SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth

Sideshow Bob: [chuckling] Mr. Simpson, you are forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha.

Homer Simpson: I am not!

For those who slept through Buddhism 101—or failed to see The Simpsons Episode 8F20 (season three, episode 21, first aired April 9, 1992)—the First Noble Truth of the Buddha is this:

There is suffering. 

Which isn’t such a revelation at first glance, but like a lot of things with the Buddha, the big reveal isn’t in what he’s said, but what he’s omitted:

The First Noble Truth is not: There is suffering because you’ve done bad things.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you didn’t try hard enough.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you are a screw-up.

     nor is it: There is suffering because man is born of Original Sin.

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is dead!

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is a jerk!

     nor is it: There is suffering because there was never any God!

There is no “because” at all.  It’s a simple statement of fact that should be obvious, but which we all deny on a daily basis: There is suffering.  There just is.  Often with no one to blame.  Often for no reason at all.  And that’s fine; stop beating yourself up over it (which, handily, brings us to the Second Noble Truth—Suffering is born of craving and desire and clinging to How Things Should Be—which is important, but not really germane to skateboarding).

I bring this up because I need to share something with you:

If you are an adult person getting on a skateboard,

YOU ARE GOING TO GET HURT.

Full stop, no ifs, no becauses, no unless, no provisos.

If you are really careful… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you always wear your pads… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you are lucky or unlucky, careless or stupid, cautious or clever…YOU WILL GET HURT.

It might be minor or major, might land you in the ER or sit you on your sofa for an afternoon with ice on your knee, but one way or the other YOU ARE GONNA GET HURT.

… and that’s fine.  If is fine and just and right that you will be injured, because, as the Buddha and Sideshow Bob remind us, There is Suffering.

Every time I start talking to someone my age about the fact that I returned to skateboarding at 36, they voice admiration, and then something like envy, and always lurking around is the sentence “I’d break my neck if I tried that!”

And the thing is, while you will certainly get hurt, you probably won’t break your neck.  There is, as it turns out, quite a distance between hurt and crippled, and even a further reach to dead.  I’ve seen folks take tremendous falls and pop right back up, I’ve seen—and taken—minor falls that have turned out to be sprained ankles and broken wrists and concussions.  I’ve seen—and worn—bruises every color of any Michigan sunset in any season.  I’ve seen plenty of broken bones, but not a single death or black out.

So let me share with you something my doctor told me when I told her I’d taken up with skateboarding—on the visit I scheduled as a follow-up after a trip to the ER:

“Good.  Keep it up.”

Her rationale: If you are an adult American, than it is almost certain that you aren’t getting nearly enough exercise.  And—Noble Truth alert!—you aren’t likely to start getting more exercise as you continue aging.  So, in the absence of everything else, the choice here isn’t between taking a risk by jumping on a skateboard and playing it safe by not doing so:  Not getting enough exercise absolutely guarantees a shorter life with degraded quality.  Absolutely, with no exceptions.  Full stop.

Getting on the skateboard?  You’ll get hurt, but you won’t die.  And, hell, I regularly hang with a 70-year-old dude at my local skatepark.  Does he tear it up?  Nope; he cruises around, carving on the transitions, working on dropping on.  But he’s having hella fun, and I’ve seen him take big falls and pop right back up.

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Experience the Power of the Slinky Sound Forest at Penguicon 2017

I’ll be at Penguicon again this year (April 28–30).  But instead of just sitting on a few panels and mooching a lot of free drinks, I wanted to do something extra special.  So this year I’m spending the entire weekend building something extra special for you to experience and interact with—and for the Slinkies to finally be heard.

Won’t you join me—and the Slinkies—before it’s too late?

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You need REST to #RESIST

If the last–what, two weeks(!?!)–are any indication, it’s going to be a long four years.  There are going to be plenty of set-backs and, more disheartening, plenty of near misses (the DeVos squeaker just now not the least of them).  Progress is slow, because by design these wheels grind exceedingly fine.

