Hairy Cell Leukemia

So, first off, I’m not a doctor. I think everything here is correct, but please verify with peer reviewed journal articles and/or real doctors, preferably experts in HCL. Back in June, I learned that I had Hairy Cell Leukemia. (HCL) It’s a pretty rare kind of cancer – one estimate I read said there were about 6000 cases in the US, and 600-800 diagnoses a year. As I’ve been dealing with the disease, and learning more about it as I’ve gone through treatment, there’s one big issue that keeps rubbing me the wrong way – there’s precious little information out on the internet about this, and what there is is scattered all over the place. I’m making this post as my small attempt at an all-in-one, narrative guide for folks who have the disease or people who know or care for someone who does. Most of this information can be found at other resources like the Hairy Cell Leukemia Foundation site, and the Hairy Cell Leukemia Support Group on Facebook. I’ve added my own experiences and some of the experiences I’ve heard from others to fill in some of the gaps, or to put the important info all in one place. This is currently a work in progress. more to come.

At a high level, HCL is a disease where B cells, a type of white blood cell, mutate in a specific way, and then are produced at a rapid rate. This ends up causing some problems with the balance of cells in the blood, which is how it’s usually discovered. HCL happens mostly in middle-aged or older people and is slightly more likely in men than women. HCL is often jokingly referred to as “the best cancer to get” because it is relatively easy to treat today. It is worth noting though, that while it can usually be put in remission, there is no cure, and if you have it, you always will. Immediate risks from the disease include the possibility of a ruptured spleen, and risk of bleeding out due to reduced ability of blood to clot. The cause of HCL is unknown, though there has been some speculation (and successful lawsuits) that agricultural chemicals may be a factor.


Where are you in the journey? It seems like information on this topic is easy to organize chronologically in the following phases: Diagnosis, Watch and Wait, Treatment, and maybe Remission.


Diagnosis

The outward signs of HCL are pretty run-of-the-mill – fatigue, bruising easily, enlarged and/or painful spleen, (splenomegaly – generally observed on the left side of the torso around the bottom-front of the rib cage) and sometimes enlarged liver.. The way most people find out they have it is in a routine CBC (complete blood count) before a surgery or other medical procedure. In my case, I was feeling more fatigued than usual over a span of several weeks, and was having other blood work done and asked for a CBC just to see what was going on. Here are a list of tests you’re likely to encounter. More details on each below..

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Hematopath
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Diagnostic Imaging (ultrasound/CT scan/PET scan)
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy (BMB)
  • BRAF genetic test

The details of a CBC for someone with HCL can look many different ways. In my case, the only things that were outside of tolerances were that my platelets were about 50% of what they should have been, (thrombocytopenia) and that my Absolute Neutrophils (a type of While Blood Cell) were lower than the standard range. (called neutropenia – this means that you are more susceptible to infection) The CBC may additionally show low Red Blood Cell Count, or other low White Cell counts. These issues alone don’t indicate HCL, they just tell us that something is up and we need to look deeper.

Another thing that may be done at the same time or after the CBC is a Hematopath, or a more manual look at your blood including a pathology review. This is where a Pathologist makes slides of the blood and looks at them to do manual counts and/or visually observe the bloods contents. Regular CBC’s often include automatic counts done by machine. For me, this is the point were it became likely I had HCL – the Pathologist observed the “hairy” protrusions on the B Cells. Generally, doctors want to do more tests before diagnosing, but I don’t think there are any other diseases that manifest with hairy B cells. That said, you CAN have multiple cancers at once, and there are all manner of unknown or lesser known variations on all of them, (including HCL) so it’s best to be very thorough during diagnosis to ensure that you get the right treatment.

A Hairy Cell – Galani KS, Subramanian P G, Gadage VS, Rahman K, Ashok Kumar M S, Shinde S, Mahadik S, Ansari R, Sengar M, Menon H, Nair R, Gujral S. Clinico-pathological profile of Hairy cell leukemia: Critical insights gained at a tertiary care cancer hospital. Indian J Pathol Microbiol 2012;55:61-5

Yet another test that happens at this point or soon after is Flow Cytometry. It’s another blood test that can get more details about individual cells. In this case we are looking at those B Cells. This allows us to do something called Immunophenotyping. Basically, we’re looking at all of the antigen markers and other characteristics of the cell to see what it is like, and then comparing all those characteristics to cells with diseases we know. In some ways, you could think of it as looking at the “fingerprint” of the cell and matching it to diseases with the same fingerprint. This is how we find out exactly what type of cancer it is and if it’s a variant of that type or not. There are several different documented “fingerprints” that align with HCL that doctors might look for. [What does the support group say we are looking for?] link article on FCI.

But wait, there are a couple more common tests.. First, some diagnostic imaging. This comes in many forms, seemingly depending on your Oncologist and the facility where you’re getting care. It seems like there are two reasons for this. One is to get a better estimate of how large your spleen/liver might be. The other is just to see if there are any other “interesting” things going on in your body. My doctor started by saying that we would do something like a sonogram, though once he felt how big my spleen was, jumped immediately to calling for a CT scan with contrast dye. Some folks on the support group got a PET scan instead. In my case, with the CT, we got a visually calculated volume for my spleen.. it was about 2500ml, which appears to be about 2.5 times larger than an average person of my age/size/gender. There was nothing else that looked like cancer, but we did see that I had two kidney stones waiting in the wings, as well as a redundant colon, and a slight hiatal hernia. None of which were really of any immediate consequence. My second opinion doctor, who has been researching and treating HCL for a very long time, used an interesting older method of gauging the size of my spleen by listening with a stethoscope and tapping on my chest with a pen.

