Salon: discussing (not styling) in DTK

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About a week ago, I heard UW’s Critical Media Lab was hosting a salon discussion at 44 Gaukel, which is their Kitchener lair. My very good friend/maker/artist/man-from-the-future, Mr. Bernie Rohde (above) was to talk about his work. As I told Bernie afterward, I learn something every time he talks about what he makes.

The TL;DR is a triplet:
1. Bernie is an amazing maker of electronic art
2. This is the first in a set of three planned salon meetups, you should go.
3. There is a lot of value in going to an event on your own with no idea of who or what to expect: carpe everything.

I’ve got more for you here, but first, gotta give a shout out to my latest Patreon supporter, maker/professor/knowledge integrator Rob Gorbet. I’m up to 16 salt-of-the-earth folks kicking in per-story amounts of $1 to $5. This post is pledged for $29.01 and 80% of that goes to help me keep bringing you stories. If you dig my community-building work, please support it with your pocket change. Ok, now more story.

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I learned about this meetup via an email Marcel O’Gorman (CriMeLab founder) shot to the kwartzlab public discussion list. People *always* ask me how I find these interesting things to do. I consistently reply: “With an open mind and elbow grease.”

Bernie made this anthropomorphic piece above out of LED lights, wires and chips. It displays waveforms of ambient sound on the face. And it sparkles like gems when reacting to simple room noise. You may be more familiar with Bernie’s clocks which have been displayed all around town. Regardless of what he makes, there is a very sophisticated fusion of beauty and function and concept in his work. He is a fastidious craftsman.

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DIY community: electronic music with WTMC

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To state the obvious: you can build the community in which you want to live.

A week ago, I got together with some electronic music makers as they (well, we) put that into practice. My good friend and modest polymath, Matt Borland, mentioned at coffee late last year that he and a crew were starting a music meetup. I kept asking questions until he invited me. Not only do I love new meetups: I also have a bit of history hacking noisy electronics.

I’ve got more for you here, but first, gotta give a shout out to my latest Patreon supporters, Matt Borland himself and Ben Brown, kwartzlab and Maker Expo meta-maker.  If you dig my community-building work, please support it with your pocket change. Ok, now more story.

Matt, an engineer by training, builds sound-generating synthesizer circuits. I imagine that pursuit partly fueled his recent job change from UW and Conestoga College sessional instructor to audio gear product manager at a local firm. His expertise includes a fair chunk of research in vibration analysis and he wrote a helluva good doctoral thesis on characterizing piano soundboards (yeah, I read those).

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Inspired by the movie “I Dream of Wires” documenting the rise, fall and rebirth of synthesizer music, Matt was keen to create a community akin to the east coast scene that developed in the 60’s and 70’s around Don Buchla’s approach.

The most interesting community seedlings come from collaborations. The newly-formed Waterloo Tape Music Club (WTMC) is just that. Encouraged by artist Isabella Stefanescu (above left) who brought multi-disciplinary artists together in A Sense of Place project, Matt (centre) connected with others.

Joining in this Thursday night session, was Nik, Candy (seated) and Jess.

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1shot #251-Uptown Elvis hatch

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Met Brohemus for coffee this morning and caught this Elvis hatch on the side of the old Legion Hall. Hatch is Morrissey-compatible.

On Dupont, this is Waterloo.


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1shot #250-Uptown drillin’

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Core sampling on King Street today.

This is Waterloo.


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1shot #249-some sunny Sunday


“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…” –Dylan Thomas

On King Street uptown, this is Waterloo.


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I remember

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Private J. Foster, World War I, 1914-15 Star

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Man of the cloth takin’ it to the streets


An ordained Anglican minister and a photographer walk into a coffee shop…

It’s not a joke; rather it was a great way to follow up a crack-of-dawn photo shoot a few blocks away down King Street. Further on my talking-with-strangers exploration, I had just briefly met Reverend Jonathan Massimi (above) on Wednesday morning at Cam Dearlove’s Community Developer Breakfast. Jonathan ping’d me for a Friday coffee chat.

I’ve got more for you here, but first, gotta give a shout out to my latest Patreon supporter, Mr. Night\Shift himself: Eric Owen Rumble. If you dig my community-building work, please support it with your pocket change. Ok, now more story.

Jon just started with United Way in Uptown Waterloo about four months ago, not in a role of clergyman, but as an engager of community. He moved on from his 5-year post with the Counterpoint Church in Brantford where he still lives with his wife and two young kids. Something I liked about this guy right away is that everything he talked about was action-oriented: as in action he had already done. As James Bastow says “ideas are free”, and what really stands out is GSD.


I also appreciate Jon’s guerrilla approach and sense of humour around community engagement. Who writes a piece called “Jesus is Italian and so am I”? This guy.

My own worship tends more towards the champs of science like Richard Feynman and gods of photography like Towell, Burtynsky, McCurry and Mark, but I give big points to anyone who is working hard at street level to make this a better place to live. The more Jon and I chatted the more overlap we found in our general unconventionality.

