Category Archives: technology

RIP “Muffwiggler” Mike

The guy who founded the online forum Muffwiggler passed away.  His vision of a forum to make modular synths accessible has been really meaningful to a lot of people and has corresponded with the rise in Eurorack.  He had been an opaque figure for me – a mostly unknown founder with a basement full of rare synths.  With his passing a number of interesting videos have emerged including this one which gives Mike a chance to talk about the origins of the forum and reflect on the often consumerist nature of modular synths.

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Filed under do-it-yourself, documentary, learning, media, memorial, music, synthesizers, technology

Money Mark and the paper Melotron

This video by the guitar pedal manufacuters Earthquake devices is particularly good.  Featuring Money Mark (artist and famed Beastie Boys collaborator) in a laboratory with some created tools to make music.

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Filed under art, do-it-yourself, documentary, music, science, synthesizers, technology

cannibal capitalism and video game streaming

Cannibal capitalism is the mediated consumption of other people’s suffering. Usually someone gets paid for this. In the NFL players and owners get money while viewers watch men exchange ritualized interpersonal violence. Traditional televised sports are ripe with injury moments and the moral judgement that soothes and justifies the suffering.

Slightly less visible is the suffering that happens in order to bring us the entertainment. The New Yorker has a nice essay on video game streamers who broadcast their games to gigantic audiences of semi-interactive fans. Taylor Clark describes the harm that many streamers face from the occupation.

“At this summer’s PAX West–a yearly convention that inundates downtown Seattle with gaming fans–virtually every streamer I spoke with voiced concerns about the health risks of overwork. “My doctor told me I was going to die if I kept doing it like this,” a young broadcaster who goes by Bria Leigh said. ‘You spend ten hours a day in the chair. And you don’t even want to get up to use the bathroom, because you’re afraid you’ll lose viewers.'”(43) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44

Clark’s article contains reference to a gamer who died during a 24-hour charity stream (Brian Vigneault) and a opens with the description of Roberto Garcia AKA Towelliee, a popular streamer.  Clark describes the impact on Garcia from his years of grinding out gaming for fans.

“Game streaming, Garcia discovered, required non-stop work.  The only way to attract viewers, and to prevent the ones you had from straying to other broadcaster, was to be online constantly, so he routinely streamed for eighteen hours a day.  “That’s what I had to do to grown the viewership,” he said.  His ankles swelled from sitting at this computer.  his weight grew to four hundred and twenty pounds.” (38) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44

There is a lot to unpack in the representations of video gaming and new media.  My interest is to note that this new genre of entertainment has consequences for the producers.  Streamed live, viewers get to watch and comment on (consume) the streamers with a kind of interactivity that has seldom been seen before.  The invitation is there for viewers to chat directly with the producers and create community.

But the expectation is that the streamer is there for the viewer and in some ways is entitled to the viewing.  In this relationship where the streamer depends on the views to make a living there is a certain incentive to grind through moments of suffering in order to keep viewers.

This relationship is cannibal capitalism where viewers consume the suffering of someone else through the media.  It is visible through the twitch comments and the representations of streaming participants.  It is also in the bodily cost that is above-and-beyond other lines of employment.  (No doubt that people who cut down trees for a living have swelling feet and high blood pressure from their job, but few arborists have 10,000 people watching their successes and failures live).

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Filed under capitalism, communication, health, technology, video games, videogames, vulnerability

Synthesizers in motion: Bastl instruments documentary

This is a very enjoyable trip to Bastl instruments in the Czech Republic. Host Cuckoo is a charming interviewer and Bastl instruments showcase a people-oriented business.

My anticipation is that we’ll meet a lonely Eastern European modular maker, but what unfolds is a robust community has grown dramatically. Includes the boss describing how to avoid “poop face,” a woman modulating with a baby strapped on, Bastl’s boutique coffee plans, and a business where everyone is a musician. No really, it seems like *everyone* is a musician at Bastl.

Best part of the video is a chance to get some perspective from Peter Edwards (Casper Electronics) a circuit-bending scientist whose website has inspired a lot of people, including myself.

