Shady Transformers, David Byrne on Performance

Plus a look at humans from the outside in, and a bunch of bonus bananas too

Geniune shade. In an era of hyper-real imaging and printing, it’s easy to forget there are other badass styles. These creations by LEK Custom Toys are actual in-the-flesh figures painted to look like the old 2D shading of the cartoon. The background is also painted to match that look. I just…wow. It’s pretty amazing, both to have the idea to do and the execution here. There are lots more photos of work like this in LEK’s insta.

Byrne on Snapchat before Snapchat. I was hoping to find a full video of David Byrne’s talk at this year’s New Yorker Fest based on what I see in this Twitter thread, but no luck so far.

His explanation of the role of performance in his life is especially fascinating to me because it just never occurred to me. I was a shy, awkward kid through several eras as well, but I never thought to use performance as way to let more of myself out. Any time I had to be on stage for something it was the opposite - I was 10X more anxious about how I’d appear to the crowd. I was terrified of doing something embarrassing. It takes incredible courage to flip that and think about it this way as something ephemeral, like we have with Snapchat today.

Also, for context - remember what I said a letter or so ago about sci-fi and living long enough to see the world change several times over:

The evident joy of pumpkin boat guy.

The PARTY RACE everyone warns their children about. This thing and this worthwhile thread that I’m dropping you in the middle of kind of speaks for itself. It’s a set of observations about how humans must look as a species to other beings in other worlds, and what our relationships with an imagined space congress would look like. It so smartly encapsulates how the same traits that are incredibly endearing in us are also kind of sinister when you take a giant step back.

Bonus bananas: One of the most innovative coin makers around made a coin with a mechanical heart. A table of how little musicians can make from streaming. A video game composer who enjoys making songs for video games that don’t exist.

Those are the bananas I have for you this week. You can hit reply and it’ll go only to me. You can also inquire about joining our Slack team, if you wish. Thank you.

Sincerity, gravity, and harmony

It’s almost tomorrow, but it isn’t. As long as there’s a little bit of Thursday left, there are a few things I want to show you.

Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe. It’s probably always going to be fashionable to dismiss sincerity with snark. In the current cultural moment, it feels almost subversive to hold up as important things like warmth and childlike play. Ian Bogost crafted a tender, thoughtful, insightful profile of children’s author Sandra Boynton for The Atlantic, and I’ve been sitting on the link for some reason. I’ve had it in my bookmarks for a couple of days now and just finally read it tonight.

I’d like to say I’ve been holding it back in a kind of savoring of the thought of it, knowing it was going to be great. But I don’t think that’s it. I think I was afraid I’d have to let something of myself go in order to fully embrace it. Does that make sense? Boynton is an element of my childhood, and I associate her with saccharine sweet line art and innocuous punning. And probably with some of the ick of being a teenager looking back at the things you liked as a child. I’m an Ian Bogost fan, and I assumed he’d have taken her up as a subject because there’s a lot there. But I wondered what I’d have to check at the door in order to go on the article’s journey. And what of my own past moments of callous snark I’d have to surface, acknowledge, and accept. It was Yom Kippur week, of course.

I want to give it to you without much framing beyond that, to let you have your own honest reaction in case you start in a similar spot. I do want to share this snippet of an anecdote about Boynton being accepted to a Maurice Sendak seminar at Yale - accepted but also not accepted:

She was accepted, so she figured Sendak must have liked it. Not so much. When the two met, Sendak dismissed the portfolio as “greeting-card art.” But that only emboldened her. “It occurred to me that making and selling my own greeting cards would be a much better summer job than the waitressing I’d done unhappily the previous summer,” she told me.

It gave me the point of entry I needed to drop my baggage or my old, foggy lenses and learn about Boynton anew, as an artist and a person.

Here’s that link again.

Well that looks pretty easy. This satisfying video shows what it looks like to take down a very tall radio tower with just one metallic snip.

The Singing Road. There’s a stretch of Route 66 near Albuquerque that plays “America The Beautiful” with your tires if you drive right at the speed limit.

There is something so fundamental and so great about this. I assumed it had been around for a good long while, like maybe since the heyday of Route 66. Nope, it was a DOT project completed just five years ago. As you might have guessed, they created it by inserting vibrating metal pieces of precise lengths and amounts into the asphalt.

“…anything that vibrates 330 times in one second will produce an E note—a guitar string, a tuning fork or even a tire. To produce an E note with a car, we had to space the rumble strips such that if driven at 45 mph for one second, the car would hit 330 strips. A bit of math tells us this is 2.4 inches between each rumble strip. After that, it’s a case of breaking down the music into exact chunks of time and applying the same technique to each space depending on what note is needed and for how long.”

Bonus bananas: Get chills watching and listening to Phil Collins working the drum fill from In The Air Tonight, and check out a few photos from the Bhagavad-Gita Diorama museum in LA.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. You can hit “reply” and it’ll go only to me. Thank you.

