get sucked into the idea, although I admit that I liked the possibility of living a radically extended healthy life of 150+ years better than being stuck in a computer.

This whole idea has a lot of critics and many books (science & science fiction) have been written which point out that the practical application of such longevity could be full of social, medical and technological complexities. No doubt about that. The funny thing is that during the time I fully bought into the “singularity” I started living healthier. One of the takeaways in “Fantastic Voyage” is that in order to get to the “singularity” as healthy as possible you better start now. So I lowered my calories and carbohydrates. Added fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables whenever possible. Cut any ice cream and cookies and started exercising. Since then I have lost around 20 pounds of waist line and I have been feeling healthier than in the past 30 years.

Soon after I finished reading “Fantastic Voyage” I started making attitude changes in my life. Really unconsciously at first. I started thinking about my “new” 150+ year life. Would I want to stay in the same house, the same city for 150+ years? What about my so-called career as a musician? The idea came to me that maybe now would be a good time to actually go to college and get a science degree. All of a sudden all these possibilities popped up. Ideas that had flared up at some time or another but rapidly flickered out again because there was a perception that the time was just too short. In the months after the Kurzweil book I did become much more skeptical of the “singularity”. At the same time I noticed that it had really improved my life in many ways. Now, my thinking was, chances are that I would die somewhere on the upwards leg of the parabola of my life and not when it plateaus or starts descending.

Or, in other words, if I would live to be 80 years old I would die on the up-slope because it would only be a little more than half my life-span of 150+ years. Of course you could ask “What good would that be? It wouldn’t change the facts.” Sure, but it would change my attitude towards the facts.

And it’s an interesting exercise to imagine to live twice as long. How would you change your life right now if that was a fact?

Another such thought experiment has to do with money. We are not a poor family by any means. But in our yard money doesn’t grow on trees and the prospect of paying for our kids’ college education fills me with fear. Now imagine: What would you do if there were no money problems in your life? How would you change your life? But, maybe that’s a topic for another day.

The morning-after-blues

Written by peterkienle on October 26, 2014

This past week I was brutally reminded why being a musician is so hard. It’s not because of the need to practice (although you have to do that.) It’s not because you basically starve if you have no other job, or your spouse loves you very much and has a good gig with health insurance. It’s not really because it often sucks hunting down gigs and then often end up playing at venues that are “wrong” for what you play – although we are getting closer now.

This past weekend blatantly displayed to me the stark reality. The story started about two years ago when my friend Lothar, who lives in Tübingen, Germany, mentioned that he just started a big band – called the Wüste Welle Big Band. He asked if I had done any creative arrangements they could play – just something different from the ordinary fare. Well, I hadn’t. And I never had arranged for big band before and I wasn’t going to either. But Lothar kept bringing it up again and again. He was especially interested in music from my “fusion”, i.e. BeebleBrox years. Somehow that did ring a bell. Over the course of two years I arranged a handful of music for big band. And, believe me, that was like pulling teeth! Although I am proud I did it.

After two concerts with the big band in the summer of 2013 Lothar went for the high hanging fruit and applied for the opening slot of the “Jazz & Klassiktage Tübingen 2014.”  At first it looked like they were going to play my tunes and my arrangements with their regular guitarist but then it turned out that I was going to be the featured guest!

Due to all sorts of time and budget constraints my trip was only four days long. I left Bloomington on Thursday morning. Arrived in Tübingen for rhythm section rehearsal on 10am Friday. Full band rehearsal late afternoon and evening. Short night sleep. Breakfast with my mother. Dress rehearsal and soundcheck. When we started playing the first tune I was running on adrenalin. Some excitement was added due to the fact that I was tasked with making announcements! Apparently they weren’t too bad, or at least entertaining enough as people were laughing tears. The gig went by, the playing was great! More compliments and people coming up afterwards to shake hands than in all of the past decades. Short night again. Sunday return to Bloomington and then……

Monday morning. All the magic is gone. No more big gigs on the books. It’s the Monday-after-the-big-weekend-blues.

It’s not that I haven’t experienced these before. Back when we were trying for “bigger” things and actually got as far as opening for acts such as “Tower of Power”, Yes, Santana and then some. Every time when the big gig is over and Monday rolls around you realize that you are at the bottom again and will have to climb up that mountain for a quick but exciting dash down the hill – lift tickets are not available. I guess over the past ten years or so I have played so many background music gigs that I kind of forgot. It’s like climbing the mountain only to discover that there is no snow!

And yet, that up and down seems to be a very essential part of an artist’s life.

Also, my mom was at the concert.

 

Restoring my first electric guitar

Written by peterkienle on September 1, 2014

Last week I finally finished the restoration of my first electric guitar. A Framus S370 – basically a German Gibson SG copy. I didn’t quite find out when this was built – probably very early 1970s. I bought it used from Musik Ecke in Albstadt, West Germany. When I opened the rear cover I found the original invoice which dates my purchase to November 1974.