Then a bone marrow biopsy, often referred to as BMB. B cells are produced in the bone marrow, so I guess there’s an expectation that the count/percentage of HCL B cells would be best measured there. There are probably other elements of the bone marrow that tell us useful things, but I’ve not seen any of this mentioned, and it seems like most of the other test’s details get us where we need to go with diagnosis. This procedure sounds a little scary, and the way it is conducted can vary a lot, again depending on who your doctor is and what their facility is like. For myself and many other patients, this happens under twilight sedation, (in my case Versed) you’re awake, but a bit loopy, as well as some local anesthesia; in my case, lidocaine injection. Think novocaine at the Dentist’s. I’ve heard that some medical facilities do this without any kind of anesthesia, and it sounds terrible. Probably worth asking about. Another couple things worth asking about are if they will be using any kind of imaging to make sure they use an appropriate spot, as well as asking if someone from hematology will be on hand to validate that the sample they get is sufficient. . If you get the good drugs, the whole thing isn’t bad, but I don’t think anyone would want a second drilling or a return trip after you’ve gone home. In my case, both these things were already covered, and it was good to hear it confirmed when I asked.

As for the process, it was all really fast for me. My actual procedure was only 11 minutes, though I was in the hospital waiting for it for about 6 hours. It went like this: I hung out in a waiting/recovery ward for a long time where they attached vital monitors and IV to me, took some blood, and a doctor came and explained the procedure. Then when it was time, they rolled my bed to a medical imaging equipped room and put me face down on the imaging bed/table. They got my sedation going, then did the Lidocaine with several injections. It stung a little at first, but not bad. Then they imaged me (I don’t know if it was a radiograph or a ct scan) to find an appropriate spot on my pelvis. It was on the Iliac crest, but not at all where I thought that referred to – it ended up being on the back of me, an inch or two from my spine. For me, the sample was taken with an actual drill, albeit a cute little plastic one, which still sounded scary, but ended up not being a big deal. the bit/needle used is 11ga, which was significantly smaller than what I’d been imagining. As they were finishing up, I had a bit of vasovagal response – they noticed my blood pressure dropping, so one of the technicians got me talking, which is a common help for this kind of reaction. Then they bandaged me up, and wheeled me back to recovery to let the sedation wear off. In an hour we were headed back home. I was given 3 different slightly conflicting aftercare instructions.. I basically left the bandage on for a week and did sponge baths. I think you could get away with showering, but you don’t want to sit in a bath because it would make it easy for bacteria to get in. Healing was uneventful. I can feel a little bump there now.

and often run at the same time as the BMB or Flow Cytometry is the BRAF test. This is a genetic test of the Hairy B cells to see if they have the BRAF V600-E mutation. BRAF is a mixed bag.. It’s really important in diagnosing whether you have “classic” HCL or HCLv, a variant that it turns out has not a lot in common with HCL, other than having hairy cells. It also has to be treated differently, and that’s why getting a correct diagnosis is really important. Almost all people with HCL who are BRAF positive have the “classic” HCL, which is easier to treat, so you generally want to be positive.. At the same time, if you are BRAF positive, you are predisposed to other cancers.

The actual diagnosis…

So I mentioned immunophenotyping earlier, but didn’t mention what parts of the results are interesting or what we might be looking for. The HCL carrying B cells have something called antigens. The flow cytometry allows us to test the B cells to see if they are positive or negative for certain antigens we’re interested in. The phenotype is a collection of antigen positivity that matches a known disease. For HCL, the cells are usually positive for CD19 and CD20, CD25, and CD103. There are other markers that may or may not be common. Lots of studies out there with different approaches. I think these markers are enough to rule out other lymphoproliferative diseases.

So once other diseases can be ruled out, it’s important to find out if the HCL is the “classic” or “variant” (also known as HCLv) type. One easy sign is that folks who are BRAF positive almost always have HCL classic. For more specific verification, the phenotype for HCLv is a little different. HCLv has a phenotype too, but I think the pragmatic view is that HCLv lacks a full expression of CD25.

There are some other more rare variants, but I wont claim to know anything about them. I think this is one of the reasons that it’s important to connect with the NIH and get them samples of your blood. They know the larger picture and can recommend treatments.

It’s important to figure out exactly what disease and type you have because the treatments can be different. For example, HCLv treatment doesn’t go well with just Cladrabine, it’s much more successful in combination with other treatments. More on that later.

In my personal experience, this all wasn’t exactly as easy as it maybe sounds above. I am positive for CD19, CD20, CD22, CD11c, CD103, CD25 (subset), CD23, with CD123 (dim/partial), and CD10 and CD5 negative. The subset and dim results confused me, and no doctors were able to explain to me exactly what to make of it. Maybe one view is that “subset” is enough to consider CD25 not a “full” expression, and full expressing is requred for the phenotype? My dim CD123 was remarked as unusual by the hemotologist; usually a dim result here fits more with HCLv. This hasn’t seemed to alert any of the HCL experts, but I still don’t exactly know what it means. Here’s hoping it really is just “classic” and not some sneaky variant that’s resistant to treatment.


Watch and wait
Sometimes the symptoms aren’t bad enough to start treatment, which can be pretty health impacting itself. In this case folks usually have their CBC checked on a cadence, watching for things to get bad enough to start treatment.


