My 10 Favorite Albums of all-time

So as I’ve been doing work, “Collapse” by Sparta came on my shuffle and as I always do when this song comes on, I stop everything to listen to it. There are certain songs that are just so good and so appealing to a body that they require you to stop whatever you’re doing to listen to them. Hearing it led me to compiling a top 5 list of my favorite songs, then favorite artists, then favorite albums–and it was on this last point that I made my mistake. I can get away with only 5 top songs and artists, but paring down my favorite albums to only 5 is impossible for me. My standards are vastly higher for longer creative works of this type and it’s exceptionally rare that I find an album even by an artist that I love that is consistent enough to keep me coming back. So it became a top 10 list…and an excuse to write.

To be one of my favorites, an album must meet the following criteria:

  1. No filler–not every song needs to be single-worthy, but they all do have to meet a certain base level of competence such that I could pull out any individual track and still want to listen to it.
  2. The album must take me on an emotional ride–there are plenty of albums that are full of killer songs, but an album that twists and turns and leaves me with an emotional impression long after it’s ended is the goal here.
  3. Closely linked to #2: the songs must support each other. Again, many albums have a lot of strong songs on them, but when those songs lead into and out of each other in such a way as to reinforce each other’s emotional lessons, we’re really cooking.

So with that said, here is my subjective-as-hell list of top 10 favorite albums. I will fully cop to the fact that it is dominated by white men with guitars–remember, I said this is a subjective list! 😉

1. “Who’s Next” – The Who

My favorite album of all time. As a small child I figured out how to use my parents’ stereo by pushing buttons until I could make this wonderful album come out of the speakers. It’s kind of ironic that this album is as coherent as it is–it was a failed attempt at a concept album that fell apart after primary songwriter Pete Townshend had a nervous breakdown during its production. If this is what Townshend sounds like on a bad day, it should make every other living songwriter deeply ashamed of themselves. The album opens with what might be the greatest teen anthem of all time (sorry, Kurt…”Smells Like Teen Spirit” is an amazing song, but Townshend nailed it with “Baba O’Riley” by simultaneously glorifying and being disappointed in “teenage wasteland” in a way that was equally sincere on both sides) and closing with what might be the most self-aware piece of art the Boomers ever produced, wondering if “the new boss” was the same as “the old boss” after tipping his hat to the “new revolution.” I think Townshend saw the 80s coming before anybody else.

2. “Siamese Dream” – The Smashing Pumpkins

I remember being in high school and having a friend trade me “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” for an album I strongly disliked and really enjoying it–then another friend told me he’d discovered the Pumpkins had put out an album before it and handed me “Siamese Dream” to borrow. I can’t ever remember being rocked so hard so quickly by an album. Even halfway through the opening track, “Cherub Rock,” I remember wondering how this band could have been so much better on its previous album. From the suicidal pop of “Today” to the fan-favorite “Mayonnaise,” this album fits the emotional roller-coaster portion of my requirements possibly better than any album on the list. The only dud for me is the tediously overwrought “Disarm,” but stacked up with gems like “Quiet,” “Silverfuck,” and “Hummer” it’s easily forgiven.

3. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – The Beatles

I really truly believe that the Beatles are a band remembered more for a body of work than for any one song. I know there are a lot of fans of “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday,” but when it comes down to it, The Beatles were special for their diversity. They jumped easily between proto-metal (“Come Together”), R&B (“Twist and Shout”), and children’s songs (“Octopus’s Garden”). Summing them up in a single song would be nearly impossible. Therefore, I tend to enjoy them for their albums more than their singles and this in my mind is the best they ever pulled off. A quasi-concept album that benefits greatly from three of the greatest songs The Beatles ever recorded (“With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “A Day in the Life”), each song is a new and fascinating journey and a pleasure to experience.

4. “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” – Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse has been around forever and put out some incredibly music. I know many people prefer their previous album, “Good News for People Who Like Bad News” because it had their most popular singles on it, but in my mind this is their most consistent album. Frankly, it’s difficult for me to listen to this as an album and not nearly be driven to tears by it. “Fire it Up” and “Florida” may be enjoyable upbeat pop tunes, but the album really hits its stride with the emotional three song sprint “Little Motel”, “Steam Ingenious”, and the devastating 8-minute long “Spitting Venom”. By the end of this emotional tornado, the joyous “People as Places as People” feels like a necessary catharsis. Love, love, love this album.

5. “Kerplunk!” – Green Day

Most people associate Green Day with 2-minute long snotty pop punk songs and granted, they built a successful mainstream career out of doing just that. But then when they went more experimental with “American Idiot” it took a lot of people by surprise, not realizing that almost since their inception Green Day has had a talent for experimenting with tonality and song structures. Though the production on this album is at times painfully amateurish (most of the time it sounds like they were recorded through a tin can), to my mind it is their single finest piece of work, showcasing a surprising awareness of the band’s mortality when all its members were still barely in their 20s. Some highlights include “Christie Road”, a churning proto-ballad that in some ways anticipates “When I Come Around” before shifting abruptly into an up-tempo rocker, “No One Knows”, a slow meditation on aging and drifting away from old friends that features one of Mike Dirnt’s finest basslines, and “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”, a tribute to Billie Joe’s literary idol and for my money the most energetic punk song the band has ever produced. Give this one a listen and you might be surprised at how mature this band was before they ever hit the pop charts.

6. “White Pony” – Deftones

This can be a confusing album because the label released a couple different versions of the record that all had different track listings. The version I prefer is the one that begins with “Feiticeira” and ends with “Pink Maggit.” Don’t get me wrong, I love “The Boy’s Republic”, but “Pink Maggit” accomplishes the same thing and is already 7+ minutes long. And as for “Back to School,” the less said the better. Easily Deftones’ finest album, “White Pony” combines the chugging mid-tempo metal the band was already famous for and introduced New Wave and Space Rock to their sonic textures, creating an album that jumps from electronica-tinged dirges (“Digital Bath”) to some of the most aggressive metal ever recorded (“Korea”) to a stunning scenester indictment (“Elite”, which features the line: “You like depression/because it matches your eyes” ouch). Even if you don’t like metal, singer Chino Moreno’s crooning recalls singers from so many other genres you may find him drifting into space that sounds familiar even beneath the wall of distorted guitars.

7. “The Joshua Tree” – U2

Yes…it’s a cliche. No, I don’t care, because it’s also a fucking amazing album. A concept album centered around the promise, excesses, and disappointments of America, no band has ever done so much to create such a giant soundscape while finding the humanity still buried in the emptiness. The only song that feels out of place in this record is the abrasive “Bullet the Blue Sky,” and quite frankly that’s the whole point behind it, creating a jagged hole in the middle of an otherwise blissful album to remind the listener of the unpleasant realities on our doorstep. Every song on this amazing album could be a single–there isn’t a single weak moment in its entire length.

