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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.

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Got a call this morning from my brother at 5 AM. Within the next 24 –
36 hours I will be an uncle! I can’t wait. This weekend we’ll be going
and visiting.

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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Got mail from Bill St. Clair, who added me to the BlogMax links page
today. Thanks, Bill!

I meant to do an entry or two during the day, but I didn’t. I was
planning to set up every computer that I use during the day with the
mode and my templates, but that didn’t work. I carried the stuff to
work with me on a Zip disk, and there isn’t a single Zip drive in my
office! If I had thought this through, I’d have set up my Linux box
first, and solely blogged from it. If I want to make an entry, I ssh
in and go for it. I still might do that. I’m also going to make some
shortcuts to icons. I was going to hunt some up, but I think instead
I’ll just steal them from the
Slashdot
topics page. Those already have the associations I want
to the demographic that reads weblogs anyway.

And, to add to my dumbass day, I locked myself out of the house
walking the dog. Wowza.

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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.

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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.

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Another modification to the timestamp – I’m having it put in an anchor
tag with the same name as the timestamp, so that you could link to
this entry as 020727.html#20:38. Of course, I’m not sure if a colon is
valid character so I might have to changed that.

TV TopicMy wife is watching Trading
Spaces
on
TLC
right now. I can’t stand that show. I find it more cruel than
Jerry Springer, harder to watch than the surgery shows. Yipes.

I looked at the web (access) logs, and I actually have had a visitor. As of
this afternoon, at least one person has actually read this log! It’s
official, I’m not talking to myself!

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Technology TopicOK, I sort of kind of figured out the timestamping. The above was done
by pressing Ctrl-Alt-t. I put this in my
XEmacs init.el file:

;; Insert time stamp
(defun insert-timestamp ()
  "Insert current timestamp."
  (interactive "*")
  (insert (concat "" (substring (current-time-string) 11 16) "
")) ) (define-key weblog-mode-map "C-M-t" 'insert-timestamp)

The only problem is that something about this current-time-string
doesn’t get loaded automatically. Until I actually evaluate the buffer
explicitly, none of this works right. I’ve used Emacs almost
exclusively as an editor since grad school (almost 7 years now) and
yet I still feel like I barely know it and am no good at it.

I’m e-mailing to get some permission to quote an SFF Net post. Someone
there posted a week or two ago about the state of current music, which
I’ve been thinking about ever since. I want to refute and rebut part
of what she said, but it would make more sense if I could quote her
post as context.

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Technology TopicSomething else this weblog-mode needs is a timestamper. Dear god, I
need to be learning better Lisp like I need a hole in the head! I
looked at Bill St. Clair’s page of other
Blog Max weblogs
. About half haven’t touched the template, leaving
it straight out of the box. Maybe I should just have the pages
reference a CSS style sheet, then I can edit that and have changes
happen immediately without having to do a lot of page regeneration.

I’m going to mail Bill. Maybe I can get on that list. I’m really happy
with BlogMax so far. I do think I want it to use scp rather than
ftp. Sigh, another to-do in a life full of them. The upload command
didn’t work for me anway, so I scp’d from the Cygwin bash shell.

Now that this log exists, I might as well link to it and include it in
my
MT-Newswatcher
rotating signatures.

Beginnings

Friends and neighbors, citizens of the cybersphere, I too am now a
blogger. I’ve been interested for some time in the phenomena but being
a selectively lazy man, I haven’t done it. Last week I listened to a
piece on
KPBS in San Diego
(via their audio stream) about blogging. Mitch
Wagner, who I know from online various places, was a guest and talked
about his blog, 24 hour
drive-thru
. I remained curious but yesterday found
Bill St. Clair’s
Emacs blog mode
BlogMax
and that was all it took. Barrier to entry now leaped.

In these first few days, I’ll tell you a little about me. I have been
doing something similar via my newsgroups on
SFF Net
and
Dueling Modems
with an itermittent diary. Perhaps once I get
rolling I’ll extend BlogMax to automatically post to those
groups. Wouldn’t that be something? This blog will probably be a
little less personal than those groups just because of the nature of
things. When you know you are addressing a crowd, things are
different.

Quick synopsis, and then we’ll call this entry good. I’m still working
with the key bindings right next to me – I haven’t entered the “Emacs
zen” of this mode yet. I am married to Darlene, a PhD student at
Georgia Tech. I’m a software engineer, working today for a
computer security firm in Atlanta. I got my BS in Chemistry at Georgia Tech and my MS in Computer
Science at The University of Louisiana
at Lafayette
(USL when I was there). I did a science fiction
interview program called
Reality Break
for many years. I’m currently collecting some of
those interviews into an
ebook series
for
Fictionwise
. I did a lot of work for
WREK 91.1 FM
, the Georgia Tech radio station. I’ll enumerate some
of it later (because it was very cool.) I did that work whilst
looking for a job after getting laid off by the evil bastards at
Intertrust
, even though we delivered them a Secure publishing system on time
and under budget. Oh well.

That’s enough for now. Can’t shoot the works with the first
entry. Maybe by the next entry I’ll edit the templates so this looks
not quite so identical to every other BlogMax site. L’chaim!