I, Ryan Ray

Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 2  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC
Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray – Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 2  – Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

“I, Ryan Ray, released the MacMillan source code.

I acted alone and nobody told me to do it.

I did this because security is a myth.

Contrary to what you might have heard, my friend, you are not safe. Safety is a story, it’s something we teach our kids so they can sleep at night, but we know it’s not real.

Beware baffled humans, beware false prophets who will sell you a fake future of bad teachers, corrupt leaders and dirty corporations.

Beware of cops and robbers, the kinds that rob your dreams. But most of all, beware of each other.

The world is going to crack wide open. There is something on the horizon. A massive connectivity. The barriers between us will disappear, and we’re not ready.

We’ll hurt each other in new ways, we’ll sell and be sold, we’ll share our most tender selves only to be mocked and destroyed. We’ll be so vulnerable, and we’ll pay the price.

We won’t be able to pretend that we can protect ourselves anymore. It’s a huge danger, a gigantic risk, but it’s worth it, if only we can learn to take care of each other, then this awesome new connection won’t isolate us.

It won’t leave us in the end so totally alone.”

– Final statement of Ryan Ray,  December 18, 1986.

Synthfest UK 2016

Synthfest UK - 50

Yesterday, I caught the train up to lovely, leafy Sheffield and had fun wandering around Synthfest UK 2016.

Now, pretty obviously, there were many synthesizers there. Rare old analogue beasts like this EMS Synthi:

Synthfest UK - 48

And the latest digital doodads like this nifty Modal hunk:
Synthfest UK - 17

There were three areas, all of them packed with geeks playing and prodding and eyeing the stacks of modules available for sale. I had a play on the above Modal synth as well as fiddling with various modular setups as I passed. It was just *beautiful* to be able to see so much gear, much of it esoteric, in one place and there to use. I felt a bit stunned, to be honest and I’m sure more than a few fellow geeks I passed had the same glazed expression. We were like tiny, tiny children who’d been let into a toyshop and told we could play with anything. Where do you start?
Synthfest UK - 43

The main hall was filled with the most incredible burbling, bleeping, warbling cacophony of sound. It sounded like Bebe and Louis Barron scoring a Krell riot. The most popular bits of gear had lengthy queues of fidgety suitors, the least popular had a couple of people sitting behind a table, issuing the occasional desultory squawk.

I got to meet a couple of Sound On Sound peeps which was lovely, actually putting faces to names. We had lunch and ranted about various things but I admit, I indulged in a lot of shop talk because, hey, music tech geeks! I couldn’t resist!
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Then, later, I bumped into my old mate Stephen Bennett who I know from waaay back when I was living in Norwich. And he introduced me to his mate Jarrod, from I Monster. We coffeed and, again, argued vigorously about music tech. It was lovey to catch up with Stephen and meet Jarrod. Got to love someone who can appreciate a fine organ.

Then, back upstairs and back to the stridulations and twiddling. Oh, so much twiddling.

By the time I left, I was knackered and slightly deaf thanks to some geezer doing really heavy tweaking of the Oberheim at the GForce booth. But I was very happy to have been at such a vibrant event, crammed with gear and geeks. There’s a Flickr gallery below that will give a tiny slice of the day:

Synthfest UK - 01

I wonder what they’ll do for Synthfest UK 2017? :-O


Pulsar JO437-4715


I find it outrageous that pulsar JO437-4715 rotates at 173.7Hz.

This is a star almost twice as massive as our sun, whipping itself around, a full rotation every 5.75ms.

What’s the fastest you can spin yourself round? I’m guessing it’s a lot less than 174Hz and you’re considerably smaller than JO437-4715.

I dunno. Astrophysics is more fantastic than most fiction I read.

joe clock

@protozoaradio? – this baby is apparently accurate enough to be used as a clock, it’s accurate to one part in 1015  

Gina Carano


I first saw Gina Carano in the utterly brilliant Steven Soderbergh film, Haywire(2011).

I knew nothing about her MMA background then, all I knew is that this woman was utterly convincing as a super-badass agent. Unlike so much fighting in spy / action / superhero films, here was a protagonist who moved like a real fighter: the fluidity, the snakelike striking speed. SO FUCKING AWESOME. But it wasn’t just her fighting chops, she easily held her own against Michael Fassbender and has a wonderful, slow-burning cafe scene with Channing Tatum. And the fight scene with Fassbender?? The most disturbing fight scene I’ve seen since the Krav Maga in The Bourne Identity.

