My name is Macon Vining.
I am passionate about making a positive change in the world. Up to this point in my life, this passion has mostly been focused on space and climate science in particular; however, with the changing socioeconomic tides I find myself looking for an outlet to make lasting innovations that influence the world in a positive way.
Currently, I work as a Space Systems Engineer II at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. I have spent the past three years working in many different interesting and fulfilling roles which span the gamut of the spacecraft development lifecycle,
- RainCube, Spacecraft Manager
- Sentinel-6, Project Systems Engineering
- InSight, MOS V&V Systems Engineer
- JPL Innovation Foundry, Team X + A Team Core Member
Before my time at JPL, I worked as the Spacecraft Integration Lead for the RACE CubeSat in the Texas Spacecraft Lab. The Texas Spacecraft Lab was a small lab run by Dr. Glenn Lightsey in the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin – where I graduated with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering in December of 2014.
But that's just my professional experience.
I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I've hacked together a bluetooth transceiver for my car, built a desk, built a portable wall for a studio apartment, restored a laptop motherboard using a microscope and a soldering iron, but I am most proud of the following project.
A few years ago I designed and built my own sound system. Just recently, I decided to update it.
Here are the original build notes. Click through and follow along with the captions to see what is created at the intersection of design, craftsmanship, and engineering.
I had a problem. I was moving to California for work, and I could take only the belongings that could fit inside my car. Unfortunately, my beloved 2.1 system I owned in college was just too large for my car, let alone a car filled with all my other belongings. Do I simply sell my previous system and buy another when I get there? Sure, I could do that. But I could also make this my own thing and learn something. I tend to learn a lot more when I do something myself.
I'll build it.
Next time you're in front of a good pair of speakers and a well mastered song, listen intently. You might notice you can hear the location and orientation of each of the instruments in the recording studio - this is called sound imaging. Many artists replicate their arrangement in the studio with their arrangement on stage for this reason. Further, you might feel a wash of sound surrounding you, as if you're being wrapped in a blanket of musical consonance and dissonance - this is called soundstage. If you've ever been to a concert, you've felt this sensation. Some people argue that a soundstage is directly related to volume and that you can brute force a grandiose soundstage by cranking decibels alone, but I find that to be clumsy and imprecise. Descriptive imaging and a verbose soundstage coexist and collaborate with one another, much like how a particular rhetoric helps drive a narrative.
I decided I would build something more portable and with better stereo imaging. There. Some requirements. Let's go from there.
I wanted to make something I would really enjoy and could place anywhere without fear of spoiling a nice looking room. My wood selection was Western Red Cedar, mostly because of the beautiful contrast between the light grain in the sapwood and the deeper red grain in the heartwood. Most speaker cabinets use quarter inch MDF with a wood veneer, and that method is totally fine, but I wanted to try something different rather than follow a guide online.
When it comes to hardware, I made the following selections. For drivers, I used two Morel MDT12 tweeters and 2 HiVi M5a Woofers - both of which can be found in ultra high end speakers in their own right. I used Dayton Audio 2nd order crossovers rather than design my own as I was a little bit strapped for time. Cabinets and tuning - the crux of speaker design - I initially tuned the box to 55 Hz using this MATLAB script I wrote, but later changed this tune slightly after fine-tuning the port length while listening to it being driven by a live amp. Ports are 1.375" diameter, one of them is 3.68" in length while the other is completely flush. I found making one flush provided a better bass response for an otherwise weak subwoofer performance (as was expected). One inch thick sonic foam was placed on the top and sides of the inside cabinet to dampen the box resonance.
For an amp, I initially chose the Lepai 2020a+ as it was cheap and it would fit... and that was a mistake. The Lepai simply does not have enough clean power to drive the woofers at high volumes. The sound clips and the music degrades substantially at those power levels, which is also bad for the drivers themselves. I had been telling myself to replace this amp since I built it, but other projects took precedence.
In August of this year - nearly three years after the initial build - I got around to replacing the Lepai amp with a much higher quality SMSL. I've decided to revisit this subject and post this build to document the process.
To the right is a video I took during the SMSL install. This was filmed while doing a test to make sure it was all peachy - a little bit of V&V. In the video you get a taste of the fantastic sound clarity, despite being recorded with an iPhone microphone.
Song: American Eyes by Promises Ltd.
Good test song with big soundstage and healthy dynamic range.
Below is the initial build album. Click through and follow along with the captions to get an understanding of what is going on throughout the build process.
It's rewarding to build something out of an idea and a little motivation.
My spare time is filled with various hobbies, which primarily focus on my passion for the outdoors and pushing my own boundaries.
My passion for the outdoors and my background as a systems engineer amalgamates in a sport known as Ultralight Backpacking.
It is a minimalist philosophy to backpacking that focuses on ridding oneself of material goods - and excess weight - to focus more on the footprints you make on the world around you.
Ultralight backpacking is a particularly niche activity - mostly made up of accomplished thru-hikers and high mileage weekend warriors - but recently the sport has surged in popularity which means there are many newcomers looking for advice.
I developed what is commonly referred to as the "Shoestring Guide," which is a free resource for anyone who is interested in bringing their pack weight down at minimal excess cost. This is by far my most popular page on my site, and it pulls in approximately 5,000 unique visits per month - quite a bit for such a small corner of the internet. The purpose of the guide is to get more people the knowledge they need to get outside, while providing safe and affordable options.
Click the image below for more.
The story is not over, but that's all for now. Thanks for making it this far! You may have noticed my hints at many other projects above. I would be happy to discuss these further, but never quite documented to any level of detail - just ask!
m: (214) 755-9399