we’re not out of the woods yet

I’m seeing more and more signs that Americans think COVID-19 is pretty much over and things can return to normal. Which is exactly what I feared would happen when the CDC said that unvaccinated people can go without masks.

Today about 50% of adult Americans are fully vaccinated. That means there are about 145 million adults and 72 million children here that aren’t. Some of them aren’t bothering to wear masks anymore, abusing the “honor system” most places have for their mask policy now, and putting the rest of them at risk.

In St. Louis City, it’s more like 26.5% and in St. Louis County, 34%. In rural Pulaski County where we went to get our shots because of the shortage in St. Louis early on, it’s down around ten percent.

Right now in our area, new cases per day is about the same as it was this time last year. That’s a lot lower than it was in winter, but it’s not close to zero.

India is going through a huge wave of it, and there are fears of a variant that might get past current vaccinations. Of course the more prevalent the virus is in the world, the greater the chance of such a variant developing.

There’s a likelihood that vaccinated people will still need booster shots, either to cover the original strain or against additional variants, and Moderna is actually preparing for that right now.

The last I’ve heard, data on the effectiveness of the various vaccines for immunocompromised people is still lacking. The J&J vaccine is apparently somewhat less effective for diabetic people, but there haven’t been any longer term studies.

Early during the pandemic, before my office went to work-from home, and when we were getting conflicting info and then asked to wear homemade masks, and a short while after that, I felt a lot of anxiety over it — like every person I saw was a potential health hazard. And I’m starting to feel that way again, a bit, now that increasing numbers of people are going around without masks. I am actually not looking forward to things being more open and “normal” again right now — because it’s no longer normal! I can continue not eating in restaurants, and wearing masks inside stores, and mostly staying at home, and just never being in crowds ever. I would like to visit my family, and I’d like to visit some aquariums and zoos and stuff like that again sometime. But I feel like it’s a mistake to pretend everything is okay before it actually is. Didn’t that happen too much in 2020 already, making the pandemic worse as a result?

19, 20

I’ve finished recording the material for the next album, which will be called Parallax — cover art done, ready to master and write up the descriptive stuff. And I’ve also got the half-hour Sonic Sound Synthesis set I’ll be releasing as Stridulation-Yukon-Relay, art and mastering done and words left to go. So that’s Starthief releases 19 and 20 about to drop.

Recent reading has been Linda Nagata’s “The Red” trilogy.

The first book (which is really called First Light despite the cover) is a very dystopian, intriguing (and intrigue-filled) story that’s like a (long) Black Mirror episode in novel form, with strong elements of War Is A Racket. I enjoyed it very much. It’s a novel that feels like it was written in late 2020, despite its 2013 publication date — aside from explaining a couple of concepts that should be very familiar to almost every science fiction reader and person paying attention to social commentary in general.

But the second and third have the protagonist become less likeable, turning away from people he supposedly loved and trusted and his original motivations. They read more like Tom Clancy but not quite: almost patriotic/jingoistic, almost pro-military, and almost clear-cut ethics most of the time, no matter how many times the characters tell you that everything is grey and confused. There were still a few twists and betrayals but they just didn’t land well. Overall, books two and three were not bad, but still quite a disappointment after the first.

The author’s novel Vast, from 1998, has long been one of my favorite science fiction novels. It’s supposedly the third in a trilogy, except that it’s really the fourth in a six-book series. There was a “book 0” that was chronologically written first (Tech-Heaven), and then further along the fictional timeline but closely spaced in real time, books 1-3 (The Bohr Maker, Deception Well, Vast). Then 22 years later in real time, another “series” of two books (The Inverted Frontier: Edges and Silver) which follow not too far behind in the fictional timeline as I understand it. But anyway, I’ve had a hard time finding any of the original four books aside from Vast, until I thought to check Alibris.