8. “Clarity” – Jimmy Eat World

The second studio album from the band that would eventually become synonymous with the term “emo” tried for the mainstream with this record and thankfully missed the mark and created something vastly more interesting. Not that there aren’t catchy songs–“Lucky Denver Mint” is an up-beat pop song as good as any the band ever produced and “Blister” features a hook just as powerful as “The Middle”. This is one of those records that is so utterly earnest it feels at times voyeuristic to be listening to it. “Just Watch the Fireworks” should have been the slow dance song to end all slow dance songs and “Goodbye Sky Harbor” is so achingly vulnerable it hurts just listening to it. A hauntingly beautiful and criminally under-appreciated record. 

9. “The Colour and the Shape” – Foo Fighters

The second album by Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana project is also its most consistent and confident. We all know the singles: “Monkey Wrench”, “My Hero”, and the inescapable “Everlong”, but the great thing about these songs is that unlike most albums, they aren’t just promotional material–they’re actually predictive of the quality of the rest of the album. “Hey, Johnny Park”, “February Stars”, and “Walking After You” are among the best material the band has ever produced–equal parts pop, longing, and hard-edged rock. The standout may just be the last track, however. “New Way Home” transforms from a vulnerable and slow track that seems distantly related to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” to a defiant, abrasive hard rock anthem.

10. “Americano” – Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers

Some may dimly recollect Roger Clyne’s first band, the Refreshments as a southern-rock tinged alternative group that came out of the same part of Arizona as their jangle-pop siblings Gin Blossoms. They had one hit: the snarky “Banditos”, an aggressive rock tune laden with more pop culture references than hooks, though apparently if your band’s name is Barenaked Ladies people can’t tell the difference. After the band lost its record deal, Clyne went back to basics and reformed a band equal parts rock, latin, country, and Americana. On their third album, they decided to toy with the idea of going mainstream and created their most professionally produced material to date–and then immediately dove back into the underground and Clyne decided to try and be the second coming of Jimmy Buffet. Damn. At least before the about-face, Clyne gave us this fantastic collection of fables about the American southwest and its relationship to Mexico and its own history. Alternating between aggressive roots-rockers (“Americano”, “God Gave Me a Gun”) and regret-tinged dirges (“Switchblade”, “Your Name on a Grain of Rice”). It also features what may be my favorite ballad of all time, “Leave an Open Door”. If you like Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen’s early work, pretty please give this album a listen.

Well, that’s it. I’m sure lots of people are going to disagree with me on these assessments–please share your own picks in the comments and pick one of these up to give it a spin at some point 🙂

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LGBT Rights on the move: What do the DOMA and Proposition 8 rulings mean?

So first and foremost, I’m delighted to see the Supreme Court decided to strike down DOMA this morning. I’ve long feared that they would either uphold the law or cop of out of ruling on it somehow and that the gambit to put it before the Supreme Court would ultimately cost the LGBT Rights Movement ten years or more. I really love being proven wrong like this 🙂 That said, I’ve seen lots of friends asking questions related to the ruling in my Facebook feed. I’m neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar, but I’ve been told on occasion that I have a talent for explaining complicated things in a way that makes sense to the lay person, so I’m going to put what I understand out there so hopefully it’ll help some folks understand what just happened.

If you are a constitutional scholar or lawyer and I get any of this wrong/oversimplify it, please feel free to call me out on it 🙂

What just happened?

The Supreme Court (SCOTUS–I love that acronym 🙂 ) just ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and technically killed California’s Proposition 8 law.

What did these laws do?

DOMA essentially made it so that same sex couples were not recognized by the federal government in the same way that heterosexual couples are. For example: when people die and leave their inheritance to their loved ones, if those loved ones are not part of their immediate or extended family (ie, close friends, etc) they have to pay a tax on the inheritance. Since DOMA was passed, a gay couple have been treated like close friends instead of a married couple, regardless of if they’ve been properly married or not. This gets even stickier when it comes to who has power of attorney or the ability to make decisions if one’s partner receives a life-threatening injury. Basically, DOMA made it so that gay couples could never be treated under federal law as anything more than close friends.

Proposition 8 was a state constitutional amendment passed in California that did much the same thing. It overturned a previous California State Supreme Court ruling that said gay couples did have the right to marry.

Is gay marriage legal now?

In 12 states, yes. By striking down DOMA, SCOTUS didn’t rule that gay marriage is legal, only that federal laws making it illegal are unconstitutional.* Basically, states that have already legally authorized gay marriage (currently Connecticut, DC, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington with California, Delaware, and Rhode Island expected to join soon) have the federal government backing that choice. Gay couples who get married there can now expect to have the full protection under federal law and get treated like any other married couple. If you live outside these states, however, your state still does not have a law that allows your marriage to be recognized.

Why did SCOTUS strike down DOMA?

The long and short of it is that it violates the equal protection clause of the 5th amendment of the Bill of Rights. Basically, SCOTUS ruled that section 3 of DOMA constituted the federal government practicing a form of discrimination specifically targeting one group of people and thanks to the constitution, they’re not allowed to do that. You can read a full description of the majority opinion (fair warning: it’s really long) here.

If I marry my partner in one of these states and move to another where gay marriage isn’t legal, will my marriage be recognized there?

We don’t know yet. Basically, SCOTUS ruled on a single section of DOMA–the one barring same sex couples from receiving federal benefits even if married. There’s another section saying that one state does not have to recognize a marriage carried out in another state that SCOTUS did not rule on (I’m not even sure it was a part of this case).

Here’s a similar case: let’s say in state A you can get married at 16, but in state B you can’t get married until your 18. You get married in state A, but at the age of 17 you move to state B. Does that mean state B has to recognize your marriage?

Part of the question here will come down to how the executive branch now enforces the ruling. A lot of us forget from high school that the three branches of government ostensibly are meant to have three different functions: Congress passes laws, the President and executive branch enforce them, and the Courts are meant to decide if those laws are just and/or constitutional. Obama has said on record that he both supports gay marriage but also believes that individual states should decide the issue for themselves. We’ll have to wait to see how he and the executive branch interpret their mandate after the ruling. Do not be shocked if this very issue starts another court case.

