Updated Below: 

One old stereotype that is, well, for the most part, true is the story of how engineers like to take things apart to figure out how they work. Old phones, radios, computers, hard drives, you name it – if it beeps and draws power from a battery or a wall, chances are an engineer has dissected it.

And those are the just the WORKING toys.

Broken toys are another story altogether. To the technorati – broken toys are a QUEST.

You either (a) get your wish and fix the thing and proudly tell anyone who’ll listen of your tales of skill and prowess, or (b) you don’t fix the thing, but at least you gain an understanding of it to the point where, if you had the tools, time and talent, you could make your own working beeping toy and with a little bit of grease, duct tape and ingenuity, you could make it better than when you bought it!

In short, what is gained by this quest is an intellectual ego boost to fill the void experienced by the lack of a functional toy. 🙂

Usually the “broken toy” concept only goes so far – spouses see to that. For the engineers fortunate to marry – they later tell stories of “I coulda fixed that, but…” to anyone that’ll listen until they grow older and die.

But with the house and the spouse — then there’s often a new set of shared toys, and unfortunately, these toys now have a new classification: these are “house toys”.

“House toys” differ in that, for an engineer, you’re suddenly not allowed to dissect a working house toy, nor is merely knowing the toy COULD work enough.

It HAS to work. If it doesn’t, well… either you make do with the other working toys or you go buy a new one. And that can get expensive.

I’ve settled this engineering urge by branching from objects to processes.

To learn how to DO things with technology that vary from useful to cool to “interesting to me, and that’s good enough”. Often these projects have a useful house application, but for the most part, they’re there to placate the disassembling monster inside. And like they say in those GI Joe cartoons, “Knowing is half the battle”. Or they might say something else.

So here’s my list of “Dave’s Technical Projects”:

1) Digitizing my vinyl records onto an iPod.

This was an ongoing quest for years. For the longest time, it was an issue of not having ALL of the techno-ingredients that I needed to make the circle complete. At first, it was making sure I had a decent enough amplifier. I tried a couple of amplifiers acquired from other folks second-hand systems but the biggest problem was one of noise. I finally managed to figure this out via the dual combination of my recently phased out Technics amplifier and phonograph and a nifty gadget from m-Audio. With this massed hardware I managed to finally get a recording worthy of being digitally captured into the Macintosh and from there, sent the recording over to the iPod.

Because, let’s face it, we can’t leave The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove (radio dub 12” mix)” in the past. It simply MUST BE PRESERVED FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.

House application: Once the vinyl has been preserved, it is no longer needed in its physical form. Shelf Space for future toys has been made free. 🙂

2) Related subject – digitize Val’s piano performances onto my iPod.

I find her playing relaxing. I also know there’s times that Val will be out and about and there’s times I won’t be near the piano – so having a recording on my iPod would be… well, nice.

The piano, however, is not conveniently located near the computer. So the solution in the previous project doesn’t apply. I also want a clean transfer, so I need a microphone with a significant memory stick in it that can be transported to and fro from piano to computer. Or I could try old school, capture it to tape, and then connect the old tape player to the amp to the m-Audio, but that’s just a LOT of wires and engineers are about elegant solutions when they’re married. 🙂

Yes, I know there’s an iPod plug-in that’ll perform audio recordings, but I don’t know about the quality of said recordings. I also have an old Samsung Yepp that might be useful in this regard that I will try out, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

However, my gut tells me that a third option might be needed.

House application: None, but I bet Val would like it too – providing she can ignore that one extra flat that was played that only she noticed.

3) Figure out this dang DVD-R recorder

The confusing part – I know how to record. I’ve done it LOTS of times. I’ve done DVD-R, DVD+R with this LG recorder, but what I can’t seem to make sense of is WHY THE HECK DOES A RECORDING PLAY FINE ON MY RECORDER AND WON’T RUN ANYWHERE ELSE?

Update:  I now have a theory about the DVD-R player and why it can’t play media on other players.  Another rule of engineering life:  Don’t RTFM (“Read The F-ing Manual”) until you have to because you learn more that way.

The LG DVD recorder manual basically says if I don’t record on re-recordable material (i.e. -RW or +RW) that it might not work in another player, and if it doesn’t, tough patooties, or as they clinically state under the troubleshooting section, “No solution”.  So it appears I’m going to need to pick up some DVD-RW media soon if I want to share my video experiences with others.
Is there some sort of copy protection I’m adding when I don’t want to? What happens if our LG recorder (link pending on this one, folks) goes south? Do I have the largest cup coaster collection in the world after that?

Update:  Possibly.  Note to self, better try some of those DVD’s upstairs really soon to be sure.

Related DVD projects include:
3a) Get the house TiVo cleared of the Amazing Race episodes by recording them to DVD. This allows for…
3b) Getting a HD-system complete with HD-DVR capability. Our current TiVo and TV does not, as yet, have an HD feed. Once the Tivo is cleared, I’ve been given the spousal blessing to move it upstairs. And once we’re a bit more well-off we can then upgrade to…
3c) A HD and/or BlueRay DVD-R. Because if one unit’s got HD, they all have to.

I’m sure there’s an engineer rule on this somewhere. Sadly, spouses don’t seem to have read this notebook of wisdom. 😦

House application: More space on Tivo means more things can be recorded. HDTV is pretty. Completes Amazing Race on DVD for future generation consumption.

4) Organizing my increasing/decreasing comic book collection

As I’ve mentioned before, I collect comic books. There’s a lot of them, and as a result, there’s gold in them thar hills. Comics have a much better ROI than most stocks if they are well preserved.

Sadly, many of my comics fall under the previously read many times, but this doesn’t mean they don’t have value, so the task is simple:

I need to categorize my comics by what they are and what condition they are in.

Once I have that, then I’ll sell SOME of them on E-Bay. The rest I’ll “bury into the sand, and in a thousand years, they’ll be PRICELESS.”

The application needed is Excel. There’s a fancier database out there that also helps to price these things, but that’s what E-Bay’s for. The only drawback – in order to make this work, I have to manually sort them first. And that’s a seriously daunting task. Quick math – what’s 250 x 20? (And that’s an average.)

House application: Frees up garage space and puts more money in my pocket for say…an HD Blue Ray DVD-recorder. (There’s nothing wrong with trading up on toys.)

5) Starting an “audio blog” on comic book reviews

Despite planning the reduction of my comic book collection — this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them any more. I’m definitely more discerning these days versus when I was say… oh, seven. That said, there’s gems and there’s stinkers… and it’s my duty to throw my opinion out into the blogosphere on this topic.

One thing I’ve enjoyed for the second half of my life is the company of a lifelong friend who shares my passion for the soap-opera-ish, scientific, dramatic, and often egregiously stupid world of comic books. And sometimes our discussion of the comings and goings of recent events in the comic book world has been… entertaining to say the least. Why keep that to ourselves?

We’re both sharing individuals, so expect more on this soon enough. I’ve heard some of the competition, and I think we can take ‘em. If I’ve figured out text blogging, audio blogging is not going to be too far behind once I solve project #2.

House application: My wife knows that I’m far too geeky and that I’m the farthest thing from a playa… EVER.

So that’s my “project list”. After listing these — there’s the thing I’ve noticed – by doing all these things – one common thread is that I seem to be freeing up space in the house. But what is that space good for?

Oh yeah. “House toys”. 😦