Wordless Wednesday: Windmill (Golden Gate Park)

Murphy Windmill, Golden Gate Park

The Murphy Windmill in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

You can find out more about the windmill and its history at outsidelands.org

Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam: The Blanket (and Volca FM)

Those who follow our Instagram are regularly treated to photos and videos of Sam Sam and her adventures around CatSynth HQ.  For those who don’t, we can assure you that she is doing well and is being spoiled rotten.

Sam Sam getting pet

Sam Sam has made this blanket one of her favorite spots for napping and relaxing.  It is quite warm and soft.  In this video, we see her kneading it and purring up a storm.

Biscuits 😺 #catsofinstagram

A post shared by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on


It’s good to be the cat!

Here we see her posing with our Korg Volca FM sytnhesizer.

This photo was taken while preparing for our recent video on the Volca FM, which you can check out on YouTube.  One of the nice things about these small battery-powered synths like the Korg Volcas and the Roland Boutiques is that we play them on the bed.  And if I’m there playing a synth, reading, or napping, Sam Sam is likely to follow.

We hope you have a fun weekend, however you define it.  And if you are Instagram, please do follow us 😻.

 

Forced Togetherness Fridays: Open Floor Plans and Sexism


[By Mozilla in Europe (Flickr: London Workspace) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Open floor plans are de rigeur in the high-tech industry, but they have also become trendy of late in other industries as well.  The are loved by some, hated by others. On a purely aesthetic level, I quite like open-floor-plan spaces.  After all, CatSynth HQ is a two-level open-plan space.  When they are modern, with lots of light, air, glass and metal, they can be quite beautiful and inviting.  The example from Mozilla’s UK office that opens this article is one such example.  On the other hand, some can just be boring and utilitarian, as if someone just took an old office space and knocked out some walls.


[By Benn (https://www.flickr.com/photos/benn/196447297/) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Aesthetics aside, the problems with open plans aren’t the spaces themselves.  It’s what happens when you put a lot of people in them.  For some, a busilling hive of activity with constant access to other people can be a boon, but for many is a source of intense anxiety and can feel even more confining than a small private office.

The problems of open office spaces can be especially challenging for women.  As reported in this article in Fast Co Design, the open design combined with everyday sexism can exacerbate the difficulties or challenges that women face in the workplace:

Fascinatingly, the study did not start out as an examination of gender specifically–it was meant as an examination of how workplace culture shifts when office design changes radically. It was only when Hirst, who conducted interviews on-site and spent a lot of time observing the workplace, began to feel pressure to dress in a more feminine way herself that she began to wonder about it. “She was surprised by the unusual amount of care she took over her own appearance, a degree of self-consciousness that she found burdensome as time progressed,” the researchers write. “To ‘fit in’ with the modern, clean aesthetic of the building itself and a dress code that was widely adopted, she departed from her usual preference for wearing jeans and no makeup; adopting a smart trouser suit and putting on makeup.”

Many of the examples in the main article as well as a follow-up featuring stories from readers focus on the extra pressure women feel about their appearances in these environments.  Interestingly, my own experience is somewhat different, but retains the overall sense of pressure.  I usually dress up and always wear makeup for the office, because I enjoy it and it makes me feel good.  But I do feel very self conscious in the open spaces in different ways.  First, I am worried about how mistakes or faux pas may be visible.  And in the world of high-tech, the almost religious embrace of casualness and the way many men, even in leadership, treat their slovenly appearance as a badge of strength or honor, can add subtle pressure.  As a woman, does one fit in, trying to be “one of the guys”, or be oneself and stand out in the sea of casualness?  I could write an entire article just about attire and dress codes – and I will – but there are other forms of sexism at work in open spaces as well.