Treatment
I’ve done chemotherapy with Cladrabine, and have started an off-label monoclonal antibody therapy called Ofatumumab after having a reaction to Rituxan.. More detail to come on common treatments, side effects, and stuff you might want to do in preparation or going through these treatments..


https://ascopost.com/news/march-2020/first-line-cladribine-with-concurrent-or-delayed-rituximab-for-hairy-cell-leukemia/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7448588/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-82841-w

https://ashpublications.org/blood/article/118/21/4622/130529/Combination-Therapy-with-Cladribine-Vorinostat-and

https://n.neurology.org/content/88/16_Supplement/S24.003

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00277-021-04559-z

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7820054/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41573-020-00092-2

Bike part shopping / getting off of amazon

Shopping has gotten kind of complex while I wasn’t paying attention. All the disruption by tech companies has made some parts of the process easier, but the overall process kind of a pain.. and that’s not to mention all of the ethical considerations around buying from monopolistic companies rather than the small businesses they’re eating the market share of.

Bike part shopping is one of the places where this situation is the most painful to me. I don’t quite do it often enough to keep up on what store or company is the best buy, and I am an unrelenting cheap ass when it comes to bike parts. Maybe that’s due to my time working in a bike shop and knowing what actual cost is on these things, or maybe it’s that garage sale mentality I got growing up. Either way, it’s tough for me to just go make a purchase without research and price comparison.

I got hooked on Amazon. I don’t like it, but they know what they are doing and they make it easy. A big part of that is a huge selection that can all be bought from one cart, but low prices and fast shipping also come into play. I have an amazon credit card that’s completely integrated with my account, and that makes it easy too.

Even though it’s one of the first places I usually look when shopping, I’m usually actively trying to avoid giving them my business. The company is monopolistic, doesn’t treat their warehouse workers great, and in recent times gotten kind of untrustworthy in terms of product reviews and overseas vendors. Plus, for bike parts, they just don’t have a lot.

I buy on the secondary market a lot. It can be a gamble, but the savings can be quite large. There have traditionally been a lot of options for used purchases, but I feel like they are all slipping.

eBay – maybe the original online brokered sale? I’ve been using this since ’98, but it’s getting kind of sketchy. The platform itself is showing it’s age with stuff tacked onto old stuff. There seems to be an active push from the company to drive the market of people who sell mass quantities of import junk. This makes it hard to find listings of the things you’re actually looking for. (go search for “bass drum” and see how many listings for janky import bass drum heads come up.. dozens of pages.. I just wanted a bass drum. Same with auto parts and anything else where you’re looking for a genuine article and people are trying to sell replacement parts for it) eBay also doesn’t seem to do much to stop scammy sellers, so there seem to be more and more of them. (wish I could change a setting to not show me any auction from a person with 0 feedback) And finally, their support is terrible. Up until recently there was no human support at all. you could send an email to a black hole and you might get something. Now there is phone support, but it’s pretty useless. In light of all these things, eBay seems to be having it’s lunch eaten by more niche auction sites like Reverb, who aren’t operating at the same scale and can address some of the problems listed above.

Craigslist – This used to be great for local deals. Now it seems to be scam city. I don’t even know if I’d try to use it now.

Facebook marketplace – I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand this one. It seems like it should cover those local transactions, and it doesn’t seem like it has as many scammers as craigslist, but I’ve found it really difficult to actually make a deal happen through this. Most frequently, the item is already sold. Often people just don’t get back to you.. and for non-local transactions, I’ve been ghosted every single time. Also, facebook is another monopoly and I try to use their stuff as little as possible. I will say though that connecting with sellers on topic specific groups has been pretty good – I got a great fork for a good price from the Single Speed Or Death Facebook group.

Where’s that leave me? Retail shops. They really suck for bike parts. My local shops, who I’d like to support, rarely have anything I use in stock. And if I buy from them, I’m paying more, and still waiting a week+ for them to order it in. For online retail, the big problem is that no one has ALL of the parts I want. There’s also the whole thing of comparison shopping and trying to figure out whose shipping is actually the cheapest.

So here’s my most recent adventure.. I was trying to freshen up the brakes on my mountain bike. I have two sets of wheels I use, so rotors all around, new brake pads, a brake mount to run a larger rotor on the front and a couple sets of titanium rotor bolts. Everything except the rotor bolts are the same brand (Hope Tech) so I figured those would at least all come from the same place… wrong. For the stuff I needed, I ended up having to order from 3 different retailers. All of them ones I’d used before, but it was interesting to place the orders all at the same time and compare shipping times.

Chain Reaction Cycles – The only place that had pads in stock for my Hope Tech X2 brakes. They’re fancy, but not really uncommon. Standard shipping for two sets of brake pads was $16. Ouch. Shipping was through FedEx which is usually a bad sign, and took 9 business days.

Universal Cycles – Had the most of any of the retailers of the parts I wanted. Hope rotors came from them, but they didn’t have the floating rotors in the sizes I wanted so I had to settle for the standard ones. Shipping was $6.70 for USPS and arrived in 3 business days.

Jenson USA – They had the Hope brake mount I needed and were the cheapest source of the titanium rotor bolts. Shipping was free, USPS, and arrived in 3 business days.

For what it’s worth, I did have questions on a couple of the products and reached out to the sellers for help. Universal Cycles and Jenson have easy ways to access tech support staff, but neither of them ended up having the answers I needed. I ended up emailing Hope directly and they got back to me in less than 12 hours with answers.

What’s the takeaway here?

For many projects, I guess we just have to hit several stores.

FedEx is expensive and slow

Homegrown album project (local music compilations from the 70s and 80s)

I was at a show at Square Cat Vinyl a couple of weekends ago, and while I was there, I noticed a record in the used section: “Coca Cola Q95 Album Project III”.


