New Experience (after all these years)

Music TopicThe band today is special for me, and I’m picking her because
she is within a month of the same age as me (we’re both aging pretty
well, I think.) She is Michelle Malone. She’s a
staple of the Atlanta music scene, and one of my most favorite
songwriters and performers. When I was turning 21 (and she was too),
she performed every Saturday night at the White Dot in midtown
Atlanta. I went to nearly every show. I later booked her on Live @
WREK and basically did everything I could in my meager way to spread
the faith. I still absolutely adore her music. Here is her MP3
page at MP3.com.
Listen to “Avalon”, an absolutely fabulous song,
one of my favorites of all time.

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Is it just me or does a lot of what mainstream blog
culture consist of is some kind of big cybernetic Ponzi scheme? A lot
of the logs seem to point to other people pointing to cool things,
etc. Why is this, and how the hell do I get into the scheme? Link to
me!

Music TopicI’m bending my own rules. It’s my party! Today’s musician of the
day is Aimee Mann. Although
she doesn’t have MP3s available to download, you can get a nice
quality streaming feed of every song on her upcoming
album. Jesus Christ, this is how you do it! You big labels with heads up
your asses, pay attention! I absolutely loved her album Bachelor #2,
which I believe she put out herself on her own label. She does have
the independent spirit that I so love. I saw her on that Brian Wilson
tribute show on TNT where she and her husband did an amazing rendition
of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”.

OK, I’m two songs into the streaming and I have now pulled out my
credit card and will be preordering it. You get an extra CD with bonus
tracks if you do. Can’t beat that deal with a stick. Way to go
Aimee! Also, although she doesn’t have downloadable MP3s on the site,
there are
downloadable movies
. Check out the computer animated music video
for “Red Vines” – it is great! I love that song, much like I love
all her songs. I’m saving a copy of this just in case they ever take
it down. I wonder if her people ever submitted this video to VH1?
Apparently the guy just did it as a project and then asked her manager
for permission to use it. I could be wrong on that, it might be an
official thing. Give this dude a job, someone! Look at how
good this is relative to most music videos!

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Another change to how I handle this stuff. I’m going to start adding
new entries on the top, so the order of reading is always newest to
oldest, top to bottom. I suppose I might redo the previous entries,
but probably not. I’ll just start doing it now and let the old ones
ride. I’ve only been doing this log a week, and coming up with titles
has already gotten difficult. Thank god I’m not titling each entry.

I have a picture of Emily Nicole hanging on my computer now. I can’t
wait to see her tomorrow. It is really hard to concentrate on my work
when all I really want to do is to play with piggies and sing songs to
her.

Music TopicOn Monday I’ll be going to Sonic
Youth
playing at the Variety Playhouse. I have
commented to my friends that all the shows I see are by aging
post-punks – just like me! I’m not nailing down dates, but somewhere
around this time I’ll be aging a little more (as measured by yearly
milestones.) This is part of the celebration. I’ve never seen them,
but their album Daydream
Nation
remains one of my favorite albums of all time. They’re
not the band of the day because they aren’t giving any MP3s away. They
should if they’re so DIY, but there you have it. I’m excited about the show.

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Just a few minutes ago, I finished transcribing my interview with
Storm Constantine. It
still needs copy editing (as does the one with Michael Moorcock) but at the
least the original work of transcription is done. Jesus lord, if I had
known how hard this work would be, I would have never
have started. I still believe that I can have principal text finished
by next weekend. I’ll take printouts of these two interviews with me
to Augusta this weekend as I visit my neice. Maybe somewhere in there
I can find time for a little red pen work.

I’ll be a guest at two science fiction conventions trying to promote
this book –
Dragon*Con
over Labor Day weekend and
Orycon
the weekend before Thanksgiving. Hopefully I’ll be on
interesting e-book panels (any interesting panels would be fine.) With
any luck, the guys from
Fictionwise
will give me some more coupons to pass out again. I
did last year, I don’t know how effective they were.

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Just before we went to the beach for the Fourth of July, I splurged on
a toy for myself – iRiver’s
SlimX MP3/CD player
. I really, really, really
love this thing. It plays my old time radio MP3s, which can be all
over the map in bitrates, mono, and weird encodings. It has a remote
control with an LCD readout that tells me what MP3 is playing. It even
has an onboard FM receiver. Rechargeable batteries come with it, and
the menuing system allows you to explicitly discharge and recharge
them! How cool is that? I’ve had it a month and am really taken with
it. The OTR stuff meant that I couldn’t just grab any old $49 player
and use it the way I wanted but I never expected that I’d have a
player I liked this much. On top of everything, it is so small, light
and really cool looking. All around, this device is a thumbs up.

