Archive for April, 2016

floral riot

I haven’t posted a flower picture in a while. I like it when flowering plants grow together like this. Click to enlarge:

station II station

Station II Station
(photo Christian C.)

A few weeks ago, I got to go to visit Microsoft’s anechoic chambers. This was super cool, particularly since I got to visit the world record holder, which was neat. A lot of people find them eerie and/or creepy; I just thought it was awesome. I have a big post queued up next week, with lots of pictures.

But I also wanted – since I had a unique opportunity here – to snap a thematic variant of David Bowie’s icon Station to Station album cover, from his Thin White Duke era, wherein he is also walking into an anechoic chamber. Mission accomplished!

(I wanted originally to do a straight-up re-creation, but the setting was too different. Science of sound damping has progressed since 1978! 😀 And inversion and variation is better art anyway!)

I’m really pleased with it. Thanks for the help, Christian – and, for that matter, the tour, Sean! And I’ll post about the whole experience next week.

vox day, eric raymond, and the lambda conference blacklist

LambdaConf – a functional programming conference – invited an active and overt white supremacist as a speaker. A bunch of people signed a petition protesting that; LambdaConf told them more or less to fuck off. Now the neofascists are targeting all the petitioners, and Eric Raymond, noted open source developer, has jumped in endorsing a do-not-hire blacklist.

What makes this vaguely relevant here is that our old white supremacist and neofascist Hugo Award-scamming pal, Vox Day, has jumped in on the side of the neofascists, and is the one organising the blacklist. When I went checking to verify that Eric Raymond screencap, I also checked comments, where he’s stridently defending Vox. What a clusterfuck of horrible people this is!

And somehow, at the same time, you have the Horror Writers Association appointing fascist David A Riley to their award jury, and people are fighting over what’s wrong with that.

Now, Nick Mamatas argues that there’s a bit of a difference, in that awards are specifically bringing an entire aesthetic to a function, and Moldbug – the LambdaConf white supremacist speaker – was only going to be talking about code. True, but for me, it’s not really different, just different in degree, because developers are making decisions that affect the aesthetics of real life, all the time.

Take that flap recently where a GeoIP company sent every person looking up an IP address’s geographic location to a specific address in the middle of the US if they didn’t have an actual, correct hit for that IP address. They literally chose an old woman’s farm as their default, because it was the nearest address to geographical US centre.

As a result, she’s been facing years of abuse from strangers, because the company never thought somebody would look up some woman’s address online and go harass her.

They outright said that. Tell me that’s not bringing an aesthetic to software.

And just as much as that sort of programming aesthetic, there’s simple flat out personal safety. White supremacists – like misogynists – don’t believe that everybody in the room is an actual person, right? Unless the croud is whites only, or male only, or both, of course. Preferably both.

Take Dave Sim as an example of an overt misogynist. I won’t be in the same room with that man. Preferably not the same building; certainly not at the same event. That’s because he quite literally believes that women are not people, and that women exist only to drain off of real people, meaning men.

If I have to be in the same room with him, I want a gun, because I don’t trust him not to attack me or some other woman. I think it’s very unlikely, of course. But I’ve read his writing about women, and I would not rule it out. And if we woke up tomorrow and found he’d cut up some woman and put her parts in a dumpster, I would have exactly zero surprise.

And given that this shit happens, and happens routinely, I don’t think that’s irrational. I think it’s called real life impact.

So in the case of an overt white supremacist like Moldbug, you’d have to be profoundly stupid – on an emotional/empathetic level at very, very least – to think people of colour aren’t going to have the same reaction. Because that also happens, in real life.

And I don’t think most of these people are stupid. I just think they’re fine with that.

Which is much worse.

This is part of a collection of posts on racism, sexism, and homophobia in geek culture, covering a variety of specific subtopics. A sorted list of posts can be found here.

experiments in DIY pickups, part two

A couple of months ago, I built a Zeppelin Labs cortado instrument pickup from a kit. I ended up using it on stage, attached to my octave mandolin with a plastic clamp.

