Fun with Highways: Gadsden, Alabama

Alabama remains a somewhat mysterious place to us at CatSynth – it’s one of only six states I haven’t yet visited. We did take fellow readers on a virtual drive of the state during our 2012 Primary Highways series. Today our virtual trip heads north from Birmingham on I-59 towards the town of Gadsden, Alabama.

Gadsden is the largest town in and the county seat of Etowah County and has a population of about 35,000. To put this in perspective, it’s a little over half the size of Santa Cruz, California, where CatSynth began. But unlike Santa Cruz, Gadsden boasts its own Interstate highway, I-759. It begins at an interchange with I-59 west of town and then crosses a long causeway of a wide section of the Coosa River before ending a junction with US 441 and Alabama State Route 759.

US 441 (Rainbow Drive) continues northward along the Coosa River, passing by the revitalized downtown area bere a junction with US 431 and US 278. It now includes galleries, boutiques, institutions like the Gadsden Museum of Art and the Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts, and a park along the Coosa River.  The museum has a current exhibition Intersection from Highway 90 that looks quite interesting.

Image result for gadsden art museum Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts
[Mary G. Hardin Center for Cultural Arts]


[Spirit of American Citizenship Monument along Coosa River. By Prestinian at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia by Ronhjones) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Heading back south on US 441 to the interchange with I-759, we come to an altogether more pedestrian institution, the Gadsden Mall. The mall itself seems like a bit of a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s, with textured concrete siding that doesn’t quite rise to the level of brutalism; and with Sears (Sears?!) as an anchor along with Belk, a southern department-store chain. The mall is now somewhat infamous as the haunt of a certain Etowah County assistant district attorney named Roy Moore, who was known by locals to cruise the mall for teenage women, leading to what was at least an informal ban from the mall (or as one victim put it “he was run off”).

Reading the stories of the women in this New Yorker article and AL.com are chilling, and our thoughts are with the victims who told have come forward to tell their stories. This guy is at the very least a serious creep, and worst a serial pedophile and sexual predator. But the other thing that baffled me in both articles was how this was an open secret of sorts in Gadsden. People know about and clearly disapproved of his behavior. So how did he rise from local creep and pedophile to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama twice? Why didn’t the people of Gadsden warn the rest of the state about him?

Looking back at Moore’s electoral history, he did face scrutiny and lost multiple elections, including for County Judge and later for Etowah County District Attorney. It was only several years later that he was appointed to the circuit-court seat he had earlier lost. Again, one wonders how he passed the background checks. But with the power of incumbency and his fiery extreme-Christian rhetoric, he was able to the gain election to the seat and eventually to the State Supreme Court, where he was removed twice for defying court orders in the name of his extreme brand of religion.

It is the last point, his extreme theocratic views on religion as law and his bigotry towards just about anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs, especially to the LGBTQ community and even towards Jews, that made him abhorrent long before the charges of sexual abuse and predation arose. The charges should alarm those who claim to share his “Christian” beliefs, but if anything it seems to have had the opposite effect, with some doubling down in their support in that siege mentality that seems to be universal among the religious right as well as many white nationalists and supremacists. Like Trump, he has become a symbol for the inchoate rage in many communities across the country.

I know the last thing the people of Alabama want is some liberal Jewish New Yorker telling them what to do or how to vote. I do hope they do make the right choice and reject this man who is so awful in so many ways from representing their state. Regardless of the outcome, I am sincere in my desire to hopefully visit Alabama soon, explore and play some music shows. Any leads or suggestions in this regard are welcome!

See more of Gadsden Alabama and many other fine towns across North America in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Highway☆ on Apple App Store .   Highway☆ for Android

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Smokey SF

Smoke and haze in downtown San Francisco

Smoke and haze in downtown San Francisco, looking up Ellis Street from a building on Market. You can see what this view looks like under better skies here.

After a couple of relatively good days, the air quality once again took a turn for the worse. As bad as it is, it’s nothing compared to what our friends to the north have gone through with the terrible fires, and our thoughts are with them as they recover.

Fire and Water (Northern California and Puerto Rico)

We at CatSynth are staying safely ensconced at HQ as the rather poor smoke-filled air reaches our doorstep. Fortunately, we are safe and have everything, which no longer true for so many to our north in Sonoma and Napa. This is still an on-going situation which we are following on social media and through local sources like SFGate. It is just devasting to see scenes and places I recognize going up in flames.

As things are still in the emergency and evacuation phase, the focus is on shelter, and of course fighting the fire.