I do a fair bit of poking around in local music history, but I’d not come across this one before. Not that I get too far into the 70s and early 80s; I just have no frame of reference beyond bits and pieces that I remember Charlie Hoovler or Steve the bartender telling me about music history around Lafayette.

It looks like this was somehow sponsored by Q95 (Indianapolis radio station WFBQ) and released by Karma records, a now almost defunct record store / headshop chain that most folks my age think of as the place you had to go to buy Ticketmaster concert tickets in the 90’s. The content was all Indiana bands. I started searching on this LP title a bit and initially wasn’t finding much until I googled just “album project”. Looks like there were 3 of them. Here are links to their Discogs pages:
WFBQ 95 Karma Homegrown Album Project I
WFBQ 95 Karma Album Project II
Coca-Cola Q95 Album Project III


Every once in a while I have some luck finding ancient things like this on youtube, so I rolled the dice and found that someone had uploaded video from the award ceremony for the first homegrown album project. Pretty wild that video from that time somehow survived. I’m not gonna lie, this one is a real snoozer. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: WFBQ Q95 Homegrown Album I Award Ceremony

The same user had uploaded a real gem with a performance video from the second album. Most of the material feels dated, but there are a couple of songs on there that I think are worth a listen. Here are direct links if you don’t want to go through the whole thing:

The Edge – Fine Line – These guys seem like the early 80’s version of some band that I’d be friends with. It’s guitar driven power pop backed by Hammond organ and touches of synth with big vocal harmony choruses and some nice guitar leads. I think I see an Orange head in the background there. One guy in a satin jacket, one in a Beatles suit(?) another in a T-shirt. lol.

Lifer – She Clown – This starts off and you see a guy in bell bottoms with a weird hat and think it’s going to be pretty bad.. But then they launch into a really tasty lead harmony with great guitar tones. I feel like this could be on the sound track for Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. The vocal harmonies are probably the best of any of the bands in this video, and overall, the composition of the song is just really good. Tasteful.


Anyway.. The more I looked on Discogs, the more of these local compilation records I found. WEBN in Cincinnati did 10 of them from ’76 to ’87, maybe making them the originator of the idea? 93QFM in Milwaukee did 3 records from ’80 to ’88, the last one sponsored by Pabst. WSTW out of Delaware did one in ’81. KEZX did one in ’83. At this point, this is kind of an internet black hole.. The label that put out WSTWs record, Pacer, has a discography with several more of these all over the place.

I guess no real point here, other than the fact that this is kind of interesting. I suppose it never really occurred to me that there were this many of this level of band – “local” stuff – in the late 70s and 80s. While I remember my high school friend Jason telling me that his Dad’s band (two synth players and a drummer!) got played on Q95, I didn’t know how common that was. I figured that either you were working hard enough to have a shot at “making it”, or you were a punk rock band. Dumb assumption on my part, but I guess you just don’t hear about bands like these.

Also along these lines this makes me have a better appreciation for the “Star Tracks” local CD that Dave Lindquist put together 18 years ago as a time capsule of what was going on. I kind of hesitate linking to the weak review of it that I did, but I literally can’t find anything else about this comp on the ‘net.

Star Tracks CD cover

But while I’m at it.. Just digging for the Star Tracks review, I bumped into a couple of other compilations.. (Remember the Patio Battle of the bands? Check out young Rob G and Matt Chandler on the AirCheck comp.) and just recently I was reminded of both the IMN “Indy MP3 CD” and all of the IMN showcase CDs. Might be worth a listen back.

Purdue Student Radio – A (mostly) failed experiment.

Every once in a while I feel like I should post about things I’ve worked on in the past. Sometimes it’s as a point of pride and others I feel like it’s just a matter of documentation. In this case, I was recently reminded of my time working with the Purdue Student Radio Station so I’m going to reflect on that here.

[Wow.. this post has been in the works for.. well, the first draft was logged in 2015. lol. I’m trying to do more writing, and dredging up some of the many things I’ve started in the past but not finished.]

A conservative place..
Purdue University is a conservative institution. Especially considering the aptitude for curiosity and exploration of many of the students (and some of the faculty) there. A former supervisor during my time working in IT at Purdue told me it hadn’t always been so stuffy. Things apparently got really conservative during the Hovde administration. This supervisor had a story from his undergrad experience at Purdue wherein a couple of students built a small hot air balloon that landed on top of a campus building and caught fire. The point of the story was that these students were expressing a healthy desire to create and learn, and weren’t punished for the relative danger they incurred in this pursuit, while a similar event in the current political climate (this was around 2000 mind you) would have gotten the students thrown out of school and probably sued for damages. This conservative tone echoed in many aspects of student life. “Mass” media was one.

[As an aside, I noticed something interesting as I researched for this article. The duration of time that Purdue presidents hold office is seriously diminishing over time. Cordova – 5yr | Jischke – 5yr | Beering – 17yr | Hansen – 11yr | Hovde – 25yr | Elliot – 23yr | Stone – 21yr … not sure what to draw from this, although I suspect it somehow fits into the discussion of “what’s wrong with higher education”]

Student life and media consumption..
Purdue as a University during my time had three main student facing media outlets: Boiler TV – the campus cable network, airing several regular cable channels along with a couple of terribly curated campus information feeds. The campus newspaper, “The Purdue Exponent” – once referred to by my friend Matt F. as “The leading source of misinformation in Tippecanoe County”. And finally, a radio station called WBAA – This is operated by the university, but seemed, at least during my tenure, to not consider students as their target market. The station played mostly classical music and some select NPR programs. It seemed like, in general, the University was very wary of either campus-wide communications, or campus -wide communications with students at the helm. There was also a general perception that it was unwanted, but I never had problems finding other students who were into the idea.