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Filed under art, capitalism, do-it-yourself, documentary, humor, music, synthesizers, technology

Big Money: Robert Mercer and Trump

Jane Mayer is a national treasure.  A thoughtful investigative journalist for the New Yorker, Mayer has authored books on torture (The Dark Side) and on the Koch brothers funding the Tea Party uprising (Dark Money).  Mayer is scholarly, relentless and enthusiastic for details.

Her new essay in the New Yorker is a great write up on Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund financier (and his family) who helped to create and sustain Donald Trump.  The essay has a number of vital arguments to archive:

  1.  The Mercer family has been the money behind the rise of Breitbart and Steve Bannon.

“In 2011, Bannon drafted a business plan for the Mercers that called for them to invest ten million dollars in Breitbart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Breitbart site was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers signed the deal that June, and one of its provisions placed Bannon on the company’s board.

Nine months later, Andrew Breitbart died, at forty-three, of a heart attack, and Bannon became the site’s executive chairman, overseeing its content. The Mercers, meanwhile, became Bannon’s principal patrons. The Washington Post recently published a house-rental lease that Bannon signed in 2013, on which he said that his salary at Breitbart News was seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Under Bannon’s leadership, the Web site expanded dramatically, adding a fleet of full-time writers. It became a new force on the right, boosting extreme insurgents against the G.O.P. establishment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman. But it also provided a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

2.  Those seemingly innocent “personality tests” on Facebook may have been part of the data-mining and political work of Cambridge Analytics.

“In 2012, one area in which the Republicans had lagged badly behind the Democrats was in the use of digital analytics. The Mercers decided to finance their own big-data project. In 2014, Michal Kosinski, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge, was working in the emerging field of psychometrics, the quantitative study of human characteristics. He learned from a colleague that a British company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, wanted to hire academics to pursue similar research, for commercial purposes. Kosinski had circulated personality tests on Facebook and, in the process, obtained huge amounts of information about users. From this data, algorithms could be fashioned that would predict people’s behavior and anticipate their reactions to other online prompts. Those who took the Facebook quizzes, however, had been promised that the information would be used strictly for academic purposes. Kosinski felt that repurposing it for commercial use was unethical, and possibly illegal. His concerns deepened when he researched S.C.L. He was disturbed to learn that the company specialized in psychological warfare, and in influencing elections. He spurned the chance to work with S.C.L., although his colleague signed a contract with the company.

Kosinski was further disconcerted when he learned that a new American affiliate of S.C.L., Cambridge Analytica—owned principally by an American hedge-fund tycoon named Robert Mercer—was attempting to influence elections in the U.S. Kosinski, who is now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s business school, supports the idea of using psychometric data to “nudge” people toward socially positive behavior, such as voting. But, he told me, “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”

It is unclear if the Mercers have pushed Cambridge Analytica to cross that line. A company spokesman declined to comment for this story. What is clear is that Mercer, having revolutionized the use of data on Wall Street, was eager to accomplish the same feat in the political realm.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

The rest of Mayer’s article is a great read.  Useful to keep a list of the right-wing funded “research” organizations that are thinly-veiled research firms designed to dig up (or create) dirt on an opponent.   It is also interesting how small the circle of funders, activists and decision-makers appears to be from this essay.

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Filed under communication, media, propaganda, representation, rhetoric, technology

DIY synthesizer inspirations: Peter Blasser and Chris Beckstrom

I continue to learn about digital noise-making.  I’ve been soldering and bread-boarding synthesizers and noise-boxes for the last year.  Along the way I’ve found a few cool motivations and inspirations.

1. I found Peter Blasser and his musical wizardry through an essay he wrote about making electronic instruments for a small child for econtact.   At first I thought he was mocking the reader, and then I realized that the essay was deeply creative, fluid and inspiring.  I spent as much time exploring the links as reading the text.  This led me to Peter’s astounding limited edition home-made instruments: Ciat.lonbarde.net

Here is Blasser with a workshop about his Shnth I found enjoyable.

Blasser offers some really interesting DIY projects at his website: Peter B.  I’m collecting the parts to make some paper circuits.  I find his approach, openness and creative inspirational work to be sublime.

