the moon is beautiful this morning

It may still be stupidly cold, and I may still have the remnants of a cold, and somebody may have either mistaken the phone charger at my desk for company property or just “perma-borrowed” it… but the sky gave me a gift on my morning commute.

I tried to take a photo. It didn’t save, and it wouldn’t have been very good if it did — sky photos on a phone, taken hurriedly through the windshield during a brief traffic light, are never very good.

So, picture a pinkish-blue streaky sky and an enormous full moon in clear detail, with a hint of a glowing corona, about 30 degrees above the horizon. You’re probably right now picturing something that looks a little too plain, a little too “realistic”. Make it more vibrant and intense and painterly… borderline unbelievable. Stunning. Yeah, that’s better. Now put the back of a garbage truck below it, because as magical as it was, it was still in the real world (and that somehow made it better).

By the time I got to work and had time to set up a better photo, the sky had changed; the moon was neither so clear nor was the “background” sky (the atmosphere in front of it!) quite as nice. All things are ephemeral.

It filled me with such wonder though, like too few things do in a sane, stable-ish adulthood. And now I have the desire to try to express that in music. Next album project, perhaps? It seems like a challenge, but a good one.

Back when I used to play the text-based MMORPG GemStone III (and then IV), I had a character who was devoted to Zelia, the goddess of lunacy. While it wasn’t in the sparse official documentation at the time, some players seemed to tacitly agree that Zelia’s good side, her gift to her followers, was a gleeful, childlike sense of wonder about random things — an openness that is lost to most adults. Years after I’d stopped playing, when one of the lore documents named the six Handmaidens of Zelia (a constellation), one of them was “Myzori, the Most Amazed.” The idea of amazement as a kind of virtue, something to seek out, and a form of devotion stuck with me. (I of course would like the occasional amazement and silly good fun without emotional instability or delusions…)

small bits

Sunday it was a lovely 65°F throughout the evening. Monday at that same time, it was 25 and windy and been snowing most of the day. This morning as I’m about to go to work, it’s

which is just too flipping cold. Autumn is my favorite season, but for the last few years, it’s seemed like it was under attack from both sides. Going from picnic weather to parka weather in one day is just too much.

Anyway. Here’s a thing I did, a quick jam on the Lyra-8 with another layer of distortion, inspired by the computer game I’ve been playing quite a bit of lately:

Noita (Finnish for “witch” or “shaman” apparently) is the sort of game where, if I am bad at it, it’s kind of hard to tell because so much of it comes down to random luck, impossible situations, and occasionally completely unfair events. Yet usually the most ridiculous sudden deaths even after a long, careful campaign are more entertaining than frustrating. You’re a levitating wizard with a couple of basic wands to start with, on a dungeon crawl through increasingly deadly environs. Everything is physically modeled like a “falling sand” game — water flows somewhat realistically, evaporates when heated and condenses again; wood and coal and oil burn at different rates; fire needs oxygen; oil is slippery and floats on water; slime is sticky; sandstone is softer than other rocks. But it also plays like a high-speed magical game of Worms. You find and tinker with more and better (and sometimes ludicrously dangerous) wands and potions as you go: tentacles, arrows, bouncing bolts, chainsaws or flying sawblades (!), lightsabers (!!), freezing, acid balls, lightning, boulder summoning, lakes of lava, Giga Death Crosses, nukes (!!!!!)

Theoretically, there’s a way to “win” the game. I’ve never seen it. I’m lucky to get through the reach the incredibly deadly jungle level with its robotic spiders and fire-flinging flowers, or the Vault with shielded flying drones and acid-spitting floating eyes. Once I reached a place called the Temple of the Art, and got cornered in a pool of acid that was on fire while being pummeled by spells from four different completely unfamiliar monsters.

The game is full of surprises and secrets. Sometimes you do things to “anger the gods” — or a pesky earth-devouring worm does and you get the blame — and they send a flying, shielded skeleton mage to murder you. Sometimes you find mysterious secret tablets or orbs or areas of total darkness or stranger-than-normal alchemy or other weirdness. Once I drank from a “Touch of Midas” potion that turned loose substances (sand, coal, etc.) into gold when I approached; I racked up a lot of wealth but didn’t survive to spend it. Just once, I saw this in the Hiisi Base:

That’s my wizard’s blood there, because there were about five more of these guys on the other side of the screen. Oops.


Despite really annoying cold symptoms that have kept me home from work, partially in bed and partially half-dozing in the recliner, I’ve finished mastering the rest of the tracks — and recorded one more short one, because I felt like something with a particular character was called for.

