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.

Star Wars Day: Tookas and Loth-cats

As we join many of our friends in the informal celebration of May 4th as Star Wars Day (i.e., “May the Fourth be with you”, oy vey), we lament the lack of felines in the Star Wars cannon. There doesn’t appear to me a feline sentient species analogous to Caitians in Star Trek. But there is a cat-like family of creatures that appear in the animated series Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels: the tooka.
Tooka

[From Wookiepedia]

Tookas are quite feline in appearance and appear to serve a similar function to domestic cats on Earth as companion animals and rodent control. A specious of tookah native to the planet Lothar, the Loth-cat, is shown in Rebels. They appear to live wild on the grasslands of the planet, but can also be kept as pets.

Loth-cat
[From Wookiepedia]

While there are few felines in the Star Wars cannon, they are abundant in fan art. We are particularly fond if this series featuring major characters and their feline companies, including Rey, Princess Leia, and Padme Amidala.

Padme’s cat in this image by Disney animation artists Griz and Norm Lemay reminds me a lot of Luna <3.

March for Science SF, April 22, 2017

Yesterday we at CatSynth attended our local March for Science, part of a nationwide – and indeed, international – network of marches protesting the continued devaluing of science and reason in our public discourse and policy-making. From the March for Science Mission Statement

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.

And indeed, a great many people gathered here in San Francisco to stand up for science, as can be seen in this picture, courtesy of the March for Science Facebook page.

The overhead view shows the march heading southwest on Market Street. At ground level, the march was characterized less by the density and size of the crowd, but its clever signs. To be sure, there were appropriate denunciations of Trump that would lead many to question the “nonpartisan” nature of the event, but more were just fun, smart, perhaps a bit snarky. All of which is awesome.

I must also say this was probably among the quietest of marches I have attended. Polite, perhaps even a bit introverted if a march can be described that way. There is no doubt the passion of many of the folks participating, but we do tend to be a quieter, more cerebral bunch. It lacked the exuberance of the annual Pride Parade, or even the loud vocal indignation of the Occupy protests in 2011 and 2012. For me personally, the most important message was “I can’t believe we actually are out here marching for this.” For a long time, science was well respected in public discourse (even if scientists themselves were sometimes teased). There has long been an anti-intellectual streak in American politics and discourse, but it has come to a new and dangerous level with the outright scorn and erasure of science by the angry populist movement that sees in Trump, a man proud of his own scientific illiteracy, a champion. This long predated any one person, but it’s long past time to stand up. Even nerds in lab coats have to get political in this climate.

If there was one thing that particularly bothered me about the crowd, it the relatively low representation of people of color. The lack of diversity in science, engineering and related fields is a topic of ongoing discussion. But it did make me feel a bit alienated politically and socially from the older, whiter, somewhat hippie-ish elements of crowd.

The march ended with a “science fair” in front of City Hall. It was pretty much a normal street fair, but the booths had a scientific theme to them. I was happy to see Mission Science Workshop, an organization dedicate to bringing both understanding and joy of science to one of our diverse local neighborhoods. I also saw the both of Association of Women in Science. I have to admit I quite like their hashtag/motto.

There was also a group of artists who do scientific illustrations. Among them was this pamphlet on circuit bending. I’m glad to see circuit bending making its way into the world of science education 😺

I did not stay long at the fair. It is not really my thing, especially on a cold and blustery day, and I had things to prepare for that evening. I am glad to have participated in the march, but the real questions will be what comes next.

Matzoh Man Returns for Passover 2017!

As dusk approaches and we at CatSynth prepare for the start of Passover, we present the Matzoh Man, now in full HD video!

For those who are not familiar with the tune, it is a version of Dayenu, which is song at many seders, including ours growing up. You can find out more here.

Chag Sameach! / !חג פסח שמח

CatSynth pic: Merce and Roland SH-1000

Our friend Merce the cat with a Roland SH-1000 synthesizer. Submitted via Twitter.

It was in response to a via matrixsynth, originally from Electronic Musician. It described the many years of synth innovations from Ikutaro Kakehashi, one of the visionary elders of the synthesizer world and founder of Roland. He passed away earlier this week.

