Week 7: Tired of pretending otherwise

The weather has gone from snow to spring in the space of a week. It’s been very pleasant over the last few days. I haven’t even needed a heavy coat!

I recorded most of a track on my MPC One based on an idea I came up with last weekend. I’ve really been delving into all the things the MPC can do: controlling modular synthesisers via CV, applying effects, and resampling. I’ve made a lot of use of the drum synthesiser that was added in the last firmware update. It’s been like gaining an entire extra device for free.

I discovered a bug in my footswitch implementation: I had omitted one byte from the “locate zero” command, so it was going back to just after the first beat. I’ve fixed it now.

I’ve been recording percussion, slicing it up, and playing it with the pads. It’s a really nice way to be able to correct my sloppy timing whilst preserving a human feel. I was a bit dissatisfied with the sound of the mini darbuka I was using, and thought about buying a better one. They’re not too expensive, but as I was browsing the options, I found an open-box deal for half price. So that’s coming next week. I hope it’s good.

I had a go at circuit-bending an old Casio keyboard. By starving the CPU of power and glitching a couple of pins, you can scramble its internal state such that it makes really interesting mesmeric looping sounds. I’ve ordered potentiometers and switches to add permanent controls. I’m also going to replace the CPU oscillator with a variable clock generator once the supplier has them back in stock. That will let me stretch out the sounds into more ethereal noises, I hope.

I’ve finally found a solution to cracked heels, a problem that afflicts me every winter. In short: sandpaper and vaseline.

Each year, as it gets colder, my heels dry out and crack. It’s very painful. I’ve tried various creams that are designed specifically for the problem, without much success.

It reached its nadir on New Year’s Day this year. As I stood making breakfast, I became aware of pain, and looked down to see that my heel was cracked so badly that it was bleeding. I taped it up to let it heal without any strain on the wound.

After a week or so, I proceeded to the next stage: removing some of the hard skin to make the skin more flexible and less likely to crack. Some people recommend pumice stones. I went for something a bit more effective: coarse sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block.

For the next week, every night before bed, I moisturised my heels with vaseline and put on socks overnight. Every morning since then, I’ve done the same before putting on my socks for the day. Once a week or so, I do a bit more exfoliation.

Now, after seven weeks of this, they’re back to normal. In fact, more normal than I can remember my heels being in a long time.

I’m less and less convinced about this “lockdown” thing and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. I mean, I already wasn’t very convinced, and I think we’ll really regret having set a precedent for government to consign us to barracks at the stroke of a pen. So many people wish that we could all just stay inside and everything would be fine, but you know what? We can’t, and it isn’t, and in a pandemic sometimes people die and we’d all rather that wasn’t the case but you can’t legislate against death and even when you try people still die and the rest of us still have to go on living afterwards.

At least it’s not really a lockdown. That’s just as well, because if you really locked everyone down, society would collapse within days. So what is it really? It’s a ban on social activity. People closer to the coal face of capitalism still go to work, assuming that they work in a sector that hasn’t been banned. Office work is mostly remote or furloughed. Some people just haven’t been allowed to earn a living since last March. Many schools are still open, and if you can describe yourself as an essential worker (as I technically was, when doing a contract for a fintech company last year, because it counted as the “banking sector”) then you can send your children to school.

If your neighbours aren’t too nosy and/or eager to denounce you, you can probably get away with private gatherings. I know there’s plenty of that going on. When has abstention ever worked, after all?

But you can’t legally meet people in a park, even though that’s a very safe environment. I feel like I’m living in a puritan state in which anything that can be perceived as being enjoyable is banned. We’re discouraged (indeed, forbidden, except for certain purposes) from going outside, a thing that is good for us, in order to protect society from a virus that spreads indoors! I don’t – I can’t – believe that these restrictions are rational. I’m heartened every time I see an obviously illegal group of people chatting outside, because bad laws should be resisted.

It’s very hard to believe that allowing people to meet indoors at work but not socially outside is a genuinely epidemiologically based regime, rather than one built on arbitrary moral judgements about activities that are good (going to the widget factory) and bad (sitting on a bench with a friend). And it’s the worst of all worlds: ineffective, economically disastrous, and mentally destructive.

It’s coming up to a year. It must end eventually, but I fear that, having allowed ourselves to be argued into such an unprecedented situation, it’s going to be very hard to get out of it.

The state can remain irrational longer than you can remain sane. Maybe it already has. Those vaccines had better do the trick.


  • Week 6: One kiloday

    I killed an old Yamaha toy keyboard. I was trying to retrofit a MIDI input to a PSS-100 by emulating the keyboard matrix. I had mapped everything out, it was all going well, then I decided to look for a place to pull 5V off the board. My probe slipped, I accidentally bridged two contacts on the power transistor, heard a click, and now nothing works. It’ll either be easily fixable by replacing some passive components, or I’ll have managed to kill the ICs. As the power supply is now putting out 0.5 V instead of 5 V, I have some hope that it’s a power supply issue.

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  • Week 5: Free music I never asked for

    I’ve had a quiet week. I explored some of the streets in the area that I’d never visited before. Most of them turned out to be rather dull cul-de-sacs full of identical little 90s houses that nonetheless all cost way more than I’ll ever be able to afford. I didn’t find anything interesting, really. I ended up in one council estate that’s almost completely fenced off from the surrounding streets: every time you think you can see a way out, it’s barricaded off. I don’t really understand why that’s the case. Maybe it’s a relic of a bygone fad in town planning.

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  • Week 4: Give it a rest

    My right elbow was a bit uncomfortable at the start of the week. I’ve been using a finger trackball (currently this massive trackball) instead of a mouse for a decade and a half specifically to avoid this, but sometimes the only solution is some actual rest. I spent Monday and Tuesday consciously taking a break and doing things that didn’t require much of my arms, and especially that weren’t in front of the computer.

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  • Week 3: What do whales drink?

    I finished assembling my DIY NeoPixel Monome grid – someone else called them “neomonome”, which I like. The solution that actually worked for soldering them together was to print a task-specific jig onto which I could screw the boards before soldering short wires between the edge pads. This worked perfectly: all the boards ended up soldered exactly lined up, and the whole thing lies perfectly flat.

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Older entries can be found in the archive.