long shot

We’ve been eligible and on waiting lists for vaccination against COVID for 6 weeks. But St. Louis is way behind getting the supply they need from the state, while rural areas have plenty for the current phase. (The state does not appear to view this as a problem — but then, the rural areas and the state government are Republican, while the city and most its suburbs are where the Black people and Democrats are. The governor is or was an anti-masker, and wanted to ban some of the emergency restrictions that St. Louis City and County put in place last year. So, there’s that.)

So, one of St. Louis’ new favorite sports has been finding somewhere else to go get vaccinated. (It’s better than baseball…) Last weekend she found us a couple of appointments at a drive-thru vaccination event near Fort Leonard Wood on Tuesday, which is her usual day off, so I took a sick day and we made a 5-hour road trip of it. It was in a community center’s parking lot, and was a very organized, no-fuss operation with minimal contact. We got the Moderna vaccine, so we’ll need the booster in a month — hopefully by then we can get it closer to home.


Last night I finished The Lost Books of the Odyssey, which like many books has “A NOVEL” printed on the front cover, but it kind of isn’t — more a short story collection with a theme. The premise is, the Odyssey was originally a sort of framing device for a set of mini-adventures that storytellers would embellish, add their own parts to, and so on, and it was only in translation and scholarly study that it became more of a fixed tale. So the author, claiming these were translated from many different sources, adds his own chapters. Some of them are pretty mundane, just Odysseus in reflective melancholy for example. But the better ones are cleverly twisted meta-stories that change the entire nature of the Odyssey. Some are the supposed “real version” of events, which Odysseus didn’t want getting out or which were embellished beyond recognition. Some are strange and surprising secrets about certain characters, or the personal viewpoints of Polyphemus, Circe, Athena, Achilles, Medusa, etc.

It was a short book, but overall I felt like there were maybe five really good short stories here and a fair amount of filler. Or maybe some of it required much more familiarity with the source material to really “get”, but that would be inconsistent with some of the explanatory footnotes elsewhere.

still afloat

There is a potentially cool, big, positive thing in the works for me, about which I’ll celebrate and explain if it happens.

But the process has been both exciting and stressful (sometimes it’s hard to untangle those two emotions!) There’s the ordinary social anxiety stuff, but more so, irrational worries of the sort where I know they’re irrational, but knowing is only about 20% of the battle.

Add that to the early 2021 background level of stress. And a problem where water was dripping from the first floor ceiling below the second floor bathroom, as the crazy weather started to thaw… was it a frozen pipe, leaking toilet or roof problem? (At this point it’s either a roof problem or ghosts.) And a mysteriously appearing magazine subscription buried in three layers of obscure companies with no web presence, which I think turned out not to be a scam maybe. And an Android update that broke four different things on my phone (some of which interfered with each other). All together, it’s been kind of a lot.

No full-blown panic attacks, thankfully! Those have a distinct feel to them, and I haven’t had one since about this time last year when COVID was getting really scary but I still had to physically go to the office.

To get to the point: there are certain albums that I find very soothing when things get overwhelming, and my own Float is one of them. It was intended for that purpose, and I’m happy to say that it works. Given that I’ve decided not to pursue the Beads study as an album but as a personal set of experiments, I think the next project will be a sort of sequel to Float. I think I’ll call it “Adrift,” because other connotations of the word fit how things have felt so far this year.

Calming music does not have to be boring. In fact, I find some kinds of boring music cause stress because you want it to stop! Some people listen to death metal, industrial, or HNW to relax — maybe it’s cathartic, or maybe the solid impact of it just drives away everything else, like standing under a waterfall. Other people prefer really thinky intricate jazz, or more soulful heartfelt blues, or old favorite pop from their youth, to untie the knots in their nerves. Whatever works! I’m still basically going for “dark” “ambient” here though with this.

because it’s Mardi Gras

Mutable Instruments Beads was released today, and I can finally stop being cautious about taking photos of my modular, and stop putting “[beta module]” or just “Clouds” in my patch notes. 🙂

I’m having second thoughts about my current project to explore it — I think it’s doing me some good to think about and discover other techniques and patches with it, but so far I’m not producing particularly musical results, just experimental ones. So it doesn’t really make much sense to release it as an album. Besides, as wildly popular as this is going to be, and as many demos have already appeared for it, I don’t think it needs something else that is also kind of a demo.

