Logan, UT

After recording in Idaho a couple posts ago, the next day found me leaving Mountain Home,

This is the one that puts the "Mountain" in "Mountain Home".

hopping on the highway,

This road is what puts the "ghwa" in "highway".

and proceeding towards Utah, which happened to be a scenic drive to rival all scenic drives.

A scenic scene. A scenic scene, obstacled by a bridge. A place where, hypothetically, deer and antelope play. This is a glorious "essence of road trip" type shot. The bug splatters became pretty intense on my way out of Idaho. Man!  Being a good old Nebraska boy, these images never get old for me.

Soon I was entering the part of Idaho known as “The Super Scenic Part That’s Even More Scenic Than the Previous Part.”

Near all the livestock, the bug splatters took on a distinctly bloody color.  I want a steak right now. A lesson in singular perspective.  Lines converge towards a single vanishing point, colors become faded with distance. If I were a cow I would consider this the good life. Idaho: drive-thru safari?

Soon after that, I was crossing over into the part of the U.S. known as “Mormonland.” On maps, however, it is called “Utah.”

The sign says "Logan."  That's where I'm going.

“These scenic scenes are nice, although you probably photoshopped them all,” says Mr. Yerfulovit in his customary growl. “But you still haven’t answered my question.”

That question being…

“What’s in Logan?”

Well, I was originally intending to hit Salt Lake City, which is large and well-known. However, the only people to reply to me in SLC were busy or nonresponsive, and someone had contacted me from Logan, so that’s why I went there.

So, after entering Utah, I turned onto the highway headed down towards Logan,

Headed towards the valley wherein lies Logan.

whereupon I saw Logan stretched before me like a lion in the sun.

Therrrrrrrre's Logan!

A short drive later,

Glancing to the left. Glancing to the left again.

I was in Logan, whereupon I met-

“What the deal, man?” interrupts the mob of teenagers. “Why you all usin’ that fancy English?”

Why you barely using English, homeslice?

“Whatevs, dawg.”

Anyway. In Logan, I met up with my contact and soon to be co-conspirator, Anthony Aronovici. He had contacted me on Couchsurfing, mentioning that he could play some trombone, worked at a music store, and might have some other musical connections I could record. Sounded like good business to me.

“That’s good business,” I said to myself at the time.

“Are you trying to coin new slang?” asks Attractive Girl, with that one-eyebrow-up look that she does.

Stop asking that! Every time you ask that you cast aspersions upon the authenticity of my neophrasology!

“Haha, good one,” she chuckles.

Thanks. So, back to Anthony. I met up with Anthony and several of the happening peeps he lives with, including Kaelee Jensen. Over the course of eating some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches, I explained the project in greater detail and discovered that a) Kaelee also plays the trumpet, and 2) Anthony is totally excited about teaching English in Korea. Anthony was motivated to finish up some classes which would enable him to do just that.

I, on the other hand, was motivated to record them both. So Anthony, Kaelee, and I headed over to the music store where Anthony works and laid down some fine, upstanding horn tracks.

Obelisk of Strength!  That may not sound anything like Tower of Power... but they did. Actually, "Obelisk of Strength" sounds more like a prog rock band than a funk band.  They would do concept albums about ancient monuments.

You may question my use of “fine, upstanding” to describe horn tracks, but I assure you these tracks, if they were citizens, would be the type that recycles, votes, and writes their local paper. They did a great job.

Thanks for playing, guys!

They also hosted me for the night, and barring the unfortunate incident of a roommate’s early, recurring (and apparantly ineffectual) alarm, my stay with them was nothing short of awesome.

See you in Korea, Anthony! Hope you get over here soon.

NEXT: Either Fort Collins, CO or Carputer, Part II, depending on which gets done first.

The Carputer! (Part I: Assembly)

As promised long ago, I need to detail the process of building and installing the carputer, my faithful companion and aide for my bajillions of miles of driving.

The Carputer (of Love?)

Why a Carputer?