That said, Purdue has a long history of student run radio in the form of so called “dorm stations”. Many residence halls at Purdue had their own closed circuit stations at various times, some also having low power FM in times of less heavy regulation. WILY, WCCR in Cary Quad, Shreve.. There were more, but I don’t have any more info than this. For a time, something called PRN – Purdue Radio Network connected several of the dorm stations. (it seems to still exist in some form but is focused on sports coverage?) I DJed at WCCR when I lived at Cary Quad in 1996 and 1997 and learned a lot of the station lore. WCCR was purported to be the first station nationally to broadcast stereo by sending the left and right channels out two separate transmitters. They had a hell of a vinyl vault. Unfortunately, by the time I got there it was all melted due to improper climate control.

The problem with these dorm stations was that listenership was very low, mostly because to hear it you 1. had to live in that dorm and 2. had to go to the front desk and get a “splitter” to connect your cable TV line to a stereo.. if your stereo had an antenna input. In my time, I was lucky to get 2 or 3 of my friends to listen in. I suspect the dorm stations were more popular before tv and internet was readily available in the dorms. In the mid 2000’s some of the dorm stations experimented with web streaming. WCCR would get a handful of listeners from time to time.

[Some of these stations seem to continue on in some form and have web presences: WILY, WCCR]

My experience at WCCR was both informative and disappointing. The station had a cool vibe – there was a big lounge with typical institutional sofas and lots of old copies of CMJ laying around. The air studio was a small, but functional room with one wall lined with CDs. Some manner of junky Arrakis board was the operational centerpiece along with a chronically broken mac of some kind. I don’t remember a lot about the other bits, being new to it all, but there were surely a couple of CD decks, a (also broken) cart machine and at least one semi-working turntable. There was some manner of operational organization – station officers that we DJs were supposed to somehow report to, and send our play logs to, but now that I think about it, I had no idea what any of those people actually did, and honestly, I don’t think I ever saw them past the callout meeting.

Still, I had fun doing radio shows for my friends, playing my favorite stuff and also digging through the station’s CD collection. Once I even plugged my guitar into the board and played on “air” for a whole show. And lol, I remember Enrique, a guy who lived down the hall calling in with a fake voice every time I did a show and requesting Tool.

The start of “Purdue Student Radio” as a station..
Maybe a relevant piece of information in this story is that I was a student at Purdue for over 17 years, so I saw things come and go. When I moved off-campus, the dorm stations became little more than a fond memory. But I was still looking for things to do on campus.

I remember going to a callout for PSR, Purdue Student Radio, at some point prior to 2004. It was a kind of odd group, seemingly predicated on doling out various “director” positions to students volunteering. But lets jump outside of my personal experience and backtrack.

Apparently, the station had been formed under the premise of being a place for business students to practice.. business stuff. I don’t know the full story, but this seemed to be the brainchild of an undergrad who somehow had the ear of people at Krannert with money. Regardless, the business model was based around selling on-air advertising. A Purdue Staff director or engineer of some kind, Michael Gay from WBAA, was involved in planning an AM transmitter installation using gifted money. The transmitters would augment a web stream, and added a touch of legitimacy that the dorm stations lacked. WBAA also provided a massive, antique Harrison console and some other miscellaneous hardware. This was all housed in a room in the old student organizations area in the basement of the Union.

And that all happened. Kind of an amazing feat. But that’s about where progress stopped it seemed like. When I found out about all of this, it was kind of in a proof of concept state. The transmitters worked – 6 low power AM units perched atop the Krannert building, the transmission barely made it to Chauncey Hill at AM1610. The studio had all the parts it needed and was capable of doing most of what it was supposed to.. but there were many broken things, no music library, and not a lot of institutional knowledge.

And so back to my experience.. we had a lot of these meetings where people were trying to figure out how to synthesize the structure and operation of a college radio station. I remember the Programming Director instructing us, the non-director volunteers, to try to generate a station handbook by plagiarizing other college station’s handbooks. Little progress was made under this regime, and said Programming Director later was kicked out of school for some dubious reason if I recall. Another prime activity of these meetings was trying to recruit people to do the “sales”. The only training was “go talk to businesses and see if they’ll give us money”. Needless to say, this didn’t work. I always surmised that the real shortcoming in this plan was that the station wasn’t actually broadcasting anything yet. Eventually, the guard driving all this was changed. I’m not quite sure what happened. Probably some people graduated, and probably some got bored with the lack of progress. A couple of good people stayed for a while and did what they could, but there was really not enough knowledge to make it work.

The reorg..
At this time, somewhere in 2007, there were a few of us in the non-director set who were there for the music rather than the business and we decided to change the approach to: lets have a functional station and then try to get some money later. We started by building a music library. I knew a little about how this worked from my limited time doing record label promo. All of the labels and distros were quite happy to give you more music than you could handle if you were reporting to CMJ, (College Music Journal) so we shelled out the cash for CMJ membership. I recall this was over $1k for a year, which seems excessive.. but I digress. I handled the chart reporting, basically grepping the logs of our station automation software, SAM, for what was getting the most plays. At this point, the station was largely on autopilot so this was an easy process. We dumped some mp3’s in, and it played them randomly. Later we got more advanced, doing programming blocks by genre, etc. CD’s came in droves. More than we could deal with, in fact. [as an aside, when we wound down the station, there were still dozens of CDs a week coming in for our PO Box in Stewart Center. I remember the mail folks asking/demanding that we tell companies to stop sending stuff, but I didn’t even know where most of them were coming from. Labels and distros just chucked that stuff out to any entity on the CMJ list. Hopefully they’ve finally stopped or else someone in the mail department of STEW have just started taking the music for themselves.] There were also the starts of digital distribution, which eliminated some steps but added new ones. We initially hoped to get all music we received into the digital music library. I set up a ripping lab with four PCs with multiple CD drives so we could at least rip 4 discs at a time.