CatSynth: The App! 2.5.0 for iOS Released

We have a new version of CatSynth: The App! available on the Apple App Store. This is a tremendous update. The best version of CatSynth: The App! ever. We have rethought the user experience while preserving the distinctive style. It also happens to match Sam Sam’s markings quite nicely.

It is smoother and simpler to browse and read articles on your mobile device. And for the built-in Mystery Synths, we have added MIDI input support!

You can play the synths with an external MIDI controller or sequencer using either the network or (on iPads) a class-compliant MIDI USB device. We will have some video demos of this soon.

If you have an iOS device, please do try out the app and let us know what you think! 😺


CatSynth: The App! on iTunes

Alice-in-Wonderland-Themed Anti-Drug PSA with Synth Soundtrack

Via Dangerous Minds, we have this rather trippy PSA from 1971 using Alice in Wonderland as a frame for discussing the dangers of drugs.

The original was created by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (forerunner to the current Health and Human Services department) and can be found in the National Archives.

In hindsight, the video probably fails miserably at its mission – indeed, much of past decades’ anti-drug campaigns seem rather foolish in hindsight. But the imagery is gorgeous and quite captivating, as is the soundtrack. We at CatSynth in particular quite light the sparse synth music. And the cats, both the Cheshire Cat and the real-life cat that appears at the beginning and end 😺. Anyone care to identify the synth(s) used?

Lake Oroville and the Oroville Dam

We at CatSynth have been following the events at Oroville Dam here in California quite closely. While the worst of the crisis has passed for, we do send our thoughts to those in the along the Feather River and in the low-lying areas along the Sacramento River that remain in danger of flooding, especially during and after massive storm systems like the current one were experiencing.


[Click to enlarge]

Oroville, as the name implies, was an important trading town during the Gold Rush era. It sits at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada along the Feather River which cuts through the mountains. The Oroville Dam was built it the 1960s – it remains the tallest dam in the United States, and Lake Oroville is a rather deep lake – second to Lake Tahoe but a distant second. It also the second largest reservoir in the state.

The landscape in the area is quite beautiful as the water combines with the Sierra foothills as well as the human-made structures, like the dam, the hydroelectric plant and the Bidwell Bar Bridge. The original Bidwell Bar Bridge was the oldest suspension bridge in California. It was relocated when the area – including the town of Bidwell Bar – was flooded in the creation of Lake Oroville and still serves as a pedestrian bridge.


[Jet Lowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

A newer suspension bridge replaced it over the lake.


[By Thad Roan from Littleton, CO, USA, http://www.Bridgepix.com (Bidwell Bar Bridge, Oroville, California) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Highway 162 crosses the bridge, and connects the town of Oroville to Highway 70 and the Sacramento Valley. Highway 162 continues westward towards the wide flat Thermalito Afterbay, a wide shallow reservoir that is part of the Oroville system, and serves both agricultural water delivery and regulation of the main lake and the power plant.

Highway 70 heads southwards towards Sacramento, passing the towns of Marysville and Yuba City , where it continues as a freeway towards Sacramento. Yuba City is interesting as the home to perhaps the largest Sikh community outside the state of Punjab in India. Many of the Sikh settlers in the area became farmers, in particular peach farmers. And the town hosts a large annual festival that brings in thousands from outside the area.


[By Jujhar.pannu (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The volume of water in the lake, its height, and the dramatic contrast between the foothills and fertile flat low-lying Sacramento Valley make Lake Oroville a “lynchpin” of the California water system, but also quite dangerous in the event of a dam failure. We should be clear that currently the main dam is sound, it is the main spillway and emergency spillway off to the side suffered damane rainstorms. But that could still send large volumes of water to flood large areas of the valley below. The original evacuation order (lifted before the current storm system) covered Oroville, Yuba City and other communities along the rivers. The danger in terms of a catastrophic event would also extend to the Sacramento River and the delta, where numerous “islands” exist below sea level and are protected by an aging levy system.

We hope everyone along these vital waterways remains safe. And as the Oroville Dam system is repaired and upgrade, hopefully this provides the state the proverbial “kick in the tuchus” to address the rest of our aging infrastructure.