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Music TopicSo I need to clarify a little what I’m after with posting
these music links. This is really the thing that got me wanting to do
the weblog in the first place, so I should canonize the ground rules,
if for no reason other than to allow myself to focus on what I’m
doing.

Originally, I thought that I’d post links to musicians that:

  1. I am enthusiastic about
  2. Make their own MP3s available on the web (ie, they choose them to
    be there)

  3. Are NOT major label/RIAA artists (this webcasting
    fee business is abominable)

  4. Have some of that roguish air of independence about them

Now, today’s artists presents a little challenge under point #3
above. She is a major label artist, yet she also is the owner of a local
(to Atlanta) independent record
label
and the champion of many causes for the underdog. I’m talking about Amy Ray of the
Indigo Girls. I’ve always
loved the Indigo Girls. The night I turned 21 I celebrated by seeing
them play at the Little Five Points Pub – if that doesn’t date me
nothing will. Amy released a solo album, Stag that I
really like. Most people seemed lukewarm on it, but I welcomed the
departure from the standard Indigo type songs. One of them, Late
Bloom
I slipped into the automation rotation at WREK. The other
one she has in MP3 form, Lucy
Stoners
is fabulous and would be worth note for no other reason than the feminist
chorus “Lucy Stoners/don’t need boners/no man could/ever own her.”
Both songs are great. Listen to them.

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My coworker Darin sent me this link to
The Poetic Systems
website. How is that for a work environment? I
want one. We’ve got four guys in a not huge office, two of whom are
subject to fits of farting, giggling, whooping over naked women
pictures and other fratboy behavior. Maybe if I worked in
The Aura
this wouldn’t bother me.

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Damn, I see that science fiction artist Ron Walotsky has died. I interviewed
him at Dragon*Con a few years ago and really liked him. He was a nice
guy and a great artist. RIP, Ron. You passed way too young.

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TV TopicI ended up up going to WREK over my lunch hour. Last week a
lightning strike caused some damage to the station, and this morning
the telemetry went nuts and just shut the station off. I happened to
be calling the shack robotic information line when someone picked up –
it was Chris, my compadre WREK alumnus. He also does a lot of the
engineering there (we were undergrads at the station together back in
the 80’s) and he was in the shack fixing things. His problem was that
he couldn’t both sign on from the station while checking things at the
shack. No problem, said I, and hopped in my car for the station. He
signed it on, I played the legal stuff and got us back on track. It
was just in time to play the 12:30 – 1 PM program, although about a
minute early so I cut on the mike and briefly explained that technical
problems kept us off the air all morning and that "robots seized control of the station for a while, but the humans are now back in
charge". I was only in the station 22 minutes as measured by the
parking meter out front. It helped that this happened during lunchtime
when it was easier to pick up and go.

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Music TopicToday’s band is linked to yesterday’s
band
, both musically and personally. Well, the “band” is actually
a person, Diana
Obscura
. She plays cello, amongst other instruments, and her music
is medieval, ambient, haunting and beautiful. I took some of her MP3s
and added them to WREK’s
Atmospherics rotation. I really like her music. Years ago I met her
when she was the one working the Changelings table at
Dragon*Con
and later when she was doing her Creepy Puppet
Theater. She’s very nice, cool and I love her music. Here is
her MP3.com download page.

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I’m already an uncle! Emily Nicole was born earlier this afernoon. Way
to go! I’m so excited!

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Technology TopicAt work one of the tools I’ve used recently is
the GMT – Generic Mapping Tools
. It is unbelievably cool! You can
generate practically any map you can think of via this tool. I
generated all kinds of maps with this, changing the colors, adding the
state or country borders, altering the projection type. If you wanted
to and you had an external data file relating population density to
coordinates, you could generate a 3-D topographic map where height
was related to population in a few command line
statements. Incroyable! I truly love this thing.

Changelings

Music TopicToday’s band is The
Changelings
. I’ve known them a while and I used to use their music
as bumpers for my radio show quite frequently. They have gothic,
ambient, Middle Eastern influences amongst others. I truly dig
them. You can download some of their music from their page at
MP3.com
. The only bummer is that my favorite song of theirs –
“Johnny Ether’s Great Escape” isn’t up there. Check them out, you will
like them.

