March 29, 2003
The menace emerges anew, this time in the form of paper-chewing wasps. The one pictured at right is busily assembling a Death Hive directly above our back door.
Unacceptable. Although it's a sign that spring has indeed sprung, the prospect of a backyard filled with stinging insects is something I hadn't considered when I moved out of the city to the tree-blossom-filled neigborhoods of Menlo Park. Returning from the laundry room, I startled what I first thought was a bald-faced hornet the size of a small aircraft carrier sunning on the sidewalk. It was actually a huge, fuzzy bumblebee, which lazily took flight on comically small wings, and flew about five yards before smacking into the side of the porch.
(Whereupon it continued to smack! smack! smack! itself into the same wall, getting lower and lower with each attempt to breach the confounded obstacle, until it finally landed in the hedge below.)
This fact did not prevent me from shrieking like a five-year-old and dropping my laundry basket.
Okay. Bees I can handle. They're funny, and some of them make honey, which is good in tea. Wasps, on the other hand, produce no honey, only malice. And if they did produce honey, it would be evil honey.
We at Scott Andrew Enterprises are committed to excellence in delivering quality e-content and generating revolutionary models for disintermediating efficient ROI to our clients and shareholders. Our envisioneering strategies to productize visionary global partnerships are keyed to target efficient mindshare and transform next-generation e-media via personal publishing channels and on-demand distribution of self-created entertainment properties, resulting in cross-media convergence for business, the nation and the globe.
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PR Update: SAE is currently seeking contracts to rebuild the folk-rock weblog infrastructure in postwar Iraq. Editor's note: This is from the internal memo, so we should remove this line, no? I'd rather not have some disgruntled employee posting this on his weblog. -- Ed.
March 28, 2003
I did my first real honest-to-goodness open mic last night.
The cafe managed to cram sixteen performers, mostly soloists with a few duos, into a two-and-a-half hour block. Names are drawn at random. I was lucky thirteen. Which gave me plenty of time to fret and generally stress out before I took the stage. Ramped up on adrenaline (and with no alcohol in my system this time), I stammered through a introduction, plowed through One Sure Thing at warp nine, said a bunch more stupid stuff, burned through Brickyard Bend and was outta there. My heart finally ceased pounding in my ribcage about two sets later.
As articulated by my new friend Travis, who went on just before me: "these hours are never lost!" It's true. You can learn a lot by just watching different people perform, just being there. It's never a waste of time.
Immediately following me was Meredith Tanner, extremely talented, who also happens to be the keeper of the very same open mic guide where I discovered this particular event. We chatted a bit afterwards. Like me, she's been away from it awhile, and getting back to it slowly.
Earlier, a performer named Erik Ostrom introduced an instrumental song as being inspired by – no kidding – Where is Raed? (Turns out Erik has a weblog of his own and has been following the blogger from Baghdad for a little while now.) While Erik was attempting to explain this concept in six words or less, someone in the crowd shouted "LiveJournal!" Okay, that's just weird. Maybe these two worlds should not intersect so closely.
Plus a ton of other talented people, from twentysomething students to greybearded instrumentalists.
Anyway, I've been meaning to hit an open mic in the Bay Area ever since I moved here, and I'm glad I didn't flinch and went through with it.
March 26, 2003
C|Net sez, Flash escapes the browser. Yeah, we knew that would happen. Especially since the Flash 6 player now has its own networking layer. Hey, who needs a socket? We've got plenty, and they're scriptable!
Brad has released a kickass new song called Fixing My Brain. Very Beck-esque.
Happiness is an upgrade that goes well with no major hitches. Thanks to my coworker Paul who sold me the lobotomized shell of his gaming PC, my main recording box now sports a gig of RAM, a smokin' VIA chipset and an Soundblaster Audigy complete with breakout box. Listening to the original mixes of American Thing and Gravel Road Requiem is pure, 24-bit heaven. So much, in fact, that I may have to re-record the latter; the new soundcard brings every quaver and pop to the forefront.
Steven F. eats my lunch with a song that name-checks not only RSS and Winer, but also TrackBack and the Semantic Web:
Semantic web, RSS, and e-mail
Single white guy seeks athletic female
I'm busy building the digital commons
Cook me up another bowl of ramen
Footnote: at SXSW this year, Leonard coined a term for this kind of tune: script rock
March 25, 2003
KnowNow expat Bryan has released IndyJunior, customizable Flash application that maps out travel routes across the globe. Also of note: Bryan's "so simple even a monkey could learn to be Josh Davis" line drawing tutorial.
Elsewhere in thin-client land...the long-dormant DynAPI DHTML library is enjoying a resurgence of activity. Looks like there might be a version 3 release candidate forthcoming in the next few weeks. One interesting development is the incorporation of the Flashsound library into DynAPI, which may finally provide a widely-supported method for triggering sound clips from DHTML controls.
March 22, 2003
(...which should win me an award for "Worst and Most Obvious Pun, Ever.")
With its library of reusable UI widgets and custom event model, J:ACK is nearly DynAPI for Flash MX. Check out the web browser demo. Also of interest: Undocumented Flash MX features.
March 21, 2003
These Alice Cooper checks are officially the Best Thing Ever.
Texas Rep. John Carter thinks he has the perfect solution for stopping illegal file trading on campuses: jail student offenders for three years or more:
"What these kids don't realize is that every time they pull up music and movies and make a copy, they are committing a felony under the United States code," Carter said in an interview. "If you were to prosecute someone and give them three years, I think this would act as a deterrent."
Yes, obviously the solution is not to acknowlege the shift in consumer listening habits, but to build more jails.