Original invoice - found in the back of the guitar

Original invoice – found in the back of the guitar

This guitar was in great shape when I got it. Then, a few years later, I decided to replace the stock neck pickup with a DiMarzio humbucker. This is when the onslaught started. The measurements of the pickup openings and placements of the screw holes are not standard and to my shock the DiMarzio upgrade was not as easy as I thought. Having no access to tools other than a pair of scissors, a screwdriver and a soldering iron I “adapted” the opening and through the ingenious use of molten polystyrene plastic (left over from some Revell model airplanes) I added the proper mounting holes to the pickup. A little more here.

 

Peter-Kienle-1

My SG and me – Alabama, 1990

All the markings, stickers, dirt and gunk was added to this instrument when I was a teenager. The stickers are a normal thing as I just learned from my daughter Melody who coincidentally got her first electric guitar, an Epiphone SG copy, a while ago. Brand new, and it already has stickers all over. What turned out to be an enormous headache in the restoration was some sort of “metal-protection” spray a friend had recommended. Essentially all metal (or chrome) parts received the treatment. I guess that’s what made all the gunk stick to the guitar.

Before surgery

Before surgery

After de-gunking, front

Stripped of all hardware. Oh weh!

Ouch!

Ouch!

This guitar has appeared on many of my recordings. It was tuned in minor sevenths for a recording project in the early 80s. When I was experimenting with my Chapman Stick it was tuned in all fifths to emulate the bass side of the Stick – the lowest two strings where old strings from a bass.

I ordered a pair of new pickups from Stewart McDonalds guitar supplies and some other hardware. When I took the guitar apart to start the process the body looked fine and after some acetone application to remove the grime things started looking up.

The real problem were the plastic covers. The small one covering the electronics in the back and the pickguard. I just didn’t find a way to remove the stickers without scratching the plastic. Also, the pickup openings and screw holes didn’t agree with the new pickup dimensions.

Plastic covers!

Plastic covers!

A good first “real” job for my Fireball V90 CNC machine, I thought. I didn’t have the V90 very long and little experience. Never done anything more complicated than some wood working. It took some time to actually establish a pipeline to get the dimensions and shapes into Cambam plus (which makes the control code for the machine.) The first pipeline (Adobe Illustrator to trace the scan, Cinema 4D to make it into a 3D model and then Cambam to make the gcode) somehow shrank the shapes just enough that it wasn’t visible on screen. That was frustrating. The solution was to keep it 2D and bypass Cinema 4D. It took two sheets of ABS plastic to finally get everything correct. The fourth cut was it. I am not doing this professionally!

V90 in action

V90 in action

...in my sunny driveway workshop

…in my sunny driveway workshop

After much cleaning, filing, polishing, soldering – and after almost 40 years of abuse – the neck needed only a little truss rod adjustment. This guitar has always played very well. Framus necks from that era are a bit beefy but I like it that way. Also I really like the huge rectangular fret markers. Most other guitars I own are very frugal in that regard and on a dark stage it is often hard to glimpse where your hand is on the neck.

That was a very satisfying project and I am very happy I invested the time and effort. I can’t wait to take this “new” 40 year old guitar on a gig.

all done!

all done!

The Cooking/Composing Analogy

Written by peterkienle on September 15, 2012

This is one of the many things which I only discovered a little later in my life.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading through a book called “Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter. Amongst many cool recipes and cooking related interviews it contains tons of scientific information about what is happening during food preparation.

If you asked me today when I started to cook I would tell you that I always loved preparing my own food. That is of course not quite true because obviously my mother was the boss in her kitchen and only once I moved out at the tender age of 18 was I confronted with the need to think about what to eat and how to make it. Since my hometown was pretty devoid of any interesting places to get lunch and I was notoriously short on cash that only left the choice of somehow learning how to prepare food myself.

Naturally I started out trying to recreate my favorite dishes from home. But I wasn’t very successful. Most kinds of meat are very unforgiving if ill prepared and I quickly turned into a vegetarian because at least most vegetables can be eaten raw. Some of my favorite home-foods, like Maultaschen (literally “Mouth Pockets” – some kind of huge ravioli) were far beyond reach because creating them required complicated procedures. You could buy those ready made but they just never were as good as Mom’s. So, very slowly, out of the necessity of pickiness, I developed some things I could cook and actually liked to eat.

When I moved to the US in 1988 the availability of Fast Food at every corner was shocking. Still a vegetarian, though, choices were limited. And I guess what could be seen as the main attraction of franchised fast food joints turned out to be one of it’s main turn-offs: A Pizza Hut pizza tastes the same where ever you go. After about a decade of being my own chef switching to eating manufactured food didn’t work. So I kept cooking my own food.

