tip top

The best thing I saw online yesterday was some advice to a musician full of self-doubt:

destroy the notion you are competing.

I think it’s great advice for all sorts of things in life. Driving would be much more pleasant if nobody on the road felt like they had something to prove, for instance.

Oddly, I kind of feel like this applies to the Olympics… possibly the most competitive thing ever. It makes me happy that athletes at this level, under this much intense pressure, are willing to say “nope, for mental health reasons I am going to bow out now.” Far from cowardice, I feel like this is a much more important kind of strength.

My TipTop Fold Processor arrived yesterday and I had a little bit of a go with it. It’s got a very different tone from the folder in Shapeshifter — not really as nice, a bit buzzier and with more clear emphasis on some harmonics. But useful for some things. The real magic comes in modulating it, and/or from the divisions on the SubDiv output. It’s a simple patch: wavefolder output goes through a comparator, turning into pulse waves, binary essentially. Then those pulses go through flip-flops to divide them by 2, then 4, then 8, and you can mix them together. Thanks to some odd harmonics and just the extra “bumps” in the signal generated by wavefolding, the divisions are not necessarily octaves below the original signal and can kind of crawl around relative to each other in the coolest ways. It’s a great way to thicken up and complexify sound.

It’s DC-coupled too, so an envelope run through it can generate partially synchronized but unusual gate patterns on the Subdiv out and simultaneous smooth wobbles on the main out. And that’s a good time. 🙂

navigating social contours

Pulse Code has been doing pretty decently by my standards. I’m glad people like it! I don’t really know yet what direction the next album will go in, but right now I’m leaning toward making it something a little less gloomy.

Work… well. Some days are frustrating or annoying, but some of them bring some satisfaction and accomplishment, even if it’s not the same sorts of accomplishments as before. I think I am past the worst of it.

But COVID trends are disturbing again. Community transmission is high, cases per day went up by 47% in the last week (and back up from almost zero in early June!), positivity is above 10%, hospital admissions and ICU beds are halfway to the previous peak. Deaths are still low but I guess we can expect those to climb in the next few days. There’s a new mask mandate locally, for everyone — contested by Republicans and the County Council, because of politics not any sort of compassion or sense — but few that I’ve seen have actually been masking up. Everyone seems determined not to go back into lockdown, but I wonder if that tune won’t be changing in a couple of weeks.

Talking about more pleasant things: Becky Chambers writes lovely books! I tore right through Psalm For The Wild-Built, which possibly the kindest book I’ve read in quite some time. I’m chasing that with The Galaxy and the Ground Within.

Conflict in stories doesn’t have to be involve villainy or even rivalry. It can be entirely internal, about mental health and finding one’s way in the world. It can be about trying to survive and thrive and be a good person, in a universe where some of the people are weird, things can simply go wrong, and situations can be kind of ridiculous.

I’m not saying all Becky Chambers books are populated solely with kind and thoughtful people. In previous books there were certainly systems of oppression, warmongers, cheats and thieves. But it’s so nice to have a break from that, especially now. Maybe TGATGW has a villain, though so far it seems to be people willing to cooperate and be courteous, and an accident that’s either nobody’s fault really or bureaucratic failure.

And another positive thing: Mannequins Just Friends is a fantastic module. As I said before, the core concept is very much like Tides: a slope generator that rises and falls, with the cycle time and shape as separate parameters (as opposed to classic slope generators with rise time and fall time). But JF’s emphasis is very much on the collective action of six of these slope generators, at different frequencies. The Mix output, rather than “Identity”, feels like the main one. The design choices that are different on Tides vs. JF were appropriately chosen for the overall gestalt of the thing.

As an audio source, it is tasty and swarmtastic. There’s plenty of shaping available. The “Intone” control (which sets the time ratio between slope generators) is freeform and can be dialed from gentle detuning to fierce detuning to clusters or perfect harmonics. Also, it does linear TZFM — either from an external signal, or internal oscillators. You can also set FM to modulate the Intone parameter, so you can self-patch Identity to FM. It’s all good! And you can do some crazy things self-patching sync into some of the trigger inputs but not others.

