RIP Bento, the Keyboard Cat

This is such heartbreaking news.  Bento, the Keyboard Cat has passed away 😿

His humans made this wonderful tribute to Bento and his legacy, including many classic clips; and a sweet story about how he was a source of inspiration for his human companion, Charlie Schmidt.

Bento was actually the second Keyboard Cat.  The original, Fatso, also lived with Schmidt but passed away in 1987, long before the age of internet memes.  You can read more about the story of Fatso, Bento, and Schmidt at the Keyboard Cat Wikipedia page. Like my cats, Bento was a shelter cat and became a public face for the Shelter Pet Project.  We saw him featured in billboards and bus stops here in San Francisco.

Keyboard Cat has always been a favorite of mine – how could it not, given the combination of interests.  We always had fun with the early “play him/her off” videos, and it became a frequent tag-line of mine to say “You have been played off by the Keyboard Cat”, especially when someone loses a political election.  I wish we had been able to cross paths in person.

We at CatSynth extend our sympathies to Charlie Schmidt and the rest of Bento’s family.  Rest in peace, Keyboard Cat, you have been played off. 💕

Sick Days, Sam Sam, Studio, and Superb Owl

It’s been a slow recovery from our latest bout of this year’s influenza and “NAMMthrax,” but we are getting there slowly.   Indeed, I have been well enough to spend more time working in the studio again.  Of course, if I am in the studio there is a good chance Sam Sam will be there, too.

Sam Sam in the studio

It’s always a delight to have her around.  I think she is getting used to all the weird electronic sounds just as Luna did.  As a more social cat, I think she mostly just enjoys being near the action.  I do sometimes feel guilty when she gets comfy under the main console and I want to use the Nord.  It’s a studio musician’s version of the cat-in-lap dilemma.

We are going to move forward with some video and music work today, as body and energy permit.   We are also doing our part for today’s mass ritual here in the United States with our Superb Owl.

We hope you all have an enjoyable day, however you chose to fill it!

Women’s March 2018 in San Francisco

Today marks one year since Trump took office and one year of resistance to current regime (which seems like a more appropriate word than “administration” under the circumstances). To mark the occasion and kick off another year of resistance and civic/political engagement, we at CatSynth took part in the Women’s March.

Thousands gathered on a chilly but clear day in San Francisco’s Civic Center for a YUGE rally, before marching up Market Street towards The Embarcadero. Here are a few scenes, including a few of the many colorful signs.

And here is our video documenting some moments from the event.

Marches like this of course just an initial step.  The most important steps will be continued political engagement, especially but not limited to voting in a better set of leaders in 2018.  We will see how things unfold.


Fun With Highways: Downtown Atlanta on #MLKDay

It remains to be seen whether this Martin Luther King Day is more surreal than last the one last year. But in the meantime, we take a virtual trip to downtown Atlanta in the vicinity of the historic and social institutions celebrating Dr. King’s legacy.

Georgia State Route 10The Downtown Connector carries Interstates 75 and 85 through the heart of the city, with downtown Atlanta to the immediate west. Aesthetically, we at CatSynth have a fondness for urban freeways, but we cannot ignore how the adversely affect neighborhoods and displace residents. The Downtown Connector cut the Sweet Auburn neighborhood into two. The historic neighborhood is also bounded by the Freedom Parkway (Georgia State Route 10) to the north, and Blue Line of MARTA to the south, which serves the district via delightfully modernist King Memorial station.

[By Keizers (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Sweet Auburn is Dr. King’s neighborhood. His childhood home is at 501 Auburn Ave. The Ebeneezer Baptist Church is about a block or so away. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park covers these and the space in between. On the south side of Auburn Avenue is the King Center (formally, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change). Martin Luther King Jr’s tomb is on the site. But it is also worth noting that the King Center is not simply a museum, with ongoing research, education programs, and activism.

