Express Yourself

Express Yourself

This post is a topic that’s difficult for me to talk about on the internet. It’s difficult, period. This April I went to the Alameda county courthouse with the woman I loved, and we filed a dissolution of marriage.

I’m not ready to describe to the world at large what my last year has been like, what it was like in the time leading up to that day in April. Suffice it to say that in the last year I have gone through a wide range of emotions, and have learned a lot about myself. I went to therapy, wrote in journals, spent many hours and some late nights on the phone with friends, and I started to create new patterns in life. I did these things to try to process what happened, to find some relief, and to begin to move on.

Most of my friends and acquaintances on the internet have seen what I’ve chosen to show- silly quirky posts on Facebook and Instagram, sharing links and thoughts that I think are fun and funny, pictures of a crazy beard that I’ve grown just for the hell of it, a new set of hipster glasses. I’ve been trying to *be* fun and happy and nutty, just faking it until I make it. It’s not the full truth. I didn’t post about how bad I felt.

Maybe the front I’m putting up is really transparent, and everyone has been watching my pain. Maybe the mask is too good, and people at a distance can’t understand why I’m not feeling worse. I haven’t been honestly expressing myself, especially not in crowds or on the internet. As a few of my close friends and family know, I have had many dark days. I’m not posting it on Facebook, but I felt it. Although I spent a long time where I was down more often than up, and nothing seemed like it would ever be OK, I had (and continue to have) amazing support from a few close friends and my family. If that’s you, thank you.

I’m on a journey, and one thing I’m working on is self expression. I’m trying to speak up in the moment and say what’s on my mind. As I get in touch with how I really feel, I’m starting to rediscover the satisfaction of creating art. This week I wanted to create a small but honest glimpse of an emotion I’ve felt, and so I created a photo to do it. Maybe somebody else can identify with what I’m showing here, and maybe if that’s you then you’ll feel a little better knowing that you’re not the only person who’s felt like that. I know that sometimes I feel better when I can identify myself in what somebody else is expressing.

Before I link to the photo, I will say that as of today I am feeling some optimism for the future. It’s not all so dark, and most of the time now I have a light heart and a good attitude. I don’t have a concrete plan for my future in the long term, but I do have plans for the next few months, and creative expression is on the agenda. Things are looking up.

This is a first draft.

After I helped her move out and I began living alone, and after it became clear that we weren’t going to work it out, I looked over at the half of the king sized frame where her side used to be. That gap was the saddest damn thing. It still is. I’d lay there in bed at night and reach out for her, and my arm would stick out into empty space, and flop down against the edge of the mattress box.

It took me a while to see that this could be the subject of a photo, and to figure out that maybe I’d better do it. “Totally should”, right?

Although this is a visual image, I have always felt more moved by music than anything else. Hearing certain songs at the right time (or the wrong time) can make me sing and dance, or cry like a baby. This is mostly true when I’m alone, and I have a hard time sharing it with others. I don’t know why.I wish that I could write music to express these things. When I played, that was a way that I felt safe sharing, expressing- even flaunting any given emotion one-on-one or in a crowd. It was totally cool to go into a fit of rage, or be sad, or manic, or lustful, and to radiate the sound of it to a hundred people at once.

Unfortunately,  I haven’t practiced in about eight years, and a drum set was never a great instrument for this kind of story. I haven’t done the kind of electronic music that would *maybe* have the required range of expression in ten or eleven years, and right now it is too frustrating to try to pick it up again just to try to make my ideas reality. It takes too long, the feelings are too strong.

I am thankful that I traded my drums for something else, and didn’t lose the ability to create. As I continue on this journey, I’ll keep making things.

Addendum- I am done with this idea. There will not be another draft.

Post a Silly Long-Shot Craigslist Ad

Post a Silly Long-Shot Craigslist Ad

I thought to myself, “You know what would be fun? Tutoring some kids on track to be engineers, but only if their parents are cool enough to wink at the whole thing and have some fun with it.”

The cool thing about Craigslist is that you can throw something at the wall to see if it sticks, cast a line to see if anybody bites. Sometimes it works out beyond your expectations- other times there are no responses whatsoever, or it gets flagged for removal.

Here’s my latest:


Acting a Little Crazy in Public

I think one of my favorite things that I recently did while on BART was this:

I was minding my own business when fifteen or twenty college kids got on the train, obviously they were really new to BART and really new to the bay area, and one of them sat down next to me and introduced himself to me right off the bat. I was just commuting or going someplace normal, and he seemed like he was just excited to be on a train, so I mumbled something and went back to my book. The kid’s name was Jimmy, and Jimmy didn’t know yet that it’s not standard operating procedure to introduce yourself to ever seat-mate on public transit.