So I’ll probably just get back to making music the normal way (with occasional explorations interspersed, for my own benefit) and stumble into a theme accidentally, as so often happens 🙂 I do have another Ambient Online compilation piece to record, as well as that invitation from the Sonic Sound Synthesis show to consider.

good news, everyone

Our Gretta does not, it turns out, have cancer! Which came as a big surprise to the four vets who looked at her x-ray and said “that’s osteosarcoma.” And to the first oncologist who ran the biopsy and couldn’t quite believe that it came back negative, and sent it to a second oncologist.

As it turns out, they believe our doggo had a fracture sometime in her past that healed up wrong, without giving her any trouble running around normally — and then more recently, fractured again worse and was an untenable mess. The vet who did the surgery she said that if we’d chosen to do a bone biopsy first, she would still have recommended amputation, given the state it was in and Gretta’s age. So basically she got to get it all over with faster and with less stress on her body.


My parents have now had both their COVID-19 vaccines, so that’s a relief. My brother and his wife, both grocery workers, are waiting for theirs and I hope they can get them soon. My “aunt” (really a family friend, but like a sister to my mom) is apparently afraid of it because she’s had some bad reactions to flu shots in the past (and of course, the disinformation out there doesn’t help at all) but promises to ask her doctor. And as for my wife and I, well… the vaccine situation has been Extremely Not Great in the St. Louis area; last I’ve heard there have been zero doses sent by the state in the last three weeks. I’m signed up on three different pre-registration lists. I’ve also read news that Walmart is taking appointments, but I checked and they’re not doing it in our area, at least not yet.


We’ve been “enjoying” ( ಠ_ಠ ) real winter weather lately, with temperatures in single digits, snow flurries or light ice most days, and quite possibly a wind chill of -25F to look forward to this weekend. One advantage of not leaving the house very much is I’ve not once broken out the heavy coat, gloves, snow boots, and such and done very little driving in questionable road conditions.


We watched all four seasons of The Good Place over the course of 3-4 days, and it was great fun. We both agree that Janet is the best. The next time I have some excuse to hand someone a cactus I’m going to say, “I have the file.” It might be a while though.

I’ve just finished Charles Stross’s Empire Games and Dark State and am eager to jump into Invisible Sun. This is the second series in the Merchant Princes setting. Where the Laundry Files are a crossover of horror/SF/comedy/spy thriller, this setting is more fantasy/SF/alternate history/political thriller/spies. And these two books start pretty heavily into the spies and land on all fours in science fiction.

I forgot to add a title here

More demos and interviews about the Make Noise Strega have come forth, and I’m more convinced than ever I would really love one if I had it in my studio. And… at least for now I am sticking to my resolution and not buying it. If there is a golden opportunity to pick one up at a steep discount, I might not resist. But I don’t expect that for a while anyway.


MetaFilter has shared a couple of good posts lately on the subject of the attention economy and its titans:

Goodbye 2010s: techno-optimism edition

Though yes, the article does have some optimism for the future, it also points out a possible double-whammy explanation for why everything is terrible now: the combination of zero interest rate policy and algorithmic social media.

I don’t entirely follow the finance argument on its own, but combine that with the ability for someone who already has media attention to exponentially inflate their personal brand through fraud and assholery, which makes investors willing to shovel piles of cash at them because of their fame, and you get Kylie Jenner, Elon Musk and Donald Trump. It makes a certain amount of sense.

