I’m calling this post “Arduino,” but it’s really about hardware and software art. Matt Mets and the rest of the team at Blinkinlabs has created  a wonderful product called the “BlinkyTile.” This is a system of pentagonal and hexagonal PCBs (printed circuit boards) with attached LEDs (light-emitting diodes). I first became interested in making art with microcontrollers and and LEDs when I attended burning Burning Man in 2013, and saw what a friend of my son was able to do with a string of lights and a controller that he brought to the event. I was even more excited last year when I saw some beautiful objects, including one by an engineer and maker who goes by the name of Bunnie. He created a polyhedral sculpture, the Polyhedrone, that is constructed from rhomboidal or kite-shaped PCB/LED tiles. These are assembled into a type of Catalan solid called a deltoidal hexecontahedron. The BlinkyTiles make it possible to construct small dodecahedrons, and that it what I have been working with.

The kit that Blinkinlabs sells includes a microcontroller called the LightBuddy, which come pre-programmed, but is a little hard for a novice like myself to program. It is *very* helpful, however, for getting started and also for re-programming addresses on the individual boards (which can be useful sometimes).

What I decided to do was use an Arduino Leonardo (that I originally bought for a robot), as well as an Adafruit Metro Mini (which can be programmed like an Arduino Uno). I program these with the Arduino IDE, which I learned to use when I built a some programmable LED goggles a couple of years ago. (See my previous post about this if you are interested; it actually goes into a lot of detail about setting up the programming environment, etc.)

What’s really exciting (for me, anyway), is that along the way I acquired an IR receiver module and a small hand-held remote control. I was then able to figure out how to use these to control the lights on the assembled dodecahedron.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any videos of the finished product, and won’t, until my new ir receivers come in the mail (Hint: be careful to keep your VS and the GND straight when you plug these devices into the board).

In the meantime, I do have some code to share. It’s not the most beautiful code in the world, and it’s not very well-commented, but it gets the job done, and hopefully it may be of use to someone trying to do something similar.

I need to give credit where credit is due, particularly to Daniel Garcia and Mark Kriegsman of the FastLED Project, and Chris Young, the creator of IRLib2. I borrowed and re-worked some of the code they provided, which saved me a great deal of time. Chris Young also has a great tutorial on IR communication at the Adafruit web site, which was invaluable.

I’m attaching a photo of the set-up I’ve been using, just to give people an idea of what I’m talking about (and see the elegant beauty of the BlinkyTiles themselves). Notice that in this photo the IR receiver is *not* connected.

There are a number of technical considerations regarding total current and power when you start adding larger numbers of LEDs. I’ll just mention that it’s generally a good idea, IMHO, to limit the current to each LED to no more than 7mA, which is about a third of the maximum current draw. (I actually have been keeping it down to as little 2.35mA, which is an RGB value of 30, with good results.) This will help simplify current/power considerations for small projects. Note that each of the LED modules at the center of a PCB tile is actually a combination of 3 LEDs (1 blue, 1 red, 1 green), making for a total of 12 X 3 = 36 LEDs altogether for each 12-sided dodecahedron. This all really makes a lot more sense when you just start building and using these things. I plan to be at the Raspberry (Pi) Jam in Seattle on August 8 and will try to bring some, so, hopefully, if you want to, you can see them there.





A little while ago I acquired an Arduino Leonardo, mainly because I prefer its micro-USB to the USB-B connector on the Uno. I only recently started programming it, but I discovered that a certain amount of preparation may be required.

There have been reports of glitchiness with downloading to the Leonardo in Ubuntu, and I gathered together the solutions that I found.

For my set-up, which is a Toshiba Satellite running (still) Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty Tahr), and Arduino IDE 1.8.5, the following seems to get everything working together.

First, connect the Leonardo to your computer and take a look at the device:

ls -l /dev/ttyUSB0

You should see something like this: (Note that you will not see this if the Leonardo or a similar device is not connected.)

crw-rw---- 1 root dialout 188, 0 2009-07-04 15:23 /dev/ttyUSB0

Now, add yourself/user to the dialout group:

sudo usermod -aG dialout <yourUserName>

(or, equivalently)
sudo usermod -a -G dialout <yourUserName>

Change permissions: (this may not be necessary if user has been added to dialout group)

sudo chmod 666 /dev/ttyUSB0 (for USB or /dev/ttyACM0 for serial)

Uninstall/purge modemmanager:

sudo apt-get --purge remove modemmanager

Uninstall/purge brltty and its dependent packages: (deletes app, configuration and/or data files, and dependencies)

sudo apt-get purge --auto-remove brltty

(brltty, as I understand it, is an app for people who are visually impaired. modemmanager, is, I guess, just what it sounds like. Fortunately, most people aren’t going to miss either one of those things. If you need them, it looks like they can interfere with the Leonardo, so you may be better off using the Uno, or something like it.)