The process mostly got easier as I went. There’s a sort of iterative logic to it that is fairly similar from one track to the next, though specifics vary. Fixing my stereo phase faults took me hours to figure out the first time, but seconds now that I know what generally works. And I was more cautious in setting up my effects on the new track and didn’t create trouble for myself in the first place.

There’s one note I have to check into with fresh ears; other than that I’m just waiting on cover art and need to write up some text. And then on to the next project!

Other than that, I’ve been reading a lot and TRYING to sleep.

I finished Last Dance, a novel about an Earth-to-Mars transport ship, its ornery captain and his rebellion. Pretty good!

I read a couple of short books on mixing and mastering, which were not awful but less helpful than the advice and practical knowledge I’d already gained. Meh.

I also read You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, Janelle Shae’s (of AI Weirdness) humor/non-fiction book on the current and likely future state of AI. She says “the danger of AI is not that it’s smart, but that it’s not smart enough” and that certainly seems true. It feels like there have been amazing breakthroughs in machine learning in the past few years, but they’re all extremely narrow in scope, easily fooled, have no sense of value judgement other than what they’re programmed to seek or avoid, are highly susceptible to bias and extraneous information in training data, tend to have very small memories, it can be difficult to understand why they made their specific decisions, and approximately as smart as a worm. On the other hand, there are some problems they can solve… as long as a human verifies them.

the depths

The other day I went ahead and ordered issue 1 (the only one that exists) of PRINCE-S STARthief. And I’m afraid it’s really not good.

It’s sort of a Star Wars parody that’s got maybe two small chuckles in the whole thing, and a whole lot of attempted humor that falls flat. The villains are the PEP-C Corporation. There’s a scene where a minion designated TK-421 disappoints the boss and is “carbonated,” a fate which later befalls LV-426. If get the references it’s mildly funny, and if you don’t it’s probably slightly less funny.

The protagonist is basically the only character, but is barely a character… smoking, drinking, wisecracking (or trying to) and “look at all this attitude I’m pretending to have” without any of the personality of Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan or any of the Rat Queens. She’s really just a fanservice delivery vehicle, and unsurprisingly, also completely fails to be sexy. There’s a thin sketch of a plot, but she doesn’t really care about it any more than the writer appeared to.

So I’m pretty disappointed by that particular namesake. The bacon in space painting is much more to my liking.

James Rosenquist, Star Thief

I may do this or something like it in 2020:

I don’t want to be absolutely strict about it, though.

I find my current music setup very satisfying, and would like to sit with it a while, and concentrate more on improving my skills. If it comes to something like a more precise pair of headphones, or a piece of mastering software or something, then fine. But 2019 was a year of partially reinventing my setup multiple times over, and I don’t want to do that now.

“No new books allowed” makes me reflexively rebel, but doing some re-reading does sound very nice, particularly series re-reading. I could also see getting into something like the Expanse novels though.

And while I’m not about to stop listening to new music, I do want to take some time to listen to some music with full attention. Not necessarily critically, just mindfully. Obviously I listen to my own recordings closely as part of the process, but that’s different. Before the internet changed everything, and especially before I had the disposable income to buy several CDs a month, I would listen to an album several times, while not doing anything else. Today most of my music listening is at work or in the car, and I miss the full experience.

I’ve already got some valuable feedback from Obsidian Sound — a couple of technical issues that went under my radar, to keep a closer watch on in future recordings. I feel pretty confident that I understand the outline of what will happen in the mastering process, and I’m eager for the details and results.


At the time I chose the name Starthief (*), I was aware of a public domain comics character named The Star Thief, and two extremely minor Marvel characters who had the name. But today I learned that the first issue of a comic called “Prince-S STARthief” launched via Kickstarter in 2016 (and hasn’t gone anywhere since, apparently).

There also have been at least two children’s books titled “The Star Thief” — one from 1967, one from 2017.

There’s a blues band called Shoestring Joe and the Star Thief.

There’s a pretty rad painting called Coyote Star Thief.

There’s a more famous painting by James Rosenquist called Star Thief, which is 46 feet wide and features space bacon. It was almost hung in Miami International Airport, but the president of Eastern Airlines — astronaut Frank Borman — insisted that there is no bacon in space. Spoilsport!

(I mean, he didn’t see all of space — not even close. Maybe somewhere in the vast reaches, there’s bacon. One can dream.)

