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.

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.

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

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.

NAMM 2017: Moog Music Tribute to Synthesizer Pioneers

This year our friends at Moog Music, Inc. had a very different sort of booth. Instead of the usual array of gear for demonstration, the space was bare and stark, with a simple kiosk and a wall dedicated to the many synthesizer players and innovators we lost in 2016.

It was a rough year for the synthesizer community. Among those we lost were Pauline Oliveros and Don Buchla, both of whom were memorialized here on CatSynth and whom I had known in person. There were also images and statements for Keith Emerson, Bernie Worrell, Isao Tomita, and Jean-Jaques Perrey.

Visitors were invited to wander the space in contemplation or with a mix of music from the artists on classic Walkmans. Visitors could also leave social media tributes to one or more artists and have an opportunity to win one of several current Moog instruments, including a Werkstatt, Mother-32 and even a new Model D.

We didn’t win, but were very touched by the way Moog used their space to pay tribute to the many heroes we lost in 2016. It was a unique and moving experience at this year’s NAMM show.