What did I do last year?

As 2018 is still just getting started, I wanted to take a look back at the things I did last year, partially to remind myself what’s possible to do in a year, but also to think about how I’ve been spending my time and how I might want to change that going forward. The biggest shift in 2017 was that I spent a lot more time on art and Making Things, and that definitely had a positive effect on my baseline happiness throughout the year. So, what have I built?

Orion Labs

A large part of my energy over the last four years has gone into building Orion Labs, both the company and the products. As Head of Product, I was the product manager for all of these things that we shipped in 2017:

It’s hard to enumerate the things that go into “building the company”, but I’m proud of who we are and I’m very grateful to be part of such an awesome team of people.



I spent most of my evenings and weekends from March through June creating Memoraudia, an interactive sound piece. It’s probably one of the most complex things I have built entirely on my own, and then it also got an extremely nice upgrade in the form of custom woodworking from my dad. So far it’s been seen at Audio Garden (more on that below), Priceless (thanks to an art grant), a company party, a weekend retreat, a strange punk art/science fair, and a hackers conference, where it even won a prize!

Audio Garden

I was looking for more non-festival events that featured interactive audio pieces, and I didn’t find any so I decided to host my own. I conscripted a bunch of sound designer friends of various levels and areas of expertise to contribute pieces, and gave them two guidelines: 1) no video screens, and 2) use as your inspiration something that you feel doesn’t have enough of a voice in the world. We converted my house into an audio gallery space for two evenings to show off 12 pieces that were each unique and amazing, and both nights were sold out well in advance. As an experiment, it turned out to be even better than I had hoped and I definitely want to do it again.


Postcards from Dreamland

Priceless is by far my favorite festival of the year, not just because I enjoy being there but also because I’m easily inspired by the venue and the community to make art that will bring joyful surprise and whimsy to the event. After taking Kodama-sama (another sound piece) to Priceless for two years in a row, I wanted to do something different. I came up with the idea of building miniature detailed scenes inside of mailboxes, and with the help of numerous friends, a Priceless art grant, and collaborator Marissa Emmer, we built scenes inside four mailboxes, each totally different and delightful. Since Priceless they’ve also traveled to a weekend retreat and a Light Salon (inspired by Audio Garden).


In the second half of the year, I started spending more time with the Explorers Guild. They had recently started adding waymarks to places they visited, and at one campout we started talking about ways that people who came across them could hear the story about that waymark. I designed and built a phone system where people can text in the index code from a waymark to 678-WAYMARK, and then get a response saying they could call the number to hear the story. You can also just call the number to hear more about waymarks and listen to some of our stories. Credit also goes to Justin Oliphant for most of the writing and voicing and general artistic collaboration.

Plus other random bits & pieces

Throughout these projects and other activities I’ve been able to level up my skills on a bunch of different things, including Python, deploying code on the internet, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, motors, electrical engineering, dremeling, papercraft, felting, making mashups, singing, and tango.

I’ve got some nebulous plans and ideas for 2018, some of which involve learning totally new things, but I seem to enjoy that so bring it on!

What I want

I have so many hours of things to do and not enough time to do them all. I can’t remember what was happening in the book I’ve been reading every night for the last week. But I also need some grounding right now, so I’m feeling my way through the things I want in my life and the things I don’t want.

I know that I want to craft beautiful and touching and impactful things. I want to make things that people connect with. I want to make things that don’t exist in the world, but should. I want to know that other people think those things should exist, too. And I want to meet those people, and know that we both had this same indescribable and complex yearning, and that that yearning could only be fulfilled by this thing that now exists because I made it. I want to bring joy and wonder and surprise and quietness and magic, and a place to just feel and not think, and to let them have that moment without having to do anything in return.

And I don’t want to be standing there, watching them, as if waiting for a “thank you” or “nice work” or “wow you’re so creative”. I don’t want to even be there at all. I just want the thing I made to be there in the world, and for people to know that someone else wanted the same thing that they wanted, and that it now exists.

I really dislike it when creators are hanging around their work, unavoidably inciting praise from visitors fabricated in the moment out of politeness. Or even worse, they police their work, and try to tell people how to experience it. This is a sure sign of failure. Look, artists: the worst thing you can do to someone who is trying to experience your art is to tell them they are experiencing it wrong. The second worst thing you can do is ask them to tell you, a complete stranger, what their experience was like, or ask them if they “liked it”. How can you possibly expect someone to be vulnerable and open and transformed in one moment, and then force them to make up some trite compliment or response to you in the next moment? You are not your art. They want to meet your art, talk to your art, hug it and ask it where it’s been all their life. But your art is not you. Don’t make them talk to you, don’t make them talk to anyone. Don’t make them halt this process of intricate emotions and memories and feelings just to cram them into polite and logical words and sentences. Just let them have their moment of openness, their vulnerability to something powerful, their transformation.

