An Update:

Last Monday evening, my daughter got sick. Then my wife got sick. Then I got sick. It was dreadful. Thankfully, my son managed not to show any signs of illness, though he had been sick the previous week so maybe he's the one that handed it off to the rest of us.

At any rate, today is the first day I've felt mostly normal in just over a week (though it feels like it was two weeks) so that's why you haven't seen any updates from me in a while.

See you all soon!

MORE Audiotool

This time around I decided to try my hand at producing a rap-oriented track. I've had this little hook rolling around in my head for months, and now that I've gotten a handle on the basics of Audiotool it proved to be a good way to put some bones on the idea and see how it moved.

That was a weird metaphor.

Anyway, here it is - I'd love to hear any feedback you might have!


Audiotool, too

Yesterday I talked about Audiotool (a ridiculously cool website for making music) and shared my first Auditool creation, imaginatively titled "Experiment #1". Today I'd like to share my second Audiotool creation, given the increasingly clever moniker "Experiment #2".

In this track, I played a lot more with automation, where I program the instruments to take certain actions at specific times (filter sweeps, turning effects on or off, etc.)

I'd love to hear your feedback on these first two tracks, whether it's here on the blog, on Facebook, or on SoundCloud! I'm having a lot of fun playing with this website and I'm excited to keep learning with it.

Audiotool

Recently, my brother Matt introduced me to a website called Audiotool.com - it's a web app that facilitates music creation and it includes several virtual instruments, a mixer, a multitrack sequencer/editor, and the ability to import your own sounds or samples.

Here's the layout of instruments for my completed song, if you can call it that.

I played with it for a few minutes the night he showed it to me, and then yesterday I played with it for a few hours. I didn't get super deep into the features available with Audiotool, but it's pretty intuitive and I was able to play with several of the included modules. None of the modules are directly named what they've been designed after, because of course the names are copyrighted. That said, I used a TR-808 and TR-909 (both Roland drum machines), a TB-303 (bass sequencer), and a 3-oscillator synth that seems a lot like a Minimoog. I also used a couple of reverb pedals, a distortion pedal, and two somethings. In Audiotool it's called a Tonematrix but I'm not sure the real-life thing it's modeled on, though it looks more or less like a Novation Launchpad, but with 16x16 buttons. The virtual instrument acts as a sequencer though it can also output its own notes as well which sound a bit like a marimba.

Anyway, here's what I came up with. I hope you enjoy it!

Dollar Shave Club

I recently decided to finally try out Dollar Shave Club after first hearing about it several years ago. I don't usually shave that often, but after letting my Novembeard grow all the way through the end of March I decided to go clean-shaven for a while.

Dollar Shave Club has three membership levels to choose from, and I went with the middle option - $6 per month, free shipping, and you get 4 four-blade cartridges per month along with a handle when you first sign up. Here's my experience with the first shave:

The supplies come in a simple but well-planned box with a friendly welcome message and a long fold-out pamphlet explaining what to expect and so on:

There was also this friendly reminder to make sure you use up all four blades in a month so you keep your subscription active ;)

The small box contained my allotted four blades, and in the larger portion was a nice handle with rubberized grip, a sample size of their "Shave Butter," and an advertising piece for the Shave Butter:

Righty-o, time to shave. I trimmed my face whiskers down to the shortest length offered by my hair clippers:

 

I'm looking forward to trying the Shave Butter but since it had been so long since my face felt the shave of a razor (probably close to a year) I opted for the shaving gel and aftershave lotion that I had used before. I held a hot washcloth to my face for 30 seconds or so, bathed my whiskers in shave gel, and said goodbye. It wasn't so bad.

Overall, I was quite happy with the shave. Especially considering that a handle and four blades was only $6, I'd recommend Dollar Shave Club to anybody looking for a cheaper way to shave. The only downside I noticed was that the razor cartridges don't rinse out as easily as some other designs. Note in the photos below how obstructed the back side of the blade is in the Dollar Shave Club cartridge (left) vs. the Gillette FlexBall blade (right)

Dollar Shave Club

Gillette FlexBall

I will say that the Gillette FlexBall does provide a better shave than the DSC blade, but at a much higher cost. I was lucky enough to get the FlexBall for free a while back as part of a promotional giveaway, otherwise I think it's unlikely that I would have tried it out. I paid for the Dollar Shave Club blades with my own dollars, but if you try it out through my links to their site, I do get a $5 credit for the referral.