(*) it’s seriously a nickname my spouse tagged me with during a game of Mario Party. Plus, I like stars. Some things just aren’t very deep.

waste of space

Today I read about games that demand 150GB or 175GB or more of disk space because of massive high-res textures that a lot of people with modest graphics cards and monitors will never need. I don’t have a lot of games installed on my new computer, but it got me curious.

WizTree is a nifty program that quickly scans a drive to see what’s taking up space, and gives you a graph grouped by folder and color-coded by file type, making the worst offenders easy to see at a glance. Handy!

It turns out that Dirt Rally 2.0, the only “big” game I have installed, is consuming 83.8GB of my 1TB hard drive. That is almost exactly the same size as my entire MP3 library of 11,491 songs.

And when I looked further, I found that at least 14.1GB of that is DLC content that I haven’t paid for and can’t play… a complete waste, in other words. There’s probably a couple more gigs in the Cars folder.

I will experimentally move those files to my old SSD (which is now acting as a USB backup drive), but I’m pretty sure Steam will see that they’re missing and “helpfully” redownload them for me. If not immediately, then next time it updates. And because the game is partially online, I can’t not update.

I do enjoy the game, but geez, that is stupid. You should (A) by default, not download content you don’t own, and (B) for the content you do own, choose whether to install ultra high resolution textures you’re never going to see (with the default chosen reasonably based on your graphics card/monitor resolution).

All of the other games I have installed — Noita, Slay the Spire, Nova Drift, Islands and Bejeweled — total under 2 gigabytes.

It’s not so easy to estimate the total of all my installed music production software, but my visual estimate — including all of the sample libraries I’ll mostly never use, presets I’ll mostly never use, reverb impulse responses, stray installer files, redundant versions etc. — puts it at about 50GB.

connecting dots

Two essays I’ve read in the last two days: one about one big historical factor that got us where we are today, the other about the big historical factors that will send us somewhere else tomorrow.

In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation

A compelling argument that so much of corporate America’s emphasis on productivity and metrics, the relatively weak worker solidarity, worker’s rights and general sense of egalitarianism, the “it could be worse” attitude from people who should be demanding better lives, and a number of commonplace and questionable financial instruments and manipulations, all were begun by the American cotton industry when slavery, the availability of cheap land (stolen violently from First Nations peoples, of course) and the start of the Industrial Revolution came together.

I can’t find fault with any of this. While America was hardly the only nation that grew itself through imperialism and slavery, it was the biggest and most successful (and horrific) example.

Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World

An argument that the biggest factors in today’s society which are likely to trigger the major events of our near future are (1) demographic shift, (2) wealth inequality reaching a breaking point, and (3) access to information (and disinformation).

This is all well and good, but I think another major factor was missed, perhaps what will be the biggest mover of 21st century history: climate change. It’s a wild card with the ability to start wars, smash economies and undo a lot of what we have often liked to think of as “progress”, or be part of the impetus that propels us — albeit painfully and reluctantly, with a lot of human suffering along the way — into a sustainable, better future.

two things.

Luftrum Sound Design has been running a charity auction every October for the past few years. Music software and hardware developers donate all kinds of great items — the 2016 auction is when I got into Eurorack because of Mutable Instruments’ contributions, and I picked up a few Bastl modules in 2017. Things are a bit calm to start, but by Halloween the bidding is intense!

This year’s charity is the World Wildlife Federation, with donations specifically directed to protect rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia.

The auction previously was hosted at the message boards, and was kind of a nightmare for the organizer and assistants to keep track of bids and update the available items. This year it’s being hosted at RallyUp.

This is the other thing: Modern Waste is an Economic Strategy

Recycling is… kind of bullshit, unfortunately. Where it works, it’s certainly better than chucking materials into a landfill and mining more aluminum or producing more plastic from petroleum. But it often doesn’t work. Either way, it’s industry’s way of pretending disposable goods and packaging aren’t waste, while still externalizing costs and pushing the responsibility for cleanup onto cities and consumers.

In other words, yes, it’s capitalism’s fault.

All this said, recycling and this kind of waste are relatively low down the priority list where it comes to climate — food waste is about 30 times more of a problem than packaging.

testing in production

I’ve put my Machine mk2 aside and set up my Microbrute again in the middle space on my desk. Re-acquainting myself with it, I’m not sure this is going to last. It’s a great synth for basses and analog leads, but not generally suited to the music I’m making now. It does have some “edge case” sounds in it that can work well, and it loves audio rate modulation from Eurorack oscillators. But it’s basically holding that desk space until I think of something that would be better suited.

There are several low-cost, small format synths which would be fun — but probably redundant. Some others probably are outside the sonic/workflow ranges I’d want to work with. There are some I’m curious about but are priced outside casual curiosity, and others that are just prohibitive.