Bring Crucial Supplies & Volunteer at Shelters

To accommodate the estimated 20,000 evacuees, a number of local landmarks have opened their doors to the growing influx of escapees. Below is a list of shelters, organizations, schools, and businesses we’ve found that are currently operating as safe spaces; they need able-and-willing volunteers and donations of essential supplies.

Veterans Memorial Building and Hall, 1351 Maple Ave. (Santa Rosa), sonomacountry.ca.gov
Petaluma Community Center, 320 N. McDowell Blvd. (Petaluma), cityofpetaluma.net
Sonoma County Fairgrounds (open for large- and medium-sized livestock and farm animals), access via Gate 7 on Aston Ave. (Sonoma), sonomacountyfiar.com
Ramekins Culinary School and Inn, 450 W. Spain St. (Sonoma), remekins.com
Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds (open to accommodate small livestock and other farm animals, access via Gate 4 on 175 Fairgrounds Dr (Petaluma), sonoma-maringfair.org
Crosswalk Church (currently at-capacity and in need of aid), 2590 1st St. (Napa), crosswalknapa.org
Napa Valley College Gym, 2277 Napa Vallejo Hwy. (Napa), napavalley.edu

Here are some resources for those needing to evacuate with pets. Please share with your friends in the area:

Multiple shelters are open to assist pet owners. They are:
Napa County Animal Shelter at 942 Hartle Ct, Napa
Santa Rosa Fairgrounds at 1350 Bennett Valley Road. Access the Fairgrounds via Gate 7 on Aston Ave
Cloverdale Citrus Fair at 1 Citrus Fair Drive, Cloverdale
Californians: If anyone has a horse trailer, Chalk Hill Ranch near Healdsburg needs emergency help. They have 54 horses in dire need of transportation off the ranch. 13426 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448 707-433-1804

To help animals and their humans, Donate to the Humane Societies and SPCA

Natural disasters of this magnitude affect more than human lives. Donate your time—and extra bags of dog and cat food—to the North Bay branches of the Humane Society and SPCA as they go about the tough work of accommodating new shelter animals.

Humane Society of Sonoma County, 5345 CA-12. (Santa Rosa), sonomahumane.org
Humane Society of Napa County, 3265 California Blvd. (Napa), napahumane.org
Yuba-Sutter SPCA, 745 Sutter St. (Yuba), yubasutterspca.org

Animal shelters in the region are evacuating some of their residents to places south here in SF and in Oakland. In some cases, it may the shelter is in danger. In others, they are making space for animals lost or otherwise affected by the fires. Our friends at the SF SPCA and Cat Town Oakland are helping out.

Many wineries and other institutions are affected. We haven’t heard updates from some our favorite places around St Helena and Calistoga. We did hear that the di Rosa Art Center galleries and staff are all safe. Friends have reported in safe as well. We will continue to follow things – it is so hard to watch but also so hard to look.


Thousands of miles to the east and south, our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are trying to recover. We have fire; they have water. The recovery phase sometimes falls off the outside radar as new disasters happen – though in a dark twist the toxic politics will ensure that it does stay in our consciousness longer. It was pretty outrageous to see the lack of response, then the embarrassingly poor response, and cheap shots and criticisms of the people suffering through this disaster and trying to help them. But we persevere…

In general, organizations helping humans, pets, and preserving culture need cash more than stuff (and it’s also best to allow it to go to general funds). For disaster relief, friends have recommended Oxfam America. As in our local conflagration, and after the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, organizations are helping rescue and evacuate pets and other animals. From a recent story in The Atlantic:

The Humane Society of the United States, anticipating a deluge of lost and abandoned pets after the recent natural disaster, began coordinating flights of animals already in Texas shelters to other parts of the country. Eventually, they relocated hundreds of adoptable cats and dogs in the days before and after the storm. The same happened with Irma in Florida and the Virgin Islands. The same is happening after Maria in Puerto Rico.

HSUS is collecting and distributing donations for animal and human relief work. Many local organizations are helping as well. You can find out more from The Humane Society of Puerto Rico’s Facebook Page on current status and needs.

You can see feline evacuees from Puerto Rico to Safe Haven for Cats in North Carolina in this video, via this article.

9/11 Tribute in Light

9/11 Tribute in Light

Last night in downtown Brooklyn, we observed the 9/11 Tribute in Light turning on across the river.  One beam was on first, and then later – following the pattern of the towers attack and collapse.

It is a somber reminder.  And it is the second time I have been in New York on 9/11 to witness it.

You can read more about the 9/11 Tribute in Light here.

#Houston Updates

As the heat recedes in San Francisco and we return to something closer to normal, our attention returns to our human and feline friends in Houston and elsewhere affected by the storm.