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Mmmmm, just had dinner at
Rocky Mountain Pizza
over by Georgia Tech. I’ve never had pizza
there, only their Smokehouse Burger. We’ve taken to always getting the
sweet potato fries. Tasty! Part of the deal was that we also got to
play the South Park pinball machine, one of my favorites.

Haven’t yet mentioned it here, but I’m on a mad dash to finish the
next Reality Break book. It will have interviews with Michael Moorcock, Kage Baker, Storm Constantine and
probably a fourth writer as well. I have targets on the length, so if
it runs short I’ll add another person in. I’m leaning towards James
Patrick Kelly, but Elizabeth Hand is also on the list. I’m trying to
group them such that it makes sense having them all in the same
volume. I just don’t know. This part is hard. To think that at one
point I thought I could put out three volumes a year. Ha! I’ve been nine
months on this and I’m not done! I so want to be done with the text by
next weekend, but that’s looking unlikely.

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Music Topic For as many days as I can maintain it, I’m going to try to make an
entry every day about a musician I love. To keep it all webloggy, I’m going to
limit it to musicians that offer their MP3s. Other than WREK, this is
how I find out about new bands nowadays. I was going to start with the
one I like most, but since this is a new weblog, I’ll hold off and
present one I just found a few days ago.


The Kropotkins
caught my eye while looking up Mulatta Records for WREK. They have
Dave Soldier (of the Soldier String Quartet), and !!Mo Tucker!! of the
!!Velvet Underground!! in the band. Wow! Mo used to live in Georgia,
maybe she still does. I downloaded the MP3 of their song Sissy Wa Wa and I’ve
listened to it 30 times in the last few days. It has a skip-rope
cadence, funky guitar and bass, and just plain rocks. I must find out more
about this band.

No Title

TV TopicOver the coming weeks I will write here about WREK 91.1 FM in Atlanta a fair
bit. It is, in my opinion, a brilliant idiot savant of a radio
enterprise. I worked there for several years in the 80’s, then did
Reality Break there in the 90’s, and upon returning to Atlanta in 2000
got back involved. The idiot savant bit is because the station is
soooo good at presenting interesting, challenging programming –
traditionally the hard part of a station. Where they fall down is on
the simplest things, like returning phone calls, showing up for shifts,
faxing in things that need to go somewhere. Dealing with them is
simultaneously uplifting and frustrating.

While I was laid off last year, I rebuilt some of the systems of the
station. In my day, we had an automation system that was like a
steampunk affair. There were multiple reel-to-reels that contained
“oldies” on them, a set of “current” rotation songs on carts that were
in a big chain driven player. The carts contained a song from our
rotation plus an announcement of what it was, group, album, etc. The
voices were grouped and colorcoded and (ideally) all the same voice
throughout. So, you’d load up 50 carts of one voice, matching genres
to the current format. When automation was running, it would play a
cart, then cut to a reel, then back to a cart, then to a different
reel. Because the voices were the same, it approximated a DJ doing a
shift.

This was typically done overnight, during breaks or finals week, or
other times when manpower was scarce. Because Georgia Tech has no
communication/radio and TV type major, WREK has almost no one who is
looking to radio as a career path. This is in stark contrast to our
psuedo-rivals
Album 88
, the
Georgia State
station. Because they are manned by radio/TV
students who are burning to go into the music business, they have a
much easier time manning the place. There is a waiting list to get to
do the 2-6 AM Sunday AM shift, something that WREK can’t fill to save
their lives, especially not with a live person spinning records. So,
with automation you could set it up by loading carts, sleep while it
ran and if there were problems an alarm would wake you up. This helped
alleviate the manpower situation.

Somewhere around 1997 or 1998, the chain-driven cart changer
broke and was deemed unfixable. This immediately meant the death of
automation as they knew it, which then caused a domino effect of
failures throughout the organization. To do an overnight required one
to not sleep so as to spin CDs and records, so people stopped doing
them. When unmanned, the station would hit the power button and go
Off! The! Air! This seemed not to bother folks, who just shrugged, but
it made my head explode. I couldn’t seem to explain to folks how
incredibly loserish this was, and why any reasonable listener –
after turning to 91.1 and getting static enough times – would stop
turning there.