It is easy to lose faith, so remember these five things:

  1. Resistance works. As I write this, carefully vetted refugees are finding sanctuary here, the rights of LGBTQ federal workers have been preserved, the repeal of Obamacare has stalled, the great Federal Lands Rummage Sale is on hold—all things you accomplished with nothing but phone calls and poster-board signs.  We don’t need to shed blood or set fires or take up arms; we are doing this with cellphones and markers.  That is amazing and beautiful and the true cornerstone of this nation’s foundation.
  2. You can switch it up.  Calling your members of congress is important.  Showing up at the big protests is important.  So is hitting those town halls.  But they aren’t everything.  There’s a quieter undercurrent to social action, the part where you simply chat with folks in your community, letting them know you have each other’s backs.  I especially like the notion of “truth advocacy”—take time off from putting out energy (hitting the phones, hitting the streets, etc.) to read and research on your own, and to disseminate what you learn.
  3. You can take a break.  Take a day off.  Take a weekend off.  You’ll be shocked how much you’ll feel like diving back in after giving yourself a 24-hour break from talking politics, calling reps, reading the paper, or looking at social media.
  4. You can join at any time.  If you’ve never called your rep, you can do so for the first time right now.  If you can’t call daily, you can call weekly.  You are picking up the slack for someone who has reached that burnout point and needs a day off.  We need subs like you just as much as we need those every-single-day every-single-protest power players!
  5. We shall defeat them, one by one.☝️  Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we keep putting our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.

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Handmade Synths from Junkyard Jammers!

I love, love, love(!!!) seeing and hearing the projects my readers build, and sharing them with folks thinking about how they want to tackle these same projects.  First up is Jason Jaknunas’s take on the Bleepbox 8-Step Analog Sequencer (Project 16 in Junkyard Jam Band)—which is easily the best version of this I’ve ever seen (it totally leaves mine in the dust, and I designed the damn thing!)

Everything is just so sweet and just-right here: the knobs, the brushed aluminum label, the wood cheeks, the grommets padding out the LEDs, the labels—but also the little things, the visual balance among the elements, the use of different sizes of knob on different functions.  Give it a look, then give it a listen.  So rad!

An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas
An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas

Arthur Lacomme in Brussels, who I’ve linked before, sent me a link to a rad lil Single-Chip Space Invader (Project 15 in Junkyard Jam Band) he built. Click thru to hear this bad boy; such chiptune joy!  Arthur and his pals have plans to hit an upcoming “wild carnival” with some noise-enhanced clothing.  I look forward to seeing and sharing video!

Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme
Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme

Keep seeking out the Good Noise!  Keep sharing what you find!

Clarification on Calling Your Reps, and Props to Senator Stabenow

Props to Senator Debbie Stabenow for Playing it Legit

First things first, I want to applaud my senator, Debbie Stabenow, for being hella legit. I just called her office for my daily check-in, and got a little insight on her process when it comes to the Second-Place President’s cabinet nominations:  Sen. Stabenow has been meeting with each nominee one-on-one, preferably face-to-face, to feel them out and attempt to get answers to the specific concerns being raised by her constituents.  None of the grand-standing or histrionics congressfolk are notorious for, just a straight-up, respectful Q&A.  This also means that when Stabenow announced that she would not support Jeff Sessions or Betsy DeVos, she had already told them this to their faces.  I respect the hell out of that, and knowing this bit about her process helps me feel less terrible.  Thank you, Sen. Stabenow!usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

Second, I want to clarify two things about calling your reps (which you should be doing daily.  Please!):

  1. Call your reps even if you know they already agree with you and are doing what you want done! Tell them “thank you!” If you feel even an iota safer knowing that they are going to bat for you, then say so.  This serves two purposes:
    1. It’s a numbers game.  They count calls, and those numbers mean something, not just in their office, but on the floor of the House and Senate. The Honorable Gentleman from BFE cares a helluva lot about 100 calls from folks in his district—at the very least, those people can fire him in a couple short years!—but he sure as hell doesn’t just ignore 10,000 calls in The Honorable Lady’s district over in Big City Metro Area, because he sure as hell doesn’t plan on representing BFE his whole damn life.  He wants to go places.  (This isn’t just my opinion; this is what Rep. Dingell’s office told me this morning:  The number one thing you can do as an individual citizen is keep calling.)
    2. Your reps have the worst job, and they need moral support.  They are going to get screamed at and threatened for sticking up for the things we want—that’s ludicrous, because you’d think all Americans should want well-funded schools, neighbors from all over the world, and safe drinking water, but here we are. Your reps have to get up every morning, put on uncomfortable shoes, and go get screamed at by weirdos.  It is a lot easier for them to hang tough if they can keep in mind how many hundreds of folks back home have their back.
  2. Making these calls is as much about your mental health as our nation’s stability.  Even when you’re on the losing end of an issue—and you will be, often—you are going to start feeling better if you take 10 minutes each day to talk to these staffers, to hear their confidence and enthusiasm and bravery and support of you, as a citizen and a fellow human.

