Apr18 playlist

Here's a playlist of the tracks I had on replay during April. It's a particularly long one, as I got in a lot of listening time this month. Most weeks I spent bustling around the factory floor with my headphones in to try to block out of the sound of the sonic welding. Here are some notes on new releases, throwbacks, and a quite a few psychedelic tracks.

Lots of old Tame Impala because I was watching a few videos on Kevin Parker's guitar tone and it reminded me that InnerSpeaker is ridiculously good.

New ZHU is absolute fire. Will be one of the best dance releases of the year.

"Rude Boy" from Mr. Twin Sister might have been the track I listened to the most this month.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra released a new album (which I need to listen to more) but made me remember how awesome their previous albums are.

Post Animal with brand new hypnotizing psychedelic sound on When I Think Of You In A High Castle.

Haven't give the new Kali Uchis enough time yet because I put that Steve Lacy feature on repeat! She wants my hundred-dollar bills, she don't want love! I'm sure more of these tracks will be on my playlist next month. Might end up being one of the best albums this year.

MGMT released their first good music in a decade. Why didn't they start making emo stuff sooner? "Hand It Over" is genius.

Here's a throwback. Los Lobos with "Mas Y Mas" on their '96 album Colossal Head. David Hidalgo is a badass guitar player and his more experimental project Latin Playboys has two albums from the '90s also worth checking out.

I've been a psychedelic-rock kick lately and Dr. Dog appeared in some the playlists I was searching through. I'm in love with the vintage guitar tones mixed in with the angsty new age punk vocals. All the themes are horrific and dark, but the tone is so bright. Same goes with the Ceramic Animals track on there.

I don't know what Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2 is supposed to mean, but their track "JBS" is a phaser masterpiece. Smooth tones with a springy delay and a gorgeous major-minor-suspended chord progressions.


If you've got monthly playlists send me the info! Always in search of good things I haven't heard.

Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"

I wanted to round out my exposure to classic film and so I've recently spent some time watching the "greats". The internet recommended Elia Kazan's works as a starting place. I've watched a lot of movies but am far from knowledgeable enough to describe myself as someone who's "into film", but even I've heard of many of Kazan's films. A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata, On The Waterfront, East of Eden.. the list goes on. He's responsible for introducing Marlon Brando and James Dean in film, has won countless awards, and played a role in un-blacklisting Zero Mostel following all the Hollywood 40s/50s communist scares. A man absolutely worth reading more about.

While his critically acclaimed films, On the Waterfront particularly, were all absolutely incredible, I haven't been able to stop thinking about one of his less popular films, A Face in the Crowdbased on a short story from Budd Schulberg.
     At the time it was released it received no love from the Academy nor any film festivals, overall landing with mixed reviews. The film is most known for introducing the world to Andy Griffith, one of the most poplar television figures ever.
     Without giving a whole synopsis, the plot is centered around a drifter Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes (Andy Griffith) who becomes a powerful radio and TV personality, with the help of Marcia Jeffries (Oscar-winner Patricia Neal), by presenting himself as a man of the common folk. Eventually, he has the ear of powerful military figures, politicians, Koch-like business moguls, and the rest of that ilk. Eventually this power consumes him and the people around him and destroys everything. It's an excellent commentary on the power of the media and influence of personalities, as well an intimate view of fame disfigured relationships and the moral decay of power. Neal's performance is terrific and she executes the darkening character arc flawlessly. As for Griffith, it's a one-of-a-kind performance, one that shaped his entire career, but more on that later.

Image result for a face in the crowd

A couple of my favorite quotes...
Rhodes discussing campaign politics with a Senator and his advisors

Rhodes: "We've got to face it, politics have entered a new stage, television. Instead of long-winded debates, the people want slogans. "Time for a change" "The mess in Washington" "More bang for a buck". Punch-lines and glamour. Yes, Mr. Furness, even glamour."
Furness: "My papers have supported Worthington Fuller...from the first day he ran for office, he's not a grandstander... a backslapper or a baby-kisser."
Rhodes: "That’s exactly what he's got to become."

Rhodes and Marcia discussing his upcoming dinner party with some of the Washington elites

Rhodes: "The biggest men in the country are coming to my banquet...to get things rolling. I've got an admiral, two governors...some investment house boys and a cabinet minister."
Jeffries: "Which one? 
Rhodes: "I don't know. I told the general to pick one."
Jeffries: "They're coming to your party?"
Rhodes: "Honey, if I ask them, they've got to come. They'd be afraid not to come. I could murder them, like guests."
Jeffries: "I'm afraid it’s true."
Rhodes: "What’s true?"
Jeffries: "Right here, tonight, you might have that much power."

