Field Recording Adventure No.1

Something of a historic day yesterday. I was out and about for the first time as a fully fledged field recordist! I got a sound devices recorder over Christmas as mentioned here. I am continuing to research suitable microphones (it’s taking ages) but in the meantime I got a matched pair of these tiny clippy EM172 mics from

These inexpensive little mics have a very low noise floor and are actually more sensitive than the well regarded DPA 4060s, but at a fraction of the price:

So with recorder and mics in hand off I went to Gold Coast beach.

I was going to lay the mics some stones but instead used my animal cunning and used some sticks as makeshift mic stands. The waves were coming up past the sticks, which would be heart-attack inducing with expensive mics, but with these little EM172s I was fine with the risk.

The stereo image is a bit too wide and it would sound better back from the water by say 5 meters to lessen the wash…but it’s a field recording nonetheless and it was super fun to make!

So sit back with a glass of salt water and enjoy:

70s Guitar Tone for Tuesday

The early 70s had some of the best rock guitar sounds ever recorded. Leading the way for me were the sounds of Mick Ronson and Jimmy Page.

Here is the guitar pedal that was a central part of both of their sounds. Introducing the tonebender pedal Mk1:

The pedal itself was based on the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone, built around three germanium transistors (shown below in red).

The circuit isn’t complicated (apparently!) but the hundreds of clones that have since been produced never quite capture the raw, blooming sustain that is the tone signature of the original.

If you want to dive deep into the way the circuitry developed (form an orderly queue people) this blog post is brilliant —you’ll have to translate it from Japanese into English:

So, how does the pedal sound?

Listen to most anything from Bowie’s Spiders from Mars period and the wailing guitar solos will be all tonebender…to recreate the sound yourself you’d also want a Les Paul, a Marshall and a half cocked crybaby as well but the tonebender will get you the sustain and upper harmonics. When you really start to crank the dials on the pedal it starts to sound as if the space-time continuum is being torn apart. Skip ahead to 2:15 in the recording of ‘Time’ below to see what I mean:

Jimmy Page was a big fan too. Here’s a clip from the documentary ‘This might get loud’ where he speaks about it and plays a few classic riffs:

Every time I listen to these tracks I usually end up on eBay to see what deals I can find on an original tonebender. It’s never good news though, they’re about $700 USD.

One day I will get one… one day!

Back to School! How the Economic Machine Works

How The Economic Machine Works’ is an animation written and narrated by Ray Dalio.

I have close to zero interest in economics but I like the idea of exploring different topics with a beginner’s mind so this video seemed perfect.

I’m reading Charles Duhigg’s ‘Smarter, Faster, Better’ right now and in the third chapter he spoke of how effective people are constantly building and testing ‘mental models’ and theories to understand and connect events that happen. In this video, billionaire philanthropist Ray Dalio summarises his own mental model of the economic machine. As my own economic mental models are pretty basic, I sat down with my iPad, some paper and a cup of tea and got to work!

Have a look, it’s completely watchable:

Better than you thought right?

A 4-minute summary:

The economy is made up of all of the transactions across all of the markets. If you understand transactions you can understand the whole economic system (apparently!)

Transactions happen when money or credit are exchanged for goods, services or financial assets.

Transactions drive the three main forces that make up the economy:

  1. Productivity Growth
  2. Short Term Debt Cycle
  3. Long Term Debt Cycle

The productivity growth line represents increasing living standards and output over time. Hardworking types raise their productivity faster than less hardworking types but on average you see growth.

The short-term debt cycle introduces credit. Credit is the most important part of transactions (and least understood) as it creates cycles. When credit is freely available you get more spending, more income and even more credit and an upturn in the debt cycle. At the top of the cycle, a high debt burden makes credit unsustainable as people struggle to pay back money. So credit becomes less available as the government raises interest rates. Transactions and spending slow down as the cycle takes a downturn — this is called a recession. At the bottom of the cycle the government will stimulate an up-cycle by lowering interest rates. The cycle repeats on a slight upward trajectory…until the long-term cycle kicks in….

The long-term debt cycle is basically the same, only on the back end of the downturn lowering interest rates won’t help as it would in a recession because interest rates will be low already. This is a deleveraging — as in 2008 — resulting in a 2-3 year depression followed by a 7-10 reflation period. This is the shit hitting the fan. Not a good experience for anyone.

He goes into more detail but that’s basically it. That took longer than I thought, but trying to sort through this in my own head was a good exercise.

His three rules to sign off:

“…because your debt burdens will eventually crush you!”
“…because you’ll eventually become uncompetitive”
“…because in the long run that’s what matters most”

Thanks Ray, some great advice.