The biggest problem that I have observed is the lack of privacy, even the privacy to conduct one’s own work efficiently, or conducting those aspects of personal life such as doctors’ appointments or things with family and children, that one has an expectation, even a right, to do from the office. Some companies, including ones where I work, sometimes set aside small spaces, either completely or just slightly enclosed, but it may not be enough, as one reader, Jean A., related:

The open office layouts I’ve sat in have both had ‘privacy’ rooms available, though these tend to be used as one-on-one meeting places almost as frequently as they are used as rooms in which individuals can call someone or even just take a brief rest. One thing in particular that I have noticed is that I like to be able to schedule doctor’s visits (for myself and my mother, whom I care for) while viewing my work calendar so that I can try and avoid missing meetings, but there is really no way to effectively do that privately in an open office floor plan. I have to drag my laptop into the privacy room, hope that the wireless works in that room (which it only rarely does)…

Another reader describes how the lack of privacy in open spaces can exacerbate workplace bullying, as described by reader Elizabeth G:

“The open plan office was in a college and not only was it very exposing as the managers were in a mezzanine level and looked down on us but the desks were butted up against each other and in rows. There was absolutely no privacy, and judgments about folks were made that amounted to a kind of covert bullying. Any absences from the room were noted and commented on. There were two small meeting rooms but they required booking. There was no room to spread documents out if you needed to and anyone could see what was on your screen. Most of us adopted a kind of blindness/deafness to our neighbors. It was also noisy at times, which impacted our concentration or ability to conduct telephone calls. I stuck it out for a year but was relieved to leave.

I have myself experience the stress and drain that comes with the lack of privacy in open spaces, the constant feeling of being watched.  I have also had to deal with novel types of bullying that are rarer in closed spaces.  On several occasions at multiple companies, I found myself chatting with a colleague about a technical matter related to a task at hand, only to have a male colleage come charging over and offer his unsolicited opinion – the ubiquitous and annoying phenomenon of mansplaining.  Sometimes he would be wrong because of missing context, but this did not stop a confident and overbearing manner, which crosses the line into bullying.  One particular egregious example involved my explaining an iOS-specific design requirement to a colleague working deliving a graphic, when suddenly a business-focused male coworker came over and erroneously explained why I was wrong – on top of this, he didn’t even address me directly, just my male colleague at the neighboring desk.  Similarly, some workplace bullies (invariably male in my experience) will use the open space to verbally corner or humiliate a co-worker, something that is unpleasant even behind closed doors, but far worse when it is in view of the entire company.

Then there is the simple problem of constant distraction.  As someone who is trained to use her ears critically, it is difficult to not be distracted by constant conversations happening in an open space, some of which can even be amplified by the acoustic properties of the space.  It is possible to filter them out metally, but this takes a lot of energy that is then drawn away from actually getting work done.  Many companies, including the one I described in last week’s article, have taken to offering noise-cancelling headphones to workers.  While it does cut down on noise distraction, these is merely a band-aid on the problem, and a band-aid that can itself lead to other problems like ear fatigue.

These and other issues, not surprisingly, can lead to increased anxiety.  And while men and women both face anxiety in the workplace, women face the additional challenge of being scrutinized for any display of emotion or “losing one’s cool.”  Open floor planes often leave very little place to work out anxiety, take an emotional break, or simply hide when necessary.  There is the bathroom, and there is going outside.  I use both strategies, including going for long walks away from the office – something that itself can be scrutinized in places that prize forced togetherness.  Readers in the follow-up article also releated similar stories, and in this quote from Emily S:

“I was one of three women at the company. I struggle with anxiety, and the cramped, nowhere-to-hide office layout made matters worse. When I felt an anxiety attack coming on, I would walk a block to a hotel around the corner and hide out in their basement bathroom until things subsided.

“It wasn’t until after a few months of working there that I mentioned this to my other female coworkers and found that they, too, had ‘hiding spots.’ One had a sibling who lived nearby and would go to his apartment, another would go to a department store a few blocks away.

“When I left the company, I made a note in my exit interview that the office setup exacerbated my anxiety and suggested that more consideration be given to employee mental health. I’m not sure if anything changed, but I do know that in my current office–still an open floor plan, but much larger–where there are places to escape to (like sofas, or a phone booth), I’m much happier.”

