Your EXPIRATION DATE has arrived! **UPDATE**

(UPDATE: Same great post, now with the correct date for the event: June 28, 7pm)

ExpieDate-banner

Good news, everyone:  My latest novella—Expiration Date—is available free online this summer!  Here’s the official blurb:

This science fiction “till death do we part” story follows young Lizzie and Bram in a relationship on fast-forward. Armed with the knowledge of her scientific discovery, Granny Gin burdens the couple with the question “What would you do, if you knew your end was near?”

First chapter went live early this morning; check it out!  New chapters every week.

But wait!  There’s more: The official book-release kick-off party is next week:

  • WHEN: June 28 @ 7pm
  • WHERE:  Ann Arbor District Library Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
  • WHAT: A reading, some chit-chat, free tea and snackies from the sponsors, Arbor Teas, and free high-fives from me! 
  • DETAILS: Expiration Date Book Launch Event

See you there!

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.

Continue reading “SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth”

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?

Continue reading “Experience the Power of the Slinky Sound Forest at Penguicon 2017”

Simple DIY Guitar Stompbox Demo: Seeing is Believing; Be Hear Now (pun!)

A reader recently asked for audio samples of a few projects from my first book, so I made this quick lil video:

(Daaaaamn does that fuzz tone wail—and it’s literally ~$5 in parts!)

You might need headphones to hear the detail on the straight tremolo, but the throb becomes really pronounced at the end when I chain the two effects together.

In the process of uploading that demo video, I stumbled across this guy’s build of the Single-Chip Space Invader synth from my most recent book.  Oh, man, do I love that Star Wars lunchbox he used as a case! So rad!

Any of this look rad?  You can download a “jam pack” of complete projects drawn from both books. Click here now to get your free Junkyard Jam Pack PDF!

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!

A Grab Bag of Human Music Technologies

Girl totally rocks the original “Super Mario” medley (complete with coins and power-ups!) on a sheng, sounds like she totally belongs in the Mos Eisley Catina Band:

A robot plays a pop hit (I love the rhythmic element that the robot’s motors and gears bring to the song):

Props to Arthur Lacomme for pointing me to this one featuring “Mr. Curly” (which is the instrument, not the dude playing it).  I love that watering-can clarinet Pollack demos around 1:45! 

(Arthur also recommends the open-source Rakarrack software package, which he uses when he rocks his Mr. Curley.)

This one is pretty interesting if you stick with it; what you no doubt initially take to be a precursor to the 8-track is playing cartridges loaded with ribbon-based analog records(!!!).  The macro-lens bit at around 5:20 gives you an example of both the sound (pretty damn solid) and the mechanism (OMFG! Wünderbar!)  Hilarious remote control, too.

And then there’s this guy:

chordophone-lyre-plucked
My beautiful picture

(FYI, that caption was Wordpress’s suggested—and I love it!!!)

o_O  The thing that makes this one, for me, is how the strings are anchored in the eye sockets(!!!)  The Met has several of thesefrom different generous donors and almost certainly different artisans—and they all use the eye sockets and brow ridge as a saddle and bridge.  Humans, amiright?

N.B. that, according to current expert opinion, this thing—which is indeed from Central Africa, where it was crafted in the 19th C by a native artisan—was produced for no other purpose than to sell something fantastically “primitive” and “savage” to European tourists/anthropologists (and thus inform European opinions of these nations and, in all likelihood, form the foundation of the moral justifications for brutal colonialism).  I invite the reader to meditate on their own how this might mirror our current situation with imported polarizing/fake news, and who the greater savage might be: The supplier who makes the ersatz evidence, or the customer who furnishes the demand and shells out the cash?

How to Smash Fascism without Really Trying

Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):

They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board.  Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence.  And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm.  The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over. 

So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:

  1. Learn these three sentences:
    1. An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?”  (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
    2. A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
    3. A stern: “Not OK, dude.”  Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
  2. Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
  3. Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs.  This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.

Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop.  Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”

Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally).  1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval.  You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life.  The same here.  No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.

Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way.  Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.

(see also: We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump)

Happy Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season, Mofos!

(NOTE: If you’re feeling deja vu, don’t sweat it; I post this every year, because I love you)

I’m a mixed Jew who’s lived in the American Midwest for his entire life. I think these songs, more than anything else I’ve ever written, are honest about that experience.

  • Another Dark Xmastime (FUN FACT: I wrote this during my first year as a fundamentally unemployable stay-at-home dad; my son believes it is an accepted part of the general Xmas Music Canon.)
  • Dreidel Bells (FUN FACT: The beat here is an original GameBoy running an early German Nanoloop cartridge. Both voices are obviously me, but the filters for the robot voice badly overburdened my iBook, causing significant lag–which is why Mr. Roboto struggles so badly to hit his marks.)
  • DreidelDreidelDreidel (FUN FACT: The beat here is a vintage analog Boss DR-55 once owned by POE, crammed through a heavy-metal distortion stompbox.)