It seemed like we were doing pretty well. There were several regular shows, constant content with music and syndicated programming, I was keeping station manager office hours and reporting to CMJ weekly, and it felt like we were growing. At one point, because we still didn’t have any money and still weren’t really interested in doing sales, we hit up all the old dorm stations to see if they had gear they’d give us. One came through, told us to take whatever we wanted, then mysteriously stopped responding to emails/phonecalls after we took the first load. We also talked to WCCR at this time who were still going. They didn’t have any equipment for us, but we had some interesting talks about piping in their programming.

The death..
Things eventually just petered out. People weren’t showing up to do their shows as much, keeping the equipment working was hard, staying on top of ripping CDs that came in was daunting.. and the real nail in the coffin – the AM transmitters quit working. Their demise coincided with a re-roofing project on the Krannert building that we weren’t notified about until after I started investigating the dead transmitters. I got permission to go to the roof with the building deputy to inspect the equipment. ..and noticed that some of the 6 transmitters’ ground straps had been removed for the roofing and not reattached. I suspected that maybe they got a lightning strike, but who knows. The university seemed to have a stance of “we’ll we’re not real sure what happened, but we’re also not going to do anything. Sorry.” Not having the knowledge or motivation to troubleshoot any further, we basically packed it in. As far as I know, the transmitters are still up there, connected to the streaming box in the penthouse.

We folded the club, and sent most of the remaining gear to a burgeoning podcasting club that a couple of our folks were in. The Harrison console went back to WBAA, and God knows what dark basement it’s hanging out in now.

Looking back..
Well.. the station didn’t do what it was supposed to. Very few ad sales were made, if any, and in it’s prime, we didn’t do advertising at all. For music nerds, it worked a little bit. Longer than I would have expected.

It was an interesting thing to be a part of for sure. I’m glad I did this. I made a lot of friends, and it’s always good to have a shared goal with people. While this wasn’t an exercise that added a lot to my CV, it is one of the handful of things that I’m proud of. Notably, we had a couple of show hosts go on to minor celebrity in broadcasting and comedy, and I’d like to think that having a radio station to do shows on was at least a little boost for their skills and resume.

Shoutouts:
I realize I have a bias for being negative, and accentuating the struggles in things like this over the good times, so I want to take a minute to thank people involved in this radio thing that brought joy to me in one way or another over the years that we did it:

Nur – for keeping things going in the transitional period mentioned above

Doug – for wiring up the whole thing in the first place

Emily, Jake and Andy – for being the core of motivation and participation for this thing.

Pat, Mike and Nick – for helping to keep things going

Ryan, Coby, Alex, Wes and Blair – for doing shows and keeping them going

Aaron and Michael – for all of the tech help and time spent

I’m probably forgetting a lot of people, but thanks for being there.

Inexpensive In Ear Monitors and rigged up ear mold adapters

A while back, my friend Jason was telling me about some really affordable in ear monitors that amazon was selling. These seemed to have some buzz going online, and it sounded like other audio pros he knew had them or were interested in them as well. [Some review links here: rtings, Soundphile, Forbes, Audiofool]

The product in question is the KZ AS10, a Chinese import retailing at Amazon under $60. [https://amzn.to/2RaGWQ2This and other product links here are Amazon referrals. Feel free to search for them yourself if you don’t want to mess with it] They can be found even cheaper on Alibaba and other import sites if you’re willing to gamble with authenticity and long shipping times.

Stock photo from Amazon

I was a little curious, but I had no real need for IEMs, until I tried to practice using acoustic drums outside of a band context for the first time in some years. (shoutout to soundspace in Indy – If you need a rehearsal space downtown-ish, check them out) I tried playing along to a CD with my apple ear buds, but the drums drowned everything out. I used to have some sealed vic firth headphones that were better for this, but I couldn’t find them. I think I threw them out because they were so uncomfortable. For that session, I ended up having to blast the CD through a PA system to hear it, and even that wasn’t great.. This kind of practice seemed like a decent use for some $60 IEMs. So I bought em.

I’m no stranger to the world of “Chi-fi”. A few years ago I bought some of the much ballyhoo-ed Mrice E300’s, again, from Amazon. I think I paid less than $20 for those, and while I didn’t find enough a reason to use them for much more than a backup for listing to tv on the iPad while laying in bed, they aren’t bad, and the low price keeps me from feeling too bad about the purchase. I’ve heard them referred to as “beater ear buds for audiophiles”, which seems like a good way to put it. I don’t know, maybe they are just over-hyped, but not any worse than the stuff being sold for a lot more $$, IMO. [for in depth reviews of the E300 check out these links: Wired, AudioBudget, GadgetViper, Jan Beta]

Amazon stock photo

The KZs showed up in a modest but not totally useless box with 3 sizes of ear tips, and an over-the-ear cable with mini (1/8″) jack. They are pretty comfortable. I listened to some music, and played some video games through them and found them to sound pretty ok, if not actually good. I’ve heard of people saying they have a “burn in” period, but I haven’t taken the time to do anything like that.