 Well there it is. Shout out to  my cousin Joel  via the shirt.

Well there it is. Shout out to my cousin Joel via the shirt.

Buy My Things

I've added a new section to this website titled "Buy My Things," which ought to be straightforward enough for you to figure out.

I have too much stuff, so I am selling some of it. Right now everything I have listed is new or used skate gear, but I expect to have miscellaneous other stuff up there sooner or later.

SO PRETTY

This section was set up using the Commerce features built into Squarespace, which was pretty easy to configure, but there are two things I don't like about it. 1) Payment processing is required to go through Stripe. I'd much rather just use PayPal, but whatever. 2) Shipping charges are either really smart or really dumb, and I'd like something that falls somewhere in the middle. For example, you can either have it calculate shipping based on total weight of everything (which requires me to know the weights of the things I'm selling) or it can charge a flat rate per order plus an optional flat fee per item. If I were selling a bunch of stuff that was all roughly the same size and weight this might make sense, but since I've got everything from skate wheels to complete skateboards listed up there right now, it doesn't really fit. Using that second method may end up way overcharging people who just buy a set of wheels, or way undercharging people who buy three skate decks. It also doesn't allow for local pickup, though you could set that as an secondary shipping option I guess. Actually, I'm going to add that right now.

[several minutes later]

Okay, so now people can choose "local pickup" if they're going to get the stuff from me directly. The other option, which I was getting to before I got distracted, is labeled "BILL SHIPPING SEPARATELY," which pretty much does as it says on the tin. With this option I'll go ahead and ship the items, send the customer an email with the exact shipping fees I paid, and hope they reimburse me via PayPal or something. If I were running a business I wouldn't really trust people to do that, but since my main goal is to get rid of stuff I figure it's worth the risk of losing out on a few bucks in order to cut down on the junk in my house.

Also:

Yesterday I described some of the things that have been keeping me busy and away from the blog for the past month or so.

Today I'd like to share something that will be keeping me busy in the future...

...specifically starting around October of this year.

See, that's my sweater on the far left; Caitlin's is next to it, then Elias', then Amelia's, and then... what's that?

I'm chuffed to bits to share that the four of us will be welcoming a fifth family member this fall!

It's been a while, hasn't it?

Hi there.

It's been a while since I posted here, and that has been for one very good and one very bad reason.

The bad reason: It seems like I, or some of my family, or all of my family, has been sick for the past several weeks :(

The good reason: When I wasn't sick, I was doing a lot of stuff! I got a new computer put together, I published the first episode of Let's Play Friday and hosted a launch party for it, I've been working on branding and promotion for a new product a client is bringing to market and doing the same for a friend who's launching her business, I got my office decluttered and rearranged, I got an Arturia Minibrute SE analog synthesizer (tons of fun!), and lots of other stuff too!

So, I haven't had a lot of time to post here, but I would like for that to change.

Anyway, I hope to be posting more here soon and hope that you'll join me in my adventures!

Synology DS415+ Setup

As mentioned in Tuesday's post, I recently bought and set up a Synology DS415+ Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. I recorded a video of the unboxing and setup process, which you can check out below:

I'm planning another video to document the process of setting up my current (soon to be "old") video editing PC to record video directly from the Atari 2600 and other game systems.

Let me know if you found this useful, interesting, etc. Also let me know if there's something you want to see, something I could have done better, or any other suggestions!

Let's Play Friday [update 2]

As I prepare to launch Let's Play Friday, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff to get set up before I record the first show. In my last status update I discussed the webcam I'll be using to record myself as well as the capture card I'll be using to record the gameplay. Another major part of the production process is having a place to store and archive all the raw video as well as the finished products. I do my editing on a desktop computer so it's fairly simple to stick an extra hard drive in there when I run out of space, but a solution I've been wanting to implement for a couple of years now is Network Attached Storage, or NAS. Essentially, this is a box full of hard drives that sits on the network, making it easy to access your data from any connected device (and potentially including access across the internet, similar to Dropbox).