I love talking about art. I love digging in to the new emotional shapes and colors that art creates in me, and seeing if others’ emotions are the same shape and color. But this is processing, and analyzing, and comparing, and words. The conversation is not the experience. We crave the experience way more than we crave the conversations about experiences. I can’t tell someone to be joyful, or surprised, or contemplative, or wondrous. But I can give someone these feelings, someone I’ve never met, in ways they never expected. That’s what I want.

I’m used to it

So here’s the thing: I’ve been working in audio for 15 years now. I’ve done composition and various sound design projects, in theater and elsewhere. I worked at Meyer Sound for eight years, in product development. I’ve mixed FOH and monitors, recorded live orchestra performances, programmed show control touch screens, and drove around town hauling speakers from site to site in the middle of the night. I’ve worked directly with a lot of people in the audio industry, people with pretty much every related career imaginable: theme park designers, famous musicians, scientists, radio techs, engineers (of the audio, electrical, mechanical, production, manufacturing, network, and software varieties), designers, directors, A2s, audiologists, even actual tonmeisters

And across all the places I’ve worked, in professional audio, there’s one situation which has happened over and over again.

Imagine this: You’re starting a new gig, at a new venue, or with a new crew, a new town, whatever. You’re meeting the new people, getting things set up, figuring out who does what, and you’re all hanging out during a break. If you happen to be female, you get the doubting glances, the exchanging of questioning looks with others, the unspoken “Is she supposed to be here?” skepticism that requires you to repeat everything you say, followed up with some irrefutable proof that you know what you’re talking about.

But it’s ok… you get used to it.

And then it happens – some guy makes a misogynist comment, an inappropriate joke. He looks at you: “Sorry”, he says, in that challenging, sorry-not-sorry tone, waiting for you to either condone or condemn his behavior in front of the group.

The social pressure to accept is extreme – if you condemn them, you’re the outsider, you’re the one who can’t take a joke, you’re uptight, easily offended, and most ironically, they won’t respect you. 

So what do you do? 

“It’s ok…” you sigh, in a half-jokey long-suffering kind of way, or try to laugh it off convincingly, possibly bringing up some other time when you had to deal with similar or worse personalities.

“…I’m used to it.”

And maybe you are used to it. Maybe you’re used to it because it’s the same thing that’s happened at every other place you’ve ever worked. Maybe it’s something that you are required to get used to in order to just have the kind of job you want.

So here’s my question: Why is this a requirement in this industry? Or any industry? Why do I have to “get used to” men making “jokes” about women, acting unprofessional, talking down to me, and telling me immature sexist shit while I’m just trying to do my fucking job?

Who the hell wants to be exposed to that so much that they have to get used to it?

So please, don’t blame the women who chose to do something different for not being passionate enough, or knowledgeable enough, or interested enough to work in the audio industry – they definitely are. But it’s immediately clear, in any community, what kind of behavior is accepted or rejected, and you, as a member of your community, have the power to cast your vote on any behavior you see, good or bad. I consider myself fortunate to now be a part of communities and a workplace where this does not and would not happen. Consider what you want for your community, and act accordingly.

Sound Design Live Podcast Interview

Recently, I was interviewed by Nathan Lively for his Sound Design Live podcast. Along with making me realize how often I say “um”, it was also a fun way for me to talk about many of the things I’ve worked on throughout my sound design career so far, and how I got where I am today, in a way that is hopefully useful to others:

You can also check out the original post on Sound Design Live, with links to things I mentioned in the interview, here: Cables are Dead

Where is your brain?

Brain from PonPonPon

Where is your brain? You know, that voice in your head that you “hear” when you are thinking about something. Where is it located? Or, when you focus on being aware of your personal self. Where are “you” centered, in relation to your body or your head?

For me, that inner voice is located somewhere inside my head, to the extent that it has a location at all. Trying to find it feels a bit slippery, like when you try to scratch your own back, but can’t quite tell where the itchy part is.

What about when you are reading something, like these words right here? After a little bit of experimentation, I found that for me, it seems to depend on the amount of content I am reading. For instance, if I’m scanning around on a web page, just reading the links or navigation menus, the “sound” of the words seems to come from their location on the page. However, I noticed that when reading long paragraphs of text, the “sound” of the words tends to shift, so it feels more like they’re coming from inside my head. Why is that?