Anyway, four or five stops went by, and it was time for Jimmy and his friends to get off at downtown Berkeley. He walked out, fifteen or twenty excited kids got off, and I a bell went off in my head. Something compelled me to stand up and walk to the door of the now empty train, and I shout right at him through the crowd, “HEY JIMMY!!”

He had a shocked look on his face as he looked at me, and all of his friends looked at me, and then looked at him, and back at me, and back at him, trying to discern why I knew his name and was yelling for his attention. So, with no further explanation I maintained my grinning eye contact with Jimmy and gave him a huge thumbs-up and a knowing wink as the train doors closed. I assume that his friends badgered him for the rest of the night, asking him what that was all about and who I was.

Bike Speakers

Bike Speakers

This spring I went to my first East Bay Bike Party, and it was really neat. There were a thousand people riding bikes together at night, with lights and awesome stereos on their bikes, and people were wearing costumes. We were mostly law abiding, polite, quiet in residential areas- it was much better than Critical Mass! When I say it was better, I mean that it’s the kind of scene that a person could have some pride in talking about in most places

I saw the kinds of things that people were bringing to make music- they were using boom boxes, a few custom things, and portable DJ speakers on trailers. Some of these were powered by heavy batteries that were driving inverters that regular PA amps were plugged into. By the end of the night I heard stories about people having to be pushed up the hills to get their speakers to the next party spot.

I’ve long had a love for designing and building speakers, and I always keep my eyes out for new technology and ways to make things happen, so I got the idea that I could make a totally cool bike stereo that would be light and loud. Light, loud, and good sound! I hope that I can make it look good too, but my priority is on good sound, as it always is when I approach audio, and on weight. I don’t want it to be any heavier than if I’m riding home from Berkeley Bowl with a good pile of produce (and beer).

My brain started chewing on the design problem in the background as life went on, and from time to time I collected another puzzle piece. The first thing I found was that there are a lot of high efficiency, light weight, high quality “class D” amplifiers. These are the new generation of amplifiers that take advantage of the better (and cheaper) electronic chips that are available today, and make sound by switching on and off very quickly to create a pulse stream rather than modulating an analog voltage, and so their efficiency can be in the +90% range. This lets them sip power from a battery, so I don’t have to carry around such a heavy battery. They also have versions available that take DC battery input instead of AC input from a plug into the wall, so there will be no need to use an inverter.

That was the first step to make it possible; it cut the battery requirement at least in half. The next step that made it possible was the Aura NS6, a lightweight paper coned woofer with neodymium magnet, on sale at Parts Express. Even compared to professional audio drivers, I couldn’t find anything that would allow me to get more bass per pound- not unless I wanted to spend BIG money. These cost less than $8 each when I bought eight in one order, and I am certain that for $64 there’s nothing that will be able to play louder.

I’m loading them up into a pile of enclosures like this:

I used cardboard tube that’s normally sold as a form for concrete columns. It’s fairly strong and stiff, and it’s very light compared to most speaker enclosures. They may not seem very substantial, but the round shape is great at resisting pressure. The end caps are laser cut acrylic (gotta love Tech Shop!), which will be transparent once I remove the protective liners. The laser made it fast and easy, since instead of cutting round holes and doing precise drilling, I was able to place the sheet of plastic into the laser cutter and hit “go”. The other cool thing about the acrylic is that it will let me put glowing LEDs inside the tubes. This will make my bike more visible, and it will be fun!

If you know much about the physics of sound, you probably know that making a lot of bass from something small and light isn’t easy, and it’s not efficient. To get efficiency out of this arrangement, I am doing a few things. The final build will include eight bass modules, four on each side of the rear wheel, and it will be electronically limited not to play much below 50hz. I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t very low, but I did an experiment back in college to see where most of the bass ‘lives’ for the kind of music you hear at clubs and in concerts. It turns out that the ‘pounding’ bass that you can feel in your body is largely between 80 and 160 hz. There’s a solid component of many bass drums where the initial impact is even higher! Yes, a bass guitar’s low string goes down to around 40 hz, and many styles of electronic music contain much much lower notes- but sacrifices had to be made.

These are light, not especially expensive, and although they’re not small, they’re not too big to fit on my rear cargo rack.