Next time was in Fast & Furious 6 in which she played a taciturn but equally physically capable federal agent. Obviously, she wasn’t the lead in this so there’s not enough Carano screen time. Something I hope will be remedied when she takes the lead in the live-action adaptation of Avengelyne

Avengelyne was the most feared warrior in Heaven’s Warhost, having single-handedly broken into Pandemonium, the outer fortress of Hell, to confront the Devil himself. She is a fallen angel, banished from Heaven by God after being tricked into questioning his love for humans. Avengelyne was stripped of all her angelic abilities, other than her great strength and her blood, which, once extracted from her body, could be used as a weapon or a miracle once empowered by quoting verses from the Bible. Although he appeared truly angry, God was trying to prepare Avengelyne for a coming war for which she would need to be strengthened. (Source: Wikipedia)

Oh yeah. She is going to be magnificent!

And you’ll be seeing her in 2016 in Deadpool as Angel Dust….

The EMAX II Saga


The sampler that I wrote Your Woman on, the sampler at the heart of a lot of my music twenty years ago was the EMAX II.

It was my first real sampler and I went mental on it. My previous experience was with a Boss RSD-10 which was wonderful but if you didn’t get the sample right first time, you were fucked. The Emax was a real sampler: editing, capture, mangling, envelopes, filters… So, I bought a load of floppies and went mad on it.

Wind forward to around 2000 or so. Sampling tech has moved on. The Emax II, which came out in 1989, was getting long in the tooth. And its 2Mb memory seemed limiting. So, I moved forward too, getting an Emulator 4XT rack unit. Eventually, I gave my Emax II away to a mate, knowing it would find a good home.

The years passed. Tech advanced inexorably, as it does. I bought other hardware samplers and never sampled into them. They were great as playback machines but the ease of sampling on the Emax was completely missing. Eventually everything became In The Box. I was a Logic Pro user, why did I even need an external sampler when I had EXS24 to play with? Here was a a soft sampler that could run rings around my missing friend in every way. Surely I could do loads of sampling with this fantastic doodad?

Well, nope.

Like the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on you. And the best sampler is not the one with the highest specs or biggest library or most keygroups, it’s the one you actually use for sampling. I don’t want to play back other people’s sounds, I want to create my own sounds, sounds that no other human has ever heard before. I wanted an Emax II again!

Last year, after searching and waiting and searching and waiting again, I found one on Ebay. It wasn’t expensive but by the time I’d shipped it from the US and paid the hefty customs charge, it certainly wasn’t cheap.

When I unwrapped it, something rattled. I pretended I hadn’t heard it and hefted it into my studio. I plugged in my step-down transformer (don’t want to forget that and fry the poor thing!) and booted. And it worked! It even read my old floppy disks and I could load my Your Woman bank of sounds. That was spooky, hearing sounds that I’d created but not heard in over fifteen years. But for me to use the Emax II now, as a working sampler, it had to work with modern storage. So, I bought one of these:


With this drive, I could fool the Emax into thinking it was talking to a hard drive when it would actually be talking to a compact flash card shoved into a PCMCIA adaptor. Do you see the levels of tech crust involved here? CF cards themselves are on the way out now, everything seems SD or MicroSD but here’s a CF card pretending to be a PCMCIA card shoved into a slot of a drive pretending to be an ancient SCSI hard drive. It’s so beautifully baroque!

It didn’t work.

I spent hours, days fucking around with the SCSI buss and the terminators, remembering every moment what a huge pain in the arse SCSI was back then. I bought another SCSI drive. That didn’t work either. I bought a SCSI Zip drive and that didn’t work. It was then that I had to face the painful realisation that the SCSI on my freshly-bought Emax II was, in all likelihood, fucked.

I gave it a kiss, shed a tear and after wrapping it in a blanket, I put it to rest in the Great Wardrobe of Elderly Keyboards in my spare room.

I tried to put it all behind me. Forget it all. But, while I had had it working, it sounded amazing. I expected it to sound a bit ropey but characterful, you know, like when you go back to an old video game that you remember looking fabulous but now it just looks like some Lego wombling around. Not so with the Emax II. It had sounded wonderful. It had full, deep bass tones and that fabulous filter… it sounded better than anything softsamplers like the EXS24 could chuck out.