I mentioned the article to my spouse and she pointed out the writer’s strike of 2007-2008 and the spawning of reality TV. Without “The Apprentice,” I don’t think Trump would have had nearly as much of a personal brand in the public consciousness, and “creepy old rich guy with no taste thinks Obama isn’t actually an American” might have been good for two minutes of laughter followed by instantly forgetting about it. Of course, Twitter’s algorithm did go on to boost the horribleness. So the whole “running for President to build his personal brand” thing wouldn’t have happened.

Sigh.

On a more down to earth level, the attention economy was predicted in the 80s, before the internet was really even a thing to people not wearing lab coats.

As I said in my first blog entry here, I’ve quit Facebook. But I only recently had an epiphany about Instagram: trying to “train” the algorithm that suggests posts or shows a bunch of stuff on the search page, is worse than futile. Marking things “I am not interested in this” only informs the algorithm that I noticed the thing in question. While breaking my habit of checking my feed frequently might be hard, I should have an easier time just sticking strictly to the accounts that I actually follow.

And speaking of attention theft: any game that sends notifications on my phone to remind me to play it every few hours gets IMMEDIATELY deleted.

I wish I could preemptively block all requests to review products or services, too. Every single thing I buy online, every time I go to the dentist even. I get FOUR surveys each time I take my car in for warranty service.

Anyone who texts me and isn’t family or an unavoidable, legitimate business thing (like “your Grubhub driver is arriving soon”) gets blocked. Again, I wish that could be done preemptively.

Robocalls are the worst. There was a day when I received 15 phone calls from 15 different unidentified phone numbers, all of them leaving identity theft scam voicemail. I finally paid for the Hiya app so I could block a range of numbers. (So if you’re from Bangladesh and have a legitimate reason to call me, sorry.) I’m also constantly getting texts and phone calls from people offering to buy my house, which I have never indicated any interest in to anyone ever; of course may also be total scams as well. I am on the national Do Not Call registry and it doesn’t seem to help at all. I kind of want to ditch my current phone number, give it only to family members and my doctor’s office and bank, and see how that feels.

I use ad blockers in my browser without any sense of guilt whatsoever. Basing “free” websites on advertising revenue has led to surveillance capitalism and greatly worsened this attention economy. I feel like this is another thing that a universal basic income could help out with a lot actually — allowing “content creators” (*) to do their thing without begging for support.

(*) ugh. Can we say artists, entertainers, journalists and teachers here instead? Because good “content” is art, entertainment and/or knowledge, not just grist for the money mill.

Anyway, enough on this, I’m just ranting and making myself unhappy.


Music!

I’ve re-read Curtis Roads’ Microsound, which as far as I know is the absolute definitive book on granular synthesis. Roads wasn’t exactly the inventor of the concept, but much of his career has been spent in research and exploration of it, developing granular synthesis software and techniques and music. He is very much into different time scales of musical composition, from the tiniest grains of sound to “mesoscale” musical phrases and structure, and especially takes interest in the vague area where rhythm becomes tone.

Of course I read it for some inspiration and insight into the new project I’ve started. My approach is much less academic and formal, but then, I live in an era where I can pump some audio through a module or a plugin or a pedal. His research began in the days where digital synthesis meant an unfriendly programming language on a stack of punch cards, running a job overnight on the university computer to produce a spool of data tape that had to be carried across town to another university’s computer in an oceanography lab to convert the data to analog signals and record them on audio tape. (I seem to recall a story that John Chowning, the discoverer of FM synthesis, had to build his own digital-to-analog converter because Stanford didn’t own one.)

Roads developed a lot of non-sample-based techniques where grains contained generated waveforms or pulse trains. In a sense, it’s just playing thousands of very short notes very quickly until they blur together and become something else, preferably with some higher level organization on a more typical “notes” time scale. But all of that layering and amplitude modulation has consequences on timbre, and all of those rapid events are blurred together by human perception, so the result can be pretty fascinating. Although I have to say, some of them are more interesting in theory than in practice, compared to other synthesis techniques.