There might be an interesting way around this section of the law if Obama and Congress want to play it this way: there’s no federal law saying that the drinking age is 21. The way the federal government achieves this de facto is that they’ve made it a law that no state can receive federal funds to manage their highways if their drinking age is not set to at least 21. No state wants to give up that money, so they’ve all individually passed laws to make the minimum age to purchase alcohol 21. A similar kind of incentive could be created to have states where gay marriage isn’t legal still recognize marriages from other states. What would that incentive be? No idea…but I trust that there are creative people who could come up with one.

So what about Proposition 8–did SCOTUS likewise rule it unconstitutional?

Not quite, they basically killed the law on a technicality. When proposition 8 was challenged in the California Supreme Court, the state refused to defend it, so the civil group that had lobbied for its passage stepped in to defend it instead and get it up the chain of appeals to SCOTUS. What SCOTUS essentially did was say that they couldn’t rule on it because it should never have come before them in the first place. If the state didn’t defend the law, then the law should have been struck, not handed off to a civil group to defend. They’ve sent the law back to the California Appeals Court, in which the state is still not going to defend it. The net result is that the law is dead and gay marriage is once again legal in California.

When will California get around to letting same sex couples get married again, then?

Really whenever it wants. They could start back up this afternoon if it suited the state’s fancy.

Isn’t it kind of weird that SCOTUS would rule against the Voting Rights Act in the same week that they rule against DOMA if they’re all about equal rights?

Heh…yeah, about that…

Is that it, then? Is gay marriage decided?

Nope…a pretty big battle has been won and one major impediment to LGBT people having completely equal rights has been removed, but we still have section 2 of DOMA to deal with (the one saying that a same-sex marriage made in one state doesn’t have to be recognized by any other). We also only have gay marriage legal in 12 states. It’s likely that more and more states will individually legalize gay marriage in the coming years for a few reasons:

First, gay people are likely to move to states where they can legally marry their partner. If they can’t do that in their home state, it means their tax dollars are going elsewhere and no state actively wants to lose a significant percentage of their income tax dollars.

Second, there’s overwhelming public support for the issue.

Third, this is pretty widely recognized as the great civil rights issue of our time. As more and more states legalize gay marriage it provides a powerful incentive for other states not to be seen as being on the wrong side of history. It won’t happen overnight but it will eventually happen.

Also: LGBT people still face an extraordinary amount of discrimination in our culture. Having them be legally protected is only the broadest of protections. There is still a mountain of work that needs to be done to shift individual attitudes. Plus, while the gay and lesbian communities have made huge strides in the past few years, protections for transgendered people still lag behind both in awareness and progress.

Thanks for reading–hope this helps some of y’all out there 🙂

* Updated to clarify. Original sentence read: “By striking down DOMA, SCOTUS didn’t rule that gay marriage is legal, only that laws making it illegal are unconstitutional.”

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Alan Moore memes

I ran across this bitchin’ quote from my favorite comic book writer, Alan Moore, on Wikipedia the other day:

“Yes, there is a conspiracy, indeed there are a great number of conspiracies, all tripping each other up… the main thing that I learned about conspiracy theories is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in the conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy, or the grey aliens, or the twelve-foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control, the truth is far more frightening; no-one is in control, the world is rudderless.”

It got me inspired, so I created a couple image-based memes based upon it. Enjoy and share! 🙂


alanmoore

alanmoore2

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Was Radiolab Racist?

This story has come across my news feed more than a few times in the past few days. I respect Radiolab a hell of a lot and it was disconcerting to see Mr. Abumrad and Mr. Krulwich charged with approaching a story in a racist manner. I wanted to do some research and form an opinion before rendering judgement. Now I feel ready to do just that and, well, it’s complicated.

First and foremost, I have little doubt that the “Yellow Rain” mentioned in the segment was not a chemical weapon, but a type of mass hysteria. Given the attention chemical weapons tend to draw in conflicts, it is hard for me to believe that if there were a chemical weapon that was used on the Hmong peoples as they fled Laos, there would be such a huge difficulty finding evidence of it, especially if it were as potent as it is described in the story. Satellite photos would show evidence of patches of second-growth vegetation (or no regrowth at all) in areas where the agent had been used, to say nothing of the fact that the remains of people or animals upon whom this agent had been used should display telling signs of toxicology. That none of these secondary indications appears to have been discovered strongly points me in the direction of believing that “Yellow Rain” was a means for Hmong refugees to have a bogeyman upon which to direct their (deserved) resentment of their treatment both by the Laotian government and the United States. I’ll be more than happy to eat my words if any of these secondary data sources proves the case that “Yellow Rain” was indeed a real chemical or biological weapon.

All that said, the mass atrocities waged on the Hmong are very real and sadly yet another example of the US government accidentally enabling the targeting of civilians by playing a short game both in civil war and the aftermath. We can see the same pattern at work throughout Latin America, the Middle East, and countless other countries that became collateral damage during the Cold War. This is not the first time I’ve encountered the Hmong story and I absolutely believe it deserves more exposure. The way the Hmong were targeted during and after the Laotian Civil War is no less deserving of our attentions, sympathies, and respect than the experiences of the Kurds, Darfuris, or Tutsis.

Was Mr. Krulwich insensitive to this story? Yes, absolutely. Did it constitute racism? No, I don’t believe so. I personally think the story was edited in a way that was equally fair (or perhaps unfair) to all parties involved. Case in point: Mr. Krulwich was a straight-up bully in the interview, there’s no doubt about that. It would have been a simple matter to present the facts as he had them, and let the Yangs present their answer as they saw fit. He remains belligerent in the wrap-up after the interview (which was an opportunity for him to express some form of regret for his treatment of the Yangs and he blew it) even as Jad and Pat confess to finding the direction the interview took disturbing.

But here’s the other element that disturbs me: the Hmong have been treated horrendously by the United States, Laos, and history–their story hardly needs embellishment in order to have a moral transcendence, yet that’s exactly the route the Yangs have taken it down. Despite Ms. Yang’s admission that the purpose of the interview was stated to be on the Hmong experience specifically with Yellow Rain, she states in the difficult portions of the interview that she’d thought Radiolab was interested more in telling the story of the Hmong themselves. What kind of journalist (and here I refer to Ms. Yang), award-winning or otherwise, goes into an interview on a controversial topic without expecting the controversy to be touched upon? Equating mass atrocities against the Hmong with the veracity of whether chemical weapons were used against them is not only disrespectful to the experience of the Hmong themselves, it is also downright dangerous to their cause. If it can be proven (and I think it likely that it can) that the deaths attributed to chemical weapons had another cause, by focusing the suffering of the Hmong upon this single element of the story it only makes the discrediting of it more damaging to the story as a whole.