I guess the real selling point with these is the low end.. the KZs have 5 drivers and they are all of the balanced armature type. I don’t know much about it, but apparently balanced armatures aren’t great at low frequency production, so other similar IEMs/headphones use a different kind of driver, dynamic drivers, for the low end. The KZ AS10 seems to be the first wave of products using a new balanced armature that can do the low stuff. And these did have some low end. The weak link in it all might be the rubber ear tips though – if you get a good seal by pressing the headphones into your ear and holding them there, the low frequencies sound great, but otherwise it’s kind of hit or miss. I’ve heard people say that the memory foam ear tips that you can buy separately work better.

One thing that I really like a lot about these is that they get loud without a ton of power, which I assume has something to do with the balanced armatures. A lot of the headphones I have need an additional dedicated headphone amp to drive at realistic volumes. The KZs had no problems here. Everything I plugged them into could push them just fine.

After I had used them for a bit, I got to wondering how they would do when connected to ear molds. I think for me, this idea is one of the more interesting parts of IEMs – stage use, and blocking out other sounds so you can completely control what’s in your ears. I have some old Sensaphonics silicone ear-mold “musicians ear plugs” that I got from Dawn at earEverything 10 or so years ago, and figured there had to be a way I could connect these to the headphones.. and there was..

The Senaphonics use filters made by a company called etymolic research to block sounds. I figured I could buy some extra filters and drill them to accommodate the KZ’s. I looked around, and found that the filters are kind of expensive.. ($30/pair) and then used this all as an excuse to play with some 3D modeling and printing. I modeled the exterior of the filter matching the originals, and made a channel through it that would fit the nozzle of the KZ. There are some little retaining barbs for the rubber tips, and I tried to design a groove for them, but didn’t anticipate it working really well since it was all pushing the tolerance of most 3D printers. And speaking of 3D printers, I don’t have one, and I don’t know anyone close by who has a real hi res one, so I decided to use this as an opportunity to try out Shapeways.com.

Shapeways worked out pretty well.. I did 2 of the filter “blanks” each in two types of material, just to see what it would be like. The total came to $30, which for such little things, seemed like a lot of money, but hey, it’s an experiment. They somehow only delivered 3 of the 4 pieces, which was kind of annoying, but thankfully, I got both of the ones in the material that I liked better.

Shapeways print on the left, etymolic research filter on the right

The blanks fit in my ear molds fine, but the channel for the KZs was a little narrow. I busted out the Italian file set and opened them up pretty quickly. The fit is snug. I had imagined that the fit wouldn’t be that tight and I’d need to put some rubber cement on to seal them, but it seems to be unnecessary. Re: the retention barbs – the barbs didn’t seem to cause a problem, though I suspect the ductility of the headphone tube is the cause of this, and may fatigue if I take these on and off frequently.

When connected to the ear molds, the whole thing sticks out from my head quite a bit, but the ear-loop cable still goes over my ear and at least so far hasn’t been uncomfortable. The overall seal of the headphones is definitely better and the low end more prominent. I do have some concern over the ear-molds and adapter altering the sound passing through them. the adapter’s channel has a reduction in it. I guess the place to start on figuring this out might be Kirchhoff, but it’s all stuff beyond me, and I really don’t have the interest.

ear-mold on KZ AS10 earphone using adapter
the headphones stick out a little further from my ear when used with the ear-molds and adapters

I’m toying with the idea of making a pile of these and selling them, but I’m not sure. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

Sound comparisons from my experiment:

I used the first couple tracks off of Hum’s Downward Is Heavenward as a reference, played lossily from Spotify through an Avid MBox mini 3. I listened with Sennheiser HD600’s and Mackie HR824 nearfield monitors for comparisons. Take all these opinions with a grain of salt, because I certainly am no Golden Ear.

Listening to the KZs with the earmolds and adapters, the bass was definitely more present than with the rubber tips, or in my monitors. Bordering on Metallica – ..And Justice For All level “whoomping”. It didn’t necessarily sound unrealistic or over accentuated the way Beats headphones sound, but I think these just go lower than any of my other references. Overall, the music didn’t seem to have the “glue” that it does when listening on other devices. Maybe more mids than usual, but I don’t know if that’s true or me second guessing myself.

I switched to the HD600’s. Whoa.. these really make the high end come forward in a crispy way, though I don’t think I necessarily like it. A little more of the glue that was missing with the KZs/ear molds. Nothing going on in the low end, which isn’t surprising since these are open backed.

I switched to the KZs with the rubber tips installed. The low bass is gone. There are still lows and more than the HD600s had. Glue is still missing. Highs are less prominent/affected than the HD600s. I had the same questioning of the mids.

Finally, I brought up the Mackies.. Probably the reference I’m most used to, and it shows. None of the low low stuff. The glue is here. The highs seem “normal” and not accentuated in any way.

These comparisons all may be for naught because honestly, IEMs aren’t for critical monitoring, they’re for the stage. Well, I guess they’re for whatever you want them to be for. It would be nice to compare them to one of the more traditional IEM options like the Shures or Westones, but I don’t have any handy. At the very least, the KZs are an interesting toy for $60 and maybe the option of a rigged up ear mold configuration adds to the novelty.

The state of fast food self ordering

IMG_9540

When I moved to California in 2015, I was both excited and frustrated to see self order kiosks at Jack in the Box. Excited, because self-ordering as a non-interpersonal experience was something I’d been thinking about for a while, and frustrated because these kiosks were always off / out of service. Reduced operating costs and increased order accuracy seemed like some key selling points for such a setup, and the latter was very appealing to me, as someone who rarely orders food with out removing or substituting some topping. I was out there for a year and a half and never saw one of the kiosks turned on.