[User:Sjkorea81 [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Many of us are perhaps approaching this day with bated breath, hoping a certain openly racist leader with a tendency to make everything about himself doesn’t make things even worse than they already are. But it might be better to reflect on some of King’s darker words that seem prescient in the moment, such as the Mountaintop Speech or “It’s A Dark Day In Our Nation” (primarily about the Vietnam War). We leave this as an exercise to the reader.

See more of Atlanta and many other fine places 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

Highway☆ 1.2.0 now in the Apple App Store!

We are excited to announce the release of Highway☆ 1.2.0 for iPhone and iPad!  It is available in the Apple App Store.

This new version includes some of our most requested features.

  • Switch between map and satellite views.  This saves battery and bandwidth on the road.
  • Sometimes connectivity on the road can be poor or non-existent.  Highway☆ now matches missed routes once connectivity is restored.

Highway☆ Map Mode  Highway☆ Satellite Mode

There many more features we have in store, but for the moment we turn our focus to the 1.2 version for Android.  And we are looking forward to putting the app through its paces on our upcoming road trip to NAMM 😺

Highway☆ on Apple App Store

Farewell to 2017

2017 in review

Once again, it is time for our end-of-year collage and review. So many images to choose from in such a busy 2017 that took us in so many directions at once, both outward and inward.

At the end of 2016, I was still reeling from the loss of Luna and the election.  But I did welcome Sam Sam into my life and also promised myself that I would prosper and thrive in the new terrifying Trump era.  And we did, focusing on moving forward with the things from 2016 that did go well.  Lots of new music as a solo performer, with my new band CDP, and with Vacuum Tree Head.   There are now three CatSynth-branded apps for both iOS and Android, and a fourth on the way.  We launched CatSynth TV, with 22 videos under our belt since October.  And Sam Sam has blossomed into a sassy and thoroughly spoiled cat whom we love dearly.

If there is a word of caution on the personal and professional fronts, it is perhaps that 2017 was too much.  After a strong first half of the year through July, I scaled back on live performance to focus on other priorities.  I regret that, but it was also the reality of the many things going on.  I wish the apps, blog, and video channels were progressing faster, but it’s as fast as we can go with our myriad other responsibilities.  The last couple months, while still rich with experience, have been an exercise in paring back and trying to focus on the highest priorities; and also focus on health, self-care, and well being.  These are all very challenging, but I’m grateful to have the help of loved ones.

We cannot ignore the fact that our rebound in 2017 after two difficult years took place amidst a dark pall over the country and world.  Many friends have suffered amidst the monumental forces of hurricanes, flooding, fires, and human foolishness.  The latter is most visible in the face of the current regime that continues to embarrass and threaten us.  These are things we have to be vigilant about as we move in 2018.  I do feel personally in the cross-hairs on multiple fronts, so I hope we can continue to survive and prosper as well as we did in 2017, and maybe at the end of 2018 we will look back and saw how the world became at least a slightly better place.

It is also interesting to look back to our end-of-year post from 2007, ten years ago.  It was a dark, cold time amidst major life changes – I couldn’t have imagined then what life would be like now.  Will we feel the same way in 2027?  And will there still be a CatSynth then?  Only time will tell…

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 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),
Petaluma Community Center, 320 N. McDowell Blvd. (Petaluma),
Sonoma County Fairgrounds (open for large- and medium-sized livestock and farm animals), access via Gate 7 on Aston Ave. (Sonoma),
Ramekins Culinary School and Inn, 450 W. Spain St. (Sonoma),
Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds (open to accommodate small livestock and other farm animals, access via Gate 4 on 175 Fairgrounds Dr (Petaluma),
Crosswalk Church (currently at-capacity and in need of aid), 2590 1st St. (Napa),
Napa Valley College Gym, 2277 Napa Vallejo Hwy. (Napa),

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),
Humane Society of Napa County, 3265 California Blvd. (Napa),
Yuba-Sutter SPCA, 745 Sutter St. (Yuba),

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.