I have to admit, I’ve confused Linda Nagata with Sarah Zettel. Zettel’s Fool’s War is another one of those favorite books, and I presume it and Vast occupied neighboring networks in my brain, though the plots and writing styles are really not that similar.


We had to say goodbye to our sweet dog Gretta on Monday. Over the course of just a few days she went from being less enthusiastic about food — not that unusual for her, a fussy eater — to refusing food and water almost entirely, getting increasingly lethargic and unable to stand on her own. The vet said she was anemic but ruled out any simple explanations or treatments. Given her age and medical history, there just wasn’t much hope that more procedures would give her more happy and healthy life.

I’m glad we got so much time with her though. She was a very good dog. ❤️

We’re in kind of a heat wave, so of course our air conditioner failed. In fact, it double-failed — the batteries in the thermostat went out, which is certainly no big deal, but also the outside unit hums loudly without spinning up. A bit of googling and memory of when this happened before tells me it’s probably the capacitor, so not a big deal to an AC technician but not a DIY fix on my level. We have a repair visit scheduled and I’m just waiting on that now.

After learning about what it can do, I picked up an Antimatter Brain Seed. This is a discontinued module that people have claimed is hard to come by, but I found several used ones for sale at reasonable prices. It’s a module that records incoming CV in steps and plays it back — in steps, or under CV scrub control; up to 1000 steps, and can update very rapidly, and is very easy to work with. So it can be used to capture complex motion or even low-grade audio, and act as a kind of waveshaper. Or simply grab a part of a sequence and let it play counterpoint. Or grab a short loop and then selectively overwrite it with new values.

I’ve rearranged modules and worked out my plans for the rack. I decided that since my synth has what it needs, anything else is luxury, which meant I could give myself permission to put some “extra” stuff into that space.

So I’ve got a Softwire Synthesis Press on the way — a wooden pressure sensitive controller inspired by the Ondes Martenot’s gradation key/ touche d’intensité. It’ll sit next to the joystick. Maybe in the future I’ll want to add a ribbon or ring controller for pitch, but I figure with my style of music making, this should be very handy (so to speak) with more tactile precision than the small faders on Sweet Sixteen — and the crossfade feature seems very nice as well.

I have space reserved for an Erica Pico BBD, which I’ve not actually bought yet but probably will. I do have plenty of delays available in both hardware and software, but an unfiltered BBD does bring some nice character, and I can spare 3HP to add it to my spice rack.

I also have space for a compact Serge-style resonant EQ. Someone’s hand-building a few at a time and I’ve expressed interest in claiming one of the next batch. People do a lot of lovely things with them even though the frequencies are fixed; it just has mojo.

And that would leave me with no space remaining. A couple of low-priority 2HP modules to fill odd gaps, but that’s it. I figure if a hardware beta test opportunity does come up, or there’s some must-have module announced in the future, I can juggle some of the lower priority things in my rack as needed.


On Saturday May 15 at 7PM BST (1PM CDT), Sonic Sound Synthesis @ The Neon Hospice online radio will be playing played a half-hour set from me, plus additional music from Extractor Dan and Drift of Signifieds.

The show will be archived at MixCloud afterward Here’s the MixCloud archive of the show, and I plan to upload my set to Bandcamp afterward as well.

This is the second time my music will have been played on an British radio show with “Sonic” in the name. (The first was Sonic Tapestries in 2019.) This one was recorded specifically for the show, and led to an evolution in my process which I’m still very pleased with.


I’ve recorded 33:46 so far for the next album (and bits that are going to be used in the next section), with no concept or name in mind for it. But it’s flowing along nicely.

Mylar Melodies recently did a video titled “Thoughts on Designing Live Modular Systems & How to Play a Live Improv Modular Synth Forever.” It’s a mouthful, but gets the point across, right?

I’m contemplating the gap between a set-length performance (about 30-90 minutes) and my current process (“movements” of about 6-10 minutes recorded live, but edited and stitched together outside of real time).

