Archive for March, 2012

The AES Show

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

hypercubeThe drive to NY in the summer of 1996 was uneventful. We pulled the van up to our hotel and saw to the unloading of all of the prototypes. They were placed on luggage carts and conveyed to our suite.

There were a lot of them. We had made an effort to provide a significant cross-section of what this technology could do.

hypercube2It took us a little time well spent to set up several pairs and sets of hypercube speakers, including original vs converted JBL, Radian and Dynaudio loudspeaker systems.

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demo on tableAs before we had imposed exacting standards on the demonstration models. Every piece of every cabinet was precision machined to .001 inches by the program and glued together in a labor of love by myself and Dale Oaesche.
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We had everything from top-of-the-line Radian coaxials to inexpensive muzak-grade contractor driver sets. I wired them all myself, soldering the crossover connections and checking the circuits for continuity. .
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demo on tableWe had comparison JBL and Radian rectangular box cabinet loudspeakers. We had hypercube speaker cabinets with and without drivers in a variety of sizes. We had bookshelf speakers and surround sound speakers on microphone stands.

We had switchable feeds from the turntable and stereo tuner fed amplifier so that with the flick of a switch we could change from two conventional loudspeakers to a pair of converted hypercube speakers with the same drivers and crossovers.

demo on tableThere was a mixed reception to our demonstrations. An audio set designer from Hollywood fell in love with the geometry. The engineer who showed up from JBL, however, was less amused, and seemed to grow more angry as the demonstration proceeded. All in all we managed a not inconsiderable effort, but the economic return was nil. I did not regret going, but it did not ultimately yield the traction we needed.

–MRK

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Pondside

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

pondsideFrom Sun to lily pads, the light
that crossed the icy heart of Night,
feeds the plant that feeds the crew
of they who mine its storage,
feed the fish that pace the pond
and hunt its waters; patiently,
all round the edge,
the grasses and the flowers wait
to sip the seepage; butterflies
and dragonflies that ride the air,
and everywhere the anthem bright
of sentient data dancing.

–MRK

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Walking The Course

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

walk1Walk with me. There’s no sidewalk in this community, as you can see from my images. The scene might be from any small town until you spot the palm trees. They would suggest either southern California or Florida. In this case, the lack of sidewalks leads to the correct answer: Florida.
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walk1For exercise, I walk around a golf course, always turning left. Sometimes, these turns are unannounced, as in this picture. That might be a problem if I was in a speeding vehicle. But since I am on foot there is no problem; I just follow the road.
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walk1Some of the  back roads are not exactly straight, but I don’t hold it against them. Any road that gets you there is better than no road. Parts of these streets have no houses on them, but the road soldiers on, for the benefit of school buses, the mail,  and trash collection. There must always be a way in and a way out.

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walk1Sometimes, a sign is given. The Way is pointed out to those who might otherwise find themselves visiting a forest. For me, all I have to remember is to follow the main path and turn left when there is no other choice, like here. No problemo.
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walk1Sometimes, direction is given more than needed, and unexpectedly. Here you see, on the back side of the golf course, that double yellow lines have suddenly come into existence. Perhaps out here in the savage West side of the golf course the traditions of our culture require more visible reminders.
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–MRK

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Getting Serious: CAD/CAMing Hypercubes

Monday, March 19th, 2012

hypercube“So let us hew the wood,
and carve our rhombus portions; half to tri,
and squarely set the baffle. When the waves
of pressure take their stations in the heart
of throbbing cubeness, function follows form,
the past no longer hostile to the Now…”

About this time, Shirley’s mother passed away. Shirley decided to spend part of her portion of the estate on a 3-axis overhead router CAD/CAM system.

All the time that Tom and I had been gripping the radial arm saw (like grocers slicing the turkey loaf) people had been recommending that we look into routers instead of saws. Now, I finally saw why: a router can create a bevel on the edge it cuts without having to tilt a blade. This is because the bevel is designed into the router head, a tough business end of the router that is a lot like a drill bit. We had two bits, one at 30o and one at 45o.

hypercube loudspeakerThe trick, as always in cutting wood, is to cut straight lines at the correct angles and bevel. With a CAD/CAM system the path of the tool through the wood is controlled by a computer executing a program. The straight or curved lines as required by the program are executed by moving the router head in XYZ-space using stepping motors.  To hold the wood motionless during cutting, the wood lies on a vacuum table perforated with numerous holes through which the air can be sucked to evacuate the air under the wood and thus  clamp the wood against the table using ambient air pressure.

rhombic dodecahedronWith a hand saw the issue was straight cuts. With the tale and radial arm saws the issue was precision angles. The CAD/CAM system reduced it all to “what kind of wood do you want to use?” once we got our custom router bit. For the first time we were able to cut wood accurately enough that all edges and corners came together without straining or extra sanding. We had a 30 degree bit which cut out 30 degrees of the wood on both sides of vertical. We used this because this left 60 degrees of beveled wood on the rhombus edge and then the rhombi came together at the correct dihedral angle, which for the rhombic dodecahedron is 120 degrees. This, while we were cutting out rhombi we were automatically putting the correct bevel on all of their edges to come together at 120 degrees in the rhombic dodecahedron.