Besides the obvious reason that it’s friggin’ sweet, why install a carputer in a 1987 Ford? First of all, consider the fact that I was planning on spending who-knows-how-many-hours in said Ford on this project, driving all over the country. Then consider the fact that I would be driving to a lot of people’s homes that I had never been to before. I may also ocasionally have to find a way to access the internet to figure something out. Then consider the fact that all I had in my car for audio was a measly Clarion 12-disc CD changer powering Pioneer speakers. Ok, so that’s actually pretty nice, but still, I would listen all the way through the first batch of CDs in the first couple days of the Tour. And with the changer in the trunk, switching CDs isn’t something that can be done while driving.

Conclusion: a carputer is awesome (and approaching necessary for my Tour) because 1) GPS navigation, 2) as many mp3s as you can fit on your hard drive, 3) wireless internet, and 4) it’s friggin’ sweet.

So let’s talk about the carputer. I think that in order to effectively cover a process so involved, I’ll need to break it down into sections. Four ought to do it: Assembly, Software, Installation, and Audio. For today, Assembly.

Part 1: Building the Carputer Itself

The Plan

Where do you install a computer in a Crown Vic? Well, here’s my plan in a nutshell.

The computer itself would go under the passenger seat. It’s usually not a recommended location for electronics because of the potential for spills and tracked-in slush/junk, but the trunk is too far away to easily connect the keyboard and screen.

Speaking of the screen — the only actually visible component of the carputer — I thought that would fit nicely right in the middle of the dash. Let me give you a visual aid: a Crown Vic dashboard looks something like this:

Dashing, no?

That’s not from my Vic, because I forgot to get a picture of the dash prior to ripping it open. (Wait, I found one! Kinda. Here it is.)

On the way to Kansas City.  Picture by Mina Kang.

Anyway, you can see that there are two DIN slots there in the dash — the upper one for audio (there’s some crazy aftermarket head unit there in the above pic) and the lower for climate controls. It was my plan to remove my existing head unit, move the climate controls down lower, cut out the separator between the two, and use both slots combined for the 8″ touchscreen.

Power will run down the right side of the car (conveniently, the battery is on the right), with a small branch off for the carputer and continuing into the trunk to power the amp. Audio signal will leave the carputer and travel down the left side of the car (it’s not good to wire audio and power close together) to the amp. Speakers will be mounted in semi-stock locations.

Choosing The Hardware

After a lot of research and lurking on highly informative forums like mp3car.com, I had decided on a few things I wanted for sure. I didn’t want some old desktop computer case strapped down somewhere in my car. I wanted something sexy. I also did not want to get a power inverter to convert my car’s DC power to AC, just so it could get converted back to DC by the computer’s power supply — what a waste. That meant a DC-DC power supply, and at the time the talk around the web was that the best of these was the Opus.

Much more poking around later, and I had found the package I wanted: the Opus 70.

Meets all criteria, including sexiness.

Not only was it made by one of the most respected names in carputing, it came with the exact motherboard and power supply I had decided on, and had a nifty custom aluminum case. Plus other very useful options were available like extra power out for running power to a screen, an adaptor enabling me to connect a laptop hard drive to the motherboard’s IDE connector, RCA audio out, and additional USB connectors.

The Breakdown

From the back.  I'm trying to decide which is the more appropriate descriptor: 'chic' or 'svelte'.
Enclosure: The Opus 70 system comes in a sleek brushed aluminum case. It’s a very simple design, vented on the sides, with a single fan in the back to draw air. It fits under my passenger seat with plenty of room to spare. It’s remarkably space-efficient, too, with the motherboard attaching to the bottom and the power supply and hard drive attaching to the top.

This is one bad mobo.  Er, mofo.  Er, mug.
Mainboard: The Via EPIA MII12000G is tiny, able to generate very little heat and consume very little power, and has a host of connectors, including slots for PCMCIA and CompactFlash cards. It also has additional onboard connectors for expanding your options with additional USB or audio connections, which the Opus 70 takes advantage of.

This is the smallest power supply I own.
Power Supply: The reason I even found the Opus website to begin with was because of their reputation as making the best DC-DC power supplies for carputers around. The system I got came with a DCX3-120-H, which is to say, a 120-watt power supply with a host of features, the most important being configurable intelligent switching for automatically turning the carputer on/off with ignition, and protection to prevent damaging or rebooting the system during engine cranking (when voltage to the rest of the car drops considerably).