Musicians have generally latched much more onto granularization — sampling audio and then using that as the basis to generate grains through playing back short snippets in layers. That allows nearly total transformation of the sound in some aspects, while perhaps keeping other aspects. Stretching a sample in length without changing its pitch. Or repitching without changing the tempo. Or reversing it, or giving it a growly character, or blurring it in time into something more reverb-like, or modulating the time and pitch into something liquid and flowing, or turning it into a scintillating pointillist cloud. Or cutting it into such small pieces that it changes the spectral content entirely. Or, since the technology is basically the same, cutting it apart on a slightly larger scale and chopping up the rhythm.

My first couple of recordings for this album are pretty raw and experimental, directly revealing what this module is doing, without any other accompaniment or added effects, and with detailed patch notes. In both of them, there are varieties of textures created by changing parameters in a relatively simple patch.

I don’t know if the whole album is going to be like this, or if I’m going to intersperse these sorts of examples between more musical works that still feature granular techniques in some way (more like what I did with Rings, Lyra-8 and Akemie’s Castle on three previous albums).

witchy!

Make Noise announced their new piece of gear today, the Strega. It’s in the same form factor as the 0-Coast and 0-Ctrl, and was developed with musician Alessandro Cortini (who is associated with Nine Inch Nails but has quite an impressive catalog of his own solo instrumental work on modular synthesizers).

Mr. Cortini was interviewed by Sonic State and also played a couple of live sets on Instagram with it. It’s a lovely analog synthesizer with a noisy “karaoke delay” (probably the PT2399) on the back end. There are a lot of PT2399s out there, including in the Lyra-8, but this one also has a filter, reportedly three delay lines (assuming that’s for longer delay times but possibly other shenanigans) and seems modulation-friendly. The instrument also has some touchplates to temporarily connect modulation sources with destinations, and we haven’t gotten details yet about the waveshaping or whatever else is going on with its oscillator, but some great textures were emerging from those demos.

This honestly feels like it was aimed right at my heart (and my wallet). It’d fit in great with the music that I make. After the first demo and interview I had mixed feelings, but my resolution to stick with my current gear in 2021 is a guiding principle here. I can get some similar, though not identical, sounds with the gear I have and there is no lack of inspiration to be found there.

The second demo convinced me that I would really enjoy one of these.

I’m going to be firm though. I might figure out where to put one in 2022, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes.


Gretta is recovering nicely from her surgery — getting onto and off of furniture and up and down steps without assistance. She even trotted through the snow a little this afternoon, which was really encouraging to see!

released: The Sky Above The Port

New album release!

The first recording was made on November 22, so really the amount of time I’ve spent putting this album together hasn’t been that much, but it still feels like it’s been a journey. There were a couple of tracks I recorded that just didn’t work at all, as I pushed beyond boundaries where I just don’t have much artistic confidence and the results were not great. There were a couple others whose inclusion I debated, and then finally dropped one and kept the other at nearly the last minute. I had to adjust my headspace a few times to work on this project after doing other things. I spent more time than usual on the patch notes/commentary, trying to decide how much or how little I wanted to quote from or comment on Neuromancer and the cyberpunk genre in general.

But I am pleased with the finished product, and as happy to release it into the wild as I am to move along to the next project.


Our older dog Gretta had her surgery Thursday, and has been resting and recovering. When she wants to, she can stand up and walk on her own and even made it up the stairs back inside the house without being carried. She’s had some interest in at least a little food, too. Mostly she just wants to rest, with one of us nearby as a comforting presence.


Today I finished reading Musimathics Volume 2. Compared to Volume 1, it is much more relevant to music synthesis, especially digital. But the math is, by my standards, brutal — complex numbers and a lightning-fast introduction to calculus — and I wound up just skimming over a lot of it. There was still quite a bit of revelation though about how certain things work and are connected.