The poignant revelance to today's current political and mainstream media climate is unmissable, making for a foreboding and eerie viewing experience. If Rhodes had run for office it would have been flat out prophetic. The real haunting part for me comes in the final scene when Marcia and one of Rhodes' former writers Mel Miller (another Oscar-winner, Walter Matthau) confront him.

Rhodes: Listen, I'm not through yet. You know what's gonna to happen to me?
Miller: Suppose I tell you exactly what's gonna happen to you. You're gonna be back in television. Only it won't be quite the same as it was before. There'll be a reasonable cooling-off period and then somebody will say: "Why don't we try him again in a inexpensive format. People's memories aren't too long." And you know, in a way, he'll be right. Some of the people will forget, and some of them won't. Oh, you'll have a show. Maybe not the best hour or, you know, top 10. Maybe not even in the top 35. But you'll have a show. It just won't be quite the same as it was before. Then a couple of new fellas will come along. And pretty soon, a lot of your fans will be flocking around them. And then one day, somebody'll ask: "Whatever happened to, a, whatshisname? You know, the one who was so big. The number-one fella a couple of years ago. He was famous. How can we forget a name like that? Oh by the way, have you seen, a, Barry Mills? I think he's the greatest thing since Will Rogers."

**Mel turns and starts to leave. Then, he turns back towards Lonesome.

Miller: Beanie!

**Beanie, who is manning the automatic appalause machine, instinctively pulls the switch, unleashing a massive abundance of cheers. The mechanical jubilation continues as Mel joins Marcia in the waiting elevator, leaving Lonesome alone in the empty penthouse with his broken dreams.

Although it provides a nice ribbon for wrapping up the film, it doesn't quite capture how distorted our current sad reality is, where celebrities and politicians can take should-be career deathblows and somehow get stronger. They are somehow impervious to their own should-be self-destructive ways. Kazan underestimated the blindness of tribalism, but can we blame him?
     What I find most interesting about this movie is the outcome of it for Andy Griffith. His performance as Lonesome Rhodes is captivating. Griffith even commented in some interviews that he was very afraid of the feeling he got from playing Rhodes, because he was too good at it, he could easily do exactly what Rhodes was doing in the film.

"You've got to be a saint to stand the power that box gives you."

Actualizing A Face in the Crowd, Griffith went on to make his self-named show, becoming the face of America of the 1960s. He became in institution in his own right just as Rhodes had been. Griffith understood the burden he was going to bear and believed he could do justice to the responsibility the massive national audience would place upon him. The resulting product was nine seasons of wholesome moral indoctrination starring the undeniably virtuous model American, Andy Taylor.
     Overall, A Face in the Crowd stands tall as one of the most powerful films I've ever seen. There are tons of excellent videos where Andy and other creators discuss the film and other related topics. Obviously watch the movie first, but these make the viewing experience that much more memorable. This particular video provided some thought-provoking points on how our retrospective viewing of the film is what makes it compelling due to our context with Griffith's Andy Taylor character as the anti-Rhodes.

If you haven't seen it, please do yourself a favor and watch the movie. It's available on Amazon to rent for $3.

Richard Wright and "Us and Them"

I tend to find myself coming back to vulnerability as a topic. Great art either makes you feel vulnerable or is vulnerable itself, which allows you to connect to it. This is especially true of great music.


"I love that chord, I don't know why. But it wouldn't work if it had gone up to an A. But that what music's all about..."

After hearing it stripped down and bare, "Us and Them" has taken on a totally new form for me, and consequently so has Dark Side of the Moon. I personally put DSOTM in contention with the "greatest", (Kind of BlueSgt. PepperElectric Ladyland) because it makes me feel so vulnerable. I've never been grasp the album, it's always been the other way around. The raw emotion would grab me and wrap me up to a point where I feel very small. Like an astronaut floating out in space. But hearing a track from the album sound so naked I found an edge to grasp. Now for the first time I can listen to the album and slide inbetween despair and triumph, wrestling with it track by track.

And now I wait for the sun to set so I can walk through the city at night and listen to the words of Roger Water's for what must be the thousandth time.

I avoid my intuition, it’s usually wrong

Understanding your assumptions and thoroughly questioning them is crucial to building complex systems. I’ve found that the vast majority of mistakes I make in hardware are where I let my intuition develop an argument for why something is occurring. Intuition easily justifies the bad assumptions that thrive in our knowledge gaps.

A few months back a teammate and I ran into a bug where a sensor (IR photointerrupter) was counting way too many times when it was triggered. It was a particularly weird bug because we had another set of these already implemented and they didn’t have this problem. We started looking into the code to see if it was issue with how we were counting the interrupts.