This is a huge issue because to me it seems a case of emotional manipulation of the audience. And Ms. Yang isn’t content just to stop there: for this article she doubles down, rather than focusing on what the interview got wrong (I’d love at least one link, any link in the article to any of the pieces of research she claims bolster the claim that “Yellow Rain” was indeed a chemical or biological weapon), she talks about the experience of losing her baby. What does this have to do with the interview? One could argue it might have to do with her emotional state as she fielded Krulwich’s ever more aggressive questions or explain her reticence in engaging in the debate, but I frankly think it has more to do with generating sympathy in the audience. The message she presents is: look at these scientists beating up on my uncle and I while I suffered a miscarriage. She refutes none of the claims of the piece aside from claiming they edited out portions of the interview in which her uncle explains his experience with bees (which again, she could have presented in detail herself but opts not to), but instead focuses on the most emotionally charged pieces of information she has on hand to generate sympathy: by bringing her miscarriage into the story and by describing the treatment of her and her uncle as racist. The story of the Hmong is tragic enough–by manipulating the audience in this way it only serves to make the Yang’s seem even less rational than they appeared in the interview itself. What is the basis of the claims of racism in the interview? That the findings of a number of scientists were presented as more credible as those of a Hmong refugee and his niece? Given that only one of these parties has to submit their findings to peer review and prove their case in the court of public opinion, yes I’m going to say one of them does indeed have more credibility to bring to bear. If that is racist then all of physics, biology, geology, and chemistry is racist.

This is the one and only reason I sympathize with Krulwich: there have sadly been more than a few cases in history of sympathies of well-meaning people being directed into destructive means. One example that comes to mind was a story from the Invasion of Kuwait in which a Kuwaiti refugee claimed to have seen invading Iraqi soldiers killing babies in hospitals and more specifically seeing babies removed from incubators and left to die. The story was repeated to congressional inquiries and used as a talking point by then-president George H.W. Bush to bolster the case for repelling the invasion with US troops. The problem, as it turned out, was that the story was a fabrication. I’m not going to argue that it was the sole reason for the first Gulf War, but the fact that it was used on any level to justify that armed conflict is disturbing enough. As Krulwich points out in the story, the belief that the Hmong were attacked with chemical weapons was again used as a talking point to help justify the United States return to chemical weapons production. Nobody should want to build a case for sympathy on a house built even partially on the suffering or potential suffering of others.

All that said, I would love a follow-up piece about the Hmong out of NPR–something that addresses the deep history of their culture and experiences as an ethnic minority in both Southeast Asia. This interview wasn’t that and from what I can tell was never intended to be that. But when and if a journalist of any ethnicity does do a story on the Hmong, I can only hope that they let the story speak for itself rather than sensationalizing it by resting the case for the Hmong’s suffering on the most sensational pieces of it they have at their grasp. Ultimately the biggest disservice that does is to the Hmong themselves–it suggests their story isn’t tragic enough on its own and I assure you it is. They don’t need a twist worthy of Hollywood to lay claim to a heartwrenching story of oppression and suffering, it’s already there.

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10 Tips for Dating an Introvert

Over the weekend, a friend of mine asked me for a little advice. She is an extrovert dating a very introverted man and she was looking for some tips of how to negotiate and understand the inevitable conflicts that come about when these two personality types attempt to experience intimacy together.

As a lifelong introvert* who has dated a long chain of extroverts (including my current girlfriend), here are a few tips I’ve discovered for negotiating a shared space between these wildly different yet equally important personality types.

First off: if you’re not already familiar with the term, what is an introvert? In simplest terms, an introvert is a person who recharges their batteries through solitude and/or reflection. A popular misconception is that introverts are shy or dislike people–some do (frankly some extroverts are shy or dislike people, too) but it’s hardly true of all introverts. Many introverts have warm and caring relationships with a multitude of friends, they’ll just need some time to themselves after hanging out with them to recoup. There’s some evidence that what makes an introvert is that a person’s system is constantly flooded with dopamine such that in large social situations they can easily get overstimulated and need some recovery time to get the equilibrium back in their system. Think about how broken down and exhausted you feel after a really, really hard night of partying and realize that an introvert feels that way after most large gatherings. With that in mind, if you are not an introvert, here are a few helpful hints for dating one:

  1. If you want to know, ask
    There’s an old maxim: if you don’t know how an extrovert feels, it’s because you haven’t been listening. If you don’t know how an introvert feels, it’s because you haven’t asked. It may seem bizarre to many extroverts, but you have to ask an introvert to share anything about their emotional state. They think they’re being obnoxious if they share such things without being invited.
  2. Schedule important discussions in the near future
    Things will come up that you’ll need to discuss with your introvert–important things. Here’s how to bring it up: tell them you’d like to schedule a time to talk about x, y, and z issue and ask them if they’d like to throw anything else on the agenda. Yes, they’ll dislike scheduling important conversations, but they’ll appreciate that they don’t have to go into it unprepared and have some time to think over the items on the list.
  3. Have patience when checking in
    Don’t freak out if they don’t answer your texts in a timely manner. Any and all social interactions drain their batteries, including things as simple as texts and emails. Tell them you don’t always need an immediate answer to a question (unless it is urgent), but would like to know that they received your message. Also: be sparing in your use of phone calls. I know they’re comforting but introverts hate the phone because they don’t know how to process a conversation if they can’t see the person they’re talking to. If it’s just to check in and say hi and that you’re thinking of them, texting or email will usually do fine and you’re more likely to get a response.
  4. Deep conversations=real connections
    You may introduce your introvert to a whole host of people near and dear to you at a gathering. They will not remember a single one of your friends in such a venue–it’s not that they’re ditzy or your friends are unimportant, it’s that without more than a passing conversation they don’t hold onto this information. Schedule a night to have you and your introvert hang out with just two or three of them at a time in an informal setting and your introvert will never forget them as long as they live.
  5. Give them space during or after a fight
    If emotions are running high in a fight and your introvert says they need to walk away from it–let them! You may still be upset and need to talk about it out, but if your partner has made it clear that they need to walk away it means they are in an extremely emotionally volatile state. Continuing to pursue the matter at this point will lead to them behaving like a caged animal and lashing out in ways that will be productive for neither of you. You can think of it this way: for every minute a fight continues after your partner has asked to walk away, it’ll take them an entire additional day to get over it, if they ever do. Think about if those five minutes are worth five days.
  6. Define important commitments
    If you’ve got an important event or evening coming up, make sure to tell your introvert that. Please note: “It’d be nice if you’d come.” will tell your introvert it’s optional. To ensure they get the gist, make sure to note “it’s important to me that you be there.” You’re not being pushy by saying this, you’re helping your introvert understand how to prioritize the event.
  7. Communicate priority information
    The same goes for important information you tell your introvert–they frequently don’t know how much of what you’re telling them you’re expecting them to hold onto, so before you say something they’re going to need to know make sure to preface it “Oh, and this is really important…”
  8. Silence can be golden
    Your introvert needs reflection time in order to process the world–this does not always mean they need to be away from you to do it. Think of what they’re doing as being like meditation, only they do it a lot. If you can be in that meditative state with them, there’s no need to take a hike. If, on the other hand, the silence or lack of interaction feels boring or is too much for you, don’t begrudge them the solitude they need. You know how every once in a while they’ll say something really profound or insightful? This is how that happens.
  9. Talking ≠ Thinking
    It is impossible for your introvert to speak and think at the same time. The longer they’re kept talking, the longer it will take them to come up with a decision or opinion and the more they will need time away from the discussion to come up with either item. This is a tough one for extroverts because the act of talking helps them think. For introverts, talking comes after the thinking/feeling, not concurrently.
  10. Honor both your needs
    It won’t be unusual for your introvert (especially if they have a job that requires they interact with a lot of people during the day) to want to stay in at night. It’s okay to go out without them–they will not feel neglected. If you feel a little odd that you’re not going out with your significant other, remind yourself that by giving them that time to themselves, they’ll have more to talk about with you when you return (I know, it sounds counter-intuitive but trust me on this), plus you’ll be energized from a night out with your friends. Everyone wins!