I don’t know if any of it will translate to actual practice, or synthesis experiments. The main lesson I took from Dr. John Chowning’s talk at KnobCon in 2019 was to try using a spectrum analyzer a bit more, but I haven’t really made it a habit. Much of the same material was presented in this book in a briefer form (and without the live audio examples) in its section on FM.

The book does make me wonder why there aren’t more modules out there to let people experiment with waveguide synthesis. Simple Karplus-Strong is okay, but having scattering junctions — simple bipolar mixers — would allow for modeling plucking or bowing in the middle of a string with two ends, and all the reflection and radiation of sound waves that happens. I suppose Rings, Plonk and Surface do this in a closed system (though Rings does have an input, which is a big deal), but I’d like to see a module designed for experimenting with it. Just using Mimeophon allows me to have a terminated string, but the impulses go into one end and radiate from both ends, rather than being able to pluck the string in the center. So it’s a little off, but still useful.

Also I feel inspired to play more with distortion synthesis, though probably a lot of that will be in Bitwig Grid as I’ve done already. The many kinds of shapers and phase distortion modules, and the wavetable oscillator are all good for that.

Unrelated to the book, I might reinstall FM-8 and start using more clean FM patches in my music. If it weren’t for my 2021 pledge I would consider trading the Kasser DAFM synth for an Elektron Model: Cycles, a Volca FM or even the new Korg OpSix, but software might honestly be just as practical and I might still want that noisy YM2612 anyway, so I’m glad I have the brakes on.

The other thing I finished reading today was Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. If that sounds a bit familiar, there was a widely circulated article a few years ago. This is a greatly expanded discussion of the phenomenon, the causes, the likely political two-way feedback and a potential fix (UBI).

One reason why bullshit jobs are tolerated — rather than automation and efficiency allowing us to have a 15-hour workweek or most people being able to lead lives of leisure and independent projects, as was predicted in the early-mid 20th century — is a culture where working, though widely hated, is also considered necessary to be a full, functional human being. Behind this work ethic (and disdain for the unemployed poor and living “on the dole”) is the idea that work is punishment, but punishment is good for you.


I also watched Donny Darko today. I’ve seen occasional references to it online, and there are samples from in it a few songs, but I’d just kind of skipped over it until now. It’s 20 years old now.

People have said it tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it movie, but I thought it was entertainingish and not necessarily brilliant and thought-provoking. It’s got its funny bits, but some don’t really hold up in 2021 that well I think. But at least now I get the references.

cycles

I’ve been “almost done” with the cyberpunk album for quite some time, and I’ve probably recorded 4-5 tracks since then. But I think I am finally ready to move on to mastering, and finishing the artwork that I started.

I already have a thought about what I might work on next. I’ve done “studies” (more or less) of Rings, Akemie’s Castle and the Lyra-8; this would be a study of… a particular eagerly anticipated module that has been in beta for quite some time. A very versatile module which I know is capable of more than I have used it for, and the point is not just to demonstrate it but to advance my own mastery of it.


Yesterday, Arturia released a firmware update for the Microfreak. It includes three new oscillator types created by Noise Engineering — “Bass” based on an Electronotes circuit, “SawX” based on the Manis Iteritas, and “Harm” very loosely based on the Basimilus Iteritas. The lineage of SawX is pretty obvious to me but none of them really feel like NE modules in a keyboard any more than the original oscillator types felt like Mutable Instruments Plaits in a keyboard — the context makes them different. In particular, SawX doesn’t sound as crushingly heavy as Manis — but it is very good and works well with the Microfreak.

Along with some other changes that don’t concern me much, the update also added a Unison mode, layering 2, 3 or 4 oscillators and allowing them to be detuned up to an octave relative to each other. This allows for not just typical “supersaw” stuff (already possible with a couple of oscillator types) but some truly scary inharmonic drone clusters. I love it!

I still have not heard back from Doepfer about the possibly defective A-110-4. I know they took a holiday, but this should be the 5th day they’ve been back from that. Are they really that swamped with email, or did all email from that time just get pitched and I’ll have to ask again? How long should I wait to send another? Hmmph.