That covers the amplifier and the bass, two of the hard parts, but what about the tweeters and crossovers? Tweeters were easy- I got a pro midrange tweeter with a big horn that plays nice and low, and a smaller tweeter that plays as high as you can hear. No big deal, light cheap and sure to work. The really cool thing is the crossover- this is the component that made me look at the project and go from saying “This is too much work!” to “Yeah, I could totally do that!”

The MiniDSP is the most expensive part of the build, but it does the job of something that would have cost three times as much just five years ago, and barely existed ten years ago. In real time it takes the audio and digitizes it at high quality, and mathematically manipulates it to emulate the circuitry normally used to separate sounds into high, medium, and low pitches to send to each of the speakers. This is the kind of thing that could be done on a circuit board with op amps, and people have been doing that for a long time- but to get good sound you need to use a lot of expensive op amps, you have to do a lot of soldering, and you have to change the values of components based on measured and calculated values specific to your speakers. It’s hard to tweak, easy to break, still not cheap, and there are things you might want to do that are very difficult to achieve in an analog circuit. You can also buy one off the shelf, like the Marchand XM9, but that’s really expensive, and still not as flexible as the MiniDSP.

I used WinISD to simulate the woofers boxes, and with eight of them together I should get an efficiency of nearly 98 decibels per watt, and with the 4×100 watt amplifier I should be able to just produce just over 120 decibels. That’s probably louder than your stereo, and it’s more than loud enough to cause hearing damage and get the police involved.

More pictures coming as I build this thing!




One of the things that I love about taking pictures is the excitement of it. I’m not saying that I like taking pictures because I think it’s exciting- I mean that taking a picture gives me a chance to capture that moment in time when I’m feeling excitement at what I see in front of me, or the possibility of an image.

Some of my favorite photos that I’ve taken have been born of an instant of realizing, “I should totally take a picture of that!” For me, photography at its best is when I can have a moment of “I totally should take a picture of that!”, and capture it in an instant. It doesn’t turn out every time, but when it does turn out I think it’s really exciting. I’d like to share a few examples here.

I was walking through the gym during a day of power soccer games, and I saw my friend Scot Goodman letting a young player have a look through his camera. My DSLR was in my backpack across the gym, and it had a telephoto lens on it at the time, so there was no way I was going to get a shot if I was sprinting around and changing lenses, so I whipped out my blackberry and snapped one.  It may not have the highest technical quality, but I still consider it one of my favorites. Her parents loved it too!

Here’s another one- it was back in early December 2011, and I read that there was going to be a complete lunar eclipse starting at 4 AM. I set my alarm, and it was tough to drag myself out of bed to see the thing. I told myself I’d just head outside in my PJs to see if it was cloudy, and I’d go back to bed if it was. It was a clear sky, and as I saw the first bite of the moon disappearing I had that moment of excitement, and ran inside to pack a thermos of coffee and my gear.

This shot took a little work, and all of my technical fiddling, but the important part was having the moment of excitement where I dragged myself out of bed and went out looking for the right angle for a good shot.

A much more impromptu shot was this one-

I was out walking with a friend, and I grabbed my camera at the last minute because it seemed like something was going on in the neighborhood. She said, “You should take a picture of that!”, and so I did! I ended up liking this shot, the one she thought was exciting, much more than any of the others that I came up with on my own that night.

Another picture I took that was just a “What the hell!” moment, but took a little preparation was this:

For reasons that you may or may not be familiar with, I’ve had some evenings where I’ve been home alone and bored lately. I thought, “Hey, people take pictures of themselves in bathroom mirrors all the time, I should put a twist on that!”, and so I put on a vintage bath robe, set up a flash on a stand (camera left), used a big lens, and I went for it. Pretty goofy, but it’s more or less what I was going for!

Lately I’ve discovered a new toy that allows me capture and share these moments more quickly and easily than ever before. It’s Instagram!

In case this sounds like it’s turning into a commercial, I’ll go ahead and admit that a part of me is cynical about an iphone application that lets you post a small square image with a short list of arguably cheesy effects applied after the shot. However, I do think that Instagram also brings a few positive things to the table. The constraint to a given format forces you to be creative, and the limited number of things you can do after the shot keeps you from screwing around on your phone for an hour trying to create something after the fact. It’s really about the moment and the idea, and what you did to put your phone in the right place at the right time. Sometimes the effects look really cliched and overdone, but other times they seem to add something to the image.

You can follow my Instagram gallery on Flickr to see what I do with it. I hope you like it!