Category Archives: technology

How to make noise: stooges

“We were absolved of a life of mediocrity because we couldn’t play,” says Iggy Pop about 16 minutes into this interview with Thurston Moore. Crucial memories of the Psychadelic Stooges in this video include oil drum percussion strategies, vacuum cleaner/ air compressor wind synthesis, water jug gongs, and a great discussion of repurposing a bummer of an amp that Iggy bought by knocking it over and enjoying the clang of the reverb.

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Gamestop will be the single largest wealth distribution in United States History

Late in January 2021 the short stock squeeze on hedge funds by Reddit subforum r/Wallstreetbets became a national story. The primary narrative seemed to treat the conflict as a novelty story about the insights and cheek of the uninformed masses investing on their phones. This may be a risky prediction, but I think that next week the majority of Reddit investors will hold and the eventual consequences will result in the single largest wealth distribution in United States History.

Mohammed El-Erian writes a good summary of the showdown that is happening and the stakes for the large scale financiers in Bloomberg:

I’m not strong on translating business-speak, but I think he is saying that if the Gamestop shareholders continue to want to buy the stock (not just hold it) and some short purchases still need to be fulfilled, then the value of the stock could continue to rise. And that could wreck one or more of the money making jam boys on wall street.

A casual stroll through Reddit will give you some good examples of the palpable poor-vs-rich anger. Reading r/Wallstreetbets is fascinating for the insider language, the shared sense of purpose and the dual denigration of the community and pride for it’s newly-found capabilities.

Note that the subforum is called r/Wallstreetbets. There is another forum called r/stocks and hundreds of other Reddit investing subforums. The name of this forum betrays the gambling nature of the investment stories and the big wins and losses which make this story so attractive.

Here are a couple of screenshots from the forum with some particular linguistic and representational frames that are worth note. (They are also potentially offensive).

This is insider communication telling the story of the moment to themselves. The community is self-articulated as small-time investors, angry at large hedge funds. The participants seem mostly interested in making visible the disparities of the capitalist system. They call themselves “retards” and “autists” partially to obsure the notion that they are giving financial advice. The reference to apes is shared identity with Harambe the murdered ape imprisoned in the Cincinnati zoo.

They are almost always offering palliative advice. Everyone I know has experienced so much pain and suffering because of debt. Health care and education debt, extra-long work hours and exhaustion from a combination of an economic system that asks more and more from us while offering less of a safety net. The raw anger of the “guy who lives in his truck” and u/space-peanut can be felt. Their motivation is vengence – to not only hold, but to “buy the dip” to continue to invest in the stock for the purposes of enacting revenge for the damage already done by the capitalist system.

Buying the stock is getting harder and harder to do as the trading app Robinhood froze purchases and then throttled users to a single share per day on Friday. The realization that the company was preventing the movement from access to the stock (seemingly to protect the hedge funds) created enormous anger and a quick move to use those investing tools that allowed small investors to buy Gamestop stock.

I’m not alone in thinking that there is a showdown coming this next week, and the press will continue to talk about the inevitable run that will come when some of the larger stockholders sell the stock in order to recoup their now astronomic investments. But I’m not sure that many of the die-hards are going to do that. I think they “like the stock.”

Reading R/Wallstreetbets, one of the users whose posts zoomed to the top of the page is u/Deepfuckingvalue a user named Keith Gill. u/Deepfuckingvalue posts single images of his stock portfolio daily holding gamestop stock showing a 30-40 million dollar investment portfolio. It is a persuasive representation of the enthusiastic rewards for this kind of clubhouse community of seemingly-irrational investors. Watching Gill’s youtube video explaining why he thinks you should buy Gamestop is rational, persuasive and prescient.

U/Deepfuckingvalue argues that Gamestop is likely to stick around because people will shop there and the store will make money. He defends against digital video-game purchases, articulates management changes and basically does wonky due diligence. Around 39 minutes they begin forecasting what the stock might do if people invest. Worth a watch.

Note that this video is from July. The reddit folks who were hipped into this moment have had six months to slip into a few Gamestop shares at prices from four bucks to above four hundred bucks. Quite a few users on the forum have presented their spreadsheets of gamestop changes showing hundreds of thousands of dollars of gains and a shared enthusasm to hold the stock.

I think that a few folks will sell a few shares to get some cash to pay bills or floss their new found wealth. But I bet that the majority of folks will keep the majority of their shares. Others, excited to be part of the community of Gamestop stock owners will be ready to buy the stock even at the inflated price because it comes with a lot of extra value from the moment. But I think they are thinking that they will get to own a long-standing business in their community, not stock that they’ll sell when it is convenient.

I think that that individual investors will continue to seek out nostalgic businesses that have been marked for decline by hedge funds. AMC and Bed Bath and Beyond appear to be part of this redemption story because they hit the sweet spot of businesses that people want to defend from destruction and because they have been shorted by hedge funds.

This may point to a kind of crowd-funded community development opportunities. In the past most small investors have been sway to the moves of the market. If your local grocery store went out of business you might have to drive 45 miles to shop somewhere else. The ability to quickly invest money to keep businesses afloat because we need them hasn’t been available before this. I wonder if the abiliy to save a few chain corporations from bankruptcy will make a dramatic difference, but it is an interesting change in presumed power and maybe it will prevent a few food deserts.

But we also are going to see a huge series of changes from this moment because a couple of billion dollars is moving from hedge funds to a lot of previously-small scale investors in Gamestop. These Gamestop millionaires are going to going to make a big impact in the financial and cultural moment of 2021.

