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We’re going on a spontaneous trip to Portland Oregon this weekend (PDX
for you acronymic hipsters.) A convergence of cheap flights, a
scheduling snafu and the need post-election of some cheering up has
put us there. It’s a short 48 hour thing, but should be fun. We’re
staying downtown and walking around to all the fun stuff,
Powells Bookstore
, playing video games at Ground Kontrol, shopping and
hanging out at Pioneer
Square
and other fun stuff you can do downtown. When we were
there, we ached to get back to Atlanta with friendlier people and
nicer weather. Now, we kind of ache to have a town with an active
downtown, good transit, and functional city government. The grass is
always greener, I suppose.

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As if last night’s Letterman wasn’t sad enough with Zevon, shortly
before the show started, we learned that Jam Master Jay had been
killed in Queens, NY. Run DMC was the first rap show I ever saw, with
Public Enemy and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince opening up. This
was back when it wasn’t 60% white kids in the audience. I doubt there
were 6% white kids there. I went to a black high school for my one
year in Augusta GA and I came out with an appreciation for Run DMC,
UTFO, Kurtis Blow, Whodini, the Fat Boys and all the other groups that
were big circa 1984. I will miss Jay. I saw them at Music Midtown last
year, another performance I’m glad I saw when I could.

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I don’t know if the novelty of the weblog is just wearing off or
what. I find that over the last few weeks I only log about half of the
days.

I’ve been listening to Dimension X in order while I do my cardio work
at the gym. I’m up to episode 15 or so, an adaptation of Robert
Heinlein’s “The Roads must Roll.” I’ll have to look up the title, but
the most disturbing one yet was an adaptation of a Jack Vance story
about colonists on another world and their interactions with the
natives. The fact that they were called “gooks” by the humans and
spoke with accents that sounds about half Japanese (no pun intendend)
and half American Indian lent an even more troubling racial air to the
whole story. With the casual suppression of an entire race because
they were incovenient to the colonists, the story had a lot of
resonance. I don’t know if it was deliberate, because it seemed pretty
gleeful and unironic.

In my other OTR efforts, I’ve been working on downloading the entirety
of the BBC series Round the Horne. I used to air this
on my comedy show on WREK 15 years ago. We had 8 or 10 episodes on
vinyl that I would play. When it’s done, I’ll have the full series
including Christmas specials and several documentaries in MP3 format
on a single CD. Sweet! I once sent Neil Gaiman (weblog here) cassette dubs of all
the episodes we had at the station, and in return he sent me a copy of the script to
the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” issue of Sandman.

The other OTR thing I’m doing is learning to use Otter, an OTR cataloging
program. Supposedly, it will allow you to check your collection for
completeness, rename files and do all kinds of other cool stuff. I’m
intrigued by the notion. will be interesting to see if it is as useful
as it sounds.

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I’ve been getting a lot of stuff from my coworkers lately. A site I’m
amazed that I’ve never seen before is Fuck Microsoft. It has such
things as a description of the hidden files MS uses to keep track of
every web site you ever visit and that doesn’t get cleared out with
your history. This would explain why Windows installs seem to always
slowly have their hard drive space nibbled away unexplainably. They
are keeping history files of things you do that you can’t access. Very
scary stuff. Why in the hell wasn’t the MS antitrust suit about
bullshit like this?

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Music TopicCurrently I’m listening to one of the better shows at WREK, the
psychedelic show Psych Out. It’s really good, and you can listen to it
any time via the MP3 archives. If you like psychedelic music at all,
60’s style or modern, American, British or Japanese, give it a
listen. You can hear it in High
bandwidth
or dialup
style
versions from the MP3 archives, any time you like. Ain’t
technology grand?

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We’re watching the season premiere of The Real World
and within 10 minutes I had decided that I hate all seven people. It’s
been many many years since I enjoyed a Real World show (probably
London was the last one I could stand) but this one is really
bad. Darlene likes them, but I just can’t take it. It’s unwatchable,
with vapid and self-involved people just whining. I guess in that
respect its not so much unlike my weblog.

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TV TopicA friend at WREK forwarded me this link to a New York Times
article about Donald Wildmon’s organization (remember him?) using some
Christian station signals to drown out the evil influence of NPR
(surely nearly as bad as the ACLU, gays, and other groups that caused
the Trade Center attack as per Jerry Fallwell). This is personal to
me, because one of the two stations mentioned is KRVS, the fine folks who syndicated my
radio show for me and all around good people. I just called the
general manager and chitchatted a few months ago. These folks are
downright wonderful people who opened their studios to me based on one
conversation and fronted me to the NPR organization because they liked
my show. Who can ask for better friends? The link to the NYT article
is here
(registration required)

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Still not out the door on this getaway. That’s part of relaxation, the
not being under the gun, I suppose.