As a modulation source, it’s also great. Again, the fun comes with the relationships between the different slope generators. Because of the module’s retriggering behavior and the fact that some slopes are slower than others, a steady stream of triggers can generate really neat polyrhythmic results.

The weird things about JF are the Run jack and Just Type.

JF has two mode switches: Sound/Shape (determining the frequency range, and bipolar vs. unipolar outputs) and Transient/Sustain/Cycle (determining whether the slopes rise and fall once when triggered, hold while gated, or continuously loop but reset when triggered. The behavior of those combinations is pretty intuitive.

Where some modules have hidden button combos or menus to access their options, JF has a CV input called “Run.” For that, you need to consult the manual, because what it does is different for each of the 6 possible combinations of mode switches. And the manual gives these “Run modes” cute and not entirely helpful names. But generally, they do sensible things relevant to the mode, rather than arbitrary and surprising behavior, and thus aren’t actually that hard to memorize. For instance, if you’re using Sound/Cycle, plugging in a cable to Run changes the FM mode from external to internal, and the voltage into Run sets the ratio. If you’re using Shape/Sustain, the Run jack sets the sustain level. If you’re using Shape/Cycle, the Run jack sets the number of times a cycle will repeat when triggered. If using Sound/Sustain, the trigger inputs will gate individual lowpass gates for each output and the Run voltage sets the shape/time.

It is a little unusual to control all of this externally rather than having a knob on the panel, but it works.

Just Type is a whole series of commands for Monome Teletype (if connected on the back via the i2c pins) which give access to a whole lot of extra functionality. Some of it is just “skip the patch cables” stuff: sending triggers or pitch or Run jack “voltage” without patch cables. But you can also use “velocity triggers” to adjust the relative levels of each slope generator — which is great when mixing them — and you can retune the ratios for each slope generator using integer ratios.

You can also activate additional modes, turning JF into a polyphonic 2-OP FM synth with MIDI-like note commands, or into a rhythmically cycling quasi-percussion machine.

In a lot of ways this seems preferable to hidden menus and Easter Eggs. It all feels like it’s within Teletype’s typical usage (which requires occasionally hitting the syntax reference anyhow). But it’s so different from how many modules work that it kind of blows peoples’ minds.

I’m generally not interested in using it as a polyphonic synth in general, but certainly as a fun range of modulation, and a clustery, swarmy, harmonic oscillator and FM machine, I expect to get a lot of use out of it without it feeling like it’s stealing the thunder of my other gear. It’s what I should have chosen rather than the VHO in the first place.

Plancks was a good choice too I think. Not great, but functionally good, and probably better for me than going ahead and dedicating the full 18-20HP to Frames or Morph4.

It doesn’t really feel too crowded for the most part, but I’d have preferred to put the jacks on top and other controls beneath. Since updating the firmware on it is apparently fraught, I’m not going to try reversing it myself. The color-lit Frame knob is satisfyingly and uniformly bright, but feels very “lightweight” — a bit wobbly and with very little turning resistance. But it certainly does the job. Feeding four of JF’s outputs to it and sweeping across them is satisfying, and that’s the main sort of thing I intend for it.

That smaller form factor gave me room for the TipTop Fold Processor, which should arrive Friday. I predict much distortion and cross-modulation of audio, and a bit of shenanigans with CV as well.

the rhythm of time

I’ve been reading Brian Greene’s Until the End of Time, which sounds like it could be pretty much any fiction genre but is nonfiction. It’s gone from entropy to the formation of stars, heavier elements, the organization of molecules, life and its possible origins, consciousness, storytelling, and religion so far. A lot of it is in service of confronting not just individual mortality, not just an eventual end to our species, but to thought itself — and appreciating the wonder of the moment, whether the moment is a personal “right now” or the universal “this period when consciousness exists.” The sightseeing along the way is pretty breathtaking too.

It amused me to be reading it when the final episode of Loki Season 1, “For All Time, Always” hit. It wasn’t perfect, but was highly entertaining, more philosophically fascinating than most MCU material, and I liked the particular villain once we finally met them. It may have been the best of the three Disney+ MCU TV series so far, though I did like WandaVision quite a lot too.