Locusts, Blackbirds and Dragons

(a)Surviving on what's abundant, (b)the sci-fi lens, and (c)just because you can, doesn't mean you should

I missed you all last week - sometimes things just get super busy. I’m excited to have three fresh bananas for you today.

Locusts as staple crop. This is a really well told story about a pretty grave fact of life right now. Insect-based protein is all the rage as a curiosity and even a luxury wellness item here, but in war-ravaged Yemen, a plague-level infestation of locusts that feasted on anything left have quickly become the most viable staple food source. This short doc shows you what that really means for individuals, families, and merchants. Who catches locusts? How are they shared and sold? At what scale is this happening? How perishable are they - can they be converted into other forms of currency? And do they qualify as Halal (bonus reading)? If they don’t, what if you have no other choices for sustenance?

Watch the short Al Jazeera segment.

The Dragon-Blackbird and the sci-fi lens. I was captivated by these hybrid military-tech-and-myth creations (found via Dan Hon), done by artist Alex Jay Brady.

This stuff sparked my imagination in an extremely unexpected way. I have been a poor reader of Sci-fi, but it has recently struck me that the longer you live, the more reality warps and morphs before your eyes. And as that happens the more useful Sci-Fi is as a lens through which to think about the elasticity of it all.

Here’s another bit along those lines, about how the notion of zombies and vampires might inform military weaponry, from John Robb, also from Dan Hon’s feed:

Fiction and non-fiction aren’t shelved separately in life as they are in a bookstore. Ideas come from and go to everywhere.

Just give us the throttles that we can use. Latest isn’t necessarily greatest, although that pair seem to be inseparable in corporate environments. Sometimes a switch or a knob is worlds better than a digital interface. I know with making music, there’s still something about manipulating knobs, levers, wheels, and dials that engages a different part of your brain. I love digital interfaces sometimes too, but there seems to be a time for each, and one in no way reigns supreme or universal.

The story I’m sharing here demonstrates that notion that much simpler tools and technologies are sometimes far preferable to newer, cooler, more advanced gear. It just depends what the need is and how it’s best met. The Navy recently decided to go back to physical throttles and helm systems on destroyers as part of the follow-up to recent high profile collisions. It’s fascinating to hear their leadership explain what’s up. These are excerpts from Program Executive Officer for Ships Rear Adm. Bill Galinis, at a keynote speech:

“As a result of innovation and a desire to incorporate new technology, ‘we got away from the physical throttles, and that was probably the number-one feedback from the fleet – they said, just give us the throttles that we can use.’”

“When we started getting the feedback from the fleet from the Comprehensive Review effort – it was SEA 21 (NAVSEA’s surface ship lifecycle management organization) that kind of took the lead on doing some fleet surveys and whatnot – it was really eye-opening. And it goes into the, in my mind, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ category. We really made the helm control system, specifically on the [DDG] 51 class, just overly complex, with the touch screens under glass and all this kind of stuff.”

Photo of physical, manual controls instead of fully tech-ed out touchscreens

It’s a remarkably clear-eyed and astute observation, and one that merits consideration far more often than is fashionable out in the world.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. You can hit “reply” and the email will go only to me. Help me spread the word if you like getting these. And thank you.

Bananas about music, again

The Lithophone, Miles and Super Mario, and Prince's contribution to Stand Back

This is a YouTube heavy bunch of bananas. It also just so happened to all relate to music - I didn’t plan it to have a theme. They just presented themselves to me.

Ring ring ring ring, lithophone. There’s a captivating video that made the rounds on Twitter, of a guy playing stones as if they were a melodic xylophone. The tones deliver far beyond what I expected.

It got me. Like really captivated me. It’s so unexpectedly harmonious. I hadn’t spent a ton of time thinking about ancient musical instruments before, and now I want to know everything! It turns out this is an emerging field, called archaeoacoustics, which is really in its beginning stages.

Lithophones are also known as rock gongs, and they are one of a number of instrument types that we think have been around for a really long time - like at least 7,000 years. They’ve been discovered in archaeological digs all over the world. Since they’re pretty straightforward and made of stone, it’s a lot easier to imagine how they might have been played as compared to something like a bone flute fragment. With the latter, the reed or mouthpiece or thing you put up to your mouth determines a great deal about what it’ll sound like tuning-wise, and those aren’t found intact.

In a helpful backgrounder article on Open Culture, I found this great video clip from the British Museum, a conversation between rock and roll drummer Liam Williamson and archaeologist Cornelia Kleinetz, in which he messes around for a while with what seems to be an ancient rock drum.

