Michigan-based audiophile Ross Hershberger has shared three great projects on the pages of MAKE. First he showed us how to turn good vintage speakers into great modern ones with the EconoWave Speakers. Then he wowed us with his see-through, bare-bones Squelette amp project. And most recently, he shared step-by-step for his MonoBox Powered Speaker, stylishly housed in a cigar box. His undying love of classic audio equipment makes my 1200s smile. He’s not only an active member on the Audiokarma forum (posting as Bauhausler), but he’s one of the most active authors we have, tirelessly answering the incredibly long threads of conversation and questions on his project pages. He’s a true maker, taking pride in sharing his knowledge. I had the pleasure of working alongside him a couple of years ago at Maker Faire Detroit, when he volunteered his entire weekend to spread the joy of making.
One project you’re particularly proud of:
1. I should cite something fancy that I designed and built, but a tricky new tube audio amplifier benefits at most maybe two people. Clever things tucked in my basement are swell, but overall impact determines the importance of any project. So I’ll go with the MonoBox. It’s very simple and not technically sophisticated, but it seems to have had a big impact and I’m proud of that.
Credit where it’s due: the MAKE video team made an outstanding video introduction to the project, and that accounts for its wide exposure.
I don’t actually invent many things. I’ve stumbled across so many clever ideas that are crying out for new practical implementations. Inventors get all the glory, but engineers and technicians who figure out how to do something useful with the shiny new ideas are the ones who bring the benefits to the rest of us.
Ross’ MonoBox Powered Speakers.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
Mistakes are the central pillar of my methodology! Nothing teaches you the landscape like blindly stumbling around. But there are a few instructive errors that I won’t make again.
1. I have stopped taking apart things that I don’t understand. This involved a 1901 Swiss quarter repeating pocket watch in 14K gold hunter case. Fascinating mechanisms. A repeating watch will strike out the time on tiny bells like a grandfather clock when you push a button on the side. They’re great toys but they’re horridly complex. Cost a small fortune and a pretty thorough chewing out by a pro watchmaker to get that all back together again. I still tinker with watch mechanisms but nothing that I can’t afford to toss out and replace if I mess it up.
2. Repeatedly making assumptions about what I “know” isn’t wrong with an electronic circuit, leading me to waste time and parts chasing defects where they aren’t. You have to take certain things for granted, but before ruling out the trivial, make some tests so you know for sure that the really obvious stuff is working right. Don’t outsmart yourself. That’s the design engineer’s job.
Three books you think every maker should read:
1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The classic explanation of craft, quality, and the pleasures of making things. Plus it’s a pretty good story.
2. Make: Electronics by Charles Platt. My formal education in electronics began 37 years ago and I found this book compelling, accurate, timely, and informative. Even if you’re never going to be a hardcore circuit nerd, the basics in Charles’ book are extremely valuable. Nearly every maker needs some grounding in electricity and electronics.
3. “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character. Richard Feynman was a genius and a kook. In a good way. From quantum electrodynamics to bongos, everything that interested him became an unstoppable enthusiasm. Curiosity seems to have been the major motivation in his life and he loved chasing down and mastering a cool new idea, like picking locks, hacking ant colonies, or manipulating human psychology. Plus, he tells hilarious stories.
Ross’s Squelette bare-bones amp from MAKE Volume 23.
Four new ideas that have inspired you most lately:
I’m mostly motivated by old ideas like vacuum tubes, record players and mechanical watches. There’s plenty of prior work to sift through searching for an overlooked angle to exploit. But I’ll give you a list of what I think will be big concepts coming up.
1. 3D printing. This radically overhauls the techniques available to a maker. When you can spec a part in three dimensions and make it or have it made, it opens up a whole range of design options. Typically the impact of any innovation is overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term. I can’t wait to see how people who grow up with 3D printing make use of it.
2. Crypto/privacy/security. I think we’re in for a huge wrangle over personal privacy and crypto. There are compelling arguments on both sides: individuals want to use public communication channels securely and law enforcement wants to use available data to stop crimes. Readers of Charles Stross’ book Rule 34 and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother know how this could shake out. It won’t be pretty when this conflict gets out of the hacker realms and into the mainstream.
3. Seamless device interconnectivity. Right now with the exception of computers, smartphones, and a few entertainment electronics, our machines and circuits are walled off from each other. I’d like my next furnace to text me if it senses a defect. I’d like my car to text me when the battery is low. Or stolen. Or if someone tries to tow it. I don’t need my toaster to anticipate my breakfast and query the fridge for a bagels and yogurt stock status. But if the fridge’s freezer compartment approaches the wrong side of 32 degrees, it would be great if the fridge could call for help before it becomes a soupy disaster up there. MAKE magazine has published several articles showing how people did remote notification for themselves. Like all new ideas, who knows how and where this will be used commercially. But when it is, it will seem head-slappingly obvious.
4. Arduino/cheap microcontrollers. I’m a bit torn about this one. I love the idea of powerful, inexpensive, easily integrated controllers for use where some computing power needs to be added to a project. The added functionality is fantastic. But I hate to see a microcontroller used in place of much simpler analog or digital electronics just because that’s the easy way. An efficient build uses the fewest pieces, and the most effective ones for the application. You can make a doorbell with a microcontroller, but how about a button switch, transformer, and a hand-wound solenoid coil with a bell? Orders of magnitude fewer part’ and the same functionality. I hope that cheap and easily programmed microcontrollers don’t keep people from learning electronics basics just because programming is a better known skill than schematic reading.
Five tools you can’t live without:
1. Any oscilloscope. When you can’t figure out what a circuit is doing, nothing beats looking at a picture of it in real time. $50 gets you a decent used ‘scope, and you’ll be hooked once you use it.
2. Fluke true RMS DMM. The Swiss Army knife of test instruments.
3. Temperature-controlled soldering iron. More expensive than a fixed-power soldering pencil but much more versatile.
4. 4-way screwdriver, a good one with hardened bits. I’m never more than 15 feet from one of these, 24×7.
5. Google. When I have a “what the heck is this part” question, a quick search usually turns it up. Pre-internet, this lookup required a shelf of catalogs, a pack of sticky notes, and a lot of blind searching. Find an obsolete transistor that’s blown? Two minutes on Google will determine a modern substitute.