And I guess it’s as good a time as any to announce that my next album is now in the mastering phase, and will be tentatively be called Pulse Code. It has a steady 49 BPM tempo throughout, never falling away to a pure drone. Why 49? It sounded good, matches my age, and as a square it’s maybe a little more interesting than 48 or 50. 😉 The rhythmic values vary though; it’s not a relentless beat every 1.232 seconds the entire time. I’m curious to see how it feels once it’s all put together.

My plan right now is, after assembling it into a continuous mix, I’ll break it apart into individual tracks again with the expectation of seamless playback. While there’s some overlap between tracks, the distinct beats make for generally clearer transitions than my last few releases. But I may also include the continuous mix in the download as well, so people can pick their poison.

Thursdays’ infrared massage bed was mostly very pleasant, with just a little “ugh why are you doing that, robot” and a bit more “you could just stay on that spot for the next ten minutes.” But the only deep tissue massage I’ve gotten from a live person was… grueling, and I’m not entirely sure it was as helpful. This actually had my back not hurting or feeling tense for several hours. By Sunday I had managed to tangle and jangle the wires in my back again, but I still feel more resilient, somehow. Anyway, I’d do it again and probably spring for the far IR sauna afterward too. Sitting in the heat isn’t a lot of fun but I have to admit, my muscles were very relaxed afterward, the last time I did it. And their setup has nice pleasant scenery and music, not just staring at the wooden walls for an hour.

Perhaps it was that, perhaps not, but Friday at work was much more tolerable than it had been. Today’s been okay too. Maybe from this point I’ll just be able to roll with it, or maybe the scope of things that people are expecting has simply slowed its expansion enough.

On the gear front, I think I’m moving on from the Verbos Harmonic Oscillator after all. It’s featured heavily in Pulse Code, but I’m feeling again like I have too many oscillators. The other superstars are all sitting on the bench fuming “put me in, coach!”

VHO has some mojo of its own, but honestly? I think I was better off with software implementations, where cleaner sines but phase modulation and waveshaping gave me more flexibility. And I only used those on occasion, so dedicating 36HP and a chunk o’budget to it is probably not my best choice.

Again, I don’t have any particular weak spots in the modular that need shoring up, so it’s a matter of fulfilling curiosity and looking for opportunities. Right now what I’m considering is Xaoc Zadar and/or Mannequins Just Friends, and Plancks 2.

Zadar is a vector-based, sort of wavetable-ish quad envelope generator. The shapes are presets, but can be warped and scaled, and a section can be designated as a sustain section. (The latter was something they argued with me about before release, because it would ruin their whole design vision, and then they realized it was a good idea after all and added it in a firmware update.) It can also repeat, like an LFO, and run at audio rate like an oscillator. And people mostly seem to love it. The one exception is people who don’t like menus, so… it remains to be seen how I’ll feel. But I should probably at least try it.

Just Friends is sort of super-Tides. 6 slope generators which can be envelopes, LFOs or oscillators, can be individually triggered/synced, and the rates are all ratios. It has a few alternate behaviors, including a polyphonic LPG-based mode, and a whole bunch of additional stuff that can be accessed via Teletype. It’s kind of surprising I’ve never tried it before. And in addition to all the modulation and audio it can do, people often use it as a harmonic oscillator 🙂 So maybe I should have chosen this all along.

Plancks is a micro version of Mutable Instruments Frames. Frames was pretty neat when I had it, but I mainly underutilized it as a mixer, attenuators and simple DC voltage knobs. I think in a smaller format, as long as I stay away from the hidden button combos for deeper configuration, it’ll be useful as an interpolating scanner/multi-way crossfader or to reshape modulation signals. And — something I didn’t really realize at the time — there is no shame in using a complex tool in simple ways when that’s what’s called for.

balance check

I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but my hopes that the stress would dissipate after jury duty haven’t worked out so far.

