Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thrift Shop Parabolas and Cut-Rate Supermoons

Okay, you whispering ghosts, you low-talking specters, I've bloody well got you now.

Pictured above is my home-made parabolic microphone. 

What is a parabolic microphone, and why do I want one?

A parabolic mic uses a curved dish to collect and focus sound. A parabolic mic can pick up faint sounds long distances away, because the whole surface of the clear dish part focuses every bit of noise right onto the actual microphone, which is suspended in front of the dish at the precise spot where all the sounds come together.

Why do I want one?

Because ghosts are always muttering or whispering. Honestly, ghosts, spit out the ectoplasmic gum and enunciate! Most of the EVP (electronic voice phenomena) samples I've collected have been so faint and indistinct it's hard to tell what the words are. So I keep hearing things like "Flog the carrots, Matilda" or "My goats prefer Norwegian steering, forsooth." 

Enter the parabolic dish. Faint sounds are gathered and amplified. Distant whispers are rendered distinct. Casper's least utterances will finally be revealed as plain speech -- well, maybe.

Now, if you go out and start pricing commercial parabolic dish units, you'll quickly find they are divided into two groups. At the bottom, you have your $50 wonders, which I am sure break into small, sad plastic bits as soon as they are unboxed. Most of the 'dishes' are six or so inches in diameter. That's barely enough collecting area to even bother with.

The next level of parabolic mics starts at $500 or so and quickly ascends into the stratosphere, where even Bill Gates recoils from the price in terror. Just the parabolic dish part -- not the actual mic or the electronics, just the clear plastic dish bit -- runs close to 500 bucks. I get this. There's a lot of math involved, some precision engineering, and frankly outside of ESPN and movie makers the demand for dish mics is exceedingly small, being composed of myself and two dozen other amateur ghost hunters. 

Which is why I haven't had a dish before this. Seriously, do you know how much obscure fantasy authors (hi there) make? 

Well, I'm not buying $500 worth of anything unless I can drive it, eat it, or live beneath it.

This isn't my first attempt at making my own parabolic dish. We won't speak of the others, save to note they were all dismal failures. One burst into flames out of sheer shame. Another ran away and now pretends to be a derelict umbrella. 

But then one day, while crawling beneath the shelves in Home Depot with a dagger clenched between my teeth, I came across a clear plastic dish, 18 inches across, formed in a quite decent parabola. Instead of Tenga's $400 price tag, this one set me back eleven bucks and change.

Eleven bucks.

It's a squirrel shield, intended to cover a bird feeder. A humble squirrel shield. Some nameless, faceless hero out there cast it as a quite serviceable parabolic dish.

The rest of the components share equally humble origins. The tripod is a thrift-shop special I picked up for 5 bucks (thanks Holding Hands thrift shop!). The rest of the hardware is mostly plumbing scraps, with a metal mending plate and a piece of flexible steel serving as the actual mic mount.

The mic element itself is a simple electret single-element mic from Radio Shack. The black box that sits behind the dish contains the mic's power supply, volume control, and output jack. I'll post schematics and so forth next week. A single resistor, a capacitor, a 50K pot, a switch, a jack, and a 9V battery to run the thing -- that's it.

The output feeds my 3000X super-amp. The initial test in the backyard revealed some impressive pickup. When you hear bees buzzing about but can't see them because they're too far away, your dish is probably working.

I'll post some sound files too. One day soon, I'll take this unit with me on a cemetery run, and see if I catch any more voices!

Here's another 'super moon' pic. This one was taken on July 13, when the Moon was looking the other way. Not shown is the Arcturan scout saucer which exited the frame milliseconds before this image was taken. Darn camera-shy aliens. 

Writing Update

My new book is still on sale! If you haven't checked my Markhat series out, I invite you to do so. A good place to start, and it won't set you back a fortune, is with The Cadaver Client. 

The new book, The Five Faces, is the 8th entry in the series. Grab a copy today!

For the folks waiting on the new Meralda and Mug book, I must once again beg for your forbearance. The re-write of the first draft is continuing, as fast as I can. Which obviously isn't very fast, but I hope you'll agree quality is more important than speed in this instance.

I won't lie. The realization that the first version of All the Turns of Light was fatally flawed was a punch in my gut. I knew the only way to fix it was to essentially start over, and that flew right in the face of my profound and determined laziness. Whoah there, laddie, said my lazy side, which by the way covers 89 percent of my total surface area. It's bad enough I have to write these books in the first place -- now you're saying I have to start all over? I don't think so, Buttercup.

I was then instantly overwhelmed by a powerful desire to catch a marathon of 'Supernatural' on TNT, because my lazy side really knows which buttons to press.

Truth is, I nearly didn't rewrite the book at all. I was ready to chuck the whole Turns of Light series and start a new Markhat, and I would have, except for a couple of emails asking about the new Mug and Meralda.

I dived back in, and when the re-write is done an actual good book will be in the place of the original first draft. 

So a few more weeks of re-writes. Then the painful conversion to ebook format(s) and all the fun that will entail.

I have decided to self-publish this new entry in the Meralda and Mug series. If Samhain dealt with light fantasy, I'd sub there in a minute, but they don't. Too, I've already obtained a cover for the book -- yes, it's an original, by none other than Kanaxa -- and I feel comfortable with the ebook conversion process, if by comfortable one means 'will only wake up screaming at the prospect once or twice a week, tops.'

I plan to make the new Mug and Meralda available across a number of platforms -- Kindle, of course, and Nook, and Kobo, certainly. The price will be $2.99, which I think is A) fair, and B) the price-point most likely to result in the most sales. I hope that didn't sound greedy, which it was, but it's important to never appear to be greedy in public.

So that's it for this week! Time to get back to the re-write. Thanks for reading, and wish me luck!


  1. Squirrel block??? What are you going to do when your wife finds out you've used her good china serving platter and cut a hole through it???? What will you serve turkey on come Thanksgiving??? I can only hope it wasn't a family heirloom...

  2. This entire post made me smile - from the joking about the parabolic dish, to the Mug book to your laziness - which we all know is sooooo blatantly not true. You are one of the least lazy people I know!

  3. I put on a good front, Lyse, but the truth is that I am composed almost entirely of Lazyons and Inert Matter. I've been known to eat simply by opening my mouth and swallowing whatever flew inside. Sad but true :)