My best bet might be a Behringer Neutron, compared to the Microbrute — but I fear it would just feel like an unnecessary expansion of my modular. So I’m holding off any decisions here until something more clearly presents itself.

The album is coming along. I wound up rejecting one of my recordings because I didn’t like the way the melody line worked, after some effort trying to rescue it via selective pitch-shifting, altering rhythms to make it a little less plain, etc. I couldn’t get it to a place where I was proud of it, unlike the rest so far.

I’m mostly sticking to the “places that aren’t places” theme, and recalling the settings of some recurring dreams. I had a variation on one of those dreams last night, where a mad wizard whose tower was built into a bridge support wound up blowing up said bridge. I was tasked by the city to collect fines from him and put up signs condemning his actions. Broken bridges, or bridges that rise far too high and then dip alarmingly underwater, are a recurring feature of my dream scenery. Maybe that’s due to growing up on Florida’s gulf coast, where the two 1980 Sunshine Skyway Bridge accidents were prominent events in my childhood. (Also, both the old bridge and its 1987 replacement were notorious for suicides. My dad once had plans to write a novel about it.)

After chastizing the mad wizard, I woke to see a deer crossing the end of our driveway. We live in the sort of metro suburb where you really don’t expect that, and it’s only the second or third time I’ve seen deer here, so it’s always a bit weird and portentous.

Last Saturday there was a “How-To Festival” at a semi-local library. I got to learn a bit about local snakes and do some guided meditation, but the most significant bits to me were a presentation on solutions to global warming and a quick beginner lesson on the ukulele.

The presentation mostly introduced Project Drawdown, who have a website with a ranked list of climate solutions in terms of how much CO2 equivalent reduction they would result in. The list is not what most people would expect — it’s heavily weighted toward structural and policy changes, and most of our personal responsibility is political. Electric cars are #26 and household recycling is way down at #55, but educating girls and providing clean cookstoves in developing countries, and protecting tropical forests and Ireland’s peatlands are much higher priorities. Proper disposal of air conditioner refrigerants, large scale wind power, and reducing food waste (mostly on the supply side) are the biggest things.

That said, “Plant-Rich Diet” is #4 on the list. Beef has a much heavier carbon footprint than everything else (except lamb, which isn’t nearly as popular), due to deforestation and the methane that cattle produce. Reducing consumption to levels where no new pasture is cleared for grazing, and changing over to regenerative grazing methods for the rest, would be a huge help. I’m personally going to cut back on beef, and commit to only having it once in a while in a particularly good form.

As for the ukulele: it was kinda fun. A lot easier to pick up in terms of technique than mandolin. I felt a little more natural strumming the mandolin than the uke, and the strings aren’t consistent intervals — picking out melodies or working out theory is more of a challenge. But people have been known to restring and retune in mandolin GDAE, so that’s an option. I found the soprano uke a bit tight for my big hands but the concert size was reasonable. One of the instructors said the Waterman plastic ukes are actually pretty decent, so I might give it a try. I don’t expect it’s something I’ll make use of for my Starthief project, but you never know, maybe I’ll kick off a new dark uke ambient subgenre 😉

identification please

Neural networks and their failure are inherently funny. I love and have, in the past, named some tracks after its generated brands of breakfast cereal, dubious recipes, Dungeons and Dragons spells, names of colors, etc. (Not so much anymore since I tend to run with album themes.)

ImageNet Roulette is a new source of laughs for me. Using the helpful GetThatPic! extension for Chrome that reveals the URLs of Instagram photos, I had it try to classify some of my recently taken photos.

Yankee, our loaner dog

INR says: darling, favorite, favourite, pet, dearie, deary, duckya special loved one

He’s cute, but no, Gretta is the favorite.

An actual ducky.

INR says: circus acrobatan acrobat who performs acrobatic feats in a circus

Gretta, after being outside in the rain.

INR says: sleeper, slumberera rester who is sleeping

Lady, our #2 ranked dog.

INR says: skin-diver, aquanautan underwater swimmer equipped with a face mask and foot fins and either a snorkel or an air cylinder

A Buchla 200e system with a Thunder controller, as seen at Knobcon.

What INR says: “trawlera fisherman who use a trawl net

To be fair, it did lure people in.

St. Louis Osuwa Taiko at the 2019 Japanese Festival at Missouri Botanical Gardens.

INR says: peddler, pedlar, packman, hawker, pitchmansomeone who travels about selling his wares (as on the streets or at carnivals)

We did buy t-shirts.