It might not be necessary to do every one of these steps, but after going going through this process, I’ve been able to program and download to the Leonardo without any problems.


Yesterday I read a nice interview with Allan Badiner on the subject of psychedelics and Buddhism. (I must confess that I was not previously familiar with him and was inspired to learn more after seeing a photo of him with my good friend Yevgeniy Gelfand.) I’d like to quote a couple of paragraphs that made a very strong impression on me:

“I’m actually quite conservative on the subject, or at least in the middle. I’m not a fan of being on a chemically dependent spiritual path. Early experiences I had with psychedelics led to an intense interest in Buddhism and enlightenment.  As time went on, my interest in Buddhism became less about reaching a goal, as it was about fully enjoying the present moment, making some contribution to others, and not expecting more.

Underemphasized and left unmentioned by many teachers (Thich Nhat Hanh being a notable exception) is that, even short of full enlightenment, the state of being relaxed, present, and aware concurrently with following an ethical path of harmlessness, produces a very pleasurable feeling and a durable contentment.  While it is occasionally punctuated with the inevitable pains of life, it is not transient, nor is it reliant or dependent on substances.”

Here’s a link to the whole interview:


Recently someone very close to me objected to the way women were portrayed in the film “Blade Runner 2049.” “They were all prostitutes!”

I believe that director Denis Villeneuve has responded to similar criticism. I won’t attempt to speak for him, but I will share some thoughts of my own about the female (and male) characters in BR2049.

Joi – not actually a person in the conventional sense, or even a replicant, but I think she becomes a person in our eyes. Joi is an AI, and a companion, which may not be such a bad thing. She also demonstrates a capacity for self-sacrifice (when she tells K to erase her at the main source) and possibly even love, or at least a simulation of love.

Lt. Joshi – a police officer, and a tool/enforcer of the current social order. Lt. Joshi expresses loneliness, and an attachment to K that combines both dominance and affection. (There are even moments that suggest an erotic interest in K.)

Mariette – a prostitute and a spy. Her prostitution serves as a cover for her support of the resistance/liberation movement.

Dr. Stelline – a person with a disabling illness, and someone who could be described as a kind of artist or designer, who uses her role and skills to implant a message that will eventually help her find her father.

Freysa – a leader of the resistance, and a woman capable of caring for and expressing empathy for others, including Sapper, Rachael, Ana (Dr. Stelline) and K.

Luv – a slave and a psychopathic killer, but capable of complex emotion, such as when she sheds a tear for the replicant killed by her master, Wallace (and the kiss that she gives K as she attempts to kill him in a state of almost ecstatic joy).

Although the story’s action almost exclusively revolves around K, it is also a story about a son (K) and a daughter (Ana Stelline) who are seeking their father. Ultimately, they both find him. Deckard, of course, is the actual father of Ana. This is the “miracle” spoken of by Sapper and Freysa.

But Deckard is also the father of K. Not in physical reality, but in the domains of the imaginary and the symbolic, which play such a powerful role in motivating K to undertake and complete his project. This is the project which ultimately reunites Deckard with Ana, and leads to K’s death.



I have a good friend (we’ll call her “Tina”) with whom I proudly served in the Peacekeeping Forces of the Cosmodemonic Republic of Freedonia.

“Tina,” (who, like me, was trained as a physician and psychiatrist) was complaining of, yet again, another continuing medical education requirement imposed by the healthcare-pharmaceutical-government complex, this time requiring her to do something like take a fourth (presumably on-line) course in opioid prescribing.

“Tina” seems to think that just because she’s a “doctor” that somehow she can be trusted to maintain her own own knowledge and professional standards. She thinks that she can do this without the intrusion of all the “quality” and other parasitic organisms that now encrust and feed off the dying carcass of what was once (in a mythical Golden Age, perhaps) the profession of Medicine.

She even goes so far as to suggest that she should be immune from this particular requirement, because, as a psychiatrist, she does not participate directly in the scandalous and socially destructive cluster-fornication that passes for “pain management” in this country (the afore-named Freedonia, in case you have forgotten).

Well, I’ve got news for her. She may have been fortunate enough to practice in an environment that kept her out if this mess, but the rest of us have not been so lucky.