It worked well enough, but needed a fair bit of equalisation, plus there was that whole “giant blue clamp” thing. It also had a fairly metallic sound, which is either good or bad, depending upon what you’re looking for. In this case, that was good, but that’s not always true.

So I had an idea – I’d try to work around all of the above by building a second pickup, with this one’s piezo disc affixed to a hardwood plate. To do that, of course, I’d need a new bridge for the octoman, just so the strings wouldn’t be pushed super-high up in the air by the addition of the plate. Fortunately, those are cheap on eBay.

And now I’ve built it. To wit:

It’s Alive

Installed on the octave mandolin

I was hoping for something akin to the sound I got with the clamp… no. That’s not true. That still had issues. No, I was hoping for the held-down-by-hand sound, the best sound I could get with version one, which I could get no other way, and thus no useful way, since I kind of need my hands to play the instrument. They’re too busy to also press the pickup plate onto the face of the octoman. Hence: this approach.

The result… it’s better. But I didn’t quite get there. I didn’t even get the amount of bass pickup I did with the clamp solution on the first pickup. But what I did get was a more naturalistic sound, and more importantly, a better curve of sound, one that I could get into the area of live sound with a simple single-point parametric equalisation curve.

That curve looks like this. Simple, clean, ignore the red line (unrelated) and the small jagged spikes (room noise):

Simple… but kind of a lot. (+19db peak)

Here’s the riff from “Thirteen,” played back with that single curve added. If you want something in more normal octave mandolin tuning, here’s a short bit of Pirate Bill, played with medium force. I find this instrument really uncomfortable to play in GDAE, so forgive the shakiness. I really don’t like the way the fretboard works on this thing.) No other processing, including compression; those are just the raw recordings plus that one EQ point added.

It’s not where I hoped to get, but it’s pretty good – particularly for live. I think that the clamp – and my fingertip, holding the pickup down directly – has been damping down the high end, the higher frequency sounds. The pickup still needs EQ when I do that, just less, and this has the advantage of being… well, it’s a large shift, but a simple one. That has major advantages in real life.

Part of the problem is, honestly, that these little discs are really sensitive, which is good, but that sensitivity starts falling off pretty hard below 300hz. They still pick up the sound, but not nearly as strongly. That in turn implies that the dampening approach might be best, but that has its own problems, even if the idea of building in some sort of adjustable pressure device is kind of hilarious. And… maybe worth trying anyway, actually. Hm.

Regardless, given that the amount of LOUD in this kit is very goddamn high – it’s very sensitive, with a nice low noise floor – I’m wondering if a low-pass filter in the pickup circuit hardware itself would be the best approach. Sure, you’d lose some signal, but it currently needs so little amplification that a subtractive approach might just be… fine.

After making those recordings, I added some tape to hold down the cord – wouldn’t want to yank that cable off the kit, now would we:

I’ve got one more of these kits, and I want to build a boundary mic with it. And I’m wondering whether I can add such a filter directly onboard. That might be all it needs.

emerald city comicon!

I went to ECCC as Shadowcat – Kitty Pryde of the early 1990s, when she was with the superhero group Excalibur – because I felt like being retro and also because reasons – and of course the first thing that happened is Lockheed stole one of my goddamn gloves, about which I was tweeting in character all day. I even had period money!

This era of Kitty Pryde is so old (and short-lived, really) that I wasn’t getting recognised until I started fistbumping other mutants. My favourite of that was running into Beast, I was all “yo, Hank!” and he reflexively returned the fistbump, and then was all, “…Kitty? KITTY PRYDE?! OH MY GOD” and it was awesome. XD

I also have like 750 photos that I collectively refer to as Shit Got Arty which were all taken when I accidentally phased a little into my phone. Phone doesn’t like that. At least I didn’t short the thing out completely. XD

Anyway, here are a few samples that I liked. There are lots more photos – including a bunch of group shots from the Marvel fan meet up on Saturday – On Flickr. Plus, of course, they’re larger. Enjoy!

Goddammit Lockheed!