So, go! Get out there!  Make your calls and then get on with your day!

Rule the Season: Make Fancy Booze to Give to Your Friends!

Once again it’s that very special2012-11-14-12.10.49-768x583 time of year when I remind you that it’s hella easy to make your own booze, appropriate for gift-giving or general drunkification. (That link goes to my time-tested E-Z DIY Limoncello recipe; make it now, give it during Xmas/Xanukah week, get super-popular in the Dark Days of the Unconquered Son/Sun)

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EpiPen, with Occasional Music

This is an Auvi-Q.  It’s an epinephrine autoinjector—basically an EpiPen—so that folks with severe allergies to bees or shellfish or whatever don’t have to die suddenly.  The neat thing about Auvi-Q: It talks!

(My boy has a pal with a couple severe allergies, and so said pal always comes with an autoinjector; this was what he was using a couple years back, when I made the video.)

Here’s the thing about epinephrine: It saves lives, it’s cheap as hell—the amount needed to save a life hardly costs a buck—and it can’t be patented, because it’s just nature’s way: Giving someone heading into anaphylactic shock an epinephrine shot is basically doing what the body would do on its own if it could, with the very stuff the body would use to do it.

But you can hardly expect a stranger in an emergency to whip out a syringe and a tiny bottle and not fuck things up.  So the autoinjector (i.e., “EpiPen”—which you may have heard about for recently for some reason) is a legit and important product improvement.  It ain’t a $500 improvement, but there’s definite value to an autoinjector, and the EpiPen is an excellent one.

Auvi-Q took the autoinjector one step further by making the EpiPen-Auto-Injectordevice talk you through the process.  And, when it came out, it was cheaper than the EpiPen (which, at the time, was midway through it’s moon-shot price hike, which drove a meteoric revenue boost for Mylan—the company selling EpiPens; check the graph).

I mostly thought to bring this up because it’s a neat business lesson:

  1. Autoinjectors are a great product: The medicine itself isn’t a great product (it’s just sorta there, like water or yeast), but making it easier to administer is a great place to improve, and folks will gladly pay for that.
  2. Auvi-Q was a fantastic product addressing a very real pain point: Normal humans often hesitate to even do the EpiPen thing, because they are terrified of fucking up. People with EpiPens die because no one has the presence of mind and confidence to juice them in time.  Lowering the “threshold resistance” is always a place to make a dime.
  3. It’s a great example of the Free Market at work: Just as the Free Market first brought us EpiPen (you can’t patent the drug, but you can patent the delivery method), it then brought us the Auvi-Q (you can’t compete on efficacy, but you can on packaging and price).

But then the “EpiPencil“—a $30 DIY EpiPen workalike—hit the news feeds, and I thought it was worthwhile to point out one last lesson in the product arc of Auvi-Q:

  • Auvi-Q—a product that was both cheaper and, by some measures, better than EpiPen—was recalled in 2015 because it wasn’t reliable dosing people at the right level—which can be deadly.

The point being: A problem can be well defined, its solution known and well understood, and yet implementation on scale can still be an absolute clusterfuck. 

Which is why EpiPencil worries the fuck out of me.  Does it work for the dude giving the instructions?  Maybe; I have no clue.  Probably.  But will it work for millions upon millions of people with diverse biologies in diverse settings having suffered diverse misshaps?  Fantastically unfuckinglikely.

Please don’t leave your kids’ survival up to a self-declared DIY Internet doctor (who is, in fact a PhD mathemetician).

(title comes with apologies to Jonathan mathematician, whose work I love)