Of course none of these issues are unique to open floor plans, and many aren’t caused by them.  Sexism and bullying is rampant in a great many environments including the virtual world.  But an open work place where one feels trapped in the gaze of others can make it far worse.  Like Emily in the last quote, I look to companies that offer a variety of heterogenous spaces, some private, as well as opportunities to be remote from co-workers.  And I appreciate companies that put a priority on their workers’ mental health and well being as part of their operations.  It remains to be seen how that plays out in particular in the “forced-togetherness-as-virtue” tech industry, and whether some firms move away from open plans towards more variety of spaces.

CatSynth Pic: Sequential Prophet 6 and DSI OB-6

Black Cat, Prophet 6, OB6

This is one lucky cat, with both a Sequential Prophet 6 and an OB6 from Dave Smith Instruments.  And the keyboard versions at that 😻

Photo by Jon Sellers via the Facebook group Synthesizer Freaks.

The two instruments are quite similar in layout and overall architecture but have distinct sounds and other characteristics.  The P6 is a classic Prophet. while the OB-6 has the distinctive sound of its Oberheim filters.

You can read our past NAMM reviews of the P6 in this post, and the OB-6 here.

The Return of Wild Cats on Earth Day

 

After several years, we at CatSynth are resuming our tradition of sharing wild cats on earth day.  Those who follow our Facebook page are regularly treated to photos and videos of wild cats.  We share a few favorites, along with some of our own.

A personal favorite of ours is the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).  It is unique in that is adapted for swimming and hunting in the water.  The sleek fur, streamlined shape, and folded ears attest to this adaptation.


[By Bernard Gagnon [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

The fishing cat has discontinuous populations in rainforests of South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is listed as Vulnerable, primarily due to habitat destruction. The Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, recently posted this video featuring a mother fishing cat teaching her kitten their aquatic heritage.

Another lesser-known cat is the oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus).  It is among the smallest of wild cats, similar in appearance to but significantly smaller than the well-known ocelot.

oncilla
[By Groumfy69 [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

The oncilla lives throughout Brazil as well as the highland tropical forests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There is even a recorded separate population in Panama. It is listed as Vulnerable in IUCN classification, mainly due (once again) to habit loss.

Both of these cats and many others have a similar spotted look that works well in their forested environments. Our old pal the Pallas cat (Otocolobus manul), also known as the manul, is quite a different beast altogether. It has a squat shape, fluffy fur and a gray color that are suited to its cold rocky environment in Central Asia. Here is a manual I encountered at the Prospect Park Zoo in New York some years ago.

pallas cat

pallas cat

More recently, we attended the Feline NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences, and got to see many wild cats courtesy of Safari West, including this beautiful serval.

serval

While not endangered, servals have been frequently been captured and bred as exotic pets.  They do, however, remain wild predators and their domestic captivity usually goes badly for human and feline alike.  As our host from Safari West said, “they do not make good pets, but they will eat good pets.”  Below is a “cat” that actually is not a cat at all, but a separate genus, the genet.  If they had not told me, I might have guessed it was a fishing cat.

genet

Sadly, Safari West was affected by last year’s devastating Tubbs fire in Sonoma County.  Several structures burned, and the co-founders lost their own home.  Fortunately, most of the property was spared and the animals all made it through the conflagration safely, and Safari West reopened for tours and programs in late November.  You can read more about their experience (and find out how to support them) here.

We conclude with our friends at ISEC Canada, an organization dedicated entirely to the conservation of small wild cats.  They have many projects underway, including a study of the black-footed cat, another lesser-known small wild cat from southern Africa.  It’s esimated range covers parts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.


[By Patrick Ch. Apfeld, derivative editing by Poke2001 [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

The black-footed cat is adorable, and its face closely resembles many housecats.  But once again, this is a wild animal and does not belong in a domestic setting.  We applaud the work of ISEC Canada and other organizations who study and help to preserve them in their wild habitats.

When in Rome: A Weekend in Portland

A week ago, I found myself back in Portland for the first time in four years.  Officially, I was there to headline the Volt Divers Cat-tastic Edition show, but geat many other experiences large and small framed the main event.  There were synths, cats, food, drink, and rain.  Lots of cold rain.  And wind.  This is not unusual, but it did limit outdoor activities such as industrial and architectural photography.  Instead, we enjoyed some of Portlanders’ favorite indoor activities, starting with brunch.