Lest the extroverts out there think I’m making this too one-sided, I’ll be back with another blog entry with tips for introverts on dating extroverts. Till then take care and be good to each other!

* I’ve tested as an XNFP since my mid-twenties, but throughout my teen and college years I consistently tested as an I and still very much self-identify that way. Much of these are lessons learned over the years before the switchover. Who knows? Maybe having learned to work with extroverts helped move me toward the middle!

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Filed under Extroversion, Introversion, MBTI, Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator, psychology

Building a Homemade Trebuchet

“Warkitty” the Mischief Trebuchet at Fall PDF 2012

Summary:

Trebuchets are a really fun project to take on! There’s quite a bit written about them on the internet, but most of it tailored to specific projects. Here is the most generalized data I can give as to how to build a trebuchet of the size and scale of your choosing:

The swing arm must be constructed in such a way that the axle upon which it rests is located 1/5 of the distance between where the counterweight is anchored and the end of the swing arm itself. To achieve throws 10 or more times the length of the swing arm, you’ll want a pivoted counterweight that weighs at least 40 times as much as your payload. The length of the sling varies according to the trajectory you want your payload to have, but I’ve found that a length such that the sling when folded over is equal to the distance from the end of the swing arm to the axle is best for long shots. Shorter sling lengths may be used to achieve higher but shorter shots. Slings should consist of as little material as possible to avoid tangles. When looking at materials, focus your search for an axle on the most solid bar-shaped object you can obtain as the stresses on it will be quite high.

If you’d like to build a trebuchet according to the specifications of “Warkitty”, the trebuchet I spent the last four months building, you can download the blueprints and materials list here.

For a complete description of this project from beginning to end, read on below.

I. Introduction (What is a trebuchet? Why did I want to build one?)

Trebuchets are a type of medieval siege weapon that first appeared in both Europe and the Middle East in the 13th century and dominated siege warfare for the ensuing 300 years. They differed from other siege weapons of the day, including ballistas and mangonels, by using gravity to generate the force necessary to sling a heavy object at its target (usually a castle wall). I first became acquainted with trebuchets from a 2000 NOVA documentary on PBS in which a team of historians endeavored to build a replica of one such device on the shores of Loch Ness to test their destructive capabilities. I was instantly hooked on the device both for its historical significance and application of the physics of third-degree levers.

Four years ago, I encountered the device again at the mid-Atlantic regional burn, Playa Del Fuego. Two friends had brought a replica trebuchet that was approximately ten feet tall to the event, meaning for it to fire pillows over a small swath of trees into a field neighboring the event. We spent several hours working to increase the device’s range one afternoon, but never got a shot of more than 40 feet out of this device. Though this particular experiment was not a full success, it planted within me the desire to create a replica trebuchet that would be. In the spring of this year, I made it a goal to build a trebuchet of a similar scale with a range of no less than 100 feet.

In the course of researching how to build a trebuchet, I discovered that there is something of a cult community dedicated to their construction online and that there are more than a few successful designs to choose from. However, I had difficulties finding one specific to the capabilities I had in mind: easily transportable, able to break down, no component longer than ten feet, range of 100 feet. I thus set out through trial and error to create a trebuchet that would fulfill these requirements and having met this goal, I am setting down the lessons learned for other hobby engineers who wish to create their own trebuchets.

II. Research and Funding (Where did I get my design ideas? How did I pay for it?)

The first step in this process was to get the funds to put it together. It was also important to me that it be a project that would have community involvement and be a participatory work that others could engage in. As a Burning Man attendee, I knew that there was a local community of fellow Burners who’d found success in recent years hosting large events that involved just such projects and that they’d begun to develop a presence at the local regional burns. This group, called Mischief, seemed a perfect avenue through which to develop the project. I approached Mischief’s leadership in the spring with a tentative budget of $200-300 to create a modestly-sized trebuchet meant to hurl water balloons at event goers. After concerns with voiced about the potential for litter with such a project, it was instead suggested the intended payload be stuffed animals. With these requirements in place, I was given an art grant and the project was off and running!

I next did a bit of research into trebuchet design and construction. I was able to obtain a copy of the old NOVA broadcast to brush myself up on the basic principles of trebuchet design. The essential elements of a trebuchet are a long swing arm on a pivot that acts similar to a see-saw. When weight is dropped on one end the momentum is transferred to the opposite end, which is connected to a sling holding a payload. When the arm reaches a certain point along its arc, one end of the sling slides off the end of the arm and the sling releases the payload.

The trebuchet I’d encountered at Playa Del Fuego (PDF) had been constructed entirely out of wood 2x4s with a rope sling and a counterweight consisting of weights from an old barbell weight set with a chain threaded through them that hung from a pivot on one end of the swing arm. During our attempts to launch a pillow using this trebuchet, the counterweight had never exceeded 100 pounds. We’d done some adjustments to the length of the sling in an attempt to wrestle more range out of the device, but met with limited success.