Fast forward to today, 2020, and we’ve had self ordering kiosks and apps for a while now. I have used Taco Bell’s kiosk a number of times, and generally liked the experience. It’s funny, the folks assembling orders still get my stuff wrong a lot, but I don’t stress about it as much as when I order with a human. I think the real value I’ve found in it is that I don’t feel pressured to decide my order quickly like I do when a cashier is staring at me as I scan the menu. A side product of that along with a more compartmentalized Information Architecture is that it’s easier for me to discover new menu items.

I don’t go to McDonald’s often, but when I do, I’ve enjoyed using their Kiosk. I went last weekend and was reflecting on the UX of the thing and the bigger service design that that kiosk fits into. A couple of observations / thoughts:

  • It’s weird that as touch screen kiosks become more common, they are getting larger, but we’re still using UI paradigms from the small screen world. ie: the “next” and “back” navigation buttons are at the bottom of the screen which is out of my field of attention, especially when items and status messages still appear at the top. It took me a second to realize what I needed to do next.
  • Physical product human factors are now more into play than they have been in the past. The kiosk works ok for me as a 5’11” person (with the caveat of the point above) but how does it work for a 4′ person.. or a 6’7″ person? At Taco Bell, the kiosk screen seems low for me, and the card reader is positioned strangely for someone of my height.
  • Where does the kiosk interaction fit in the larger experience? McDonalds has tied the digital to the physical with “table tents”. The UI asks you to grab a numbered tent, and enter it’s number.  The server then uses that to find you to deliver your food. Taco Bell just calls out your number for you to retrieve the food yourself. I think it’s a nice touch on the part of McDonalds, but I wonder if the staff who deliver the food get any special training in hospitality. Should they?
  • There are a lot of opportunities to improve or change the larger experience. I think the biggest one is the handling of drinks. Both of these restaurants already do self-serve beverages, but under the kiosk ordering model, you don’t get your cup until your food is delivered. This is kind of a gap from the perspective of the traditional way of ordering where you get the cup as soon as you pay which gives you something to do / enjoy while you wait for the food.  In an even broader context, we can reconsider what the fast food experience is, which could lead to differentiation strategies. I was always fascinated by the strange niche carved out by Steak N Shake – it’s fast(ish) food, but you sit down and have table service. The floundering of that business may be a sign that their model isn’t all that desirable, but maybe there are still desirable elements to it. McDonald’s kiosk + table delivery model gets into that. I appreciate not having to get up to go get my order. Do I need an actual waiter to visit me more than once? probably not. ..or maybe? It would be cool if someone came around offering napkins, condiments, or drink refills occasionally. Similarly, the breadstick person at Fazoli’s was always a motivator for my visits there.

It’ll be interesting to see where fast food goes from here. We’re seeing more trends towards carry out only restaurants (or are those now “food preparers”?) which I suspect will generate a lot of convergence with alternative ordering methods. This will also likely come into play with food delivery, an industry vertical that is showing a lot of demand, but no one has yet managed to do in a scalable, satisfying way.

 

Songwriting process

I’ve been interested in songwriting process for a long time, although I think it’s only in the past 5 or so years that I’ve thought of it in terms of an actual process. I played in several bands in high school and college and somehow we managed to create songs without really planning the construction of them too much. After having gone through an MFA program, I’ve become a lot more aware of and interested in specific processes that people use. Not least in part to studying some of the process of John CageContinue reading

Concrete Fence Posts

Since moving back to Indiana in April, I’ve done a lot of cycling. It turns out, even though Hoosier drivers aren’t the most amenable folks to having bikes on their roads, there is so much space in-between everything that riding is pretty good. It doesn’t take long to get out to gravel county roads, and away from most cars. Riding through a lot of areas that time seems to have forgotten has really engaged a standing interest in Indiana history.

One of the things in particular that has interested me as I’ve been putting on the gravel road miles are all the old farm fence posts still left intact.  They are an interesting artifact of a time when (I assume) roads, as such, didn’t exist, and the fences held up by these posts were the divider between farmers fields. This dovetails with some longstanding field-based Indiana location names – Westfield, Greenfield, Bloomfield, Chesterfield, Plainfield, Wheatfield, Winfield.. And probably several more defunct ones.

I’ve snapped pictures of a few of these posts haphazardly. Most are concrete, but there are a swath of weathered lumber, with various forms of bracing, both wood and steel. Continue reading

is making music only for the young?

An elliott live video that I hadn’t seen before popped up on youtube today. Dated 1998, it really made me think about how cool it is that these guys had such proficiency at what they were doing at a relatively young age. ..and not only that, but they had also gone a long way to develop their own artistic style – I was going to say art form, but rock music wasn’t new, and there was a whole community even in just their geography.. but still, what they were doing had some new elements. I think that’s got to be a really fulfilling situation to be in. Very self directed.

Continue reading

“Local” music / “The history of Lafayette Music according to Pat McClimans”

There’s some allure for me in music attached to a geography that I also am attached to. Last week I watched a documentary called “It’s Gonna Blow: San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996“. It was pretty good. I’ve gathered some “dots” of information about the San Diego music scene past, but this helped me connect them and make a little more sense of it.

Hearing about some of this stuff in a chronological context reminded me a lot of some things that I saw and heard about in Lafayette. In my formative years (1998-ish) there, I ran a local music website, and at one point around 2001, my friend Pat was kind enough to write me a fairly comprehensive history of the Lafayette music scene from his vantage point. It coincides with the timespan covered in the aforementioned movie quite well, and I’d guess that similar other stories across the country match too. Kind of a Dischord Records to post-Seattle era. I can’t tell if this was a particularly good window of time for music, or if I’m just partial because it’s when I was young and into music.

Anyway, here’s Pat’s history of Lafayette music: Continue reading