Gifts (Propagandhi cover) at The Ghetto Penthouse

Our Loaded Winter

Coming out of the heaviest season of our collective post-modernity, I’m a few bands are continuously spinning as winter reluctantly loosens its grip on New York.  For your consideration.

Good Luck - Into Lake Griffy
Fairly technical Telecaster-driven indie from Indiana. Songwriting puts me in the mind of John K. Samson or John Darnielle with some challenging and catchy riffs. Frontman duties are split between the male guitarist and female bass player - both have served as my hardcore jam in recent month.

The Riot Before - Fists Buried In Pockets
Post-punkers from Richmond, VA, The Riot Before’s masterpiece is their concept record released on little known skate label Say-10. A healthy dose of hot-rod Americana and twang slips into the thoroughly morose lyrics making Lucero and Mike Ness fans feel at home. Front to back, a sorrowful, welcome record.

Iron Chic - The Constant One
An unapologetic fat and old quintet of Long Islanders were in their mother’s garage one weekend, said, “Fuck it - we’re making every song a singalong anthem” and have been chucking shell after shell of 4/4 crowd pleasers into every Bushwick scofflaw dive feeling like getting a visit from the Fire Marshal. Their latest is meant to be screamed at the top of your lungs while nuts-to-butts to every punk who rides the L train.

Various Artists - The Music of Tony Sly
With the untimely passing No Use for a Name’s prolific principal, Fat Mike put together a benefit LP for the surviving family peppered with plenty of hits and some epic misses. A fair cross-section of Sly’s early, late and solo work, the arrangements of these tunes improve with repeated listening. Pennywise and Strung Out offer straight forward interpretations, Karine Denike and Old Man Markley offer imaginative spins of familiar tales. As a whole container of the man’s work it is marred by some horrific misses (ahem Simple Plan, Mad Caddies), but remains a fitting tribute to one of my favorite songwriters.

OK Go and Bonerama - You’re Not Alone
With the recent release of their latest one-take tour de YouTube force, I’ve gravitated this week back to an underappreciated Katrina benefit that paired the inveterate hipsters of OK Go with the soul-tugging brass of the Big Easy’s Bonerama. All the tracks merit multiple spins, however none so captures the soul like their cover of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Overlooked, and overwhelming.

Joey Cape and Jon Snodgrass - Liverbirds
Another in a series of Fat Wreck alum acoustic splits, Drag the River’s Jon Snodgrass pairs some discarded b-sides with solemn arrangements of hits. Paired with the duo’s acoustic cuts of classic Lagwagon material, makes for a country record no one should be ashamed of celebrating.

Sally Ride - Ventura
My full disclosure that the songwriter is a close friend doesn’t discount a thoroughly summer swing with Sally Ride’s latest. Budget Kansas City indie rocker C. Howie Howard again flits between pop and nigh-inaccessible shoegaze with a little help from a cast of longtime collaborators. Lot here resonates with the Midwestern heart - mellow and yearning for something more.

Off With Their Heads - Home
Similarly themed is Ryan Young’s finest work yet with the challenging concept Home. Masterfully minded by The Descendents’ Bill Stevenson, the producer pulls the songwriting potential we’ve always imagined from Off With Their Heads and finally gets in on wax in a way I think we all suspected, but never saw. Young’s vocals are definitely polarizing - you’ll love it or you’ll hate it, much like the character he presents struggling with where he was raised.

Superchunk / Guided By Voices Split
This winter I’ve been hunting down a number of rare import splits, the finest gem of that journey so far being a 1996 Australian EP release pairing Superchunk with Guided By Voices. In the 80’s and 90’s, EP splits were the primary marketing instrument of the music industry’s Wild West resulting in so many eerily fitting pairings that would never occurred in the Western World. Lots to love in these brief 16 minutes, including a lo-fi cut of “The Key Losers.”

The Weddings Are The Hardest (2009)

A member of my family reminded me today of a piece I wrote a few years back on loss.  While today is a different anniversary, the memory is fitting and merits a repost here.


Even four years later, there will still be occasions that feel like a magnum slug.  Happening in unexpected places at inconvenient times, all the glorious, momumental, completely insignificant bullshit that’s constituted the life between that day and this will give way to the reality that she’s never coming back.  A dream about her singing in a car  A call announcing the award of her memorial scholarship.  The memory of my girlfriend handing me the phone.

Those occasions aside, the death of my sister has become my daily dull ache.  It becomes an everyday thing.  It becomes routine.