Shadowcat, phasing. Wearing the glove Lockheed didn’t steal.


This is what I’m going to do to that damn dragon if he doesn’t bring my glove back

Bill Cipher, interpreted, Gravity Falls

Shit Got Arty (538)

Photos Continue on Flickr

this is incredibly goofy and yet also somehow cool

Sansui apparently made an all-analogue physical-slider graphic equaliser… with memory function. Yes, you could save multiple settings.

How did this work?


It is hilariously slow. Jump ahead to 1m 13s, that’s right before this guy hits recall.


I’ve only got a single day pass for ECCC this year, I thought I had other things going on and I didn’t – well, I kind of do, but not exciting fun show things, the most fun I’m having is building a special pickup for the octave mandolin so I can loan it to some else for a show. Maybe I’ll maybe talk more about that later.

BUT! I’m going tomorrow. I’ll be 1990s Shadowcat, if all goes well, as I have no reason to believe it shouldn’t. I had a Shadowcat costume back in the way, but I haven’t worn it in years for Reasons, and also I’m making it better, so that’s fun.

So, yeah – ECCC Saturday! I hear rumours of a PDX Broadsides ninja show. See you there!

irish bouzouki v superman

This comic cover was going around yesterday on Twitter. It would’ve been better than Batman v Superman. Tell me I’m wrong.

irish bouzouki v superman

And yes, since the zouk was invented three years before this comic was published, I am headcanoning that this instrument (which nobody else seems to be able to identify online) is in fact an Irish bouzouki with a weird strap attachment point and not an odd cutout in the upper body. It probably has eight strings based on what we can see of the peg configuration, and that’s a reasonably Irish resonating chamber, and it’s a narrow, Greek neck. And sure, the body’s a little small, but it’s the right shape, I’ve actually seen an oddball zouk in that proportion, and it was very early in the history of the instrument.

Therefore, silver-age Superman’s Kryptonite was officially the Irish bouzouki.

obWakeUpSheeple: WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!

ps – this also happened, perhaps it was a prequel:

ukelele v buster keaton

aw yeah radio

Big shout-out to Montco Radio and Amazing Obscura for the airplay today! Maybe it’s a little oldschool of us, but hearing your band named and played on the radio is still 100% totally awesome. \n/

And talking of, the Save KPLU campaign is about halfway through by both calendar and fundraising, and they’re a bit ahead of plan, which is excellent. They have another matching gift campaign going right now – half a million in matching funds, through April 15th.

Indie radio still matters – particularly journalism-heavy stations like KPLU. So if you haven’t jumped in yet to help save KPLU, go on over and do that now. Get that matching grant nailed down!

all over that 520 bridge deal

So Seattle once again has the world’s longest floating bridge. Yes, it’s a bridge, yes, it’s for vehicles (and next summer also peds and bikes and possibly rail later) and it’s made of concrete and it floats.

We had the longest one already, but it was old and creaky and was thinking about sinking and DON’T THINK IT CAN’T HAPPEN WE LOST ANOTHER BRIDGE THAT WAY. It was hilarious. (We are not very good at highways, and between that an Galloping Gertie, I’m not convinced we’re real good at bridges, either. For that, go to Portland.)

Anwyay, before turning the first chunk of it over to vehicle traffic, they invited everybody to go hoof around on it. So of course we did, and that was fun. Several pictures here; lots more (and bigger) on Flickr.

Let’s walk to Kirkland!


I was walking along the barrier between the bike path and main traffic, since later, that won’t be possible. Anna gave me a sign that she was sick of that and I should stop. I’m kind of surprised I didn’t run into Ranma going the other way.

Slightly Disquieting Pipes.



Looking at the old bridge’s drawbridge control station from the new bridge. The new bridge is taller on the west end, so doesn’t need a drawbridge anymore. That makes it stronger in storms. Right now, the old one needs to be closed to traffic kind of a lot, for safety reasons I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH, THANKS.

And nobody ever gets to do that again (without major traumatic injury anyway) ’cause that section is OPEN NOW TO TRAFFIC. Ha HA ha!

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