This is the only decent picture I could find.  I got mine in black, however.
Touchscreen: In my eBay searches I came across a reseller selling SkyPro DL-800‘s, which are cheap 8″ TFT/LCD touchscreens made in Hong Kong, yet with seemingly superior features (higher native resolution, markedly brighter) to the most commonly-used touchscreens I read about in my research (namely, those by Lilliput and Xenarc). I felt a bit nervous about this particular decision, but my worries ended up being needless.

My hard drive came with (but not on) a silver platter.
Hard Drive: I had been waiting and waiting for laptop hard drives to be available in sizes larger than 160GB, because I just knew the instant I got the 160GB drive they would release the 200+ giggers. At the time I was researching components, perpendicular recording technology for laptop drives was just hitting the consumer market, and the drives were still pretty pricey. Thankfully, that was before I went to Korea for my first year of teaching over there, and by the time I came back to the US in the spring of 2008, prices were more reasonable and — AND — there was a Seagate Momentus laptop drive available in 250GB, which I promptly ordered from Newegg. (I only buy Seagate hard drives. WD always offers the best price per GB, but after my second WD drive failed — exactly one week after the warranty expired — I switched to Seagate and haven’t looked back.)

This is exactly what mine looks like.
Wireless Internet Solution: The problem with most peripheral options for wireless solutions is that when they are placed in the trunk of a car, or under a car seat, which happens to be where a lot of carputers reside, they don’t get good reception for some reason… Certain PCMCIA wireless cards, however, have a connector for an external antenna, and the standard carputing wireless solution seemed to be the Orinoco Gold PCMCIA wireless card (which I believe is now sold by Proxim) with an external antenna of some kind. So I eBayed such a card, along with such an antenna. A PCMCIA slot for this purpose is part of the reason I chose Epia’s MII motherboard.

You can roll it like sushi!
Keyboard: I love full-size keyboards, because as a programmer I use the numpad all the time for navigation. Problem: most of the time the keyboard would be tucked away under the seat, so the keyboard can’t be a big long unyielding rectangle. It should also be water-resistant if not waterproof. Solution: the flexible rubber keyboard! It can actually sit on the floor between the seats, contouring itself to the driveshaft lump. I also picked this up on Newegg for a very reasonable price.

Mine looks just like this.
GPS Receiver: I eBayed myself a USB GPS receiver. I don’t remember the brand, but it had specifications that seemed to be equal to the tasks I expected of it. I wanted this to go on the back deck, which meant I also had to get a USB extension cable for it, which I didn’t get until Minneapolis (it was just sitting on my dash until then, with an unsightly cable dangling around). Buying cables from Best Buy is expensive!

Handy-dandy!
CD/DVD Drive: The computer doesn’t have room inside it for an optical drive, so I had to get an external one. Problem: I only have one USB port to spare, and most external DVD drives require two — one for signal and one for extra power. The solution I found was a handy-dandy enclosure from Meritline featuring a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The battery supplies whatever power is additionally needed, and recharges from the single USB connection whenever the drive is idle. I bought it with a Sony CD+-R/DVD+-R laptop drive pre-installed, thinking I was getting a slot-loading drive (awesome for carputers) but instead getting a regular tray-loading drive (not so awesome). If I planned on using the drive for much besides installing software and occasionally ripping audio CDs, I could have probably made a stink and gotten it swapped back, but I am not stinky.

This is the exact wiring kit I got, although mine didn't come with a watermark for some online store floating over it.
After getting all of those essential components, there were just a few things left, mostly consisting of wires and tools and extensions for things. I visited Stereo West, the local car audio mecca, to get advice on wiring and choosing an amp/speakers (which you’ll hear about later). They talked me through wiring options and gave me some good recommendations. I picked up an 8-gauge Kicker wiring kit while I was there. They were nice and threw in a handful of random wires from around the shop for me too, saving me an additional trip to the hardware store.

The Testing Facility, a.k.a. “Dining Room Table”

Once I had all the parts, it was time to see how the parts played together. I connected the essential parts together, borrowed a 12v battery and a monitor from my dad (normally used to help jump-start cars), and held the Opus’ power wires to the appropriate places on the power plug, which was a bit tricky.