Miles Davis and the Super Mario Brothers theme song(s). I’m chalking this up to lore for now. Bass player Michael Henderson from the 70’s Miles Davis bands suggests that some of the motifs from Pangaea and Agartha, two legendary live albums Miles and band recorded in the same day in Japan in 1975, sound remarkably like the theme music for the legendary video game. The video game theme would be released ten years later and was composed by Koji Kondo.

In the 2012 clip, Henderson and his current band play some nice choice snippets from the Mario music, too.

Search twitter and you’ll find a zillion people who have also compared the Miles jam Calypso Frelimo from 1973 to the underground music in Mario. I’m not gonna lie, the “dunna dunna dunna” sounds a hell of a lot like the bass line in this jam. You’ll know when you hear it in the song. It’s worth a listen on its own merits, whether or not there’s some kind of a connection there. There are a ton of sounds he had going on in 1973 that predict, influence, or otherwise some of the aesthetics of 8-bit sound much later.

Yet another demonstration of Prince’s uncanny virtuosity. I found this one via a Reddit thread. It turns out that not only did Prince contribute the synth part for Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” (a song that I like to think of as a historical nod to the Stamp Act of 1765), but he just kind of waltzed up to the keys and reeled it off like it was not a thing. In Nicks’ own words:

“I phoned Prince out of the blue, hummed a melody, and he listened," says Nicks of the latter hit's gestation. "I hung up, and he came over within the hour. He listened again, and I said, 'Do you hate it?' He said, 'No,' and walked over to the synthesizers that were set up, was absolutely brilliant for about twenty five minutes, and then left. He was so uncanny, so wild, he spoiled me for every band I've ever had because nobody can exactly re-create - not even with two piano players-what Prince did all by his little self.”

Check out her extended recollections about creating Stand Back.

Bonus Bananas: A tribute to the loading sounds of the old floppy disk-loaded video games. Sounds a little like some of that rock gong stuff.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. Help me spread the word if you like what I bring you each week. I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but there’s a small Slack community of banana readers that I run. It’s a really warm place to hang out online, and doesn’t demand too much of your time. If that interests you, drop me a note.

And as always, you can hit “reply” and your note will go only to me. Thank you.

Harvest mice and quasiparticles

Plus, a look at the John Grimshaw collection

The enviable digs of harvest mice: This seems good for everyone involved, especially the photograph peruser.

Quasiparticles for bananaheads. The blurb for a fascinating science article posted in Reddit reads like this:

“Researchers have gained control of the elusive “particle” of sound, the phonon, the smallest units of the vibrational energy that makes up sound waves. Using phonons, instead of photons, to store information in quantum computers may have advantages in achieving unprecedented processing power.”

It sounded awesome, but when I dug in to the challenging Scientific American article it links, I fumbled to extract much out of it other than the headline. When I turned to the Reddit comments, there were a few things that seemed important (“photons are real particles, but phonons are theoretical constructs used for calculation”) that I had trouble grasping beyond the surface meaning.

A ways down the Reddit thread, a grad student with the username Wiz_Kalita jumped in with a beautiful and compact explanation of one of the key concepts. It gave me a much-needed foothold in really heady stuff, and it saved my ass from closing the tab in frustration.

In layman's terms, particles are things. Quasiparticles aren't things, but rather phenomena that follow the same mathematics as particles. For example, a wave on the sea isn't a particle, there isn't a mass of water that is drifting on top of all the other water. It's just collisions that move along, very much like a phonon. The wave could be said to be a quasiparticle, if it were on the quantum scale. You could also look at cars in rush traffic. One car moves and there is a gap between it and the car behind. The next car moves to fill the gap, and a gap appears behind it. If you look from a distance, you can see the gap moving along the road. But the gap isn't a real thing, it's just the absence of cars. The gap is analogous to another quasiparticle called a hole, which is when there isn't an electron.”


He built this a while back and it remains a little spectacular. I don’t have the right words to describe everything that unfolds in this Twitter thread. Jeannette Ng, the original poster, gives us a tour of this collection of amazing stuff her uncle is amassing in his 25+ sheds. I haven’t unearthed too much of his backstory except that his name is John Grimshaw and he also shows some of his stuff off on Pinterest.

(From this tweet, with “He built this a while back and it remains a little spectacular.”)

Just click in to the below Tweet and start scrolling for an amazing visual adventure.

Bonus banana: A super fun stop-motion animation of a non-binary office bat, with every frame done in real embroidery.

Those are the bananas I found for you this week. I have some news from elsewhere in the Extraface universe as well. Check out this week’s Wednesday (Barbed Wire) and Thursday (Monosodium Glutamate, MSG) episodes of the podcast Stuff You Should Know, in which the hosts give me a kind and thoughtful shoutout in the introductions. If you’re not already a listener, you have over a decade of podcast goodness to dig in to from those guys.

Also, a special shoutout to everyone at the XOXO festival this year, which kicked off today. I’m envious of the good times I know you will have. Please report back!

You can hit “reply” and the email will go only to me. Thank you.

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