Bloody Mary at Jam on Hawthorne

Portland may be an even “brunchier” place than San Francisco, Oakland, or Brooklyn, judging by the lines I observed at popular spots, including Jam on Hawthorne, not far from my home base in Southeast.  Fortunately, as a solo patron who doesn’t mind squeezing into a tight spot at the bar, I didn’t have long to wait to get served.  I quite enjoyed the spicy bloody-mary variant with Jam’s proprietary “aardvark sauce”, as well as the rancheros.

The sharper cheese sprinkled on top gave the dish an almost Italian quality, but it retained the hearty beans, spicy sauce, and simple eggs that made it perfect for a cold morning.  The view out to Hawthorne Boulevard displayed some of the local flavors, including that Charlie-Brown-inspired van in the first photo.

Then it was back to our temporary “CatSynth HQ” to relax for a bit.  Buddha, one of my hosts, made sure I felt at home.  He was rather friendly, and even demanding of attention.  I was happy to oblige.

Buddha the cat

After some quality cat time, it was back out to Hawthorne, this time headed over the bridge to downtown.  Downtown Portland is somewhere between the downtown sections of Oakland and Brooklyn in terms of cityscape and vibe, though on a smaller scale than the latter.  It has a regular grid cut by the I-405 freeway and Burnside Street, and a mix of contemporary, mid-century and older buildings.  It was at the base of one of the older buildings that I found a small hair salon that was able to fit me in for a last-minute blowout – the weather was not kind to my hair, and I needed to look purrfect for the show that evening.

The next stop took me eastward from downtown to the ragged edges of the city along SE 82nd Avenue (State Route 213).  I was here to pick up a borrowed Nord for the show.  A mixture of auto-shops, low-rise apartments, and shopping centers made this area feel more like Los Angeles (except for the weather) or the far eastern sections of Queens.  But it was still fascinating in its way, and there was an interesting row of shops, bars, and eateries along Stark Street – I wish I had a chance to stop at The Country Cat, but time did not permit this.

With hair done and keyboard secured, it was time to prepare for the show, which back in the industrial section of Southeast along the river at The Lovecraft Bar.

Inside the bar, it was dark.  Really dark.  It took me a few minutes before my eyes adjusted and I could see everyone else busily setting up their mostly modular rigs.  It was all business after that as I set up for the show, but I did have some moments to check out the Lovecraft and horror-themed decor.

I will be covering the show itself in detail in a subsequent article.  But we already have a video published on CatSynth TV, which you can view below.

The next morning I found myself in the Hollywood neighborhood.  It was actually the first time on this particular trip that I found myself north of Burnside in the northeast sector of the city.  Sandy Boulevard was lined with a diverse collection of low-rise businesses.  I crossed I-84/US 30 into the adjacent Grant Park district, which reminded me again of residential neighborhoods with larger lots at the edges of New York City into Westchester and Long Island.  I had some personal appointments that morning but then remained in Northeast to visit House of Dreams cat shelter at their secure undisclosed location.

House of Dreams is a no-kill shelter specializes in cats that have difficulty finding homes and has space dedicated for FelV-positive cats (i.e., those with feline leukemia).   Our show the night before raised funds for their shelter and work, and I of course wanted to come visit the kitties.  We will dedicate an upcoming article and video entirely to House of Dreams, but for now here is a cute picture of Flicka, one of the many sweet cats I met there.

Flicka from House of Dreams cat shelter

We then hopped onto I-84 back west towards the river, passing the convention center and on to Mississippi Street, a trendy area of boutiques, pubs, and restaurants.  This is also the home of Control Voltage, a premier shop for synthesizers of all sorts.  It was relatively easy to find with the sidewalk signage.

Among the many keyboard and modular displays was this rack featuring modules from FolkTek, one of several local makers in the Portland area.  They do have a gorgeous design.