Living with loss is difficult to describe to the fortunately uninitiated.  Like a severed limb or snapped back, the doctors don’t tell you it’ll eventually hurt less.  “With time,” they couch their prognosis, “you’ll learn to live with it.”  They talk about stages of grief and steps to recovery, offering hollow affirmations and life plan suggestions the whole sum of which are as empty as the rain forest dirt napped to print them.  The thing they don’t tell you is that there aren’t any stages, really.  The sick truth is you’ll keep living while they’re gone and eventually the prescriptions run out.

It never numbs or lightens or goes away.  It just becomes familiar.

Familiar enough that you can function not normally, but nominally; you can make the systems go.  Of the pageants and rituals of the human experience, eventually only two remain a struggle.  Funerals, even with their immediate comparisons and reminders, are the easier of the pair.  Inevitably, those closest to you lose those closest to them, compelling your participation in the disgusting, macabre customs that follows.

Funerals, in a sense, are easy.  You already know what to do.  And in your consolation, you know intimately the three days of frozen hell the departed’s family has seen.  You’ve met with the priest.  You’ve collected the blood-stained belongings from the coroner.  You’ve picked the casket.  When the time comes to hug that neck or shake that hand, your eyes say, “I know, man.”  You can provide the empathy hopefully few in that chapel can.

Unexpectedly, the weddings are the hardest.  That was something that wasn’t in the manual.  The weddings should’ve been the escape, one would think.  When done well, they are the furthest thing from tragedy in the American Dream; rare, pure afternoons of celebratory bliss where the mortal weights can be surrendered.  They are good music and picture-perfect bridal parties, flower girls and fully inebriated dancing.

But it’s also knowing – not thinking, but knowing – it is the one thing my mother will never, never have.  The walk down the aisle, the mouthful of cake and the dress immaculate, she’s never going to see. Sure, if I con some foolish woman into wearing my hardware my mother might get a wedding, and she’ll be proud.  But that’s going to be someone else’s daughter on that altar.  Someone else’s mother bawling next to her.  I can dress up like Elvis or get her Celine Dion tickets or pull her in a rickshaw up Mount Everest, but I’ll never be able to give her the most precious moment in her daughter’s life.

That is not going to happen.  And that is not fair.

Every wedding and funeral is a reminder of that loss.  But, in carrying this weight, they are also an obligation.  An obligation in the case of the latter to pass that empathy on after it was passed on to me.  An obligation in the case of the former by virtue of the full knowledge of its preciousness.  None know the importance of those days like those who lost those beloved.

Until it’s my turn to be mourned, I’ll keep going to every funeral and wedding I can.  And, from someone who knows, so should you.

A Goodbye Note From A User

Sometime during the summer of 2009, I think, a Boxee user reached out over email to report a problem with a feed for one of the apps I created.  I can’t recall the problem or find the original email, but that user and I talked for a few minutes nearly every other week for the next five years.

Sometimes Gavin would share a link to something going on in the Smart TV space or a particular video he thought was funny.  Sometimes he would share his frustration with a particular bug or celebrate a Yankee misfortune. These IM conversations would usually only last a few minutes, but over the years it became a regular part of the background of my progression as a creator. “Oh, this is totally a Gavin feature,” I’d think while adding pitch data popups to the app.

He added a personal, human consideration to the wide scope of calculation every programmer sums in the creation of software. Gavin shared his experience with the stuff I built from when they were fun weekend projects to building a consultancy practice around Smart TV to joining Boxee full time and launching the Box to well after I left and support for the device ended.

This weekend Gavin - whom I still haven’t met in person - let me know he switched his media center, meaning my work won’t be occupying the space under his television for the first time in a long while.

I wanted to share it as it was an incredibly kind note and a reminder of how our work as developers can endure.

from: Gavin
to: Rob
date: Sat, Apr 19, 2014 at 5:52 PM
subject: Sad day….


Thanks for creating something awesome…. It’s still up there with the best, but it was time to let it go.  Replaced it with an Amazon Fire TV running xbmc.

We’ll keep in touch on to the next journey..

My reply:

from: Rob
to: Gavin
date: Sat, Apr 19, 2014 at 6:29 PM
subject: Re: Sad day….

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with this thing I worked on with me.  I am dead serious - I have never gotten the kind of perspective on anything I’ve worked on like what you’ve provided these past five years.