I love everything about this device except the fingerprint-magnet of a front panel

I recently purchased a Synology DS415+ 4-bay NAS enclosure, along with two Western Digital 4TB RED drives designed for NAS use. Last night I got everything put together and set up on my home network; it was a shockingly easy and quick setup process. I also recorded a video of the whole process which I'll be editing together over the next couple of days and will post up for anyone who's interested. Coming up after that will be a video showing the install/configuration of my Hauppauge TV Tuner card to capture incoming video and audio from my old gaming systems, along with a build video for my new editing PC, which I'm super excited about.

Skateboarding.

I've been skateboarding about as long as I've been walking. My older brothers (7 and 8.5 years older than me) got me into it because it's what they did. As a kid, skateboarding was just another way to get around and have fun outside, same as a bike or scooter (and I don't mean razor scooters; we had one with 8" inflatable tires we could ride through the yard!). It never seemed unusual to me to skateboard; it never had that outsider status to me because it's just what I did and what my brothers taught me. And yet, there was nobody else I knew of who skateboarded while I was growing up. I was riding in a vacuum, but because my brothers skated sometimes and because I constantly watched the McGee and Me video "Skate Expectations," I never really noticed the lack of community.

Don't be fooled into thinking that I'm actually talented as a skateboarder just because I've been doing it so long. I'm not. While other things certainly play into it, I think a big contributing factor to my lack of talent is the lack of community described above. Without other people to skate with, it can be hard to progress. There's nobody to push you forward, nobody whose tricks you can build off of, and nobody to benchmark against.

There's a lot more to my skateboarding story moving into high school and especially my college years, but I think we'll stop here for now because I want to spend a little more time on the importance of community in skateboarding.

Rodney Mullen is a professional skateboarder, a true innovator and undisputed leader in the sport going back to the 1980s and lasting even through today. Recently he has found additional success outside of skateboarding as a speaker at tech companies, bringing a skateboarder's perspective to traditionally technological ideas such as Open Source movement. As someone who tends to straddle the line between geek and nerd, I've really enjoyed watching some of those talks and gaining a new perspective on how my seemingly disparate interests are related. Recently, however, I came across a video of Rodney talking to a group of skateboarders; his peers. He was presented with the question "What is skateboarding?" and his answer was the best I've ever heard:

Being a skateboarder: I think it starts with a sense of community; something that we seek - I think all of us as skaters feel a little bit like outsiders. I certainly did, and a lot of my friends feel that way too. And so, in an effort to both be an outsider - that inner sense of not belonging - and yet with a deep yearning for belonging (which I think all human beings have) - how can you do that, how can you find a sense of community? In this sort of multidimensional platform that we have with skateboarding, that we can create on our own terms with never-ending (and I think it’s safe to say never-ending) possibilities. And even atop the possibilities each one has a style through which we can define ourselves through what we do and a voice that we have that’s specific to us. The more we individuate ourselves and separate ourselves, the more we get a sense of belonging, because that’s what the community itself seeks - is to be separate and yet belong. So the more we individuate ourselves through what we do, the more we are embraced by the community around us, and we leverage what the community gives us (that is, the tricks; that is, the ethos imbued through the arts) and when we give that back we are recognized by our peers and that only brings it up higher, and all of this together creates that synergy that really is skateboarding.

In this, Mullen sums up the core dichotomy of skateboarding: it is by culture's definition an outsider's sport, yet we all as humans feel a deep need for a sense of belonging. Skateboarding serves both needs - the need for individual differentiation and the need for community acceptance - and in fact these two factors work together to advance the sport. As new tricks are conceived and new innovations are realized, they are fed back into the community and expand the palette shared by all skateboarders.