Another nice thing about the CAD/CAM system was that for the first time we could easily cut any diameter woofer cutout (the circular opening in the square baffle plate where the woofer is front-mounted). We could easily cut out rhombi and half-rhombi for a number of identically-sized enclosures, and then custom cut square baffle plates with circular woofer mounting holes at whatever diameter we required to test various commercially-available woofer and coaxial driver sets to pick the ones we wanted.

special edition home theater speakersFor the first time, the construction of hypercube speaker enclosures from cut pieces became less of an art form and more of a simple mechanical procedure. This was because for the first time we had truly interchangeable parts (rhombi etc) to construct with because of the precision of the 3-axis router.  While we still had no real facilities for production, storage, or shipping of product, we did have the precision-cut interchangeable parts that would allow construction of the geometry with minimal training.

Our first main project with the CAD/CAM system was to engineer a collection of various-sized tesseract speaker cabinets to demonstrate prototypes at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in New York, NY in the summer of 1996.

It had taken forever to get to this point. The parent, granted 11/4/1980, would be expiring in 1997.  We had tried radial arm saws and cabinet makers in FL and machinists in Baltimore making one-offs and tiny runs. Now we were finally in a position to make quality precision enclosures and show them to industry professionals. We were once again optimistic.

Once again we went all-out given our limited budget. We had enclosures of birch, oak, plastic, and metal. The transducers ranged in size from full range drivers as small as four inches and woofers up to twelve inches. We had coaxials, two-way systems and three-way systems. We had JBL for controls and a switch box like they use in electronics stores  to instantly change the output to any of several pairs of speakers. We packed them all up safely in a van and were ready to NY again, this time a shorter drive from Baltimore MD instead of Crystal River FL.

Next: The AES Convention

—MRK

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Than Serve in Heaven: Walkabout, part II

Monday, March 12th, 2012

sisyphusOur story thus far:

Having co-invented the Hypercube resonating chamber with Thomas Weiss and after receiving U.S. Patent #4,231,446 for its application to loudspeakers, our first attempt at soliciting investors for the project failed. With family money, what little there was, we tried to manufacture them ourselves on a shoestring budget. When that effort was not crowned with success, I went back to school and got my B.S. in Physics and then did a year of graduate school.

It was while in grad school at FSU that I met and mingled my fortunes with Shirley Malone, a gifted prescriptive/diagnostic learning facilitator in private practice who saw immediately the value of hypercube resonators when she witnessed them the first time. When she moved back up north I elected to go with her, beginning an association that was to last for 18 years (until she logged out of the game in late 2000). After a couple of years of living poor in a trailer in Delaware making doughnuts and teaching at Wesley College, I found a job in Baltimore at National Training Systems teaching electronics and programming. Thus did I fall from the True Path of Physics into the outer darkness of a career in programming, what is now called Software Development.

I was asked to leave NTS in 1990 after I conferred with co-workers about suspected financial irregularities at NTS. (I later heard that the state of Maryland closed them down shortly thereafter, leaving several optimistic instructors who believed their paychecks would stop bouncing lost and twisting in the wind.) After struggling myself, I accepted a minimum-wage job at a Wendy’s near our apartment and survived long enough to find a new job at decent pay working for a company in Columbia MD called Sylvan KEE.

Instead of flipping burgers, I was programming again. Some wanted our title to be Educational Technicians, but I was dead against that; as far as I was concerned, we were Courseware Programmers. We used source code in a proprietary programming language called Veritas, (with custom modifications by a diligent staff of in-house C coders) to create “Courseware” — software that taught people how to use popular productivity tools such as MS PowerPoint, Lotus 123, WordPerfect, and so on. Using screen captures and commands to display boxes of text directions and receive mouse and keyboard input, the lessons guided user through the arcane arts of word processors, databases, and spreadsheets and followed up with unit tests and a final exam. It was a clever technology that let corporations train their employees cheaply; we sent them a stack of 3.5 inch diskettes with the courseware PKZipped across the diskettes, and all they had to do was pop them one by one into a PC’s 3.5 drive and install the courseware and let their employees have at it.