I’ve decided that if the A-110-4 is defective and they advise me to return it, I’ll get a Manis Iteritas instead (and not count that against my “no changes” goals). Some great, doomy music from a couple of Instagrammers I follow that uses it has made me miss mine, and I feel like SawX is more different from Manis than the A-110-4 is from other FM options I have.


Recent/current reading has been:

The rest of Thinking, Fast and Slow: after a while it seemed to drag as the major interesting points had already been made by the time the book was half done, and it got increasingly repetitive. But the first half was pretty interesting, showing just how much we shortcut mental effort in ways that bias our decisions and beliefs… including biases that bias us against recognizing our own biases.

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory: a study of jobs where the employees know that they perform little to no useful work. “Duct tapers” is one of the categories — people whose job it is to do some nearly mindless task that only exists because of a problem that could easily be fixed. My first job involved a lot of that: for instance, hours spent manually turning a plastic gear to advance the ribbon on an old printer because the boss wouldn’t buy a replacement motor; clearing frequent jams in an envelope printer because they stored the envelopes in a humid warehouse; doing manual data entry from an address list that a customer printed from their database because they didn’t trust us with a floppy disk with the data and our OCR software couldn’t read their font.

That was also arguably a “second-order bullshit job” because the company itself did something of no real value to society: pre-sort, address, and drop off bulk junk mail at the post office.

The Order of Time: a rather poetic book about the science of time in physics, from the major proponent of loop quantum gravity theory. Every so often, there’s a book or article about how weird time is, either due to relatively or subjective perception or other reasons. There are no things, this book says, only events; time is not as serial, universal or “real” as we tend to believe, and it emerges as a phenomenon entirely from entropy — the most fundamental equations of the universe do not have time as a variable. And entropy itself is probably relative in some way…. honestly this book is not what I would call clear and illuminating. But the main point is to illustrate that the subject itself is not clear — and in fact, the “blurriness” of perception is a major feature of both how the universe works and how we perceive it.

eureka

When I was a kid, we had this board game that I barely remember. It was science fiction themed. At the center was this black plastic thing — a tower, in my memory — with a spinner and a small flashlight bulb. The spinner had a nice mechanical feel and made a satisfying thunk as it moved, and thanks to some kind of spring arrangement, always landed in one of a few directions. When it stopped, a light would flash a few times from a window at the base of the tower. I loved fidgeting with this thing.

The game pieces to move around the board were translucent, brightly colored spaceships with “pods” that stacked on top. They would catch the light from the central tower dramatically, letting you know you’ve been hit.

Several times over the last few years I’ve searched online to figure out what this game was called, and I kept failing. It’s not Dark Tower, which was something different — a fantasy game, recently reissued via a Kickstarter campaign, that used a more sophisticated (by 1981 standards) electronic tower to drive gameplay.

Last night I finally found it, by going through the entire list at boardgamegeek.com.

Now that I know, I’m not actually all that keen to find a copy of it. The Dreaded Enemy Laser and the not-really-fluorescent spaceships were much cooler in late 70s childhood memory than in 2021 reality. Although I suppose if there’s a fancy reissue like there was for Dark Tower, I might consider it.

as if it were just an arbitrary way to measure time

In ancient Egyptian religion, the year is 360 days long — a number that can be factored very nicely. In between years there are 5 or 6 days, each the festival of a particular god, which are a bit chaotic but also holy and celebratory. And then, the new year is like hitting the reset button on a cycle. Everything starts fresh, the slate is wiped clean.

Though in Egypt this happened in summer with the flooding of the Nile and now we celebrate (very approximately) the winter solstice, we still have a weaker version of this idea. Christmas/Hannukah kicks off a sort of in-between-time where school’s out and a lot of people take vacations, have parties, gather with family etc. and then January 1 is supposed to be a kind of reboot, where some people try to live more healthily and so on.

We really needed this for 2020. Close all the programs, install updates, and reboot without any of that old crud in RAM.