At its best skateboarding is about a group of individuals pushing the boundaries of the sport, each in their own way, in order to constantly redefine and elevate what it means to ride a skateboard.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment! Your comments help me decide what to write about and help me get better at this blogging thing.

Let's Play Friday [status/tech update]

I recently was able to purchase the webcam and capture card I will be using for Let's Play Friday! There is still plenty of work to do before I can record the first episode but it's a major step closer to getting the show off the ground.

The webcam I selected was the Logitech C920, chosen for its excellent specs and outstanding customer reviews - not just on Amazon but across the web. This will be the camera that points back at me while I'm playing the games.

An important part of making webcam video look good is having proper lighting. Thankfully I didn't have to buy any new equipment for that as I've got a set of three Flolight FL-110 daylight-balanced fluorescent video lights that I bought from BX Films when they upgraded to Kino-Flo lighting. As an additional point of thanks, they sold me the used gear at a very reasonable price and I've gotten a lot of use out of the lights since then. Thanks guys!

The video capture card I selected was from Hauppauge with dual tuners. Hauppauge has had a good reputation in the video capture market for a very long time and this appeared to be a good offering for my needs. Its dual tuners mean that I can easily swap out systems on one tuner while leaving the other tuner connected to an antenna, allowing me to watch and record over-the-air TV channels. It also has inputs for composite video which will let me get a higher quality signal from the NES as well as S-Video input in case I ever discover one of the three devices on the planet that actually outputs S-Video.

I've also picked up a couple more games to add to the collection before the show starts: Bubble Bobble for NES and Ecco the Dolphin for Genesis.

 SO EXCITED

SO EXCITED

I'm hoping to get everything pulled together in the next week or two and get the first two episodes recorded before the first one goes live on March 27. I'm also planning to host an old-school video game party on March 28 in order to have fun with friends and also to celebrate the launch of the show!

Book Review: How We Learn

How We Learn is a book that reads like a great NPR story, and I mean that in the best way possible. It takes you on a journey, first through your brain and then through the history of learning research, before landing on some practical steps you can take to improve your own learning in specific situations.

Don't let the promise of "history" and "research" lull you into thinking the book is a boring one - in fact, after reading the first 100 pages across the course of several days (squeezing in a handful of pages whenever possible), I was finally able to sit down and read the remaining 130 pages uninterrupted. Ironically, the large chunk of reading began with Chapter Six: "The Upside of Distraction." Well, there may indeed be upsides to distraction when it comes to learning, but I was glad to be able to sit down and finish the book anyway.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens is the kind of title that prepares me to be a little skeptical. I came into the book thinking it was going to be positioned as some expert telling me why everything I thought I knew was wrong (or some kind of sensationalist thing like that). Certainly I have read plenty of insightful books that have shifted my perspective or broadened my view of a topic (Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Outliers come to mind, though I was less a fan of Blink), but for some reason I was expecting the book to wind up like a bad Netflix documentary - pushing buttons just because they exist without really saying anything of substance.

I am happy to report that I was wrong.

This book was written by a New York Times reporter who has been with the newspaper since 2004, and his expertise as a science journalist shines through in How We Learn. Carey doesn't claim to be a scientist, a researcher, or a leader in the field of learning, and as such he does not attempt to inject any sense of nose-in-the-air authority into his words. He writes as one who has done a lot of reading on the topic; he has talked with many people who have dedicated their lives to the field. While he doesn't introduce any new research, Carey also does not simply regurgitate the results of others' work. Rather, the author takes the findings of these researchers and uses them to look back on his own life before considering how they might apply more broadly to us as his readers. In addition, several of the researchers whose work Carey cites actually helped in the process of reviewing the book to make sure he was accurate in his reporting.

As I mentioned before, the book begins with a look at what we know about how the brain works (particularly as it pertains to learning). It's an interesting summary that lays the groundwork for some later stories, helping readers to understand them better. From "how the brain works," Carey progresses into a section I'd summarize as "how learning is affected by specific variables." This is the part where he not only shares some of the latest research, but also shows how scientists arrived at this point. It's a fascinating look at the history of learning theory, and Carey does a great job of mentioning larger historical trends (such as Freudian psychology) that affected scientists' decisions on where to go next. After reviewing the lands that learning research has traveled through, Carey brings us up to speed on the latest of "what we know now" and uses it to suggest several practical (I daresay actionable) ways that we can improve learning in our own lives.