After some careful examination of the software, we started looking at the physical hardware. The physical hardware seemed fine. The voltages were exactly as expected when the sensor was blocked and unblocked. I hooked up the outputs to a digital logic analyzer and blocked and unblocked the sensor. Sure enough, leading up to the actual pulse were lots of tiny pulses increasing in duty cycle. There were also tiny pulses trailing the actual pulse, decreasing in duty cycle. We went and checked our correctly functioning implementation and surprisingly the small leading and trailing pulses were there too! But for some reason they were being counted properly by the MCU. We were confused. So we attached analog leads to the output of our sensor. We blocked and unblocked it, expecting to see the false pulse train leading up to the actual pulse. Nope. Perfectly clean rising and falling edges on each of the implementations, exactly the same way. We were very confused.









This is painful to recount because the solution now appears so obvious in hindsight. We had evidence suggesting that our MCU was performing some strange counting of the rising and falling edges of our actual pulse. It was right in front of us. We had data showing that the duty cycle of the false triggers were increasing as the it came closer to the actual pulse. What were we missing?

We had made a major assumption that analog-to-digital conversion on the logic analyzer would be able to get a clean reading of the sensor output being pulled high and low. We assumed that the measurement tool we were using wouldn’t also be having false triggers. We were really thrown off the trail because we had another implementation of the same sensors functioning properly. All of this combined, we let our intuition grasp for answers rather than consider the facts.



After a bit of discussion, some forum reading, and more analysis of the signals we figured out the problem. The Schmitt Trigger implemented on both our logic analyzer and on our MCU were getting triggered by the rising and falling edges of the sensor being blocked and unblocked. This is a pretty common occurrence and it can usually be resolved by low-pass filtration in hardware right before the signal enters the MCU.

Schmitt Trigger Edge Detection



The reason the count on the other implementation appeared correct was because we were performing quadrature encoding with the sensors and we would increment in one direction and decrement in the other direction. The false pulses one on sensor offset the false pulses on the other since these were being used in conjunction. This is a little technical and very specific to our application but it basically masked the fact that the sensors had all the extra triggers because the end result always appeared correct.

Quadrature Encoder Waveforms



We were really confused by all the evidence presented to us simply because of the assumptions we were making. Multiple logical explanations could be presented but would conflict one another. Keep an eye out for these type of inconsistencies, as they’re a strong indicator of bad of assumptions.

Jenga blocks

It was a weeknight and I was out with a group of friends at a painfully stereotypical tech corporate party. I had already gone to my fair share of these throughout the summer. A couple at VC shops, one at a startup, and now one at a pretty large public company. We barely knew anyone who worked there but we figured it would be fun to poach a few free beers and American Apparel company branded t-shirts while they tried to poach us from the places we were interning.

The price we paid was to sit through a few painful keynote speakers and slideshows full of one-liners from Steve Blank and Charlie Munger.

“We want to do our part to make the world a better place.”
“We’re a public company that actually turns a profit, unlike our friends across the way at Salesforce”.
 I was wearing my Salesforce backpack, which got a couple of good chuckles from the people standing behind me.
“Feel free to grab some swag as you go, don’t walk out with the alcohol though.”

All laughs aside, it was a fun night of hanging out with all the other terrible tech people we Twitter-knew that were there soaking up the IPAs and cocktails. A group of six of us decided to head over to a nearby bar and continue our night. A few Moscow Mules and deceivingly small tequila shots and we were on our way. We sat down at a booth nearby the main bar, only to find a tin of Jenga blocks poured out onto the table. Looking around I noticed that all the other tables had different games and cards.

“It’s good we got literally the hardest game to play drunk.” We all had a good laugh. “Jesus, I’m shit at Jenga even when I’m sober.”

It turned out to be a blast. We ended up playing a variation of speed Jenga that resembles speed chess. The most interesting part was that people had written all over the blocks. The obvious vulgarities, so-and-so was here, and phone numbers, but also there were the open-ended questions that were clearly supposed to be used for a Truth-Or-Jenga variant.

Truth be told, it was the perfect thing to have at a table among friends. We had something to fiddle with and it got us talking and off our phones.

“This one says, ‘Who’s the biggest tool at the table?’” The table shook with our laughter as I was in the middle of extracting a snug bottom block and it all came down. “The fact that we need to debate this is bad.”

We all took turns with a pen drawing and squeezing our own messages onto the blank space available on the blocks.“What kind of message should I put on there? Go for the ‘wow, that is horrific’ or the kind of thing that makes someone soft smile?” I chimed in, “Yeah, I feel like I have so much bad karma to undo from arguing with strangers on Twitter that I should probably go with making a stranger smile.”