Fast forward to 2006. After reading Ray Kurzweil’s “Fantastic Voyage” (which is about a lot of other health stuff besides food) I became obsessed (at least that’s what my wife and kids called it) with eating healthy. It turned out that spaghetti and tomato sauce isn’t necessarily as healthy as I thought – I still have to convince my kids, though. Surprisingly, our bodies don’t always crave what’s good for them. Due to increased exercise and more conscious diet I lost a few pounds and all of a sudden needed belts for most of my pants. A few years later I found out that my blood pressure was a bit high. That really sucked. I worked around with my diet (less carbs, increased potassium through fresh spinach and cantaloupes, watch that salt!), started jogging, and bought an exercise bike. It actually worked – at least something did, as the blood pressure went to normal.

And what exactly does that have to do with composing music?

Since my humble beginnings as a guitarist at age 14 or so I liked to compose. The music I did like to listen to was never prefect. Even the epic “Dark Side of the Moon” had some sections I could do without and other sections I would have liked to be longer. So I think I started to play and write music to make it just the way I wanted. In the process noticing that this is just not that easy. You have to learn about your ingredients. You have to have a way of writing down your ideas. You can’t get sucked into your music so deeply that you lose your bearings or some kind of objectivity. (Now, improvising is a bit different because I want to be sucked in. It’s almost schizophrenic because your are the maker of the music and also the emotional recipient).

These days I feel I am able to write much better music with much less material. I used to write fusion tunes with lots of notes just as I used to make soups with lots of spices. That kind of experimentation is all good but in the end the simpler stuff rules. That totally complex C13#11b9 chord will stick out in a mostly basic triad-based tune. Now I feel I can actually let the music speak for itself just as I don’t need to cover up a perfectly good lentil-chickpea soup with all the spices from my spice rack.

The medium makes the message

Written by peterkienle on July 12, 2011

If you read many of the posts on this blog you’ll notice that I have been a musician for most of the past 30 years or so. Specifically, a “Jazz Guitarist”. Many knowledgeable folks have tried to classify what “jazz” is or what qualifies a certain piece of music as “jazz”. I admit that I actually don’t know or care – I just like to improvise. And not in the sense of playing a ’solo’ but making up music alone or together with a band.

Lately I have been playing a lot of solo guitar gigs and much of my practicing consists of improvising music just on guitar alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I throw all harmonic rules out. Most often I start out with a standard jazz tune or an original but since I am by myself I can go wherever I want. I don’t have to stick to the ’chorus’ (which of course is utter blasphemy when playing with other people). In principle I take material I know how to play (and what it sounds like) and try to stick it together in a hopefully logical and musical way. This material can be small melodic fragments or interesting chord sequences unrelated to a specific tune or piece of music. Or I take larger chunks from music I have played before (the famous introduction to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” comes to mind). Often, just trying to play the bridge of a well known standard in a different key will introduce a new dimension and risk, leading you down unexpected alleys. And then there are random unintentional notes (call them mistakes) which often play the role of ’genetic mutations’ where the basic idea is good enough to be repeated and each repetition sounds less than a mistake – clearly a kind of evolution. This sounds easier than it is but after a few ’normal’ tunes a certain flow develops and I start playing differently. The result may not sound all that different to a listener – after all I am still using the same material – but to me it seems to come from a different source. The music mostly comes out by itself. The two hours of my gig usually just fly by.

I have often tried to find patterns and rules to explain to students how I do this (actually one of my friends, who is a cognitive neurologist, is also interested in this). Some people have called this process ’stream of consciousness’ or ’channeling’. And here comes the 78 degree turn: Many years back I had a great fondness for the books of one Jane Roberts. Roberts claimed that she channeled an entity called Seth. In the beginning the channeling happened through a Ouija board and later verbally through Roberts. At the time when I read these books I didn’t care where that material came from. I just found it very fascinating since it dealt with a lot of things I kept thinking about, such as UFOs, alternate realities, weird stuff from various holy books, the works. It was like reading a novel. The common explanation for action with an Ouija board are involuntary movements of the operators’ finger muscles. So essentially, the information that is produced comes from the participants. I guess it’s a version of facilitated communication which has been pretty much proven to be a hoax.

Moving on to Roberts’ verbal delivery. While delivering for the Seth entity she used a different voice and her husband Robert Butts often asked in-context questions. Do I think Roberts actually delivered messages from Seth? No. I think she was improvising. She was, in other words, telling a story, made up from material she had picked up, knowingly or unknowingly, from many sources. Naturally the material was blended with original ideas (Roberts was after all also a Science Fiction writer) and it seems some ideas pop up again and again over her channeling career, mutating and evolving.

One can of course argue my conclusion but I think Roberts did the same thing that I do when I improvise music on my guitar only in her medium. Nothing ’supernatural’ about it. The medium makes the message.

Copyright © by Peter Kienle