The book wraps up with a brief Q&A section that serves as a recap of everything Carey just finished saying; it also serves as a quick reference guide for the major topics of the book. While How We Learn is a pretty easy read, it also contains a ton of information, so it's nice to have a refresher at the end of the book to consolidate everything that was included.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and came away wishing I owned a copy (mine was from the library) so that I could reference it down the road as I actively try to learn new skills and information. It's very practical in addition to being informative, and I may end up purchasing a copy of my own.

One feature I'd like to add to my book reviews (starting with this one) is a list of people I would recommend the book to. So, here we go - I would recommend How We Learn to:
  - Caitlin Metzger (my wife) because she's a great teacher and would be able to effectively leverage the book's material to help her piano and violin students continue to succeed.
  - Betty Metzger (my mom) because she is also a great teacher who would be able to bring the book's concepts into her K-6th music classroom.
  - Ben Eicher (my brother-in-law) who is heading into high school next year and could put the book's techniques to work as he continues his academic career.

How We Learn is an expertly-woven tale of how our brains work and how we can use them more efficiently. I'll give it three stars today and an additional two stars the day after tomorrow (to help the book commit its five-star rating to memory!)

40 Bags in 40 Days

My wife is pretty great. Really, she's the best. I am a big fan of hers.

Today she is launching a project called 40 Bags in 40 Days, a de-cluttering effort aimed at simplifying one's life by simplifying one's possessions. (I realize the irony of posting this immediately after talking about how I just can't quite bring myself to get rid of my collection of old video games.)

The project takes place across the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter, and if you'd like to follow along or join in yourself, check out her posts in the series or (better yet) subscribe to her blog! You can also follow the project through the Facebook event that she set up for it.

Let's Play Friday!

I have a not-insignificant collection of old video games. It's not the kind of glorious catalog that's painstakingly curated and fawned over by fellow nerds on the internet, but I'd say it falls just inside the lower bound of "extensive."

Technically some of these games and consoles belong to one or the other of my brothers, but they have basically allowed me to tend the digital flock for the past several years. There's only one real problem with my prized pile of plastic and silicon: I rarely play any of the games in the collection. Sure, I'll occasionally fire up the NES for another go at Super Mario Bros. or a round of Tetris - sometimes I even host parties to have people come over and play the games - but mostly the collection just sits on the shelf. Truth be told, I'm not even that good at video games. At the same time, I can't quite bring myself to part with them.

A portion of my collection. What to do, what to do?

There is a phenomenon on the internet known as Let's Play videos. They've been around for a while, at least 8 years, but have become especially popular recently. A Let's Play video is pretty straightforward - it basically just involves somebody playing a game and providing commentary while the video shows both gameplay and the player, either cut together or superimposed in the corner of the screen. This type of video differs from a walkthrough or a review in that its purpose is primarily to entertain rather than inform.

Assuming you can put the proverbial two and two together, you might deduce that I'm planning to start a Let's Play channel of my own on YouTube. In such a case you would be correct! Good job, you! I've been rolling this idea around in my head for a while and I'm planning to go ahead with it, though I still need to get some equipment to capture the game video and wrap up some other logistics. If everything goes to plan I should be able to publish the first video about a month from now. Keep an eye on this blog and/or follow the show account on Twitter (@LetsPlayFriday) for updates!

So, what do you think of the idea? Would you be interested in seeing me play through video game history starting with Atari 2600? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

As I mentioned on Saturday evening, I recently finished reading Col. Chris Hadfield's book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. The full title is a mouthful but one of my favorite albums is called Give Us Rest; or: (a requiem mass in C [the happiest of all keys]) so maybe I'm just a sucker for creative works with overly complex titles.