I chatted with the staff and shot some video for an upcoming CatSynth TV, but also walked away with one of the FolkTek modules, a quad envelope follower that I know will come in handy for some upcoming music projects.

FolkTek quad envelope follower

I wandered a few blocks south on Mississippi to StormBreaker Brewing, which I had remembered from a previous trip. In addition to their beer offerings, they had several suggested beer-and-whiskey pairings, which I of course had to try.

Beer and Whiskey pairing oat StormBreaker Brewing

One of the daily specials, a cream-of-asparagus soup, was perfect for that cold and rainy afternoon.

Cream of Asparagus soup

Although this trip took me to quite a few corners of the city, I still felt there was much undone, especially meeting more of the local synth community, and spending some time outdoors.  So I do expect to be back much sooner than last time.

See more of Portland, Oregon and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. 

Highway☆ on Apple App Store .   Highway☆ for Android

CatSynth Pic: Zelda the Gray (Arturia, DSI, Maschine, and More)

After a brief hiatus over the weekend, we’re back – more on that later.  In the meantime, we have this cute photo of  Zelda the Gray with a DSI Evolver, Arturia KeyStep, Native Instruments Maschine, and more 😺.  From skaterdays on Instagram.

 

New Cartoon: Boink Boink Basement!

Sam Sam makes her cartoon debut in Boink Boink Basement!, our latest offering from artist J.B.

We think she fits right on with the myriad other fascinating elements in this surreal drawing.  And snoopervising is one of the things she does best in creative settings, as can be seen in this previous post.

CatSynth Pic: Black Cat and Modular Synth

This morning we bring you a beautiful black cat with green eyes (like our beloved late Luna), courtesy of our friends at polynominal.com.

We’re pretty sure this is Marcel, who has appeared on CatSynth before,  You can see his previous appearances here.  As he is the focus of this image optically and conceptually, we are unable to identify the modular synth in the back.

Mensa Cat Monday: Zeno’s Paradoxes

Mensa Cats: Zeno's Paradoxes

We bring you a brand new Mensa Cats cartoon by J.B. (that’s Jason Berry of Vacuum Tree Head).  This one expresses not one but two of Zeno’s famous paradoxes in a single frame.

The first is the better-known Dichotomy Paradox, from which the punchline derives.  In order to walk into the bar, Zeno (or any of the other patrons) must first walk halfway; and to travel from the halfway point, he must travel half of that distance, and then half of that distance, and so on.  It seems that this process of walking halfway would continue forever and one would not arrive and one’s destination, yet we know in reality that we do.

The second paradox is the Arrow Paradox.  Consider the frame frozen in time, as indicated by the liquid in mid spill behind the young lady cat, or the multiple instances of Zeno along his path.  At any given moment, there is no motion. Zeno’s position does change between moment, but there is an infinite number of other frames, each with a fixed position.  As copies/frames of Zeno get closer and closer together, the change in time between them gets infinitesimally small.  Yet the process 0f adding up these infinite frames with zero motion in each results in Zeno walking halfway into the bar.

The two paradoxes (and the third, commonly referred to as “Achilles and the tortoise”) are closely related.  The first deals with infinitesimal subdivisions of space, while the second deals with infinitesimal subdivisions of time.  The key is that while any infinitesimal quantity is smaller than any quantity we can express, it is always still greater than zero.  And adding up an infinite number of infinitesimal quantities can sometimes yield a finite number.

Take the halving process in the Dichotomy paradox.  Zeno moves half this distance, then half of that, and so on.  This can be expressed as an infinite sum.

As one gets closer to infinity, the sum gets closer and closer to one.  More formally, we can say that as we approach infinity, the sum goes to 1.  So an infinite number of subdivisions still reaches our goal of the full distance.

This process of applying operations to an infinite number of infinitesimal subdivisions is the principal behind calculus, and a marvelous thing to behold once one gets used to it.  The mathematics does not necessarily answer the metaphysical questions raised by these ancient paradoxes, but it is what most interests us at CatSynth.  It’s been a while since we last shared the joy and beauty of mathematics on these pages, but it is high time we resume the practice.