Although I was making no progress with Hypercubes, I was pretty happy with my work at KEE because I was making software that helped people. I stayed with KEE when Sylvan sold the division to SHL SystemHouse, “Canada’s IBM”. The company was renamed from KEE to SHL KEE and moved us to a new building. While I remained there I got to travel to work on a product for Canada’s Department of Transportation. I discovered that it was possible back then to cross the US/Canada border without a passport as long as I had some kind of government photo ID. I also learned that Canadians are Americans too: “America” is the continent on which the countries of Canada, the United States, Mexico, etc. all exist. North, Central, or South, it’s all America no matter which national borders you find yourself within. It’s the same in Europe, where French , Germans, Italians, and so on are all Europeans.

I was optimistically excited when I heard of the upcoming merger between SHL Systemhouse, our parent company, and MCI. I was certain it would bring new resources and opportunities and help my resume. I was wrong. This was the first time I was to fall victim of a corporate merger. For those of you who have never experienced a merger, here is a clue: a merger is a time in which you usually find unexpected staff reductions. Having spent money to make it happen, the companies involved usually announce that there will be “no major changes” just before they prune their payrolls. I was weighed and found wanting, and laid off with a severance package two weeks before Christmas after nearly five years of service. I had been hired in February, so I failed to reach the five-year mark for inclusion in the company’s pension plan.

Unexpected unemployed again, I was surprised by the unexpected pleasure of a visit from my old friend Tom Weiss, who had been doing Y2K and other programming consulting in the U.S., France, Germany, Israel, and Canada. Tom was southbound, returning to Florida because his father was losing his battle with cancer. I was sorry to hear that, but glad that Tom was still alive and employed. Tom wanted to pass control of Tesserax over to me so that I could continue efforts at promoting the technology while he was distracted by this family tragedy. He had had no more success than I had, and since there were several years left on the patent, which would expire in 1997, he wanted to let me give it another try.

I accepted his offer, bought a little voting stock to bring my portion over 50% so that we could act without having to consult Tom first, and considered my options.

Tesserax card circa 1978

Tesserax card circa 1978

It had been so many years that Tesserax had been trying and failing to make progress; I decided that it might be time to make a fresh start without all that history and baggage, so that I would not have to explain to potential investors or manufacturers why we had not been able to make it a successful product up to now. Shirley and I therefore incorporated in Delaware as Alternity and executed an agreement between Tesserax and Alternity transferring ownership of the patent to Alternity in return for sharing revenues from it with Tesserax. I considered that in this fashion I could avoid discussing past failed efforts to promote it, while keeping faith with Tesserax investors and having them share in any moneys we were finally able to make from the technology.

Alternity then began to arrange for loudspeaker testing, and to begin planning production runs to demonstrate the feasibility of manufacturing this geometry.  –MRK

Next: Getting Serious:  CAD/CAM, Not WebCam

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Physicist-At-Large: My Walkabout (part 1)

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

on the roadOur story thus far:

My Navy father flew jets, served on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and retired to Florida to teach when I was 14. Growing up in a small town called Crystal River, I met Thomas Weiss who shared my fascination with hyperspace.

When I made a model of a tesseract and put it together inside-out, Tom discovered that it had unique acoustical properties and together we applied for and received U.S. Patent #4,231,446 on 11/4/1980 for our use of the geometry for an improved loudspeaker cabinet.

Just as a parabolic dish is better than a simple antenna, the hypercube speaker is superior to a conventional loudspeaker. But convincing investors and manufacturers of this was an uphill battle for our first corporation, Tesserax. After spending our family money on patent attorneys, draftsmen and cabinet makers, we attempted to begin manufacture of the technology, at least until we could attract the attention this amazing geometry deserved.

But it appeared that the discovery had come before its time, perhaps way before. At a financial impasse, we paused our efforts and I went back to college, earned my B.S. degree in Physics, and when my resume failed to impress employers I continued on to physics graduate school at FSU in Tallahassee.

While at FSU I met a remarkable woman named Shirley L. Malone. I will be writing a lot about her elsewhere, but since I am telling the story of the hypercube speaker now, I will confine my remarks about Shirley  to how we met and what role she played in the effort to bring this technology to the world.

We met through the most bizarre of coincidences. Some years earlier, while I had been serving as a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis MD, Shirley, who lived near Baltimore, went to a psychic and was told she would meet and become involved with a man in the Navy named Matthew. Shirley could only laugh at that; she had been in the U.S. Marines years before and had no intention of ever dating anyone in the military. And she was almost right; we did not meet until several years later.