The Best Email Newsletters I Subscribe to: Part 2

Right on the heels of yesterday’s cliffhanger…

…here’s what’s left:

3 more email newsletters from three more creative, generous writers who consistently share good stuff. Without further ado, and in no particular order:

4.Austin Kleon has a weekly newsletter based around art, writing and creative enterprise. I loved ‘Steal like an Artist’ and wrote about ‘Show your Work’ here. He’s got another book coming out in a couple of months: ‘Keep Going’. His newsletters can sometimes be pretty dense, but I always manage to find a few golden nuggets:

5.Zen Habits is the work of Leo Babauta. He writes about minimalism, motivation, compassion, habit creation, healthy eating (from a vegan perspective), parenting, happiness and mindfulness. Lots of value here and his emails feel like fresh air. You may even be tempted by some of his courses, as I sometimes am:

6.Ryan Holiday is a best selling author. He writes on great topics and while some of his books are worth reading I don’t think of him as a great writer (sorry Ryan!) What he is though is an avid reader and fantastic curator of reading lists. He sends out his monthly reading list at the end of each month, and every time I’ve read one of his recommendations, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

So that’s it. That’s the 6 emails I look forward to. Hope there’s something here of interest.

Anything I’ve missed? Recommendations most welcome.

The Best Email Newsletters I Subscribe to: Part 1

Most of us are completely swamped in email.

But we only have so much mental bandwidth each day and I for one don’t want to use it filtering emails. So I unsubscribe from everything I can…..except:

Six emails from creative, talented people who consistently share thought provoking ideas and insight. Most are weekly emails.

So without further ado:

1.Wait But Why is the work of Tim Urban. He takes unique deep dives on a wide range of topics, releasing a new post “every sometimes”. He has a knack for simplifying complicated issues and he’s hilarious. There’s enough in his archives to keep anyone going for a long time. Start with his brilliant “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate” which is also a TED lecture. He throws in some fairly adult language though, so kids, you’ve been warned.

Click photos to go to page

2.Seth Godin doesn’t need much of an introduction. Celebrated author and inspirational thinker has one of the most subscribed blogs on the planet. He writes everyday, sometimes just a sentence or two. Business / modern marketing focus that spills over into all aspects of life. Lots of wisdom here.

3.Brainpickings is the life work of Maria Popova. She seems to be about the most widely read person in the universe with near perfect recall of every important book ever written. Well almost! Her Sunday email requires special attention — you can’t do it justice reading on the go. You have to sit and give yourself 20 mins. This blog is a labour of love and her writing reminds me of a flowing river.

There’s the first three.

Tomorrow, part 2. I know, I know….it’s a cliffhanger!

Book 2: The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.

William James

What a brilliant, brilliant book.

What a surprise too. I have seen this book hundreds of times in shops and owned it for a few years. It looked like an important book to read but I had no idea just how readable it was, nor how immediately practical and useful it would be.

Honestly this book will make you rethink your own life — in a good way. You’ll see your own constellation of habits and routines in a different way. It will give you a deeper understanding of your behaviour, show you how intimately we are tied to our own particular habits and it will help you build a roadmap to actual change.

Upon finishing this book, I went online straight away and bought a hard copy to have at home— something I have only done 2 or 3 times in the past 150+ books.

As well, I also pushed aside my scheduled read to continue reading the author. I picked up his second book ‘Smarter, Faster, Better’ last year and though I’m vary of productivity books — Duhigg is a master writer who will no doubt bring his unique skillset to bear on the topic. He pulls resources and research from far and wide, which is not surprising given his day job as an investigative journalist for The New York Times but he also has a surprising gift for pace and narrative — reminiscent of someone like Malcolm Gladwell.

If you need more detailed information there’s lots of reviews and summaries online, I just wanted to get across what an important read this is.

It should be on every high school curriculum.

If you’re late to the game on this one like me, buy this book and read it.

5 stars from me, this is a modern classic.

Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.

Benjamin Franklin

NEWS FROM SPACE! NASA New Horizons: Ultima Thule Update

Brian May gave us the soundtrack for the historic flyby last week (read/listen here ) but the first photo wasn’t the best, was it:

Sort of looks like they taped a $3 disposable camera on the probe to take these shots, but the images are getting better as the data slowly comes in.

In the newest pictures we’ve got confirmation of the ‘contact binary’ shape the NASA scientists predicted. It’s about 33km long by 16km wide and looks like a creepy turtle bird with bad intentions:

There’s also a 3D image you can see with red/blue glasses. Ahhh…3D..

I’m looking forward to more information and photos being released — it is the furthest object we’ve ever explored after all.

I do find this all pretty fascinating. Perhaps it will shed some insight how the solar system was formed 4.5 billion years ago. So let’s wait and see what comes in over the coming months. Stay tuned!