2.  Since I’ve been making my own instruments I often run into disappointment.  I finish something and plug in a battery and it doesn’t work.  Finding motivation to keep creating when projects flop takes a little intellectual inspiration.  I often turn to look at the pictures and read the notes by Chris Beckstrom.  As he puts it:

My admittedly lofty goal was to build a modular synthesizer, from scratch, using basic components (no kits), with zero electronics experience. Turns out, it’s possible! I’m sharing circuits, designs, pictures, and code to help other folks realize their dream of building a modular synthesizer for themselves.

Source: DIY Modular Synthesizer | Chris Beckstrom

I really like that uses bolts as cheap connections instead of the costly cables for most systems.  I appreciate that he lists that some of his modules aren’t working at the moment.  At points where I struggled to move forward it is really gratifying to see a home-made system that seems accessible.  In fact seeing creative people who aren’t deterred by lack of money or parts is helpful as I put together my machines.

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Filed under art, do-it-yourself, learning, music, synthesizers, technology, vulnerability

Sexism and corporate beef riding: Drake vs. Meek Mill

I have the faint sense that the Drake / Meek Mill ‘beef’ is a pre-planned public relations stunt.  Meek is dating Nikki Minaj a long time collaborator of Drake (via Young Money / Cash Money).   Both rappers have gained massive media attention and tons of new social media followers.  But I don’t know, it’s possible it started as a funny joke and then turned into a fight.  It’s also possible that this is a real scrap.

Given that the daily beef updates are worldwide news (CNN, New York Times, and dozens of ‘serious’ news outlets grabbed the story and have been breathlessly posting gossip and re-posting tweets).   It is worth checking out some of the themes that make this scrap significant.

  1.  Everyone sort of expected Meek Mill to do better against Drake.  It’s no secret that Drake is respected among hip hop folks, but seen as a johnny-come-lately former actor who sings his hooks.  He is a pop rapper, with the sales numbers and teenage fans to prove it.   This isn’t to take anything away from Drake, because in that formula has been a world dominating path to rap success.  In some ways beating Meek has been vital for his image.   His previous meme struggles had been the unerring connections of his rap career with his acting career.  Witness the Degrassi memes which swim around online Drake discussions.

2.  The key argument which seems to have ‘won’ Drake the battle against Meek Mill was just sexism.   Witness the lines from “Back to back:”

Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?/ I know that you gotta be a thug for her/ This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more/ Yeah, trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers/ Yeah, you gettin’ bodied by a singin’ nigga/ I’m not the type of nigga that’ll type to niggas/ And shout-out to all my boss bitches wifin’ niggas/ Make sure you hit him with the prenup

via Drake – Back to Back Lyrics | Genius.

Cheap sexism — the idea that opening up for Nikki Minaj’s Pink print tour is too feminine to be legit for a real tough guy rapper.   Add in the suggestion in “Charged up” that Drake had sex (or never could) with Nikki Minaj and you’ve got perhaps the most over-used trope in rap.

I also think it is a clear insult to Nikki Minaj who is a phenomenal rapper and a stunning internet strategist.   That her success is an insult to Meek is also sexist.   The result was some ugly photo shop work to create images like this:

To mark the bodies as distinctly female and male with roles associated.  It is gender policing to suggest that any violation of these roles is unmanly or unfeminine.

3.  For some pitiful corporate social media coordinators, this beef has been an opportunity to interject their product.  Crappy corporate fast food chains have posted snarky jokes about beef and attempted to connect their brand to something current and edgy.   It seems trite to me, but the re-posts by passionate fans suggest that this branding strategy of riding the coattails has some significance.

I would call it trolling.  Corporations mock either Drake (usually Meek Mill) in a semi-related tweet hoping that fans will respond.  But that isn’t that far away from the origins of this beef — Meek attacking a target that seemed vulnerable at the time.

Much of the enthusiasm for the beef might come from the comeuppance of traditionalist rap sources (MMG, tough-guy rappers, Funk Master Flex (who has failed to emerge with much promoted Meek Mill responses) in favor of the new power in hip hop (pop media, savvy social media stars and mockery memes).   In some ways the internet makes this an accessible fight — one that encourages a certain amount of piling on.

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Filed under communication, gender, hip hop, media, representation, rhetoric, sexism, technology