Fast forward to May 2001. I get laid off from my software
engineering job on a Thursday. The next day, I begin work on the new
automation system. Luckily, a team of us who were tasked with rebuilding
it had spent that spring discussing the requirements
and design. The day I became available to work on it, I started turning the
requirements into a design that met them and doing all the things I
normally do as a software engineer. I did all this for a complicated
group of reasons, with a mix of altruism and selfishness.

  • I wanted WREK on the air, all the time
  • I wanted it sounding good with the wonky format all its fans love
  • I did not want to sit around the house moping about being
    unemployed, and this kept me working (albeit without pay)

  • It allowed me to write things on my resume that I wanted there,
    like Oracle and PHP experience

  • It made me feel cool.

A very brief overview of the system:
The heart of it is
Audiovault
, an electronic digital audio management tool for radio
stations. The raw songs, promos, PSAs, etc are recorded in this. I
redid their database to better scale and allow for definition of
songs, automation, etc. I built a management system in PHP that lets
them handle records, program them, add songs, etc. Through a cool COM
object, Javascript on a web page allows one to press a button and load
up Audiovault with the correct information. Finally, I built a Java
process that takes the “business logic” information from the Oracle
database, the “physical inventory” information from Audiovault and
correlates it into a coherent library. At that point, it knows what
songs it has, what formats they are, when they’ve been played, etc. A
scheduler then fills out a 24 hour chunk of the schedule, playing
ambient cuts at the right time, mixing it up for the diverse formats,
playing IDs at the top of the hour.

Because my work philosophy involves having something that does
anything as soon as possible (rather than having a system that doesn’t
do anything until it can do everything, which is freakishly common)
automation was on the air doing test shifts in less than 5 weeks from
project start. It had engineering problems, but it could do the basics
of scheduling songs and playing them in June of 2001. Through a summer
of hard work developing, digitizing and doing basically every aspect
of this project, I left them with a system that is robust and good. It
sounds great, and unlike the old chain driven affair, almost never has
problems. It is so stable that by adding some stuff at the transmitter
shack, automation can run the station without a DJ. In fact, other
than an hour after a lightning strike last week, the station hasn’t
signed off since April. This is so essential to rebuilding lost
listenership, and now they have 24 X 7 operation, nearly for free. As
a listener I love it. I can get in my car at 7 AM and there they are,
providing me pygmy drums and free jazz. I love it! Not only does the
station sound great and operate fulltime but I think I did the best
engineering work of my career on it. I’m still doing it, in fact.

Here are some cool links associated with the station.

Listen live via MP3
streams

See the most recent songs automation has played (that’s right, the
automation playlists are on the web while live DJs are not.) This is a
good place to see the demented brilliance that is WREK. This morning
around 8 AM, a Chicano version of “Sugar Sugar” segued into a folky
guitar thing into the Residents. That’s pretty typical of what you get
in the night and weekend formats.

See the
most recent albums programmed

That’s enough for now. Check them out. Later, I’ll even tell you the
story of the race to become the first radio bitcasters.

Why Evil Genius?

Before I go too far with this, I should explain this “Evil Genius”
business. Does this mean that I think I’m a genius or that I think I’m
evil? Do I want to be in the axis of evil? Although I’m reasonably
bright, I’m not a genius. I’d even call myself pretty far from
evil. So why the name?

In actuality, it all comes
back to
Wile E. Coyote
. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved the
character. Where the Roadrunner is the essence of smug superficiality,
the Coyote is plucky, indefatigable, continuously willing to keep
trying. Defeat doesn’t stop him. I like that. For 20 years, when I needed some name for some sort of business
venture, I would always use some variation on “Evil Genius” in homage
to Wile E. When I
did my radio show, I
referred to it as happening at “The Evil Genius studios” (my house)
and it was outro’d by a computer generated Macintosh voice saying
“This has been an Evil Genius Production.”

Early September of last year, I was considering getting some of those
free VistaPrint business cards for Evil Genius and I wanted a
slogan. I was considering things like “Ruling the world, one reader at
a time” or “Global domination at affordable rates.” Come the eleventh
of September, it didn’t seem so funny anymore. As part of the whole
“returning to normal life” process, I have decided that it remains
funny. So “Evil Genius” it is, remains and will be forever. So mote it
be. Besides, I already have the evilgeniuscorp.com domain name.