I came into the book without any particular expectations; my decision to grab the book from its display on the library shelf was based primarily on name recognition. I remembered seeing videos of Col. Hadfield doing experiments on the International Space Station on YouTube, particularly some really cool demonstrations of how water behaves in microgravity. He also starred in the first music video recorded in space, a cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity which was recorded on the ISS during downtime. Given that picking the book up was a snap decision on my way to the checkout counter, I found the volume a thoroughly satisfying one.

If you open the book expecting some very specific type of account - a memoir, say, or a technical account of Hadfield's trips to space - you'll likely come away at least a little disappointed. It's not a linear autobiography, though it certainly tells the story of Col. Hadfield's life from childhood to retirement. Neither is it "how to become an astronaut," though Hadfield shares the journey he took to become one and many lessons he learned along the way. There aren't detailed accounts of every training and mission activity he took part in (and it quickly becomes apparent that such a work would be massive), and though Hadfield does include plenty of technical information in the course of his storytelling, the book remains quite accessible to non-astronaut readers.

What I mean to say, then, is that the book is not any one thing; it's part life story, part career memoir, part adventure, part mission recap, and part advice column. Hadfield manages to weave these many approaches together in a way that is both seamless and entertaining. Tales of tense moments leading up to a mission had me breathing shallowly; moments of triumph bestowed a soaring sense of joy and accomplishment, as if I had been the one who traveled to space three times. Portions of the book sharing life lessons did so in the context of Hadfield's life and career, but weren't so specific as to feel irrelevant. Indeed, as Col. Hadfield shared experiences and realizations that kept him on track and helped him to make the right decisions, I found myself considering thoughtfully how to apply these lessons to my own life.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is, generally speaking, celebratory in nature. It wraps up with Hadfield's retirement after completing his third trip to space, a highly successful 5-month stint aboard the International Space Station. The book bubbles with joy and doesn't dwell on negative experiences except to show how they taught an important lesson. Some may view this as a downside to the book, viewing it as self-congratulatory or unrealistically cheerful, but I think that the tone of the book is simply a reflection of the tone of Hadfield's life. Toward the end of the book, Col. Hadfield shares, "If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time." He explains that by counting each positive part of one's life as being equally important, it's easier to find meaning and motivation as you move toward a goal. In some ways, this outlook reminded me of a previous post I shared, called Finding Wins. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed the book so much - Col. Chris Hadfield seems like the kind of guy I could get along with pretty easily... though to be fair he also seems like the kind of guy anyone could get along with pretty easily. Throughout the book, I found myself identifying with him (except that he's vastly more experienced and has way cooler stories to share at parties). Overall, I found the book to be accessible, entertaining, and interesting. I give it 9 out of 9 planets (here's looking at you, Pluto).

No, for real, I'm back!

If you recall my last post, you know that I am excited to get back to blogging after taking a 3-week break from blogging every day in December. The only niggle with that plan is that my last post occurred two weeks ago. It seems that at least one member of my family (and sometimes up to three at a time) has been sick since that post came out. It's not quite a valid excuse, but it's certainly a distraction from the concept of sitting down to blog. And, though I do care about those of you who follow along with my posts, I care about my family more.

That said, I just finished a wonderful book called An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield, who has been to space three times. It's an interesting mix of genres - at some points it's more like an autobiography; at other times it feels more like a collection of practical advice. There are also moments that fall straight into the category of trivia (how to properly urinate in space, anyone?) The book deserves its own review, so I'll be publishing that sometime next week.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you all know that I'm still alive, my family is still alive, and I really appreciate your joining me as I attempt to do creative things and share them with the internet.

See you next week! (assuming nobody gets sick again)

I'm Back!

I had a lovely 3 week break from blogging after posting something every day in December, but I think it's about time I got back at it, don't you?

This blog will continue to function as a means of accountability for doing things and sharing them with the internet. However, I don't plan to post every day like I did last month; instead I plan to post about twice per week. Depending on how that goes I may change it to three times per week.

I don't have one big project planned at the moment, though I'd certainly welcome any suggestions. I do have a few things I've been exploring or working on in the background over the last several months so I'll be highlighting those until the next bigger project begins. See you Monday!