A week ago I posted about Usenet, rec.arts.sf.written in
particular. This morning I went ahead and killfiled Del Cotter (to
name names), the same guy who was accused George Alec Effinger of
being a fake years ago. He actually has things to say that are valuable
from time to time, but I just can’t take him any more. I hate the self
appointed gate keepers in this group and I find his efforts to be a
significant reduction in signal-to-noise ratio. He bothers me more
than the things he tries to keep out. In the same way that I dislike
the people in convention security that do it because they obviously
enjoy telling people what to do, I dislike the rasf* hairshirt purity
crowd. As Robert Plant once said, lighten up baby I’m in love with you.

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I made a little change to the HTML parsing of my script that reposts
these entries to DM and SFF.net. All the entries before today and
since I rearranged them to post in reverse order had a problem where
the last entry’s timestamp would wrap into the second to last
entry. That seems to be fixed.

I’m listening to the NPR Playhouse version of A Canticle for
Liebowitz
. It is a good production, if a tad long and slow. By the
time it is over, it will be a good 6 hours+. The acting is pretty
good, and I’m enjoying it. I had never read the original book. I
discovered a feature on my beloved iRiver SlimX that I had not known I
had. It has a resume feature so that when you restart a CD, be it MP3
or audio, it can start back at the same point it was playing. Well, it
maintains that history even across CDs. I had listened to other things
in between sessions of Liebowitz, and when I put that
CD back in, I started at the same place I had left it. Amazing! Just
to be sure, I took several CDs and shuffled amongst them and they all
resumed at the right place. I love it!

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Right now I’m listening to
Alternative Radio
on WREK. Howard Zinn is on this week, as he
was last week. In one of those odd coincidences, he was recorded
talking at Reed College in Portland, OR and one of the places he is
talking about is Albany, GA. I’m not sure how many people have lived
in both towns, but I have. I listened to his show last week about
“Artists in wartime” and found it quite interesting. I tend to believe
that I’m on the left end of the political spectrum, but listening to
these shows makes me feel like I’m a staunch Republican. Thank god
that feeling goes away.

Speaking of politics, tomorrow is primary day here in Atlanta. I need
to spend some time tonight reading up on the candidates. They predict
a 20% turnout. I try very hard to vote in every election, even the
runoff elections for the smallest seat. I consider this my obligation,
my ante into the game of freedom. I noticed last election where I went
at the end of the day that many of my most loudmouthed neighbors
hadn’t shown up (this might be private information, but it’s easy
enough to see the names adjacent to yours when you sign the list and
if they lack signatures.) When they spout off, I always look at them
cross-eyed, knowing that they are full of opinions but too lazy to
drive down the street to vote.

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In a little bit, I’ll be going to what I think will be my last WREK
staff meeting in a long time, possibly ever. There is no hard feelings
and I’ll remain around to do technical things for them but I’ve got
other things I want to do now. It wasn’t single handed effort on my
part , but five people turned around this station from a complete mess in
spring 2001 to a solid, always-on-the-air, good sounding and
reasonably healthy organization today. We just finished what we
believe to be the first summer ever without appreciable off the air
time. Only a few hours after a lightning strike. Even in good summers,
WREK was usually off the air overnight Friday and Saturday. I feel
awfully good about my accomplishments of last summer, and the station
sounds great.

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I’ve about enjoyed all this I can stand. I’m
currently digitizing some stuff from the ambient format, and it sure
is weird! One of the tracks is 10 minutes through which every possible
PCM value is played once. Another is data recorded in Australia and
Antartica of the Indian nuclear tests, rendered as audio. It’s on the
CD Parallel Lines/Parallel Rhythms. It’s on the
edition… label, which is run by another WREK alumnus. As Johnny
Carson would say, “wild weird stuff.”

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I’m going to go into WREK and do a little work this morning. I’ve
given them a timetable – by 10/31 (Halloween) I will stop doing almost
everything I do for them. It’s time for the young birdies to leave the
nest. I have dumped so much energy into that place over the last year
and a half, and it has helped quite a bit. When I started back, the
place was in turmoil, everything was broken, they were off the air 30
or 40 hours a week during the normal semesters, 60 or 70 hours a week
over summer and breaks. Now, most things are fixed (I didn’t fix them,
there are a few other alumni and a new student chief engineer who are
doing that), their automation is rebuilt (that I did) and so stable
that the station is always on 24X7, whether or not there is the
manpower to cover the station. My main goals are accomplished, so I
want to selfishly spend that time and energy on myself and my family
and my own projects now.

And I can do that, listening to a 91.1 FM
that is always on the air. It sounds so basic, but
that’s always been an issue at WREK. I was operation manager 14 years
ago, and it took 15-30 hours a week to make sure the station was
always staffed. I kept it on the air for three months without a
signoff back then, and it was an excruciating, back breaking
effort. As of today, WREK has been on the air for four months for
free. When someone leaves the station, they turn on the robots and
away it goes. I love it.

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

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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.