For example, during one of my gigs (I have had a lot of different jobs, being of a restless and discontented sort) I recall being routinely confronted by patients taking chronic opioid analgesics (prescribed by other “physicians”) which no doubt contributed to their persistently depressed and apathetic state (a condition probably best-described by William Burroughs in his semi-autobiographical novel “Naked Lunch”).

I remember one particular patient well, as he never seemed to tire of reminding me that his depressed and suicidal feelings were primarily a result if his not having enough money to buy his weapon of choice, which we’ll call “heliconia.” (Heliconia, is, of course, illegal. Apparently the legit stuff wasn’t good enough for him.) I’m still not sure why he told me this, unless he was hoping that maybe somewhere along the line I would give him the money to buy some heliconia.

Why am I rambling on about this? In part, it’s to try and demonstrate something about why none of us, whether inside or outside the medical profession, have been unaffected by this phenomenon. It’s also a way of describing one of a handful of reasons (including also managed care, EHR’s and the continuous threat of litigation) that I no longer and (insha’ Allah) hopefully never will again practice medicine.

There is something else I’d like to add.

I will offer a modest proposal: Let’s get the doctors out if the drug business. If people want drugs, let them have them, buy them, grow them, collect them. (We probably do need some restrictions on making them, as I hear you can blow your house up making meth.)

The idea is, you see a doctor for advice, like a lawyer. The doctor may tell you that using Oxy for chronic pain is probably not a good idea if you want to be a functional human being. But maybe you don’t want to be a functional human being; it’s your choice.

As an aside, let’s also acknowledge that between off-shoring and automation, there are an awful lot if people who are now unemployed or unemployable. There are going to be more of these people in the future. Some kind of basic minimum income will be necessary, if only to stave off violent revolution. In the meantime, what are all those people going to do?

It would be nice to think that they are going to use their new-found leisure to do something worthwhile and creative, perhaps along the lines of what Marx may have envisioned. However, that’s probably not the case. Most likely, a lot of them will end up using drugs and/or playing videogames.

Have a good day everyone. I promise to make my next post about something nice and uplifting. Until then, keep a truckin’.


The bicycle is possibly the most elegant, simple and efficient machine ever created. Unfortunately, approximately 5,000 of them were abandoned in Black Rock City (aka, “Burning Man”) this year. This is astonishing, really, and far in excess than previous years. Various opinions have been offered to explain this, but I have one of my own.

I should mention that my son, who is a veteran burner, insisted this year that I a.) bring a bike, and b.) lock it. I’m glad I did, because BRC really is a bicycle city, and having one makes a huge difference in the experience. Apparently a lot of other people think so, too, including people who didn’t bring bicycles of their own.

I’m going to go out on a limb, and suggest that there may be a sociocultural explanation for at least some of these abandoned bicycles.

The world of BRC is unique and complex, and I won’t even try to explain it here. Instead, I’ll just say that it is fairly common to encounter people there who have a slightly anarchistic streak.

I don’t claim to be an expert on anarchism, but it is my impression that at least one thing that is common to both anarchist and communist philosophy (which I may know a little more about) is an opposition to (or a least a slightly skeptical attitude toward) private property. However, I think that sometimes there is a tendency to misread Marx (who is still my go-to guy for communism) on the subject of private property, and to equate what is called “real property” (such as land and buildings) with personal property (such as tools). I personally don’t believe that it was ever the intention of Marx, or even contemporary thinkers such as Žižek or Badiou, to suggest that workers give up ownership of their tools. And I think there is an argument to be made that a bicycle, at least for many of us at BRC, is a worker’s tool. Like a car, a horse, or a razor scooter, it is our means of transportation and, at least for those of us who are staff or volunteers, how we get to work.

All this is just a rambling preamble to justify a speculation on my part that at least a good many of those “abandoned” bicycles were really “borrowed” by anarchists who neglected to give them back and don’t think much of the concept of private property, whether real, personal or otherwise.

The most practical solution: lock your bike.


I recently had the pleasure of meeting two very impressive people involved in the movement for harm reduction. Both are with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and the Zendo Project. Shannon Clare Carlin is the MDMA Therapy Training Program Manager and Zendo Project Integration Coordinator, and Sara Gael is the Director of Harm Reduction for the Zendo Project.

I met them while living and working as a volunteer in Black Rock City (otherwise known as “Burning Man,”), and the story of that experience is a tale for another time. What I would like to do here, for the benefit of those interested, is summarize a little of what I learned from them at the training session for Zendo volunteers.