And then we get to images. Here’s an interesting experiment: close your eyes and picture a tree in your mind. No particular tree, just the first image that comes to mind when you think “tree”. Try to notice as many details about it as you can.

Done? Ok, now while keeping your tree in mind, consider these questions: Is it photo-realistic or cartoony? How similar is it to what you would draw on paper if I asked you to draw a tree? Where does the tree seem to be: is it in your head, in about the same place as your other thoughts?

Now for part 2: Close your eyes and imagine that you are looking at a tree that is about 20 feet in front of you. Where’s the tree now? In your head, or in front of you?

Where is your brain?


The brain image is from the music video Pon Pon Pon. WARNING: highly infectious material!

New Blog Design!

I’ve redesigned my blog! Check it out and let me know what you think. It’s my first time creating a WordPress theme, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. The new theme is built on the H5 theme by Chris Coyier & Jeff Starr of Digging Into WordPress fame. It was a great blank theme to build on.

I took the background photos a couple years ago, if you look closely at the highway sign you can see it’s for the Ashby and Shellmound exit in Emeryville.

Special thanks to Davin Huston and Stephanie Geerlings for their incredibly helpful guidance and advice!

In addition to the new design, I’ve also got some new blog posts in the works that will be showing up here over the next couple of weeks. So there will soon be some new content as well!

Thanks for reading!


Today I went across the street to a friend’s apartment to consume some maple 5-spice roasted peanuts she made, drink beer, and take photos of a bunch of the stuff decorating her apartment. Here are a couple of my favorites:

That last one is called “Ducks and Butts”. Just in case you were wondering.

I took a bunch of photos of her other doodads, but they’re not quite up to my exacting artistic standards. Again, still learning and experimenting, but having fun doing so!

New toy: Canon PowerShot S90

One of my Christmas presents this year was the Canon PowerShot S90. Both of my older cameras had developed some issues over time, so for the past year I’ve mostly been using the camera in my iPhone. My most recent camera, the S3 IS, had some nice features, and ridiculous zoom capabilities, but it wasn’t exactly pocket-sized, and weighed in at just about a pound, with batteries. It took good photos, but not quite at the level I wanted, especially since several of my friends are awesome photographers and kept posting amazing photos on their blogs!

It’s hard to get a sense of a camera from review sites, and I found very few sample photos. I was worried that I might end up with another camera that took “flat” photos without much depth-of-field, and I was also concerned that if I wasn’t happy with the photos, I wouldn’t use the camera very much.

Tonight, I finally broke the seal and opened the box. My first surprise was at how small it was – I actually dug up my old Treo 650 to compare the size. The camera body is oh-so-slightly thicker, and of course the lens sticks out a bit more, but other than that, the camera is actually smaller than the Treo! Definitely pocket-sized.

Next, I had to wait for the battery to charge (it’s proprietary and removable, but very small and light), so I watched one of my other Christmas presents: the Alison Krauss DVD, A Hundred Miles or More – Live from The Tracking Room. (Really nice sound, even if it is just in stereo – and what an amazing singer!)

Anyway, back to the camera – a couple hours later, I gave it the 1GB SD card from the S3 IS, plugged in the battery, and turned it on. After just one photo, I was sold. The colors looked really nice, and the photo didn’t look flat at all – with the auto setting, I could see the focus changing as I moved it around.  That was really just a practice shot, though, so here is the second photo I took:

It’s not like, fine art or anything, but I am pretty happy with the colors, and the focusing, and this was just on the auto setting. I played around with some things, and took some other photos around the apartment.

Refrigerator series:

And then there are these candle things:

…and the bedside table:

Anyway, I am realizing that I probably need a better WordPress theme for showing photos, but here’s one more of the camera itself (taken with my iPhone, of course):

The camera has this neat clicky-wheel around the lens, which you can turn to adjust different settings (via the “Ring Func.” button on top). I haven’t figured out all of the different modes yet, but it’s pretty neat to play with.

Another surprise came when I was about to take a photo in a darker setting. I had a finger on the top-left of the camera (just over the “PowerShot” words), and just as I was about to take the photo, the flash popped up! In the photo, you can see the outline of a panel – that’s where the flash lives, completely hidden, and it pops up about 1/2″. I guess you’re not intended to press it back down into place, but when you turn the flash (or the camera) off, it zips back into its hiding place. It’s kinda cute.

Well, for the first “real” blog post, I think this went fairly well. More to come soon!