Thanks for the occasional IMs, emails and links you’ve sent while you used Boxee going from the desktop software to the device you’re saying goodbye to today.  I learned a whole lot about what matters in building a product people care about.

I really hope I build something else that is this important to you.

Hope you won’t mind if I share this story on my blog without your name.

Southbound BQE

After days that drug on like weeks filled with hours passed like heartbeats, you tell a barely-conversational cabbie at JFK you’re headed to Brooklyn.  And then - only then - do you breathe easy.

He shoots onto the Van Wyck on ramp with the same familiar rush you feel at 8am when you get off at your subway stop.  Like shot out of a barely open door at Union Square or 42nd Street or Broadway-Lafayette or wherever it is the miracle of a life in New York takes you on a gainfully employed day, his lead-laden boot swaps as suddenly between the gas and the brake as your heart from soaring to despair in the weeks since you left New York.

Those two weeks were packed with wonder.  Thousands of kids showing their ingenuity and discipline in wayward American corners like Philadelphia and Ann Arbor.  The heartstopping kick of a sonogram on a Macbook screen.  The steely acknowledgement of a veteran soldier freeing another 13 year old from certain slavery.  The confident swagger of a ten gallon clad cowpoke who just squared off against Silicon Valley and won handily.  The reunion of a half dozen comrades who had their careers cooked in a crazy crucible some six years earlier now each leading the best teams of their careers, producing the finest work of their lives.  The whistle sounding the final cement on the foundation of a crew that have taken their own command of their destiny.  The choke of a grown man who just discovered just how important his enterprise could be in this world.  And laughter - near endless - shared by the unlikeliest collection of humans yet assembled, whose community was not so much born but bred, not so much intended but necessary.

The peaks and valleys of those weeks you were away were as high as the skyline across the East River and as low as the tunnels bored underneath it.  You’re southbound on the BQE mere minutes from home with Manhattan laid bare before you and then - again, only then - are you home.

Not when you drop your bags at the top of the stair of your steep-ass walkup.  Not when you tug loose the mail crammed into your turn-key box.  Not when you pour a glass of whiskey.  Not when you let your self fall open-armed into your still-unmade bed.

You’re home when you look New York dead in her face and she looks back at you.  And she smiles, so slightly, acknowledging your return and reminding you with her twinkle that no matter where on this Earth you go and no matter how great the works you do out there are, she’ll always be here.  And there will always be more you can do. 

No matter where you go on this life like a rocket, you’ll never get too big for New York.

You smile back, but only for a moment, when you realize the cabbie missed your exit.

/var/null: Don't Fly During Ramadan


A couple of weeks ago, I was scheduled to take a trip from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles on JetBlue. Every year, my family goes on a one-week pilgrimage, where we put our work on hold and spend time visiting temples, praying, and spending time with family and friends. To my Jewish friends, I often…

How To Install Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin with Grub Bootloader on an Nvidia RAID Controller

After dumping a Sunday afternoon into getting Ubuntu to install on my Zotac GF9300-D-E with RAID enabled, I figured I’d post a quick how-to as extensive Googling never compelled a solution. A divergence from the usual pit farts on a snare drum that occupies this space, but I know others are going to run into this problem and the solution is awfully janky.

The Problem

After a hard drive dirt-napped in my Gonzee Box media center, I decided to replace the itsy bitsy single 1.5 terabyte drive with a 4 terabyte Barracuda stripe.  As the Nvidia 9300 northbridge on the board sported a “hardware” RAID controller, I reckoned I’d just have to set up an array, plug in a USB install key and have that machine back to playing high def Robot Chicken re-runs in no time.   However, my first go-round installing Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise Pangolin) on the array ended in fail.

Central problem is that Ubuntu 12.04 by default cannot install the Grub2 bootloader onto the array.  Even after specifying the correct device (/dev/mapper/nvidia_asdfasdfasdf), the Ubuntu install fails every time.  After a couple tries, the install program usually crashes, rendering the Ubuntu install failed. Error looks like:

Unable to install GRUB in /dev/mapper/nvidia_asdfasdf

Executing 'grub-install '/dev/mapper/nvidia_asdfasdf' failed.

This is a fatal error.

Bogus Answers

A number of answers found while Googling weren’t very current or useful workarounds.  They usually recommended 1) installing the bootloader on a separate partition on a single disk, 2) using software raid to stripe the disks or 3) downgrading or upgrading from 12.04.