Testing, testing, 1, 2 aww dangit.

Once I figured out which lines all needed power, the computer whirred to life, and I was able to start installing software.

Part 2 (up later): Software.

한국에서!

I have a couple minutes to pop in and let you know a couple juicy news tidbits:

  1. I am pleased to report that my previous post is already the top result on Google for the search terms “couch surfing zach bardon girls”! Future searches for these terms will now be much more fruitful.
  2. I arrived in Korea (finally — after about two months of waiting for the immigration office to get me my visa) about 24 hours ago. I am pleased to report a fantastically delicious inaugural meal of 감자탕 (spicy pork and potato soup).
  3. I got here right in the middle of one of Korea’s major holidays — 설날, the lunar new year! It’s a three-day holiday, quite long by Korean standards. So I don’t have work for a few days, but I can’t work on mixing until I can go shopping when the holiday is over. (I need to get a power converter to be able to use an essential piece of my equipment.) What’s more, my phone needs to be reactivated so I can’t call all my Korean friends to hang out yet either. So the next few days should see a flurry of blog activity.

Until a few hours later, my friends.

COMING IMMINENTLY: The Carputer, Part I.

Couch Surfing Zach Bardon Girls!

I occasionally Google myself, just for fun. There’s plenty of hits about me and my music, and a ton of hits for some programs I wrote ages ago (an m3u-to-HTML conversion utility and a solitaire card game I invented and co-wrote with my friend Kevin Baba).

Today, among the Google results was a Thai website detailing search statistics, and in the list of keywords was “couch surfing zach bardon girls.” All together.

What does this mean? This means that someone, somewhere, did a search for the phrase “couch surfing zach bardon girls”! I think that is fantastic.

As it turns out, a Google search for “couch surfing zach bardon girls” lists that Thai site as the only result. If I remove the quotes, we get my friend and fellow singer-songwriter Amaryah’s MySpace page as the top hit (I’m playing drums on a couple of her tunes, by the way). Amaryah has been Couchsurfing a bit, and I’ve commented on her page, oddly enough mentioning girls, hence the match.

Just in case there’s something the searcher knew that I don’t, a proper search for “zach bardon” couchsurfing girls (quotes only around my name, “couchsurfing” is properly one word) shows nothing terribly exciting. Some Couchsurfing pages where I happen to appear, Amaryah’s page again, and a couple blogs — one by David Lamignan Larsen, a Norwegian rapper I recorded in San Francisco, and one by myself, where I was talking about the Tour on my own MySpace.

I feel that the search terms “couch surfing zach bardon girls” ought to have much better results than that, so I have used them several times in this post (including the title) and I am also including actual pictures of real Couchsurfing girls that I have stayed with and/or hung out with during the Tour, in the hopes that if anyone makes this search in the future, they will have more fruitful results.

Actual Couchsurfing Girls that Zach Bardon Met on His Tour

Daneen in Minnesota Liz in Boston Angie in NYC Becky in Tucson Emily and Megan in Storrs Trinh in Atlanta Susan in Mobile Maggie in Gulfport Julia in Knoxville Laura in San Fran Dominique in Vegas Kaelee in Logan

I, Zach Bardon, would like to express my thanks to these girls for giving me many excellent couch surfing experiences, and for each being another wonderful reason the Couchsurfing project is world-changingly great!

Also, if you are the person who searched for “couch surfing zach bardon girls”, please let me know so I can thank you for making my day.

NEXT: Our regularly scheduled travel blog about Logan, UT.

Boise, ID

Get ready for Boise! I didn’t record anything there!

“Explain this long post then,” demands AG snippily.

Whoa, what’s gotten into you today?

“Sigh… I’m impatient to hear about further recordings, not just travels. I already know you traveled, and all those scenic pictures just make me jealous.”

Well, lucky for both of us then that my remark about not recording was a gimmick. I didn’t record in Boise, but I did record in two fairly close Idaho towns — Nampa and Mountain Home. But first, an interesting story!

So there I was, driving away from Bend.

The geographical center of nowhere.