There were videos a few years ago of Boston Dynamics testing their BigDog robot’s balance by shoving and kicking it while it was trying to walk. It would stumble and catch itself each time, but one couldn’t help feeling sympathy for the robot and frustration on its behalf. “This is how the robot uprising began,” some said.

I feel kind of like that robot. Each time I’ve felt like I caught my balance at work and was making progress, someone would want something else.

The actual work isn’t horrible, don’t get me wrong. Some of it is outside my previous experience or perspective but nothing I can’t figure out eventually. It’s more the frequent interruptions and the general pile-on.


  • One dev meeting per week or two, typically less than 20 minutes.
  • Either a well-defined list of tasks for each 2-week sprint — some assigned specifically to me, some unassigned but to be done when I’ve finished the specific ones — or a general list of things from which I have free picks — or a bit of the latter after finishing all of the former. 100% of it programming, mostly C++ and a little C#. Mostly in areas of the code that I’m already familiar with!
  • Occasional code reviews for K. (whose code was usually immaculate and didn’t require any commentary), or for M. (whose code is usually pretty good) if K. happened to be on vacation.
  • Occasional questions from an engineer via email or chat. But not very often, and almost always about something I’ve already worked on.

Recent changes:

  • Dev meeting that I am supposed to host 1/3 of the time. Longer because we have to coordinate more.
  • Product Team meeting, 1 hour a week, where I’m supposed to offer a long term perspective that I have never had to worry about before.
  • IT meeting, another hour a week?
  • We may need to have semi-regular meetings with QA as well.
  • Reviewing half of M.’s code and half of P.’s code. P. is new (to us; he’s an experienced coder) so his code needs a closer eye and more commentary; he also has questions about how things work and needs occasional help. Also I feel like my own checkins need more commentary from me for the benefit of M. or P. reviewing it rather than K.
  • Reviewing code from the engineers.
  • Answering pretty much all the questions Engineering has for development about support issues etc.
  • On a rotating basis: running the Dev meeting, adding tasks to the sprint schedule, monitoring the automated build/test servers and diagnosing failures/coordinating with IT to fix issues. (This is one thing that got me pulled into the IT meeting.)
  • A project to configure new build/test servers running on a different platform, which I specifically expressed that I did not want to have to deal with.
  • A contract project that I volunteered for because I like that it’s a medical application that will directly improve some peoples’ lives, but then I learned that it’s going to be kind of an ugly series of mostly-not-programming puzzles to work out. If/when we do get the contract (it’s kind of a strong rumor at this point).
  • In a few months we’re going to try to hire another developer. Which is good, but that puts me on the spot as the primary person screening them and training whoever we hire, and I cannot express how much I don’t want to think about that right now.
  • On a good day I might have a 2- or 3- hour stretch to work on the actual programming tasks that are assigned to me.

I’m also frustrated that the one thing I was known for — getting a lot of programming tasks done quickly and efficiently, including debugging some difficult stuff — is not going to be possible anymore because my time is so divided.

Mental context switches take time and energy. If I’m working on a logic problem or rebuilding a user interface, and I have to stop for 10 minutes to answer someone’s question about an unrelated thing, it probably takes another 10 minutes after that to get back up to speed on what I was originally doing.

I don’t have any ideas for dealing with it or adjusting to the new normal any faster.

I’ve booked time on an automated massage bed this afternoon. A fancy thing that scans your spine and does all kinds of massage techniques with heated rollers, which has been getting pretty good reviews. The place is less flaky than some of the other massage/sauna/float places around here — no paying $40 to sit in a room full of pink salt and breathe, no non-medically-necessary IV “therapy”, no cryo fat removal or whatever, just some far IR saunas and these massage robots. While it probably won’t do much for shoulders and neck, my back has been a mess for a while and maybe this will help reduce some tension and pain.

And in a month I’m going to take a few days to drive down to visit my parents, who I haven’t seen in ages. Hopefully that will be relaxing too.


Thursday morning, the air conditioning was dead at the office, and we were sent home for our comfort. By that evening there was still no ETA for repair, so Friday was a second work-from-home day. Fine with me! And by the end of that day it was still not repaired, so Monday — if my jury summons was cancelled, which it was not — would have been another.