I want my media center to remain stable, so choosing the latest LTS release is a requirement.  Additionally while this stripe will die with a single disk failure and the GeForce 3000 northbridge is really fake hardware RAID, there were a few monitoring advantages keeping this array on the BIOS as opposed to in software I wanted to preserve.

Ultimately, I found a solution that allowed me to use the Nvidia controller and still install Grub.  It will work with whatever RAID level you specify.


I finally got to install Grub onto the Nvidia RAID array following these steps:

  1. Download the Ubuntu 12.04 alternate desktop installer.  This will include a couple packages that will recognize the RAID array and install the bootloader post-install.
  2. Do not select custom partitioning - instead select the array (/dev/mapper/nvidia_asdfasdf) and install the default partitioning scheme with “Install Ubuntu on this disk”
  3. Set the configuration options that follow as you like.  Continue until the installer indicates it requires no more input and just starts copying the files.
  4. When the bootloader install eventually fails (~70% through install process), select “Continue without installing bootloader” and click “Continue.”
  5. Complete the installation.
  6. On reboot, be sure to select to boot from the install USB key or CD.
  7. Select “Try Ubuntu” when the install key boots.
  8. Open a terminal and install the BootRepair utility with these steps:
        sudo add-apt-repository ppa:yannubuntu/boot-repair && sudo apt-get update
        sudo apt-get install -y boot-repair && (boot-repair &)
  9. Select “Recommended Repair (repairs most frequent problems) and follow each of the copy/paste instructions.
  10. After BootRepair completes, reboot the host and remove the install key.
  11. Enjoy Ubuntu on your Nvidia RAID controller!


The Boot Repair utility from Canonical can install the Grub bootloader to an Nvidia GeForce 3000 RAID array where the Ubuntu installer cannot.  Though I have no tested on any other hardware than the Zotac board specified above, I strongly suspect this will work for a number of fake hardware RAID controllers out there.

Welcome your feedback at @dn0t or rob [at]

Corbin Reading A Book (When Corbin Can’t Read)

One of the teams I worked with at Young Rewired State got featured in The Guardian

Real Change In Our Time

It was ass early for this philosophy major to be awake and presentable on a Saturday, but nevertheless, there I was.  It might well have been the same collared shirt I wore for high school graduation. Even with the small pool of conspirators that I joined, it showed.  There were maybe - maybe - a dozen of us, gathered to walk a quarter mile down the main drag of that tiny college town, bearing signs with messages one just did not carry in that part of Real America.  Half of the tiny, subversive venture were old hippies, children of the sixties whose eyes were likely as bright as when they were 18 and in free love with every drug they could buy with the Washingtons scraped from the bottom of their El Caminos.  I remember they looked like my grandparents when they watched a Police Academy movie or my calc professor when someone started with an excuse for not showing up with the problem set.  “Oh my, we haven’t done this in ages,” their eyes twinkled, three of them even finding some crazy tweed gear patched from toe to tip with peace signs.

The rest of this motley crew was filled out with the miscreants from my college’s Young Democrats.  We were probably the only fifteen registered in the entire private Presbyterian school.  In what would portend the future of our struggle, only five very straight, very white, very counter-cultural pupils were present on the big day.  The responsible ones in our chapter - those who would become magistrates and noblemen - were either previously engaged or preoccupied with their future vetting for Vice President or Secretary of Something-or-Other and didn’t want a protest picture in that file.

Our leader was an honest-to-goodness, out-of-the-closet, talked-to-his-parents and definite-fabulous homosexual.  There weren’t many with those credentials in the little town of Hastings, Nebraska, and more than one person expressed relief he was there to lead the effort.  The old hippies wanted to fill their sticky lungs with righteous indignation one more time and scream at the first nose wrinkled at our suggestion gay people share the singular straight misery of marriage.  Having him - a real gay! the luck! - to rein them in was crucial for our plot’s credibility and assurance of we allies lacking the first clue how a protest should be properly conducted.

We were coming up on the 2000 election and our plan was to march in protest through the streets of our little Nebraska town against Proposition 416, the very first Defense of Marriage Act in America targeting a state constitution.   We figured out what the scheme was as soon as the television advertisements clamoring for true Christians to show up at the polls to protect marriage.  Prop 416 was the pilot of an insidious new approach to prescribing the state’s involvement in our romantic lives.  Having tried and died a number of times at the federal level to pass constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the fundamentalist subsection of the Republican party banded together to wage their war against gay state by state.  The new DOMA blueprint was to propose the ban as amendments to individual state constitutions instead of continuing to lose the same fights over and over on Capitol Hill.  