(BTW – If anyone would like to see a training video for this program, you can access it here.)

First of all, Zendo is a place where person can go and receive support when they are experiencing difficult or challenging experiences. It may be an experience that is occurring while under the influence of a psychedelic substance, but it doesn’t have to be. Black Rock City has a Zendo (it actually has two), and the project is actively providing support services at around 10 events per year.

Here are a few of the basic principles, as I understand them from what I was able to learn from listening to Sara, Shannon and others that day:

  1. Safe Space
  2. Sitting, Not Guiding
  3. Talking Through, Not Down
  4. Difficult Is Not Bad

I’ll take these one at a time.

Safe Space

The Zendo is a space for unconditional acceptance and a vessel for reflection of experience. Persons seeking assistance and support may experience and express all kinds of emotions, including rage, sadness and ecstatic joy. The message of the Zendo is that it is OK to feel these things and to express these things, as long as it happens in a way that does not harm others.

The idea is that the environment should be one that supports a growth experience, and to this end what are referred to as “integration services” are offered as well. What this means is that someone who spends time at the Zendo may feel free to return later, such as the following day or some days later to talk about his or her experience, and receive additional support.

An interesting point raised by one of the presenters is that one should be aware of the heightened degree of perception that can occur with person who are under the influence of psychedelics, and that this can make them particularly sensitive to “microexpressions” of emotion by “sitters” (those who provide peer support to persons in distress). These microexpressions might include fear, surprise or sadness, and may have a stronger effect and produce more anxiety in the one perceiving them than might be the case in ordinary circumstances. One should be aware of the this, and be prepared to manage it (through reassurance, etc.) as it arises.

Another important point raised was the need to refrain from any form of sexual contact between persons seeking support and the sitters who provide that support. I don’t recall a great deal of discussion about why this is so, but a few moments of reflection will probably make the reasons obvious for most of us. Clearly, anything that might be perceived or experienced as exploitative in nature has the potential to be harmful to everyone involved, and to the project itself.

Sitting, Not Guiding

Zendo care is not the same as the guidance that might be provided by a Shaman or treatment by a therapist. Every one of us is our own best healer. The Zendo sitter is a peer counselor whose most important responsibilities are to simply sit and be present in an accepting, non-judgmental way.

Occasionally, there may be questions, but it is generally best to try and limit self-disclosure and allow the person to focus on her/his own experience, not that of the sitter. Suitable responses may include “I too have had difficult experiences,” or “Why are you asking me? ” It is best not to get into one’s own stories, but to respond in an honest and reassuring way that helps to build rapport.

Talking Through, Not Down

One way of addressing concerns that people may have about psychedelic experiences is to try and help them understand that the what they are experiencing at the moment is temporary, and potentially beneficial.

“You took a drug, and it’s working.”

A common concern that may be expressed is that “this is never going to stop.” The sitter can reassure them that it *will* stop, and emphasize the temporary nature of the experience.

In order to have a better appreciation for the distressed person’s experience, and make reasonable predictions about what to expect, there are certain questions that can be asked. “When did you dose?” “Was it light outside?” “Was it before or after dinner?” These may provide more reliable information than asking simply “What did you take?”, since what someone thinks they took may not always be exactly what they were given.

An assessment of timing can provide useful information. For example, someone who is still experiencing an altered state may have taken Dimethoxy-4-chloroamphetamine (DOC), which can have a duration of action of more than 20 hours, something that is not typical of other, more commonly used compounds such as Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), both of which have substantially shorter durations of action.

An important principle is that no one is ever “too high” for Zendo care, but modifications may be helpful. Some persons may be very altered, and very active, and may need more than one sitter, or may do better in an auxilliary Zendo space, referred to in BRC as the Lotus Bell.

Difficult Is Not Bad

Rather than use the expression, “bad trip,” members of the Zendo team are taught to think of these experiences as opportunities for growth. It can be beneficial to communicate this to the persons we are supporting. Psychedelics have the potential to open us to grief. If we can reframe these experiences as “difficult,” rather than “bad,” and encourage those who are having them to try and accept and face grief, sadness and other difficult and even painful emotions, we may be able to help them find their way forward to an improved understanding of themselves.

Freedom of expression is supported in the Zendo. This may include expressions of an emotional, vocal or even physical nature. We witness one another’s experience; the critical boundary is one of safety, that one should do no harm or allow another to do harm. We encourage a turning toward the experience rather than away from it; the idea is that “what we resist, persists.”

(to be continued)