Stairway to Hell

On a date with Dana, I found a bomber boarding ladder. LA is a strange place – strange and wonderful.F111

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Finished: Studio

Graduate studies meant sacrificing hobbies. Having just released an album, I felt I could take a break from music.

Had to be one of the least fulfilling decisions I ever made. Music is alive and well and I’m in the mood to make it. Bringing the studio back has been a “priority” since moving to LA. Tonight, I finished the “MVS” – the Minimum Viable Studio.


Now, I’m not stupid- no studio is ever truly finished – but this step in the process is. Gonna spend tonight writing music, using samples from my MiniDisc collection.


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Finishing MiniDisc

At 14, I bought a microcassette recorder to record touch and signalling tones. Turned out to be a lot more amusing to record my adventures with Doz (we called him Brando, then). We made so many tapes. Miles of songs, jokes, sketches and music. Our friendship set in rust.


Around 1999, Doz got a MiniDisc recorder. An MZ-R37. It was a glorious thing. Sleek, digital, optical. We mic’d our exploits, friends, bands, bus stops.

It felt like anything could be valuable. So we recorded us.brand0_josh_daniel

Usually with a joke in mind.

We graduated and I spent my first memorable year away from him. Got my own recorder. I was exploring new environments, new phone systems, new friends and old tunnels.daniel_freshman

I documented everything with a scratchy microphone stuck to my collar, and the peculiar scrape of MiniDisc recording in my pocket. I think I had an R90, then. Later, a Sharp MS722. Note the giant Motorola on my belt.

Captured: Darkness.




Some five years later I moved to Russia and recorded hours of teaching class. Phreaky sounds of the crossbar telephone system in Obninsk. Trains, busted elevators, conversations with Ksiu.  A lot of empty hallway sounds, for some reason. Think I just liked the echo.hallway

Yeah, I really invested in MiniDisc, even though I knew Sony was a shit company. You see, the problem with MiniDisc, fundamentally, was that it recorded digitally, but you could never get the sounds back out digitally. Recordings were pristine and alive – and you took the damned audio cable out, plugged the MD into your computer’s crappy line-in, and re-recorded the whole thing into a .wav file. In other words, if you recorded an hour, you needed to record for another hour to make use of it. Schizophrenic Sony’s music division did not have the vision of its hardware division, and they took that capability away. Their right to publish MD trumped my right to use my own recordings. Trumped my pocket slice of the skip-proof magneto-optical future. Pained a lot of folks.

After fully ten years of losing market share to CD and MP3, MiniDisc finally died. But Sony, with uncharacteristic charity, gave Minidisc lovers one final gift. The MZ-RH1. $399 MSRP.


This was the machine we’d all been dreaming of. It didn’t do grating things like forgetting your recording levels every time you turned it off. And it read every MiniDisc format, ever – even stepchild NetMD. And it let you upload them to your computer, digitally, with no generational loss. It would have been perfect, except that Sony made it dependent on the ugliest, shittiest user-hating software you’ve ever met. SonicStage. Sony must know this, too, because they don’t even let you download it anymore. You have to get it from filesharing sites and use user-modified files to get it installed and working.

So I never bought an RH1. I was a grad student in a program paying poverty wages and I set field recording aside. My MiniDiscs got their shelf wear goin’. Sony stopped makin’ em. I didn’t care. Five year old recordings got older. The building shit itself.

Well, I care now. I have cash to resurrect the past. Seemed that five years on, an RH1 should be about a hundred bucks on eBay. Well, they’re not – working RH1’s go for more like $500 to $1000. Unbelievably, the format’s dark patterns actually made it appreciate. So I watched them on eBay and Craigslist for over a year until I managed to snipe a couple at a good price. One came in a mini-cooler full of cat hair. Thank you, Craigslist.

Then the fun began. First, I had to locate each and every MD I’d ever recorded – and a few that others had recorded. Then, I had to figure out what they contained. The librarian in me decided to number the discs sequentially from 1 through 80. The cataloger in me decided to listen to each one on fast-forward, and to write the content on the outside of each disc with a marker. The lazy bastard in me decided to line them all up and take a very high resolution picture of the set, so I could refer back to each disc.

