Passover Synth Jam with the Matzoh Man

The Matzoh Man returns for Passover on CatSynth TV, this time accompanied by a Minimoog, Roland VP-03 vocoder and our trusty Nord Stage EX.

The Dayenu song is a tradition on Passover.  The word dayenu approximately translates to “it would have been sufficient” and is used as a phrase of gratitude for each of the miracles recounted in the Passover Hagaddah.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

Forced Togetherness Fridays: Beyond Zucktown

Facebook has been in the news quite a lot of late.  None of it for good reasons.  But buried amidst the articles on data privacy and the Cambridge Analytica scandal I found the story “Welcome to Zucktown. Where Everything Is Just Zucky.” in The New York Times. Basically, it discusses Facebook’s plans for a new community adjacent to its Menlo Park campus, with housing, shops, and such.

CA Highway 109As seen in the above screenshot from our Highway☆ app, Facebook’s campus is at the remote northern edge of Menlo Park, straddling the Bayfront Expressway (California Highway 84).  Even by the standards of sprawling Silicon Valley campuses, this one is isolated, with access primarily by car or company busses.  The proposed development, which is formally called “Willow Village” (Facebook dislikes the nickname “Zucktown”)  would be to its east, between CA 84, Willow Road (unsigned CA 114) and University Avenue (unsigned CA 109), and adjacent to the neighboring town of East Palo Alto. While ostensibly an open community with public access and some affordable housing units, it is clearly being designed for Facebook employees.  And although the benefits of living close to work – and cutting down on commutes – are abundant, there is a difference between living near work and living in work.  And that is why it touched a raw nerve with me.  One of my main critiques working the industry, besides the subtle but rampant sexism, is what I call forced togetherness.  In the culture of many tech companies, it isn’t enough to do good work every day or even work long hours.  There is tremendous pressure, implicit or explicit, to be socially present at all times, to treat the company as one’s community, one’s “life”.

Forced togetherness comes in much smaller ways than planned communities of coworkers.  At a previous job of mine in 2014 at a tiny startup, everyone ate lunch together almost every day.  Ostensibly, it was supposed to be Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but it quickly became clear that Tuesday and Thursday were expected as well.  One day early when I politely passed on lunch – and was looking forward to going out by myself for a little bit – the CEO seemed perplexed and kept trying to offer one option after another for ordering lunch in.  I had to finally just say “Look, I’m a big girl, I can feed myself!”  This was met with some quiet and awkward laughter.  It’s not that lunch was mandatory, but there was a social expectation, and implicit coercion, that eating together was the right thing to do.

I have come to look for red flags in this regard.  In my current job search, another very small company reached out to me with an interesting opportunity.  But they were located in Redwood City.  I have more than once stated I would sooner move back to New York than take another job on the peninsula – but I played along and politely explained that I prefer to work in San Francisco proper, but did they have flexible or remote work options.  I got the following reply.

We do not do remote. It hinders the culture of the company we are building and we love hanging out with each other.

There are many good reasons that some companies require employees to be on site.  But what this message told me was that the policy was based not on a business or practical necessity, but on a virtue, a belief that this is how people should be.  It says they are more interested in a culture based on “hanging out with each other” than on “getting things done.” It says that to succeed in that culture, one must be someone that they like to hang out with.  And this suggests how cultures of forced togetherness go beyond just wiping out the boundaries between work and the rest of one’s life, but also how the monoculture of Silicon Valley is perpetuated.  If one is looking for “people we love to hang out with”, one is probably going to hire people that share a similar set of backgrounds, styles, and personalities.  Hence, we find bands of mostly young men of white, Indian, and East Asian backgrounds who perpetuate college dorm life into their post-collegiate adulthood.

Of course, these are just simply two anecdotes, along with the concept writ large in Facebook’s Willow Village.  I hope to dive deeper in these phenomena in future articles for the “Forced Togetherness Fridays” series, along with some positive stories of how things can go right instead of wrong with only a few cultural changes.  And I welcome thoughts from others as I move forward, either sharing your own stories of forced togetherness in the workplace, or even counter-arguments in its favor.  Until then, I plan to enjoy some quiet time working hard, by myself with just my cat for company.

#MarchForOurLives San Francisco

Yesterday, countless people joined March for Our Lives in communities all across the United States and internationally.  We at CatSynth attended our local rally and march here in San Francisco and created this video of the experience.

March for Our Lives is part of a larger movement protesting gun violence and gun safety, especially as it affects our youth.  This has been bubbling for a long time, but it erupted in a full-fledged movement after the tragic shooting at Stoneman-Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida.  The students who survived the shooting immediately spoke out forcefully against the seeming intransigence of leaders in the face of gun violence and have since been joined by countless other young people as well as those of us who are a bit older and support their message.  It culminated in the events yesterday, where hundreds of thousands participated.  There were a variety of opinions, from simple common-sense measures like banning specific devices and background checks to entirely abolishing the Second Amendment.  But what united them is the idea that continuing to do nothing is unacceptable and must change.  There was a modest success in Florida in the wake of the shooting, but it remains to be seen if more action comes from this.

We at CatSynth strongly believe that we need to do a lot more to reduce gun violence – and increase gun safety – in the U.S., and that cultural intransigence in some segments is no excuse.  But we will save a detailed opinion for another time.  For now, we leave you with the speech by Emma Gonzales, who with her fellow Parkland students have become the faces and consciences of this movement.

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. 💕

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.

 

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

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.

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…