In addition to rescuing stranded pets, one of the challenges facing animals and those who care from has been the damage done to local shelters in southeast Texas by the storm. Organizations from around the country have stepped up.  From the San Francisco SPCA’s recent Facebook post:

Rescue Cats from Texas coming to SF SPCA.

Rescue Cats from Texas coming to SF SPCA.

Our little ‘Stormtroopers’ (15 pups and 15 kitties) are resting peacefully after arriving last night from a galaxy far, far away (also known as Texas). We will be providing frequent updates over the next few days and they should all be available for adoption by the end of the week. Stay tuned here and on our adoption pages for news and pictures. Thanks again to our partners–Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, The Milo Foundation, MAD Dog Rescue, Charlie’s Acres, PetSmart Charities and Austin Pets Alive!–for helping bring the ‘Troopers back to the Bay Area so we can help find them new homes. The people and pets of Texas still need your help so please consider making a donation to Austin Pets Alive or any of the other organizations that are on the ground in the Houston area helping to make a difference.

Speaking of Austin Pets Alive, they continue to be on the ground helping their friends to the east, including the hard-hit city of Beaumont.   From APA’s latest update:

– We are not only taking owner-surrendered dogs. Best Friends Animal Society opened their temporary shelter at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds on Thursday, and the City of Austin and City of Houston have both opened facilities in the past 48 hours to help take in strays and lost animals. So, we have transitioned back to working with animals who are not waiting for an owner and need to work towards adoptions – which is what APA! does every day back in Austin.

– Thankfully, the city of Beaumont has set up the Ford Center to accept stray animals – so they have a safe, albeit warm, place to be. It is important to us that the pets coming to our facilities also come with the most information possible, as we need to know whether to help animals find forever homes or reunite with their families.

Best Friends Animal Society continues to also be on the ground helping rescue and reconnect animals with their humans.

We are happy to say that our human and feline friends at Mad Macedonian and Opinionated Pussycat are safe in Houston, although perhaps a bit soggy.  This Instagram post was from the storm itself last week.  The waters have receded since then.

Others are not so fortunate. Arun Chaudhary has been documenting the devastation in and around the Houston area in exquisitely detailed but distressing sometimes terrifying photos. This first one is along I-10.

One of the big issues now with the flood waters is the pollution and toxicity unleashed by the area’s massive energy-production industry. It is impossible to get a sense from the images of just what is coming.

Laura Moser, founder of Daily Action and Congressional candidate, continues to work in the communities on the north and west of the city, including Katy. The scenes from there are pretty devasting.

You can see the entire series of photos in this Tweet thread, which features photos by Arun Chaudhary. She also made this call for specific supplies needed:

Several of us have been going back and forth to 8503 Mesa Drive with supplies. There are now 3 drop-off locations for people who want to drop off contributions: my house (in WU off Kirby), my dad’s office (in Village), and a friend’s house in RO. Please PM me for addresses. We have a few new needs, too, for people still going to the store:
Antibiotic ointment, Benadryl, Benadryl for kids, Band-Aids, first-aid kits. A lot of people are still living in these ruined houses with their kids, who already have asthma. We also have an ongoing need for formula and also BOTTLES.

For those far away (like us), the best way to help humans and animals continues to be money that organizations can use for whatever needs arise, but if you are in a position to provide specifically-needed materials, this list is a good place to start.

Steely Dan: My Old School 1973 – RIP Walter Becker

On the news of Walter Becker’s passing, we post this classic live performance of Steely Dan.

Steely Dan seems to be one of those bands that elicit strong emotions, people seem to love them or love to hate them. While I had a soft spot for a long time that I had to occasionally defend, there had faded into the background until Aja became part of the rotation of albums I listened to during my recovery last summer. This was a deeper listening beneath the slick production to hear the chord progressions and the dark but clever lyrics. And as I write more lyrics in my music, I hear the influence of their words.

I do get the sense that the polarizing reaction to Steely Dan does tend to cleave along similar lines to other musical divisions of the 1970s, most notoriously the anti-disco crusaders from the hard rock world. But that is a story for another time…

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: ¡Que Calor!

It is hot here in San Francisco. In fact, yesterday was the hottest day on record in nearly 150 years. From The Examiner;

Hours after this post was originally written, a new downtown San Francisco temperature record was set at 106 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

I love heat. Indeed, my ideal temperature is higher than some friends and colleagues’ comfort zones. But this is too hot for even me. Which means it’s a bit unbearable for poor Sam Sam.

Sam Sam in the shade

She has been strategically lying in spots that are shaded, as in the photo above where she is lying underneath a small table and a mounted crash cymbal. She does love her sunshine, though, so keeps going back to the window to bask for a few minutes.

As the temperature continues to climb inside of CatSynth HQ, I have also set up space with a towel and cold pack for her.