In order to expand my knowledge of these devices, I also turned to numerous videos on YouTube of trebuchets created by other hobbyists. Many had impressive capabilities, but I found few that were to the scale that I envisioned. Most were either smaller (intended to hurl baseballs, etc) or much larger (meant to hurl pianos, people, etc), though a few of similar scale did appear in the noise. Few if any of the architects of these devices had bothered to include critical details as to their device’s construction. How much weight was necessary on the counterweight? How long did the sling need to be? What was the ideal proportion of the length of the swing arm to the distance between the axle and counterweight? How durable did the frame need to be?

Lacking easy answers to these questions, I endeavored to find the answers by constructing and testing small scale models and hoping the results of these experiments would scale up.

III. Scale Model Tests (Initial lessons learned from building a scale model of the trebuchet)

The scale models were constructed out of popsicle sticks acquired from a local hobby store and glued together with wood glue. I prepared multiple frames to test the ideal starting angle of the swing arm, multiple swing arms to test the ideal proportions of axle to counterweight, and crocheted a small sling to test the effect of the length of the sling on the distance traveled by the payload.

In an effort to accurately gauge the influence of the counterweight on distance traveled, I used a hoard of tiny fender washers with one set aside to be the payload. I reasoned that if I added weight to the counterweight by adding these washers, it would tell me the ideal proportion of weight between counterweight and payload (ie, if it took 40 washers on the counterweight to get a single washer to go the intended distance, that told me the weight ratio needed to be 40:1). Thus the trials began!

For each frame, I would try each swing arm with multiple weight amounts and two different sling lengths, measuring the distance traveled by the payload in 3 shots and working out the average. Frequently, the washers would bounce upon impact with the ground creating a small margin of error that could occasionally throw the average value off. Upon changing the variables of the experiment, however, there would be a noticeable difference in performance across the board, so the margin of error was deemed to be less than the margin of improvement with each subsequent test. My goal was to get the payload to travel at least ten times the length of the swing arm.

After tallying the results of these experiments, I came to the conclusion that the ideal swing arm would have the axle placed 1/4 the distance from the counterweight to the end of the swing arm (a measurement I’d later realize I made inaccurately) with a weight ratio of at least 40:1 (counterweight to payload) and that the angle of launch and length of sling weren’t nearly as important to performance as the counterweight was. You can see the spreadsheet of my numbers here.

With these numbers in hand, it was time to go to full-scale.

IV. Full-scale build (How was the trebuchet constructed? What problems did we encounter at full scale?)

Even with my numbers now in hand, there were quite a few other challenges to be solved at full scale. Among them: how to construct the frame? What would the sling be made of and how would it attach to the arm? In an effort to keep materials acquisition as simple as possible, I made a trip to the local Home Depot to see how many items could be acquired in a single trip there. The wood was the easy part–but it became clear on this trip that I could not get an angled cut made within the store and nobody that I knew had the equipment to perform such cuts, so my challenge with the frame was to find a way to construct it in such that it would not require any such cuts and still be strong enough to take the weight necessary to fling our intended projectiles. I designed the trebuchet to fling a payload of between 1 and 4 pounds, so the counterweight was to weigh up to 200 pounds.

The next challenge was to find appropriate materials to hang the weights from and to make the axle from. When it came to the counterweight, I decided to go by the design my friends Smokie and Jen had used at PDF–threading a heavy-duty chain through the center of barbell weights. The chain was easy enough to locate, but finding a reliable way to fasten it would be a challenge. I opted for a spring-driven quick snap link and went to plumbing to search for an axle. Here, my best option was cast iron pipes, which were hollow and that concerned me. I decided to hang the counterweight from a single 6 inch cast iron pipe and use a 48 inch iron bar for the axle. Two elements of this design immediately struck me as prone to failure: the axle and the bar around which the counterweight would hang. One interesting challenge I did not foresee until this stage was finding a way to keep the swing arm from sliding side to side as it turned on the axle. A random trebuchet video on YouTube provided an interesting solution: cut two pieces of PVC that had an inner diameter greater than the axle to act as spacers between the frame and the swing arm.

For the frame design, I consulted my friend Carlos Bustamante, a local performer with an expertise in theatrical construction and carpentry. He suggested to me that I utilize a pair of A-frames constructed as equilateral triangles  that could be bolted to a base piece and thus broken down relatively flat. The A-frames would sandwich three layers of 2x4s together and reinforce the side of the trebuchet facing the direction in which it would fire. With this design in hand, I laid out the blueprints for the device in Illustrator and put down the final materials list. A date was selected for the build and an invite sent out for help with the construction.

For the sling, I opted to cut out a square of fabric from an old gift bag I had laying around and grommet the corners, tying ropes to each of them that would then attach to the swing arm itself.

We had a number of problems to overcome on build day. The first and most severe was that we quickly realized no one on the build team had a drill bit longer than 4 inches, making the sandwiching of three pieces of 2×4 impossible to make precise. For the first part of the day, we compensated by instead using wood screws on each side of the frame, realizing they would not penetrate the entire assembly but hoping they would still keep the A-frames stable. Next, we discovered the bore drill bit we had acquired at 1 1/8 inch was still creating a hole too small for the iron pipes we had acquired (I had thought the measurement was of the external rather than internal diameter). After some trial and error, we sent a runner to the local hardware store to grab both a 1 3/8 inch bore bit as well as the 6 inch drill bit we’d so badly needed in the morning.

With these two last pieces of the puzzle in place, the trebuchet construction was completed by dusk and we were ready to have our first test firing. We put only 90 pounds on the counterweight to start with, not having any idea whether our design would work or be stable. Even at this point, it was clear that the method we’d employed for holding the counterweight was going to be problematic. To affix the counterweight to the end of the swing arm, one or more people would have to physically lift the weights while another would work to quickly thread the chain through the center of these weights and snap the quick snap link shut before the arms of the people lifting the weights gave out. At 90 pounds this wasn’t terribly difficult. At 135 plus pounds it started becoming very difficult. Our first launch wasn’t very successful at all–we found that the fabric I’d used for the sling wasn’t very durable and the grommeted corners kept being ripped out by the forces of the launch. I grommeted and regrommeted as the early evening wore on and finally we got a decent launch at 135 pounds, launching a volleyball 60 feet. After this test firing, we discovered to our great chagrin that the hollow iron pipe acquired from Home Depot had already begun to bend under the strain of the first few shots. We hastily deconstructed the trebuchet in the dark and I went to work on finding an alternative for the axle.

After receiving a number of helpful suggestions, I opted to visit a local steel works in Manassas, Virginia to see what they had in stock. They had an array of metal bars of an appropriate diameter, but full lengths were priced too high for our budget. I lucked out and found a cast-off solid steel bar of the perfect diameter that was 8 feet long. I had the steel works cut it in half so we would have both an axle and a backup axle for use in testing and firing.

