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.)

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)

Continue reading “Rule the Season: Make Fancy Booze to Give to Your Friends!”

HAPPY THANKSGIVING: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!” #gobblegobblegobble

This is, in my humble, a damn-near perfect gag—which is saying something, because I find single-camera laugh-track situation comedies almost entirely unbearable to watch.

I hope your day is good and sweet.  Gobblegobble!

(If you wanna read more of my thoughts on this specific gag and what it can teach writers, you can do so here.)

The Two Productivity Gurus You Meet in Heaven

Good Buddy AMEM writes:

You ever write a piece on productivity?

To which I reply:

Sorta!

I’ve written scads of advice things to folks who’ve emailed me expressing interest in freelance editing/copywriting, but nothing sort of generically about productivity in the “GTD” sense.

Anyway, when it comes to that, two pieces of advice jump to mind.  The first is something a rabbi said during High Holidays services once, which amounted to “God doesn’t really give a shit about something you did one time; it’s when you repeat things over and over again that God takes notice.”  The rabbi was talking about sin, basically advising against beating yourself up over a single fuck-up.  Instead, make good and move on to Do Good Things (which may or may not square you with any Magickal Sky Fairy, but is certainly a helluva lot more socially productive). 

But this position—that the thing you do one time isn’t what you are—goes for everything, good and bad:  You aren’t a thief just because you stole something one time, and you aren’t a writer just because you wrote and sold one good thing.  The last story/book/article/brochure does almost exactly jack-shit to help you write and sell the next one.  You are a writer because you write every day.  So, decide on the thing you want to be, and be that thing for at least a little while every day.

This sounds sorta stupid—or, at best, equal parts stupid and profound, like the Wise Men of Chelm—but still, every story I’ve sold in the last, I dunno, eight-ish years has been mostly written 25 minutes at a time weekday mornings while children slept.

The other piece of advice is straight from Ramit Sethi, who is sort of a huckster and sort of dead-on about most of what he says (albeit in a huckstery life-coach-ish way).  Anyway, one one his big pieces of advice (at least a few years ago, when I was more actively following him) was to stop saying “I don’t have time for X.”  All of us are busy and all of us blow precious minutes and hours dicking around on Facebook and leafing through shitty magazines and watching crap we don’t care about on YouTube and whatever.  We have time for it.  You can get up 25 minutes early every morning and write stories and novels 25 minutes at a time.  You can get in shape—great shape, really—25 minutes at a time.  You can learn about retirement savings or knitting or how to eat all vegan 25 minutes at a time.  We use time as an excuse, because we don’t really—in our hearts—give a shit about the things we say we want. Just like TLC warns, we are scrubs “always talking about what we want / then we sit on our broke ass” 

The real problem isn’t the time, it’s the prioritization.  So, just the honest and start saying “I’m not prioritizing that.”

  • “Lose some weight?  Sorry, I’m not really prioritizing going to the gym right now.”
  • “Hate my job?  I’m not prioritizing finding a new one.”
  • “Feeling perpetually pyscho-emotionally fucked up?  Yeah, well, I just can’t prioritize finding a shrink and going to sessions.”

(These are all drawn from my life, incidentally.)

Changing your language like this forces us to really look at what we’re doing, ’cause when your kid says “Can we go play at the park?” or “Can you read me this book?” or “Can we watch this show?” and instead of saying “I’d love to sweetie, but I don’t have time” you say “I’d love to, sweetie, but I’m not prioritizing that right now”—well, you feel like a royal douchebag, and you do the important thing instead of the thing you thought was important.

So, that’s the advice:

  1. Be the thing you want to be for at least a little while everyday.
  2. Don’t talk about “time,” talk about Priorities.

Build a Cheap Lil Starter Robot with Your Kids


Spent the holiday weekend chilling with friends, and we built a few Jitterbugs (tiny, super-simple, super-cheap robots that run away from light, cockroach-style). I’d totally forgotten how much fun these are.  Here’s a video of my 4-year-old sitting in the closet with flashlights and competing at “reverse sumo” (first person out of the ring wins):

Here’s a set of Jitterbugs built by Stephen Trouvere and his boys, with the addition of LED eyes:

love how those lil guys turned out! For the curious, all we’ve done is built the standard jitterbug, then taken a pair of regular ol’ red LEDs, wired them in parallel, buffered the positive lead with a 100Ω resistor (brown-black-brown stripes), and soldered the free resistor lead to the positive battery terminal, and the negative LED legs to the negative terminal (it’s the same way we wire up the LEDs in the “Switchbox” project in that same book).

Full build instructions are in my first book (which also includes cardboard boomerangs, sock squids that can become Sock Cthulhu, musical instruments, and more).