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Filed under capitalism, class, communication, health, juxtaposition, protest, representation, resistance, rhetoric, technology, video games, videogames

1UP global graffiti innovations

I appreciate the thoughtfulness and strategic communication of the 1UP graffiti crew. The above videos are a pretty good representation of the trans-national cohort bent on leaving their shared name on any (un)available surface.

1UP have challenged the stereotypes before with their coral reef tag, and the #LEAVENOONEBEHIND campaigns. They are graffiti extenders – moving the practices of graffiti into new mediums and methods. The crew seem comfortable with a variety of new application strategies including the whole crew whole car strategy with the car in service, fire extinguisher painting, and of course repetition.

These two videos present some of the more interesting elements of 1UP practice. I’ll observe:

  1. Collaborative vacation. These videos document 2019-20 New Years Eve in Napoli. The crew pick a location and then paint up the town and socialize. They share a crew tag and a goal of making it beam from every surface in the city.
  2. interactions on the street. The 1UP crew zip around Napoli and paint on the walls with passersby interacting. These offer up some great moments like the memorial tag at 2:28. But the 1UP crew seem social, jolly, the paintings all seem pretty crisp and they seem to pass cans to people walking by if they express an interest.
  3. Include the failures. I really like the disruption of the standard graffiti video format. Including some high profile failures and semi-honest reflection about those tactics adds a lot to these two films.
  4. Strategic painting. Two giant cans of silver paint with fat caps allow a person to cover a lot of terrain. The use of teams (one person doing the fill and another to do the outline) and the multiplication of these roles if they are doing something larger was really impressive.
  5. Nostalgia. After a half a year of COVID-19 and stresses of the end of democracy in the United States, seeing a band of artists run through a European city on New Years eve seems like nostalgic hi-jinx.
  6. Vele. The Vele houses in the second video (10:45) offer up one of the best case studies of representation and voice. My concern is that it would be exploitative for the community members, so I appreciated that they foregrounded consent with the neighborhood and participation in the message-making.
  7. Art. I have some aesthetic preferences. Not sure what the face on the Vele houses was. Was not moved by the addition of the yellow streaks to most of the finished throwups. Really liked the rainbow drip piece. Appreciated the solid lines and old school letter styles used for 1UP across the project.
  8. Ethics. I’m sympathetic to anyone who was disrupted in their transportation to work. I bet quite a few people were terrified by the giant firework explosions. And I think that some of the crew shots of large gatherings of hooded men may seem menacing to some.

Overall these two videos are great examples of communicative strategy both in the video construction and the 1UP artwork.

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Filed under art, communication, cultural appropriation, do-it-yourself, documentary, graffiti, media, representation, Surveillance, technology

Information literacy as self defense: COVID-19 edition

The election of 2016 marked an deep downward pull for American democratic traditions. After the election the institutions that make up government became under attack by the President and the cabinet members. Each American agency seems to have been sapped of leadership, undercut, and in many cases, the people working at the State Department or the NEH found themselves directed to work 180 degrees opposite the purpose of the agency. The Environmental Protection Agency for instance:

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he was freeing oil and gas companies from “burdensome and ineffective regulations.” By rolling back an Obama-era policy designed to curb gas leaks at pipelines and wells, the EPA administrator was essentially giving energy companies the go-ahead to release much more climate-warming methane into the atmosphere.

MSN – https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/another-giveaway-to-polluters-from-the-trump-epa/ar-BB18ecp1

Let’s not pretend that the United States confidence in government was very strong before all this. But you pile on the increasingly refined ways that people gather news and form opinions and the genuine cynicism that everyone seems to share, and we face a deeper problem.

We risk losing the inability to discern fiction from truth – (and I’m a postmodernist), or the ability to debate complex ideas. I’m sure that the basic skills still exist on college campuses and the nod toward some shell of debate and rigorous argument can be found in corners of youtube.

Joshua Yaffa writes in the New Yorker about the continued focus on Russian propaganda (Yaffa outlines how much of this should be considered a threat) and the more problematic impact of the President and Fox News reporters muddying the waters over the significance and response to Covid-19.

Yaffa writes: “When it comes to COVID-19, the apparent result of the combined disinformation campaign of Trump and Fox News has been devastating. A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May analyzed anonymous location data from millions of cell phones to show that residents of Zip Codes with higher Fox News viewership were less likely to follow stay-at-home orders. Another study, by economists at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, suggested a disparity in health outcomes between areas where Fox News viewers primarily tuned in to tucker Carlson, who, among Fox hosts, spoke early and with relative urgency about the danger of COVID-19, and places where viewers preferred Sean Hannity, who spent weeks downplaying its severity. The economists found that in March, viewership of Hannity over Carlson, in the locales they studied was associated with a thirty-two-per-cent increase in infections, and a twenty-three-per-cent increase in COVID-19-related deaths

(Yaffa, Joshua.”Believe it or Not.” New Yorker. September 14, 2020, p. 29)

With these kinds of numbers, we need to be making the connection that information literacy is a public health investment. In 2020 being able to discern if a source is lying to you is a survival skill. Fortunately it is one that a couple of hundred thousand teachers can resolve with some investment and support.

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Filed under academics, capitalism, communication, critique, health, juxtaposition, learning, media, propaganda, resistance, rhetoric, science, 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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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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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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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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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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