A couple weeks after acquiring the new axle, I was able to find the time to reconstruct the trebuchet and test fire it a few more times. While the new axle was a major improvement, it was clear that the device wasn’t performing according to its intended specifications: the stuffed animals thrown from it rarely traveled more than 30 or 40 feet and the sling frequently would tangle and not release at all. I began to suspect that the stuffed animals were too light and had too much surface area to be effective as a payload. To improve upon the sling, our primary patron Josh had a supply of heavy-duty plastic paintin tarp and I opted to make a new sling by cutting a square out of it and grommeting the corners as I had the earlier fabric. During one of these shots my second concern became fully realized: the iron bar supporting the counterweight broke through the swing arm with the weights landing in a forceful pile upon the base piece. I hastily made for the local hardware store to replace the broken pieces and finished reinstalling them well after nightfall, making sure to locate the axle for the counterweight a few inches closer to the axle than before to avoid the issue in the future. Any further testing would have to wait till the trebuchet’s full debut at the North Carolina regional burn, TransformUs.

Amid celebratory drinks after wrapping up the deconstruction, we christened the trebuchet “Warkitty” in tribute to “Warwolf”, the trebuchet Edward I had used in the siege of Sterling Castle.

V. TransformUs (The trebuchet’s first deployment–what went wrong and what went right)

One of the intended uses of the trebuchet when it was being pitched to Mischief was as a method for throwing stuffed animals into neighboring camps at TransformUs. In the time I had before setting the trebuchet up there, I set about looking at the two primary problems the device seemed to currently have: first, it wasn’t throwing nearly as far as it should have been, which could conceivably have been a problem with either the type of payload or something off in the design. Second, the sling was getting tangled in the swing arm as it fired so often that it was misfiring more often than it was firing. I looked back over my design materials and rewatched some of my source materials. Upon a second viewing of the PBS NOVA special, I realized there was a section where the process to determine the distance from the counterweight to the axle was demonstrated using computer graphics but not explained vocally. Curious, I repeated the steps myself in a notebook and discovered they indicated an axle that was 1/5 of the distance from the counterweight to the end of the swing arm. Curious how I could have missed such an obvious issue, I went back and remeasured my scale model. There I found I’d made a critical mistake in measuring the distance not from the location of the counterweight, but the very opposite end of the swing arm. The difference wound up putting the location of the axle at 1/5 the length of the swing arm as well and I chided myself for the oversight.

At TransformUs, with the trebuchet unpacked I discovered some of the weights were missing, so I’d be unable to put more than 145 pounds on the counterweight. With no other options, I dug in and worked to fine-tune all the other elements of the design. I started with the sling. Rather than having a loose rope that hung around the bare screw that functioned as the release finger on the end of the sling arm, I switched to a design wherein a single length of rope would go between neighboring grommets of the sling and then have a single length of rope going from the swing arm to tie to the middle of this loop between the grommets. There was an immediate improvement both in performance and in proportion between successful firings as opposed to misfirings. I quickly discovered that the arrangement of the sling had a huge effect on the quality of the shots wherein loading it sideways would almost inevitably lead to a misfire.

With this crucial piece in place, I remeasured the swing arm and sure enough found the axle to be in the wrong spot. The point 1/5 of the way between the counterweight and end of the swing arm was another four inches toward the counterweight. I bored a new hole and again saw an improvement in performance with smaller, denser stuff animals regularly flying 60 feet. Still below specifications, but at least more consistent. With little else that could be done to improve performance at this burn, I set aside a couple hours each day to fling stuffed animals into neighboring camps. One afternoon, a gentleman who’d constructed a similar trebuchet to fling bowling balls at the Georgia burn, Alchemy stopped by and we had a brief chat about the devices. He praised the work I’d already done, stating that the lessons I’d learned from my scale models had enabled me to skip work it had taken him a couple years to complete on a full-size model. On burn night, a crew of seven people helped to move the trebuchet out to the burn field where we launched stuffed animals into the gathered crowd, making one young lady very happy when a teddy bear miraculously dropped from the heavens into her lap and quickly getting shut down by the staff there after a misfire in the dark.

VI. Figment (The trebuchet’s second deployment–entertaining small children and improving on the counterweight)

The trebuchet sat unused at Josh’s house for all of August and much of September as Burning Man and other activities began eating up more of all of our time. Another chance to use it came up at the end of September when the Burning Man-inspired event Figment had its inaugural run in DC. It was suggested we once again bring out the trebuchet and I enthusiastically endorsed the idea. I resolved I wanted to fix two elements of its use: I wanted to ensure we had all the weights (205 pounds worth) to bring it up to full specifications and I wanted to make it easier to add the counterweights to the swing arm.

Ever since our first few experiments in firing on the first day the trebuchet was built, I knew we needed a better way to add weights. Even under 135 pounds, the counterweight was painfully difficult to set up and even more dangerous to take down. I’d envisioned a metal T-bar like the type used to store the very kind of weights we were using that we could easily slide the weights on and off of. I’d been racking my brains to find a friend with metal-working experience when it dawned on me the day before Figment that there was a much easier solution that I’d overlooked. Rather than fashioning a T-bar completely out of metal, I could improvise one out of a piece of wood and another iron pipe by taking a 30-inch 2×4 and drilling holes in either end of it. On one end we would thread through the iron pipe used to hang the counterweight on and through the other we would thread a 12 inch iron pipe upon which we would mount the weights.

“Warkitty” the Mischief Trebuchet at Figment DC 2012

The next day at Figment, the design came together without a hitch and resulted not only in us being able to load the trebuchet easier, but also re-aim it when we so chose by quickly removing the weights and dragging the frame to the new intended direction. Alas, only 180 pounds of the weights made it out, but not the final 25 pound plate. Nevertheless, we spent the day launching stuffed animals to the delight of the children who attended the event, many of whom opted to pick from a barrel full of them that we’d set out just for the occasion. Between high winds that frequently blew the stuffed animals back toward the trebuchet and the continued mysterious tendency of them to fire high and then fall straight back down to earth, no shot went terribly far that day, but the children were ecstatic to have the device there. We also learned that with the T-bar, the trebuchet was now so stable that it could take repeated and frequent firings over the course of many hours and no piece of it was likely to fail.

VII. Playa Del Fuego (The trebuchet finally performs as designed–what were the final pieces of the puzzle?)

For Fall Playa del Fuego (PDF) 2012, I was determined to bring out the trebuchet once again. In addition to wanting to get the trebuchet to perform as it had been originally designed, I had a strong desire to bring it to the place where it had originally been inspired more than two years ago. With some effort, I was able to find a friend who could transport it to Delaware so I could spend part of the long Columbus Day weekend perfecting the design.