Searching through each disc turned out to be as emotional and inspiring as it was brutal and frustrating. It took a whole day, from beginning to end, to hear them all. As it turns out, I don’t like my Old Self (or Young Self, really) nearly as much as I like my Now Self. While pictures lend themselves to great stories years after the snap, recordings of exactly what I said ten years ago mostly just make me bothered with me. They also make me miss all the dead folks and the old ghosts – Josh Nordwall in particular. Elijah Nies. People I just can’t find anymore. Goodbye, Josh. I can finally hear you now.

The good thing about this became obvious only after going through dozens of discs. I’m not some football player staring wistfully at trophies from my halcyon days; I’m a developing human, hacker, and maker who’s better than he once was. If I liked my old self better, that’d be backwards. Extraordinary people were a part of this, even if they didn’t last long.

Speaking of backwards, I had a hell of a time getting useful stuff out of these MDs. SonicStage, the digitizing package, names all the files according to the CURRENT date – not when they were created (which probably wasn’t stored on the disc). While it has the capability to convert the ATRAC *.oma files into .wavs, it just dumps them in a folder OUTSIDE the named and dated folder it created for the OMAs.

Ultimately, I named each folder according to the following scheme:

Given an estimate of 6-10 minutes per disc digitizing time, I thought I could finish this project in a day or a weekend. As it turned out, it required about a week of on-and-off digitizing plus a couple full days of thinking, hearing, labeling, and remembering. Overall, it was worth the work, and I am very glad to be binding these MDs up in plastic for long-term storage. To never use another deliberately crippled piece of shit to capture people that I love.

They’re in a sealed storage case with dessicant and I hope to never open them again.locked

What emerged from this effort was the intrinsic cruelty of perfect memory. When Josh died, he forgot our conversations. Time edited the soundtrack in my mind, and we became less combative, headstrong, and bold. More loving and less specific. But there on the disc were a few hours of unedited exactly-what-happened. And while they were all small transgressions I learned that I don’t necessarily want everything captured. Particularly the small things. Especially with 100%, instantaneous, perfect recall. Pettiness, I think, is best left to dust.

<small>Postscript: I take great joy in starting new things and recording new data. However, this joy is also a burden. I have dozens of mostly-finished projects pressing. The last 5-6 months of this year are going to be spent on Finishing Things. This is the first thing I’ve Finished in a while. Feels great. Next…</small>

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Event Detection Using Phone Orientation

There was an attempted suicide at ComiCon today. From the comments:

I only looked up and saw it because there were a bunch of people pointing their phones at the sky.

It made me realize that you could detect interesting events using nothing more than aggregate phone orientation data. Here’s a graph of me rotating my phone toward the sky and back:


Let’s say for a minute that you could easily get this data for groups of people. If lots of phones are suddenly held up/tilted skyward, you could infer that something interesting was happening.

To take things a step further, combine the orientation information with an image from the front camera-an image of the operator’s face. You could analyze their expression. Presumably people would look distressed at disastrous events, and happy at birthday parties (might have this backwards…).

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Get Your Data from Google Reader

This will only be relevant for the next two days, but has a toolset and information to fully extract content from Google Reader. This may be the most powerful tool available to end users. Archive Team is trying to archive everything for everyone, but they don’t give me a copy of my stuff. In fact, their tool deletes the data from your local machine after upload. Bizarre and bothersome. I’m sure they were resource constrained when building their tool, but if it just printed out copies of my starred items, I’d have run it forever, and loved them forever.

I am interested in seeing if the Persistent toolset collects more than text. I have the tool running now and it is downloading huge amounts of data from my more than 1,000,000 read items and over 15,000 starred items.

Goodbye, Google Reader. Google, I will never forget. To hell with G+. You get a G-.

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Functional Fixedness

A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Laser Pointer Tripod Mount, Arca-Swiss Compatible.