One of Shirley’s friends, Arlene Kalvan, was going through a divorce and needed a change of location to get away from her ex. Shirley had her put on a blindfold and stick a pin at random in a map of the United States.

The pin stuck into a dot in Florida called “Crystal River“. So Arlene Kalvan moved there with her two sons and daughter.

As I have related elsewhere, I resigned from Annapolis and continued my education in Physics at civilian universities. While an undergraduate I met one of my younger brother Andrew’s friends from Crystal River High School who had heard of hypercubes and Klein bottles. His name was Phil Kalvan. His brother Gary played electric guitar in a band, and Andrew, Tom, and I went over to his mom’s house occasionally to hear them and talk about the novel Phil was writing and illustrating.

One time that we went over to the Kalvan residence, we met a friend of Arlene’s, who had driven down from Maryland to visit her: Shirley Malone. And so Shirley and I, who had lived near each other without meeting while I was at Annapolis, and had then been separated by 1000 miles when I transferred to the University of Florida, finally met in Florida because of a pin in a map.

We all found Shirley fascinating, and vice versa. She was older than us, but our above-average IQs and reading levels helped balance out the age difference so we had no difficulty discussing a variety of subjects. Then she drove back to Maryland.

A year or so later, she came back down for another visit and we met her again. I had just started physics graduate school at FSU, and when it turned out that we had way too much to talk about in a brief visit, she ended up driving me back to Tallahassee and moving into my apartment there.

This complicated things, to put it mildly.

I will always regret not completing my Doctoral program at FSU, but in retrospect I have to admit that it wasn’t Shirley’s fault. Yes, she helped me contact over 50 loudspeaker companies in an effort to promote the technology Tom and I had discovered. Yes, it helped distract me from my studies and resulted in bad grades in several classes (anything below a B is a failing grade in graduate school). But the truth is I had gone to graduate school mainly because I though that having a PhD after my name would help me get listened to seriously about hypercube speakers. It would have been great to earn a PhD (like my brother Bill did), but in the final analysis it was not actually my main focus. I’ve lived, loved, and struggled in many ways and venues, but since 1977 my purpose in life has been to tell the world about hypercube speakers and the tesseract resonator. Why? Imagine you were the only person in the world who knew about parabolic dishes. Wouldn’t it drive you crazy watching people struggle with poor antennas when a simple shape like the dish could make satellite broadband possible? What if you were the only person who knew how to make a lens? Wouldn’t you want to help all the people who need eyeglasses, telescopes, and microscopes by showing them what glass made into a different shape could do to the flow of energy?

After my first academic year at FSU I considered my options. For various reasons, I was not doing well at grad school, although parts of it were fascinating. I knew I didn’t want to move back in with my parents in Crystal River, and it looked like I could not stay at grad school. I wanted to stay with Shirley, so I ended up packing my things in her car and driving back to Maryland with her. The only part of this that I regret was that it put 1000 miles between me and Tom and Tesserax. I had never intended to let a woman come between the kid inventors, and leave Tom twisting in the wind in Florida…but that was, unfortunately, the result of my decisions. It’s a handy memory whenever I want to wallow in guilt. But as we shall see, it led to things happening that might never have happened otherwise.

I was a little surprised to learn that Shirley was “between homes” at the time. She was one of those people who are better at helping others than they are at taking care of themselves. She had helped black Vietnam vets earn their GED; she had helped children with autism and early childhood learning disabilities learn how to read and write; she had worked with Laura Lamb a heartbreaking child severely crippled by a drunk driver; Laura’s mother Cynthia helped found M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). But Shirley was never highly paid; she had no home. When we reached Maryland we stayed at the home of a friend of hers, Greg Crockett…where I was privileged to meet Laura Lamb while she was still alive.

At the time, Shirley’s most reliable source of income was her alimony from her ex-husband Timothy Malone. It was $35 per week: a pittance of a remittance, but Tim resented giving her even that much, so he used to make his 4th wife write the checks instead of doing it himself.

In return for never having to pay her alimony again, Tim agreed to a one-time payment of $5000. With no other real income, it was difficult to buy a house or rent an apartment. We ended up moving into an old double-wide trailer at Atkins Acres trailer park in Millsboro, Delaware to cut expenses to the bone while I looked for work.

At first I got a job as donut maker at The Fractured Prune in Ocean City, MD. This store was across the street from the boardwalk, and had a colorful prior owner, an elderly motorcycle riding lady who broke bones easily, hence the store’s name.