But we still have COVID-19, and we still have Trump for the first 3 weeks. January 6 was a stark demonstration of that.

What a weird day. With my health insurance deductible resetting, I paid a $664 copay (after a $200 coupon) for a month’s worth of one of my meds. The Georgia election results were sufficiently counted to declare victory for both Democrats and break Mitch McTurtle’s stranglehold over the Senate. And then of course… the riot, or coup attempt, or terrorist action or whatever it should be called. (Not “protest” though; I will at least make that argument.)

I could say a few things about that event, but I would rather not dwell on it personally. It could have been much more tragic and shocking and had much worse repercussions. It also could have been mitigated much better than it was, and it should have been avoided completely.

The other event of that fateful day was more personal. I took our sweet old dog Gretta to the vet, because she’s been limping and avoiding putting weight on her front left leg, although not actually showing signs of pain when the leg was handled. She even seemed to want us to massage it. The vet thought at first what we did — that it was arthritis or some other kind of soft tissue injury — but an x-ray showed severe bone damage due to cancer. She has to have the leg amputated, and the soonest that can be done is in two weeks. After that, she’s likely to go on some kind of chemo treatment because osteosarcoma is aggressive. Even though nothing showed up on a chest x-ray or in bloodwork, it’s likely there are cancer cells throughout her system. From everything I’ve heard, dogs adapt really well to having a limb amputated and her quality of life should be much better afterward. I hope so, and that whatever time she has remaining with us is free of pain and suffering.


After a little rethinking about what to include in the new album, I believe I have just one more track to go. Finding the motivation to record it has been a little challenging given those events, though.

Patch: The Card Game, announced a little before the holidays, is designed to be played with a modular synth. Each card gives you instructions on either how the patch should be constructed initially (“Abstraction”), or modified (“Progression” and “Disruption”). It’s meant to be a creative nudge, getting you to think of new ways to patch and arrive at places you wouldn’t normally.

I wasn’t sure it was for me, but after watching a couple of videos of experienced musicians playing it, I thought the results were pretty neat. You do have to find a balance between your own judgement/autonomy and just following what the cards (and dice/coins/etc.) say.

Well, my first experiments with it this morning were mixed. The start was promising, followed by the patch immediately getting clobbered by Disruption cards. Sometimes it will just not survive “choose a module and unpatch it” or “for every connection, flip a coin and unpatch if heads.” Maybe I need to build up more complex patches first, or would be better off exploring alternate ways to play — there are a few suggestions for variants on the website, and it is pretty open-ended. Or just stop with the cards as soon as I hear something that inspires me, which might be pretty close to immediately.

This deck was developed by James Cigler with art by Nathan Moody, both of whom have been helpful and inspiring, so I’m happy to have supported them even if I don’t personally wind up getting a lot out of the deck.


I’m about halfway through reading Thinking, Fast and Slow. I put it on my wishlist a few years ago and my sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. The general idea is that people can be thought of us having two cognitive systems. The first one evaluates situations continuously and rapidly, alerts us to sudden change or danger, makes snap judgements, is associated with emotion, and operates at a low energy level. The second requires more effort (literally burning more calories), is slower but more rational, and is associated with self-control. The two feed each others’ calculations, but overall we are “designed” to be energy-efficient aka lazy, and tend to go with the intuitive answer, resisting more strenuous thought.

This is the basis behind a lot of cognitive biases and errors we have. We tend to make judgements with available information even if it’s inadequate or irrelevant. If a question is hard, we answer the wrong, related question instead. We search for, or invent, associations and narratives rather than crediting luck and statistical factors. Even statisticians are bad at this, and expert opinions based on individual evaluations are usually worse than a simple statistical algorithm. And we want to believe our first instinct, often even if we know that there’s a visual or cognitive illusion at work.

In other words… people can be rational but mostly aren’t. Not really a surprise I suppose, but in the author’s career he’s found many shocking examples of just how egregious this gets.