But then Friday night, a line of storms rolled through with hail — baseball-sized in some nearby areas. Then a second line of storms came through with 70mph winds and knocked out power to 38,000+ people, including us.

44 hours later, after 4 or so revised estimates, we finally got power back. Weather wasn’t too horrible through most of yesterday, but it started getting uncomfortably warm after night fell, and worse through today. The combined stress of various factors really took it out on me today.

I think I can handle the jury duty stuff, with that taken care of.

Work is probably going to be an adjustment over several weeks. In a nutshell though, it’s what I feared but in a way I didn’t express well: I’m not a manager, but I do still have to attend more meetings, spend more time reviewing other peoples’ code and helping them with programming problems, do a bunch of technical configuration stuff that I have no experience with, solve non-programming-related problems, and hold some kind of longer-term perspective when I used to intentionally be fed two-weeks-or-less chunks to deal with. So far it looks like 2/3 of my work time is now NOT programming.

I guess the key to coping with it is just to roll with it though. I don’t think that with the available people, I could have been sheltered from dealing with all of this. I don’t have any recommendations for anyone other than do not expect any miracles from me and do expect me to be completely off my game for the next few months.


I’ve been a little rocky the last couple of days. Anxiety is in force again, despite previously feeling that most of my concerns about K. leaving the company had been settled.

Turns out: I’m the senior developer, the one who is supposed to know things. People want stuff from me. No longer can I just focus on a short time frame worth of work assigned to me, or a very specific technical problem to solve. The job is different now, even if I’m not a “manager.”

And there’s the jury duty thing. I know it’s not that big a deal, but it’s unusual and so I’m worrying about it. And… whatever else. If anxiety were rational it wouldn’t be anxiety!


The Model:Cycles has been fun — I’m glad I traded for it. Fun to just bash out some beats, or coax it to do drones and ambient tones and chimes and such. I’m going to stick to my plan not to record it and just let it be something to relax and have fun with.

The new album is starting to take shape. Three sessions recorded so far, all steadily 49 BPM — I don’t want to use the word unrelenting to describe the beat, at least not yet, but certainly continuous. It’s a little bit of a creative challenge to me compared to uniting everything with a pure drone, but I think it’s going to work out.

I’ve finished reading Linda Nagata’s “Nanotech Succession” books. I think “Book 0”, Tech-Heaven, is an extremely optional read. It might belong in the timeline, but there are basically no characters or plot points that set up the next three books except in a very general historical sense. And honestly, it wasn’t as visionary or as compelling overall.

The Bohr Maker is a lot more of the true setup for the series. Though it’s relatively early in the life cycle of these technologies, it’s an introduction to radically redesigned humans; nanotech “Makers” that can clean pollution, cure disease and rebuild matter; the “atrium” (an organ interfacing the brain with computers); “ghosts” (software versions of people’s personalities, which can be re-integrated with consciousness) and so on. And one of the protagonists, Nikko, returns much later in Vast — but he feels very much like a different person because a lot has happened It’s kind of semi-optional perhaps, but is a good read that stands on its own.

Deception Well now feels like it should be required reading for Vast, though I have probably read the latter four times first over the years. It introduces Urban, Lot and Clemantine — three of the five or so main characters in Vast. It also does more to explain the cult parasite (possibly a weapon meant to disrupt/ruin humanity, possibly an accidental outcome of a hybridization of human and alien) and the Well protocol (a collection of nanoscale life that enforces cooperation between species rather than conflict), which was not always clear.

Vast greatly expands the story of the Chenzeme, and the theme of humans choosing what to become and/or being forced to be particular things. It’s much more of a journey, both literally and narratively. It’s almost, but not quite, one continuous chase scene the way Mad Max: Fury Road is, only its craziness is completely different of course. The strongest book of these and a fitting conclusion.

….except that the Inverted Frontier books Edges, Silver and the companion novel Memory, continue the story with a journey back toward Earth and the “Hallowed Vasties” (Dyson spheres that fell to the cult virus) to find out what happened to civilization. I feel like I have to read those soon.