Onsite, I had a friend named Emily Hanson helping me construct the trebuchet who had what turned out to be a critical piece of advice: use a heavier payload. After the first few shots with stuffed animals resulted in distances similar to those at Figment, despite now using the full weight available to us, Emily fetched a soccer ball that we then attempted to fire. The difference was night and day! Rather than 40 limping feet the ball was now easily coasting over 80. We spent some time working to find an ideal sling length before settling on a length equal to the distance from the end of the swing arm to the axle and found our shots easily besting our previous record of 60 feet. We measured shots easily crossing the 160 foot mark and wrote down each successive shot in sharpie on Warkitty’s frame. When an especially strong tailwind came up, we measured a 180 foot shot, tripling the trebuchet’s best performance up to PDF and repeatedly demonstrating it to delighted children and adults for two days during the burn. Here, our biggest problem was that the T-bar was just slightly crooked and sometimes the weights would veer dangerously close to popping off the ends as they fell during the firing of the trebuchet. We also found one of the C-Clamps we’d been using to hold the axle in place on the outsides of the A-frame had bent slightly out of shape and now was frequently falling off when we fired it, but it was replaced with another clamp that performed perfectly the rest of the weekend. This was the trebuchet we’d been waiting for!

VIII. Conclusion

This has been one of the more enjoyable projects I’ve taken up in the past few years and seeing it perform so beautifully at PDF was the culmination of months of hard work and design. I highly recommend this project to anyone who wants a fun physics or construction based project that will leave you in awe. I hope you’ve found this outline of the process helpful as to how many of the problems encountered in design and construction were solved–profit from the lessons I’ve learned the hard way! If you’ve built your own trebuchet or are building one based either upon your design or the one I’ve shared here, please leave me a comment or email me at ben (dot) drexler (at) gmail (dot) com and share with me whatever photos, videos, or written materials you may have. You may also share suggestions with me on how to improve my design if you like, but please note that after months of working on this project I’ve come into the habit of taking the advice of those who have not built their own trebuchets with a grain of salt. It’s very difficult to know how to diagnose problems with these devices if you have not had the physical experience of building one yourself. Thanks for taking the time to read all this and enjoy 🙂

Thanks to:

Josh and the Mischief crew for funding this project–and Josh especially for going above and beyond the call to make this project a success
Ethan Sapperstein for helping me build and take the trebuchet down more times than I can count
Emily Hanson for being such a trooper at PDF and for your excellent suggestions
Devin, Aaron, Josh, Ethan, Jessica, Debbi, Kate, Shamal, Will, JoAnna, and all the rest of the build crew for the epic day of construction
Debbi Arseneaux for putting up with my endless scale tests in the living room and showing me how best to glue the popsicle sticks together
The older gentleman who helped me with the trebuchet at TransformUs and whose name I’m ashamed to admit I cannot now remember–your generosity of time and effort are hugely appreciated 🙂
Matthew Blakey and Patrick Oberman for the incomparable service of transporting the trebuchet to and from Figment
Alan Foran for transporting the trebuchet to PDF
Scott Crum for seriously bailing us out and transporting the trebuchet back from PDF–and also for the badass castle that matched it sheets to drapes 🙂

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How to dye your facial hair bright red

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Me before the color–note the dark brown facial hair.

For this year’s Burning Man, I decided I was going to dye the large tuft of chin beard I’ve been working on bright red a la Dimebag Darrell or Scott Ian from Anthrax. This turned out to be one of those projects for which there was shockingly little written on the web and I wound up having to figure a good portion of it out for myself. The good news is it turns out you can make it happen for about $20 in stuff from your local CVS or other drugstore. The reason this isn’t an obvious process is that dyes intended for the hair on the top of your head are usually a bit harsh for facial hair. After consulting with a friend who is a local stylist, she recommended using a henna dye in a similar fashion to how some Muslim men dye their beards. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any locally so I had to improvise. Here’s everything I wish someone else had posted about this process:

My beard is a darker shade of brown than the rest of my hair, which meant it needed to be bleached before colored. Most of the hair dyes I’ve used before that can be found in the dye aisle at the grocery or drug store were single-step processes. These are designed to camouflage in with the rest of your hair and look nominally natural. That wasn’t what I was looking for: I was looking for a bright, deliberately artificial look. The kind you get with the dyes you’ll find at Hot Topic among other spots. These dyes, it turns out, first require you to bleach the color out of your hair and then apply the new color. This meant I was going to need to bleach my beard and then apply the color.

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The bleach.

Everything I read online suggested that bleaches for the top of the head shouldn’t be applied to body hair because the skin on the face is much more sensitive than the skin on the scalp. With this in mind, I picked up a bottle of facial hair bleach in the hair removal section of CVS. This is stuff that is intended for women who have facial hair to hide it by dyeing it light enough to be difficult to see. For color, I picked up a box of Splat hair dye in raspberry red because it was the brightest permanent dye they had at CVS.

My first treatment with this stuff was the recommended 8 minutes and when I removed it, I was pretty disappointed with the results. The hair at the front of my beard was maybe a shade lighter, but overall I could barely tell that anything had been done. After consulting the instructions in the Splat kit, I realized they recommended bleaching hair for 30 minutes at the bare minimum before applying the coloring. I went back and re-applied the bleach and this time waited for 20 minutes. During that time I felt a light tingling and was aware of some of the fumes coming off the bleach but noticed no other adverse side-effects.

The color.

After 20 minutes I washed out the bleach to find my beard had now assumed a range of color between nearly platinum blonde in the front and a straw-yellow in some of the farther back hairs. Now for the color! This was cake: I put a small ring of petroleum jelly around my chin, put on the gloves, and proceeded to dab the dye into my beard. The instructions recommended keeping the dye 1/4″ away from the skin, which clearly wasn’t an option here, so I just went as close as I dared. I got a couple spots on my skin and did my best to wash them straight off with a damp towel. It took only a couple squirts from the bottle to get enough dye for the beard

The directions called for 10 minutes with the color if one wanted 3-4 weeks worth of color or 30 minutes if one wanted 1-6 months. It being my first time, I opted for the 10 minute option and finished off with a nice shower. After drying, I inspected the results and found a range of colors from a fiery orange in front near the roots to the deep red I was looking for further back. I’m happy with the results, but if I do this again I think I’m going to work to get better coverage with the bleach and probably only leave it in for 15-20 minutes total. The best color wound up being the places that the bleach treated least.

Hope this helps some of you all out there when coloring your facial hair! See y’all on the playa 🙂

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