I had always hated Jenga growing up. It’s a game that's easy to get bored of and the setup time is usually longer than the time you spend playing. And it’s usually awful for little kids. They spent so much time and effort meticulously building up a tower of blocks only to have it all come crashing down. And if you’re playing with more than two people, there isn’t a winner, there’s just the idiot that knocked the blocks down.

Recently, I’ve used Jenga quite frequently as an analogy for the difficulties that people often face as aspects of their lives changes. The easiest changes are made near the top of the tower, the opinions we hold lightly, the people, places, and things we’ve only known a short time. Further down are the parts of us that carry more weight. They’re physically burdened by the weight of what rests above. Moving them could mean toppling everything that sits above, maybe even below. The manner is which they are removed has to be fitting. Sometimes a swift yank, sometimes a gentle tapping.

At the very bottom are the blocks fundamental to ourselves. They are not defined by our conviction or their severity but are directly tied to who we are. Our virtues and sense of purpose. Our health and our families. There is no easy way to change the position of these blocks without risking toppling the entire tower. Sometimes it is our decision, sometimes it isn’t.

What do you do when it all comes crashing down?

Well, you rebuild the tower just like the angry teary-eyed toddler. Meticulously, methodically, placing every last block back into place. Compared to the fraction of a second that it took come crashing down, how long does it take to build back up? Running your hands along the creases and gaps, straightening out the edges, well aware that if you want to play the game it will have to come tumbling back down eventually.

That is a harrowing truth that just about everyone hears but refuses to believe. Everything comes crashing down. It takes an indescribable amount of effort to create order from disorder and it is impossible to maintain. Refusing to rebuild and play the game is to live a life void of purpose and substance. To fill it with the superficial, to not care deeply enough about anything to a point where there isn’t even a tower to have crash down. The only solution is to proceed with great care and to learn to love rebuilding, because you’ll do it a lot.



“What did you put on your block?”
“It says, 'Make Love, Not Logical Fallacy.'"

“You’re an idiot.”

Path Integrals

I’m sitting in an electromechanics class listening to our professor lecture. He emphasizes that we should keenly pay attention to the lecture, not taking notes, but clinging to every word and anticipating the next. “It is imperative you focus on the concepts. Think about what is being taught and try to guess what is going to happen next.” His favorite word is imPERative. He says it just like too.

Today’s lecture is on finding energy and coenergy from electromechanical systems; basically the energy output of moving an iron object near some copper coils with current flowing through them.

  • Coenergy as described by current i and flux linkage λ
  • Most often the system in question, a motor or an electric generator at a power plant, are multiport— multiple energies and coenergies than can be described by the relationship as such
  • In order to perform these calculations path integrals are computed going along lines OB -> BA or OC -> CA

Coenergy calculations are actually not too complicated. A couple of integrals and derivatives and you’re there.

“Now we will just compute the coenergy as it has a much simpler integration.” My whirring thoughts came grinding to a halt as I tried to rationalize his statement. It had been two years but path integrals were about the only thing I remembered from multi-variable calculus. My hand shot up abnormally quick, wobbling my coffee thermos on the desk. He gave a slight nod in my general direction.

“Are we able assume the path is conservative because the system is electrically linear? Or do we have to check it?”

He smiled. “We can’t assume the system is conservative. You can never assume any two paths are the same.” He wasn’t referencing electrical engineering anymore.

Picture a mountain. There are easier and harder ways up the mountain that ultimately lead to the exact same point. Life is very similar, it is full of these destinations and points with a limitless number of possible paths. The main distinction, and by consequence the reason life is so much harder than electromechanics, is that we can’t calculate anything.

You want to climb higher up this abstract mountain of life, up to the heights of your dreams and goals. You see your peers there and you know their stories — their hardships, and sacrifices. But you cannot know what your journey will be along the path they took because in real life, no path is conservative. Life isn’t something you can integrate with respect to time and space and reduce to a function that describes when and where to walk. No matter what steps you take, guessing and theorizing, you will never know if you are taking the best path forward. Even worse, when it is all said and done, and you have either failed or succeeded, you won’t be able to know what other paths would have resulted to.

Knowing the unknown path is futile, looking forward and even in retrospect. I sat through the rest of the class trying to decide how I should feel about this. Am I mad that I’ll never know what lies ahead and what could have been? Or would knowing torment me more than anything else ever could?

“It is imPERative you check that the flux linkage and current partial derivatives to make sure they match up. If they do not, your path is not conservative and you can’t solve for the energy values.”

“What can we do then?”

“Write down that the path is not conservative. But that’s it, nothing else.”