I’m really having fun inventing new objects with my 3D printer. Much more on this shortly.
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JPIV Throwing Exceptions

If you are trying to do some particle image velocimetry, and JPIV starts, but throws exceptions, you probably need to install the Java Advanced Imaging Library (agh!). This is because Java Webstart, despite it’s best efforts, cannot install the JAI(L) automatically.

I installed all three installers from this page, which is a pain to find. After that, the errors stopped, and the velocimetry began.

Much of my career has revolved around Java/Android/Webstart projects. Why is Java still such a horrendously high-friction thing? It’s sad.

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Like Mother Like Son


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Jeff Nielson’s DIY Book Scanner Presentation

Great work here – I’m really excited to see his software comparison matrix.

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Details Inside


I’ve taken to placing a schematic inside of electronic devices as build them. This was commonplace in consumer electronics up until the late seventies, but was replaced by the ubiquitous “no user serviceable parts inside” label. Utter bullshit. Anyhow, this simple technique keeps me from having to look things up, even though looking things up is usually very, very easy. In this particular case, it keeps me from having to log into an obscure and poorly managed Yahoo Group. Aaahhh.

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DIY Book Scanner in Business Insider

Here it is! Big thanks to Dylan Love for doing a great job on the article.

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When All You Have Is A Shopping Cart, Everything Looks Like

Carts_2013-01-22 17.30.49

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Brother HL2270DW Toner Cartridge Reset Procedure

Have a Brother HL2270DW laser printer. Great printer, except that the starter cartridge lasted a measly 210 pages.

First, I tried this. Which didn’t work.
Then I ordered these inexpensive replacement cartridges from Amazon. Wish me luck.
Then I found this solution, which works. The post, originally by Phiolle, says:

Please do the following steps to reset the toner sensor.

– Open the front cover and leave open while completing the following steps.
– Turn the printer off.
– Hold the ‘go’ button while turning the printer on. All lights should be on.
– Release the ‘go’ button (or “start’ button).
– Press the ‘go’ button (or “start’ button) 2 times.
– Pause. All panel lights should be on.
– Press the ‘go’ button (or “start’ button) 5 times.
The toner light should be off. (error may be flashing)
The paper light should be on or flashing.
– Close cover. The ready light should be the only light on.

It works. Quoted here for posterity and google-ability.

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Cleaning Laser Cutting Residue From The Bed Of An Epilog Zing 24 CO2 Laser

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Hakko 936 Fix


I have a Hakko 936 soldering iron. The base unit is factory original, however the pencil is from eBay. As it turns out, the pencil is either a factory reject, or it is a counterfeit.The knurled section on the bottom did not mate with the section below – the threads were too large. I’ve suffered this for several years, simply pressing it back on to the base after it pops off. However today it annoyed me enough to necessitate a fix. I I drilled two holes through the outer knurled section, and inserted two self tapping screws. I also wrapped a band of copper wire around the base to prevent the two screws from becoming a cantilever upon which the tip could pivot. Works beautifully. Now I can get back to real work.

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The Lockpicking Possibilities Intrinsic in Hard-Wear Plastics

Night is rarely so revealing as with light. Lock_2013-01-06-23.59


The total combination space of a new lock is huge – orders of magnitude, exponents. Log scales. Billion combinations. But a code never changed wears itself in. Specular reflection will buy you access when even the heat of a hand has faded.


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Things That Won’t Exist For Long



Opened up a television today and found this “User Manual”. I was surprised at the sheer number of languages represented. In an age of smartphones, there should be a single block of digital data in the middle that auto-translates to all possible grammars. And a human-readable, machine-translatable text version from a single ur-language like Mandarin or English.

I can see a strong case for a new breed of diacritical mark – one that helps machines disambiguate difficult grammar.

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The Ultimate To Do List


No question about it, workflowy is the ultimate online to do list.

Do you do things in your life? You should use it.

I use it constantly and paid for the pro version so I could share lists with friends.

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