Then, a few weeks back, I was in the danger zone, browsing Ebay late at night and I saw… ANOTHER EMAX II! This one was in Britain. It wasn’t expensive. I had to have it. I HAD TO, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? DON’T JUDGE ME!

When it arrived, it looked perfect, in far better nick than the rather weary looking sibling I’d locked away upstairs. No rattles either. I turned it on – yaay, it booted! I loaded some floppies, they worked. And then…. the big test. I got the CF->SCSI drive and hooked it up, stuck a card and left it to format. Previously, this is where the other Emax would hang. I came back after half an hour and THE CARD WAS FORMATTED. It worked, friends, it fucking WORKED!

So, I started to transfer my decrepit floppies onto snazzy, solid-state flash storage. Put in my Your Woman floppies and… DISK ERROR. CRC ERROR. ERROR after ERROR.

I almost wept then. I think a lesser geek would have built a bonfire of eccentric vintage samplers and had done with it. But that ain’t me, babe. I’ve wired Ethernet sockets, I’ve created Frankenstein-monster earbuds by soldering the tiny wisps of wiring onto new drivers, I’ve degaussed tape heads with pure thought energy… I wasn’t going to be beaten.

As a long shot, I took the SCSI drive with the formatted card upstairs and booted the other Emax after connecting it. Apprehensively, I  told the Emax to scan the SCSI bus and THE DRIVE WAS THERE! Looking online, I’d read that different Emaxes could be very temperamental with SCSI but sometimes worked when presented with a working, formatted drive. Look, I know it sounds mental but don’t question it, alright? I took all the floppies the new Emax II couldn’t read upstairs and then loaded them on the old one and then copied the banks over to the CF card.


I brought the drive back downstairs, crossed my fingers and booted and then…



So, now I have a lovely Emax II back in my studio. I’ve been sampling on it, getting into that whole Alan Wilder vibe with it, y’know:

With the CF storage, it transcends hipster gear fetishism and is a viable, modern instrument.

More than that, the Emax II remains a beautiful instrument. It’s the easiest sampler to sample on and its converters and filters give it a character that no modern samplers, soft or otherwise, can match. It is alive, like a piano or guitar, it is unpredictable, capricious and utterly, utterly marvellous.

The Fairy of Eagle Nebula

Appearing like a winged fairy-tale creature poised on a pedestal, this object is actually a billowing tower of cold gas and dust rising from a stellar nursery called the Eagle Nebula. The soaring tower is 9.5 light-years or about 90 trillion kilometres high, about twice the distance from our Sun to the next nearest star.
(Source: Hubble)

This is happy/sad. Happy because just this existing is fabulous. Sad because I was born in the wrong millennium so I’ll never get to see it with my own eyes.

And, if humanity keeps going the way we are, we’ll probably obliterate ourselves before we’ve even reached the asteroid belt, let alone 6,500 light-years away.

Happy Birthday, Alan Mathison Turing

100 years ago today, Alan Mathison Turing was born.

One of my all-time heroes. The man who invented computing, the concept of the universal machine you’re reading this on and one of the finest minds ever.

Without him, Britain wouldn’t have survived the German Atlantic blockades and we would very likely been invaded / lost the war.

He was gay and got persecuted by the police and state for it, maybe resulting in his suicide. Or perhaps he was killed by MI5 as a security risk, who knows? I love the fact that the Nazis were dealt a death-strike by a homosexual. Coupled with all the Jewish scientists that fled to work with the Allies, it’s poetic justice.

On top of his supreme geekery, he was also an Olympic-class athlete! Any time I start to feel a bit bigheaded, I think of Alan Mathison Turing and realise what an insignificant, rubbish human being I am in comparison.

Happy Birthday, Alan! Thanks for the computer! And thanks for helping us defeat fascism! <3 <3 <3

Chocolate Pengies!

Choc pengie

I decided to make my own chocs using Green & Black’s 85% chocolate plus seeds, nuts and dried fruit from Soundbites in Derby.

They came out pretty much okay but the mold I used is actually intended for ice cubes. It’s a little too deep for chocs. But not bad for a first attempt! 🙂

Oh, and they’re very tasty.

Click the pic to see them being popped out of the mold! 🙂