The benefits of this new strategy were obvious to those who were paying attention, though sadly the numbers at that time were few.   Going state by state limited the spend each election required for victory.  They were playing the long game, building competency in easy states and leveraging those best practices as the number and size of states increased every cycle.  It also rendered the legislation passed impervious to any executive veto - no President or Governor could touch a state’s constitution.   But most importantly, it exploited the utter ground game incompetency of a gay rights movement organized entirely for combat at the national level.  The infrastructure for marriage equality was geared to taking the fight to the Sunday talk shows, Congressional hearings and public relations brinkmanship that is essential to winning professional politics.  These people didn’t have the slightest damn clue how to canvass or caucus or competently execute any of the fundamentals of state-level electioneering.  

Which is why they chose Nebraska first.  It is the only state in the union with only one house in its legislative branch of government.  The unicameral Nebraska Congress meant that if passage for a gay marriage ban could be secured by popular vote, they would only have to win a simple majority among one assembly instead of both a House and a Senate.  It was the perfect pilot for killing gay marriage in one-fiftieth of the United States - win a popular vote, then win a single congressional vote.  It was a simple, brilliant scheme made all the more sickening by its effectiveness.  Getting Nebraskans to vote on a state measure was just not something the gay rights movement (or, hell, the Democratic Party) knew how to do in 2000.  But that was the Religious Right’s wheelhouse.  And they handed our asses to us that November.

We marched that day.  And a few more.  And made some phone calls.  And ran some ads at 11:55pm of laughable production value.  Ultimately, it became clear that the twelve people who showed up on Saturday morning for that first march was a leading indicator of what would happen at the polls.  70% of Nebraskans don’t agree on anything, but they did one one thing that decade.  That thing was what we finally saw the Supreme Court of the United States rule unconstitutional this morning.  

When my social graph exploded in joy this morning with the news, my thoughts immediately turned to that autumn morning in the middle of nowhere.  It seems so long ago I think mostly because, it is.  Stunningly, I’ve been an entirely minor participant in the marriage equality movement for 13 years now.  And if I’m honest about what that 13 years was like, there were way, way more downs than ups.  Any sense of inevitability that might have crept into this work was only in the last year or so.  2006, 2008, even 2010 - we were still losing every election that came up and every court case that mattered.  

It felt like every time we suited up, we’d get stomped by greater numbers, greater organization and several decimal points greater spend.  Will and Grace and Queer Eye and Modern Family were all on TV, prominent gay rights activists were getting biopics and touching stories about coming out were a constant presence in every Facebook timeline, but when it really mattered, when the rubber met the electoral road, we were getting beat.  Every. Damn. Time.

I’d done fundraisers in Boston and canvassing in Modesto and cocktail parties in San Francisco and twenty-person rallies in Omaha and signature drives during New York Pride for thirteen years and my ability to marry was still perversely predicated only on the dumb genetic luck of being born straight.  There were many pint-filled nights when I would declare I just don’t think we cared enough to get this done.  After logging a decade of being a foot soldier for an army that perpetually got its teeth kicked in, I thought we’d just have to wait until every baby boomer died before we could get anything done on this issue.  Even last week, it felt like we were nowhere.

And this morning, a link in that chain finally broke.  And every American is more free than when they awoke.

For those who remember the hanging chads in Florida or the stain on an intern’s dress, this is the first witness to real change in our time.  There are still many details to be worked out and we’ll still be walking back the state amendments until well into our retirements, but this moment represents the first time we moved the tectonics of our culture on our own.  We didn’t have a billion dollar Obama campaign.  We didn’t have a 24/7 cable news station.  We didn’t even - if we’re honest with ourselves - really know what we were doing.  

But today, the deceptively brilliant engineering of this democracy finally tilted the last fundamental human right yet reined by our government to something that seemed out of reach a week ago.  Marriage equality now feels inevitable.

And that inevitability suggests something that folks my age have not yet felt.  We were told that America’s greatest strength was that it could change. We were force fed the Freedom Flakes washed down with a half-pint of Captialist Kool-Aid that said America was the most free nation of the world.

But we never knew it.  Not my generation.  Not really.

We finally saw this morning that this republic is yet malleable; our union is not yet the most free expression of itself.  We know today our work is not done.  And we know that work takes far longer and is far harder than we ever imagined.  That we can build the America we want from within the America in which we were born.

But we also finally know that work will effect real change in our time.  And that knowledge is mighty.