Mylar plays dance genre stuff. For him, it’s a matter of:

  • Setting up a smallish, flexible and playable system, that allows for continuous variations but not too much complexity.
  • Patching it in a “semi-permanent” way.
  • Practice as if playing a live show. Get to know what the patch can do, take notes on tricks and on things to avoid, practice graceful recovery when things go awry. Get used to the way time flows and feels during a performance.
  • The performance itself is a slow juggling act with two or three voices. Voices and patterns are slowly evolved, dropped out, changed silently and then brought back in as something new.
  • At some point he makes changes to his live rig, or builds a different one and practices with it, etc.
  • There’s not a lot of planning involved, just more of a general outline.

To adopt my own process to this, obviously patches would have to live a bit longer — right now I patch from scratch for a single recording session, then unpatch.

Things are complicated somewhat by using effects chains in the DAW. Overall it less nimble than Mylar’s simpler rig, with only a Mimeophon for FX and a significant part of his case dedicated to mixing. I would have to prepare a bit more in advance, and perhaps juggle a bit less than he does.

But I do think I could approach this incrementally. Instead of readying a 10–minute recording, I could add a bit more stuff to be layered in and get to 15 or 20 or beyond without even juggling much. In fact, having the DAW is also something of an advantage in that regard, because I can set up a number of software voices and looping samples as well. So perhaps my own approach to this shouldn’t try too hard to imitate what the modulator techno improvisers are doing.

I still do have that extra space in my rack. There are “programmer” or “preset” modules which can shift or morph several CVs together, and ways to change routings and so on via switches. I could also do some of this with Bitwig and the ES-3, and a little of it with Teletype.

Naturally, if I really wanted to play live outside my own studio, there are other concerns. My setup is not at all portable! But that’s not really my goal; it’s to see whether this different approach appeals to me and serves my music well. And since I very much enjoy my current process, I’m not really in a hurry to switch it up. I might just naturally push those session times longer with my current process, and see where things go from there.

forever YA

I was surprised to find out that Victories Greater Than Death (a title which I keep mentally mangling, maybe due to Love is Colder Than Death which was a 90s darkwave band named after a 60s film)… where was I?

Right… this book is considered Charlie Jane Anders’ first YA novel. All The Birds in the Sky and The City in the Middle of the Night both felt YA to me. Young protagonists, where we’re very much in their heads, and the types of romances and ideals that they have.

It’s a space opera, fish-out-of-water story. The MC is a girl who was left as an orphan by aliens, physically human but carrying within herself (A) the dormant mind of a heroic alien space captain, and (B) an interstellar rescue beacon due to go off any day now, to bring the fleet to help her fulfill her destiny… but also bringing an alien murder squad to finish what they started.

But I didn’t really want to get too much into the plot; it’s the characters and how they treat each other that was most notable. This is a very queer story, and very respectful of gender, ethnicity and other aspects of identity, as well as boundaries and emotional needs and so on.

Nearly every character aside from the Earthlings (and sometimes them too) introduces themselves with “My name is _____ and my pronoun is _______”, even if they immediately follow it up with “…and I’m going to blow your pathetic little ship into space dust” or whatever. This is probably very practical in a galaxy full of diverse intelligent species. But even among humans, you really can’t discern another person’s gender identity with your own eyes as well as you might think, and it should not be a difficult realization that getting it right is a matter of basic respect.

The Earthlings (and most of the other characters, aside from the major villain) always ask permission before touching someone (unless they’ve given prior ongoing consent). The MC and one of the others have been really close friends for years, but she will still ask first, “Can I touch you? You look like you need a hug.” This just goes generally with characters’ respect of each others’ boundaries, need for space and alone time, concern for their emotional states and so on.