Sam Sam resting with a cold pack

The heatwave is expected to diminish a bit tomorrow. In the meantime, I suspect we are going to be taking it easy for the remainder of the afternoon.

Support for Animals affected by Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas
[By Jill Carlson (jillcarlson.org) from Roman Forest, Texas, USA (Hurricane Harvey Flooding – 8/26/17 to ?) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

We at CatSynth are looking to help our feline and human friends in Houston and along the Texas gulf coast as the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues. Here are some resources for donating and supporting people and their pets.

From Vox:

Houston Humane Society: The group is helping marshal care and shelter for pets in the area. You can give here. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas is undertaking similar efforts. You can give here. The San Antonio Humane Society is doing the same. More here.

UPDATE! Many shelters in the flood and storm areas have been affected and need help. You can find a list here (couresy of bestfriends.org).

Some friends have also donated to Austin Pets Alive.  They are further inland and on higher ground, and are helping with pet evacuations and shelter.

We are happy to report that our friends and family in the greater Houston have all checked in safe and dry, along with their pets.  We certainly hope that they and others weather the storm.

Fun with Highways: Pittsburgh

With Pittsburgh in the news, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, we thought we would have a little fun exploring what the city has to offer.

The city is located at the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which merge to form the mighty Ohio River. This was a fact we learned young with the frequent appearances of Three Rivers Stadium on TV and the subsequent challenges to name the three rivers. For whatever reason, Allegheny was the hardest to remember.

The downtown is wedged between the two upper rivers and enveloped by a network of highways including I-279, I-376, I-579 and PA 28. In this early-morning photo, we are looking across the Monongahela River, with I-376 along the shore and the skyscrapers of downtown behind it. As a city of rivers, it also becomes a city of bridges.


[By Dllu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The Pittsburgh of 2017 (even the Pittsburgh of 1997) is far distant from its industrial past as a center of steel, coal and many other manufactured materials. This history does live on in many circa-1900 houses and buildings, and the ubiquitous presence of Andrew Carnegie. Perhaps the most significant of his legacies to the city is Carnegie Mellon University. It has one of the top Computer Science departments, and one of the first Robotics departments. But the university is also a leader in combining science and art. They recently became the one of the first universities to offer an integrated practice in robots and performing arts; and I have collaborated with professors and students in computer music, including Roger Dannenburg, whose work on managing time in computer-music systems influenced my own research on the topic. CMU is located far to the east of downtown.

Among the sons of Pittsburgh is Andy Warhol, love him or hate him, he was a major influence on American art in the late 20th century. The Andy Warhol Museum sits on the north shore of the Allegheny, not far from I-279 and PA 28.


[By Jared and Corin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

There is even an Andy Warhol Bridge!

Like my home cities of San Francisco and New York, many of the city streets in hilly Pittsburg are actually staircases, which sound like a lot of fun to explore. One can take official walking tours, or simply wander (as I often prefer myself).


[By PJ Rey (Pittsburgh Stairs) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

We would be remiss if we did not also give a shout-out to our friends at Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers. We have several of their modules, which feature a classic mid-century design aesthetic. (They also include space-themed cards and tchotchkes in each box.) You can read our many posts featuring Pittsburgh Modular synths, sometimes with cats.

With these characteristics of a truly modern city, it’s not surprising the the mayor, Bill Peduto pushed back on the use of Pittsburgh as a prop for President’s disastrous decision. As he states in this quote [1]:

“Couldn’t have picked a worst city,” he said flatly. “I was in Paris with 500 mayors around the world. It wasn’t only heavy on fossil fuels but it went through a depression where our unemployment was greater than the Great Depression.’ It was only when we started to look to the future we started to have an economy going up. Today, we’re back on a global stage, not through our old economy, through robotics and artificial intelligence and if it weren’t for that position Pittsburgh would never have been able to get back up.”

We at CatSynth hope to visit the city sometime soon.

See more of Pittsburgh and many other fine cities in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store.

Highway☆ Released on the App Store!

Highway☆

We at CatSynth are excited to announce the release of our newest app Highway☆ for iPhone and iPad, available on the App Store!

This app comes out of long-term interest in highways and road travel, something we explore periodically on this site. It’s a sort of “Pokemon Go” for travelers and road geeks, where you can discovery and collect highways as you travel.

Highway☆ iPhone screenshot

It also has features for exploring new places on your device, and finding more information about the roads. You can also connect with other users and compete for the top scores.

It is completely free, so please download and have fun, especially if you are planning to hit the road this summer. And please let us know what you think or if you have ideas for new features 😺

And we are currently busy at work on an Android version, which we hope to share soon.