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Doctorow talked digital freedom at UW

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I first became aware of author/blogger/activist Cory Doctorow in the web comic xkcd some time in the previous decade. What a perfect way to learn about someone. I pulled on that thread which got me started reading (since lapsed) the blog Boing Boing where Doctorow writes along with Mark Frauenfelder et al. It really blew my hair back when Doctorow, walking his talk on sane copyright evolution, released his (then) next book on the net for free under Creative Commons with no DRM. I learned he had taken this approach from the beginning of his career. So I downloaded his book, and yeah, it was all there.

Doctorow dropped by UW on Friday night from his now-home in L.A. and I went to hear his talk. More on that in a moment, but first: if you like what you read here, please consider supporting this community-building work with your pocket change. I’m no book-writin’ author, but I’ve been putting out this work for you for six years for free. I’ve been operating under a vague notion that if I take care of the community, then the community will take care of me. That’s not yet covering the $300+/wk grocery bill, but it’s starting to work. My new Patreon supporters this week who decided to be awesome (as Jesse Brown says) are a hat-trick of J’s: Jon Johnson, James Bastow, John Collinson and my pal Agnes Niewiadomski. Big thanks! Ok, back to the story…

Honestly, my first simple-minded reason to attend this talk was “Holy shit, Doctorow is giving a free talk only 2km from my house.” Let’s call this the Famous Person Motive. Actually, the FPM is just the straw that kicks the camel loose from the corral. I’m less interested in fame and more interested in what someone has to say. In person. So, alone I went on a rainy fall Friday night fueled with optimism.

The meal-sized reason I went to this talk was because Doctorow is working on solutions to a phenomenon that is freaking me the hell out. Increasingly, you don’t own the stuff you buy, you’re renting it. Example: my Honda Accord has some woefully buggy software in it. It randomly dumps all my contacts, turns off Bluetooth and features a voice recognition system that apparently hasn’t improved since the early ‘90’s. N-number of service appointments and “software updates” later: same behaviour. And I can’t, as a maker, take control of this situation because
#1 I don’t have the source code for my car and
#2 there are intentional system locks in the car I paid for that prevent me from fixing my car and #3 there exists in many jurisdictions some nutty legislation that makes it criminal for me to even try to understand and share how my car works, let alone patch it. This is generally and somewhat euphemistically called Digital Rights Management or DRM.

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I’m increasingly sensing this disturbance in the make-o-sphere, the effect of which is putting a chilling damper on our ability to understand the world in which we live. We’re not legally allowed to understand how our electronics work. We may not refill cartridges for our inkjet printers. We may not fix our cars. The new business model is recurring revenue by shackling consumers to the corporate mothership under the pretense of offering them extra value and/or safety and under the threat of legal prosecution for going your own way. It’s whacked and it must change before we descend completely into maker atrophy.

The photo above of an electronics tear-down? That’s how I partied the night before this talk. I salvaged that 1980’s-era cash register from a local dumpster ten years ago (no smiling, TDL, and thanks for catching it as I pushed it over the wall from the inside). The kids loved playing with it when they were younger and now before it goes back into the river of e-waste, I want to salvage and repurpose two parts of this: the receipt printer and the vacuum fluorescent display. That requires the very skills and curiosity that are being snuffed out by this prevailing and ill-advised prohibition on tinkering (and I rarely use that word). Last year I reverse engineered some CNC machine shop tools at our local high school to reanimate them after a decade of stasis. The manufacturer had gone out of business leaving the tools like alien technology: looks cool, but how to make it go? There’s a lot of value in being capable and resourceful in this domain, not just at the individual and community level, but as a country. So here’s the bigger problem…

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Talking with strangers and shooting film

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One of the most interesting ways I meet people is “friend referrals” out of the blue. That’s how I recently met teacher/photographer/furniture maker/synth hardware designer Matt Borland (above). My friend Rob Gorbet who chairs the Department of Knowledge Integration at UW said: “I wanted to introduce the two of you as I feel you should (get to) know each other.”

I’m going to tell you more about the benefits of talking with strangers, but I’ve got two things for you before that:
#1 If you like what you see/read here, please consider supporting this community-building work with your pocket change through Patreon. New contributors this week who decided to be awesome: Karen Scian, Jeremy Ladan and John Wynen.
#2 Matt will be delivering a collaborative piece Fri Oct 23 1-2pm at Felt Lab in St Jacobs. The Lab partnered with an engineer, a writer, a composer, and two artists from Inter Arts Matrix to create A Sense of Place. I know, it’s the middle of a workday, but register here for a free lunch and shift your hours so you can check it out in person and meet the makers. Ok, now more story…

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You’re going to see some photos here of cameras (meta!), but that’s really just a MacGuffin so we can talk about people coming together. Matt and I decided to meet for coffee in early September before my schedule got really nuts with Maker Expo stuff. I rolled in to Coffee Culture at King and Dupont uptown carrying my DroneBox project, which is a cardboard box with wires, motors, batteries, and an Arduino hanging off of it. Matt brought a portfolio of his photos. Talking With Strangers Pro-tip #1: conversation is easy when you start with “tell me about what you love to do.”

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1shot #248-three D


First game of the season.

On Father David Bauer Drive, this is Waterloo.


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