I admit, as a person who believes in respecting others’ identities and emotions, it was still kind of startling at times and felt like a bit much. But not wrong, just a different culture and therefore kind of a shock. A flawed culture should, absolutely, change to make people happier and healthier. So I hope that some readers take the book to heart, and the culture does shift to be a little more like this fictional one.

no Zeno phobia

I’ve just finished re-reading Sean McMullen’s Greatwinter trilogy for the severalth time.

I feel like I can only describe so much without getting into spoiler territory. It’s the far future, and a psychic Call rolls over the land in periodic waves, forcing people to drop everything and walk mindlessly toward the sea, heedless of any dangers. Ancient, orbital artificial intelligences monitor and enforce bans on certain technologies. Wind-powered trains, coded messages from beacon towers, and human-powered computing are the height of Australian technology, where librarians with flintlock pistols rule. But in North America, warlords patrol their fiefdoms in diesel fighter planes tiny enough to be permitted.

So yeah, it’s a unique setting! And the characters are full of quirks, flaws, and brilliance, and the entire trilogy is full of both farce and pathos, intrigue and action and big ideas and absurd coincidences and people being both noble and grubby, often at the same time. I love it.

Reading some peoples’ reviews, it’s clear that some people don’t get it. I think it’s like people who hated The Fifth Element — they were expecting something else.

I’m sure I will revisit it in the future and like it just as much on the Nth+1 reading.

Now I’m reading The Little Book of Stoicism and finding it a good introduction to the subject. I’ve read a couple of brief internet articles that basically get across the point that it’s not about being tough and cold and emotionless, about suffering in silence or rejecting fun. This goes into considerably more detail.

I’m seeing a lot of parallels with Taoism, and in some sense, with ma’at from Kemetic Orthodoxy.

The book summarizes Stoicism with “the Stoic Happiness Triangle” with eudaimonia at the center — harmony with your “daimon.” Not to be confused with demon — a daimon in Greek myth was a noble guiding spirit, a divine spark; to the Stoics, it was like the modern idea of “your best self.” They also described it as “nature”, as in, the ideal of how things are meant to be. In modern psychology, it’s sort of an archetypal force of individuation, of self-fulfillment. Eudaimonia was said to be “a good flow of life.”

I’m seeing some parallels here to Taoism, and a bit to Ma’at in Kemetic Orthodoxy. I don’t want to try to claim that they’re identical concepts — there do seem to be different emphases and cultural perspectives, at the very least. But in essence: there is a way that things are and should be, and a human’s life is better when they follow it.

The first of three sides of this triangle is arete, which translates as something like excellence, virtue, fulfillment. This is perhaps the active effort of eudaimonia, of being your best. The example given is of a grape seed that grows up to be a grape vine, fulfilling its nature. Humans have things like desires and misunderstandings, and we make conscious choices — so we have to make virtuous conscious choices.

Those four virtues are wisdom, temperance/self-control, courage, and the most important, justice.

The second side is “focus on what you control,” and it’s pretty much exactly the Serenity Prayer, or the book F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way. The example for this is an archer. The archer is responsible for the bow, arrows, grip, stance, drawing, aiming, breathing, releasing… but once the arrow flies, the archer gives up control. If a gust of wind could spoil the shot, frustration or sorrow aren’t going to help anything. A temper tantrum is not harmonious.

Many things in life just come down to luck — and luck to a Stoic is neither good nor bad, it just is. There is no doctrine of rewards for virtue and punishment for vice; the point of virtue is eudaimonia, and the point of eudaimonia is virtue.

The third side is “take responsibility for yourself.” The archer does have to maintain his gear, develop his skill, stay focused, and so on. Virtues don’t happen on their own, they must be cultivated and must be expressed at all times.

I’m only partway through the book so far, but I’m finding some wisdom and inspiration in it, and might actually read Epictetus and/or Marcus Aurelius afterward.

I’ve personally been thinking about entropy, about maintenance vs. procrastination. Perhaps some Stoic thought will help provide the motivation to take care of myself and my home a bit better than I have so these things worry me less.