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)

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).

Prepare Your Brain for RAZZLE-DAZZLE: Pierre Jaquet-Droz’s “Writer”

If you’re at all mechanically minded, you’re going to start our sort of underwhelmed, since the solution seems pretty transparent: Any determined craftsman could get similar results with a homebrew pantograph and template (hell, you could do it in LEGO).

But keep watching.  You’ll get more impressed around the 2-minute mark when you see the mechanism, and more so around 2:40 when you see the cams and realize that the device isn’t tracing letterforms, but rather, in a mechanical sense, understands a series of modular strokes than can be built up in different arrangements to form different letters. Finally, you’ll totally shit yourself at 3:55 because this damned thing—built in the late 1700s—was programmable.

0.o

Absolutely stunning.

The “Millennial Whoop” and the Formula for Comfort Formulae

I’m interested in artistic formulea of all stripes, so my ears perked up when I stumbled across this blog post exploring why it is that every pop song I hear as of late seems to feel the same, even when they sound totally different.  The key: A little earwormy melodic alternation embedded into the hook.  Here’s the article’s kick-out—although the whole thing (which is rife with video examples) is well worth your time:

[T]he Millennial Whoop evokes a kind of primordial sense that everything will be alright. You know these notes. You’ve heard this before. There’s nothing out of the ordinary or scary here. You don’t need to learn the words or know a particular language or think deeply about meaning. You’re safe. In the age of climate change and economic injustice and racial violence, you can take a few moments to forget everything and shout with exuberance at the top of your lungs. Just dance and feel how awesome it is to be alive right now. Wa-oh-wa-oh.

Having read this, I wondered how persuasive such a simply piece of patterning might be. So, in five minutes I sketched out this little tune and, whaddya know, it sounds like the outro of basically anything I’ve stumbled across while tuning across the dial during the last several long summer car trips:

For the curious, there’s literally nothing going on in this song: The left hand is just a straight C Major chord alternating with whatever you call that lazy F Major where, instead of actually moving your hand up, you just skooch your thumb and index fingers up one white key each, so that you pick up F Major’s F and B while keeping C anchored as the bottom note (maybe that’s an “inversion” of F Major?)  The right hand, as per the “Millennial Whoop” formula, is alternating between the G and E two octaves up—i.e., the V and III in a progression where C is the root (i.e., I).  The lyrics (which, depending on your speakers, might be hard to hear without headphones; I’m shit at mastering) are just whatever popped into my head, and the whole thing was recorded using my cellphone.  The only “studio magic” (done in Garageband, and largely without any digital pixie dust) is “doubling the vocals” (see below—which is an excerpt form my book Junkyard Jam Band )—especially important in this instance because 1) I can’t sing for shit (which double-tracking tends to obscure) and 2) the mic on my cellphone didn’t pick up my voice particularly clearly, on account it was sitting on top of my keyboard’s speaker.  Even if it had caught my singing, I likely would have doubled the vocals anyway (which are actually quadrupled by the end—listen with headphones, and you’ll hear two extra voices, slathered in “chorus” effect, that come in on the second round of Oh-ee-oh-ee-oh-ohs), since that sorta lush studio overkill is baked into this running-’til-the-break-of-dawn! summer-hit genre.

 JJB-doublingvox
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Project: The “Non-Violins” Synthamajig

2016-07-24 16.46.54Here’s a little something I cooked up while special-guesting at Motor City Steam Con, July 22–24, 2016:

The “Non-Violins” Synthamajig:

 

 

Here’s a static view, front and back:

The "Non-Violins"—'cause it ain't a violin no more
The “Non-Violins”—’cause it was a violin, but it ain’t no more!
Rear view of the guts of the Non-Violins
Rear view showing the guts of the Non-Violins

So what’s going here? Some of it is standard steampunk greebles (e.g., that faux wind-up key, the old vacuum tube being lit with a modern LED mounted behind it, some obtuse knob and mounting hardware choices), but the guts are a combination of totally legit early prototype circuits from my book (e.g., a four-2016-07-24 14.21.38step version of the Bleepbox Sequencer, of which only three of the steps can be pitch-controlled) and simple versions of a few others I hacked together on the spot (the voice is a stripped-down Single Chip Space Invader Synth driving a simplified Dirty-Cheap Amp).

2016-07-24 14.21.11

 

Why did I do this?  ’cause Emmy Jackson asked me to.  Emmy is a really swe2016-07-24 14.21.01ll guy, and did me huge solids at both Motor City Steam and Penguicon (where he both handled book sales for me and the other authors on hand, and offered a safe space for my son if he should lose track of himself or get freaked out).  He showed up at Motor City Steam with four rejected violin bodies, on 2016-07-24 14.21.05the condition that I rework at least one to fit in with his Dieselpunk aesthetic.  I gladly gave it my damndest (another instrument from this same weekend, the Diddley Fiddle, is still in development—as is, it’s a fine lil diddley bow, but damned if I don’t want it to be at least a tad more electromechanically rad-as-hell).

 

Here’s some video of me presenting the Non-Violins Synth to EmmyJ at Motor City Steam Con:

dave
Dave wishes the Non-Violens a fond fare-the-well