I didn’t realize before leaving Bend that there would be no civilization at all for the next billion miles. I had a half a tank of gas, but it kept dwindling

and dwindling

and dwindling

until the fuel gauge was starting to go below E, still with no sign of civilization in sight. I actually found a couple gas stations — more like shacks — but they didn’t have prices listed (and had trees growing out of them), so I assumed they were closed.

I began to formulate a plan: the moment my car dies, call AAA. I took note of the mile marker and got my coordinates from the GPS so I could tell them exactly where I was. It would mean costly delay, but I was planning on using the time to fire up my laptop and get some work done.

I was well below E at this point. Another gas shack was coming up, but I assumed it was also closed until I saw a truck parked in front of one of the pumps.

SALVATION! I feel certain I was literally seconds away from running out of gas. I rewarded that gas shack with business by filling up and buying some snacks.

Interesting story right?

“That story sucked,” compained some of the teenagers.

You guys… what reprehensible vocabulary. I bet you’d like my story if I had sung it to the tune of “Love Shack”… “The gaaassss shack is a little old place wherrrre… we can get –”

“No, that sucks worse,” they agree immediately.

Anyway, the rest of the drive through Oregon was scenic as all get out. Which is to say, quite scenic.

This nothing is the most something-like nothing I've ever seen! On this trip I often thought about the engineers who built these roads.  They were the stuff of legend. Wide-angle lens would have been nice. This vista looked so huge and awesome in real life that I fully expected it to look this unimpressive on film. Now we join that river we've been loosely following on a trek through the mountains. Scenic as heck.  Actually, far more scenic than heck. Let's go in for a closer look. These mountains were to prove my undoing! On the other side of the mountains, having forgotten to put my seat belt back on after the photos.

I was about to safely leave Oregon, when suddenly,

Do you know why I pulled you over today?

I had removed my seatbelt to take some beautiful mountain pictures. This particular officer, unlike me, was attentive to my lack of seatbelt. Good job officer. It’s probably because he is used to all the mountains so they don’t give him a sense of awe which normally causes one to forget one’s seatbelt.

“Ok, fun stories about gas, scenic scenes, and tickets. Now what about the recording sessions??” says AG impatiently.

You’re going to have to change your name if you keep that up, Girl.

“Hmph,” she pouts cutely, folding her arms and looking away.

Haha, ok. So, very soon after leaving the attentive officer, I was in Idaho!

Entering ID.

Wherein I drove to Mountain Home, which oddly enough is not in a mountain. But it is kind of between mountains, so that’s permissible. Still better than Rhode Island. A fellow named Corey Grubb had contacted me via an amazing amount of text messages about the project, and we arranged to meet at a gas station in Mountain Home. He showed up in a car with some friends, and I followed them back to one of said friends’ house. (It doesn’t sound right but I think that’s correct grammar.)

Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the Idahovian students.

Wherein we unloaded everything and I got to officially meet Corey and his friends, Anthony Mazel and Stephen Kruckeberg. They are high school students who enjoy making music. Sweet. I set up the stuff and we started tracking!

L-R: Anthony, Corey, and Stephen, laying down the tracks.

I would like to reiterate my previous assertion that cleaning supplies make great mic stands.

This mic stand really sucks!

But sometimes so do … wire bins?

I was always pretty good at improvisation.

After that, I backtracked a ways to my host, who lived in Nampa and who also happened to be a musician with a sweet name.

Um, this is where someone asks me what his name was.

“What was his name,” mumbles a surly teenager, looking at his shoes.

His name was Amadeus DeKastle! Sweet name!

Amadeus, with instruments.

Amadeus did a lot of awesome things for me:

  1. He hosted me, which is of course awesome.
  2. The following day, he recorded all the above pictured instruments for me. Yes, that is a digeridoo (and a mandolin).
  3. He introduced me to joik, an amazing traditional music from the Sami people in Norway, and some of the modern bands which perform music in or based on this style.

I had a great time hanging out with and recording Amadeus, who is also a teacher. He’s a super friendly dude and I’m glad we got to hang out. As usual, however, the hangouts were cut short by my need to be at the next stop.

No one’s asking? Fine. The next stop is Logan, UT!

“Logan? What’s in Logan?” barks Mr. Yerfulovit scornfully.

You shall see, my skeptical friend. You shall see.

NEXT: Logan, UT!