Shortly after that Shirley noticed an ad in a local paper that looked promising. So I drove up to Dover, DE to Wesley College, across the highway from Dover AFB, applied, and was hired as a Night Adjunct. Thus it was that I entered into a surreal time of my life (though perhaps no more surreal than the rest) where I was making doughnuts in Ocean City in the morning and teaching college classes at night. One of the classes I taught was an Algebra class that some nurses needed. Because some of them lived far from Dover, the class was taught in a Methodist church in a town so small I drove right through it the first night without stopping. I’m not kidding — the town was basically located at an intersection of two roads where there was a church, a used car lot, and a barn silo. By the time I realized my mistake and retraced my route back to the church, my six students had given up and gone home. But I got there in time from then on, once I learned to look for the church with the silo across the street.

Another class I taught was an accelerated Physics course for enlisted Air Force personnel who were trying to get into OCS (Officer Candidate School). It was fun because it was old-school: chalk equations on blackboards, and working out calculations by hand or calculator, not just asking a computer’s opinion. It wasn’t all fun, unfortunately: I was grieved to hear that one of my Air Force students who didn’t get an A took his own life afterwards. I will always wonder I could have saved his life by just fudging the numbers and giving him the A.

But we were barely scraping by on what I was making as a Night Adjunct + Doughnut-Maker, so I began driving across the Bay Bridge into Maryland to look for work in Baltimore. And eventually I found it in early 1986, accepting a full-time position as an electronics/programming instructor at National Training Systems, an old trade school in Baltimore that used to be called Data Processing Institute. They changed the name after being bought by Charles Longo, a guy who had become a millionaire by starting a truck driving trade school called National Training Systems. DPI became NTS, which would have been confusing had not both the truck driving NTS and the electronics/programming NTS been owned by the same guy.

Before Longo bought it and changed the name, DPI had been having a tough time competing with RETS, a better-known electronics trade school in Baltimore. Longo fixed that, (or rather, his minions fixed that) by (a) shortening the curriculum from 18 months down to only 1 year and (b) applying for and getting accreditation for DPT/NTS so that students could get Federal student loans to pay for their tuition. This increased the number of people who could afford to attend, and got them out the door quicker.

I began at NTS teaching programming day classes and electronics night classes. The school was located in the Candler building, which was built by Coca-Cola and named after its founder, Asa Candler. In 1936 it was the first headquarters of Social Security. Most of the NTS classrroms were on the 6th floor. On the ground floor, behind big plate glass windows they had an IBM 5360 minicomputer (also known as the System 36) with 36 green-text-only video terminals.

Originally the programming students took a course in BASIC from one instructor, then changed to another instructor for RPG II, and so on; later they decided to have the instructors move from course to course with their students. This was an lucky break for me, because it meant that instead of being stuck in BASIC, I got to also teach RPG, ASM and COBOL. Assembler was dropped from the curriculum, however. This was mainly done to shorten the curriculum, but I wondered if there might be another reason: the students in Assembler class quickly learned that they could crash the system and take a coffee break whenever they wanted to. All they had to do was swap their input and output file references, i.e., try to read from the printer. This would lock up the entire system, forcing us to reboot from the huge floppy drive. It was a nuisance, and way too easy to do in S-36 Assembly language.

After a few years NTS moved from the Candler building to a place that was one block up from Lexington Market. The new home of NTS was formerly a bank building; there was even a defunct ATM machine one the first floor near the entrance. The new location was convenient for me: there was a subway station across the street and all kinds of food a block down at the Market for when we took a lunch or dinner break.

By then Shirley and I were living in Owings Mills, home to Maryland Public Broadcasting and Rukeyser’s Wall Street Week that I occasionally saw on PBS. I was reasonably comfortable at NTS for three years, but the fourth year there were disturbing developments. My report from Social Security seemed to indicate that NTS had never paid into my account what they had been deducting from my paycheck. I discussed this with several of my co-workers, which resulted in my being asked to leave NTS.

I found myself once again without visible means of support. While I started looking for something better, to make rent in the meantime I got a job at the Wendy’s down the street from our apartment. The manager couldn’t resist hiring a guy who lived three blocks away. I held this position for nine months, flipping burgers, frying chicken, running the drive-through register and setting up the salad bar, earning a massive $4.25 per hour. (I also came home smelling of fryer grease…but it helped us survivve.)

Eventually, I had to tell the manager that I had found a better job. He paid me the compliment of trying to talk me out of leaving, but there was no chance I would stay. The new job I had found was at Sylvan KEE’s corporate HQ in Columbia, MD. It involved programming, no “want fries with that?”, and paid nearly three times as much.

—MRK

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