March 20, 2003
Musician's Friend (via DiskFaktory) is also offering short-run CDR packages, some of which include full-color inserts and standard jewel cases. They even allow you to upload artwork and MP3 content.
Had a nice discussion about T-RackS mastering software with Mark Gardner (bassist for the Phoenix Trap). The standalone package is around $300, but it sounds like a great investment if you plan to do a lot of recording. Especially considering that it costs anywhere from $500 and up to master a recording at even a small mastering facility. I only know a tiny bit about real signal processing, so the fact that I can cycle through a bunch of presets and then tweak from there sounds fantastic. The fact that there is software that allows me to do this in the first place is fantastic.
March 19, 2003
As the minutes tick away towards the inevitable, I offer up this little bit from my past: Iridium (2MB). Funny, the seed of this song was born around the time the first Gulf War was finishing up, and even though it's about something else entirely, the lyrics seem weirdly appropriate enough:
all I know is all I'm told
all I have is all I'm sold
pinstripe man he say he know
pinstripe man we overthrow
CafePress has finally launched their on-demand CD service. It's not terribly expensive, costing about $9 US for a single CD in a standard jewel case and four-color insert, including the tray card. I wouldn't recommend it for demos and EP-length releases.
Speaking of which, I managed to distribute about 100 copies of the American Thing EP at SXSW. About half disappeared from the table at Fray Cafe 3, and the rest were divided between the promo tables and handouts to people I met. I even managed to get it into the hands of a few hotshot producers. (Not that I expect anything to come of it.) Some advice on such schmoozing: talk about anything except yourself. Ask them what they think of so-and-so, or how they got that sweet drum sound on that one album. A suprising lot of them love to discuss technology issues. Once they realize you're not about to shove a CD in their face, they'll relax, get chatty, and eventually will ask what you do. You're a musician? Got a CD? Why yes, in fact, I have several right here, would you like one? Suddenly it's solicited material.
Be honest, though. These people get approached a kajillion times a day, and when you're desperate they can smell you coming for miles.
March 17, 2003
During the panel entited "Producers and Their Process," producer John Fields (he's worked with Glen Phillips and Andrew W.K.) shared a secret about mastering from desktop computers: "I burn 24-bit AIFFs to CDR and send them to the mastering house. But here's a tip: do download T-Rex by Audio Ease, and your life will be changed."
He didn't elaborate, and unfortunately I had to leave the panel before I could get a card from him. A Google search has turned up little except the Audio Ease site, which doesn't proclaim to carry a such a product. So if anyone out there knows what this beastie is (a plug-in? A mastering app? what, WHAT?), please enlighten me and I'll post it here.
UPDATE: Behold the power of the Web; Jon Gilkison at interfacelab pointed me to T-RackS, a package of software for mastering digital audio. That must have been what Fields was referring to.
March 15, 2003
I'm having email problems. Messages are coming in, but my replies aren't going out. So if you've sent me mail in the past few days, I might have to wait until I get back to CA to send a reply, mkay?
Jessajune snapped some nice action shots of my performance at the Fray Cafe gig, and Michael Buffington captured the $20 payoff. More links to photos here (read the comments, then scroll to the bottom).
By the way, I've been totally delinquent in publically thanking Derek for inviting me to perform, thus providing me with my first Austin gig. I owe ya one.
Today is the last day of the festival, and it's been non-stop crazy from the start. I've taken a ton of notes at the panels, which I'll eventually write up and post, but that'll probably happen when I return.
Off to see Lyle Lovett speak now.
As it turned out, Tantek and I got to give an elevator pitch on weblogs to the guy sitting next to us at the Liz Phair interview. The guy turned out to be Anders Rasmussen, president of the Austin Songwriter's Group and the author of an email newsletter called Inspirations For Songwriters, which I've been receiving for about two years. I learned this after we had given him the weblog spiel.
Today I received the latest issue of IFS. Looks like we made an impression! (edited for length)
Towards the end of the event I started talking with the guy next to me and
the guy next to him. After a moment we realized two over from me was long
time IFS reader Scott Andrew. super nice guy
Right next to me was Celik Tantek (sic). Who was a panelist at the SXSW internet conf. and a serious BLOGGER. he keeps a weblog or BLOG.
I don't know what rock I've been hiding under
but a lot of folks out there are keeping BLOGs
and looking at the technology
if you're an artist it's a powerful tool to stay in touch with your fans
And i think it's a great discipline.
And then, a little further down:
BLOG is short for WEB LOG
You might want to begin a WEB LOG
to stay intouch with your fans
Is that cool or what?
check out http://www.blogger.com
Write on, Anders!
March 13, 2003
A new zenith in nerd-dom:
Me: Hi, will you sign the bottom of my iBook?
Liz Phair: Hell, yeah!
...and that is the story of how Tantek and I came to have the coolest Mac laptops ever.
I'm sitting about twelve feet from where Daniel Lanois is playing pedal steel. It's like being at church. I'm the happiest guy alive right now.
Update: At one point, Lanois was standing about three or feet from me, leaning over to pass the mic to another attendee to take a question, and I thought: I can totally poke him in the ribs right now. Here's this guy, this famous producer, and he's worked with U2 and Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan and produced some of the most important albums of the 80's and 90's albums that people will be talking about for years, the same way we talk about albums by Miles Davis and Johnny Cash, and he's talking about passion and creativity and finding heroes and then growing and changing and leaving those heroes to find your own way, never once slipping into pretention or poetry or anything, and here I am, possibly the biggest fanboy in the world at that moment in time (perhaps never before and never again), and I'm thinking: I can totally poke him in the ribs right now. What?
Got pics, but Tantek got MPEGs. Damn.
March 12, 2003
During the Creative Commons panel this year, Cory Doctorow said something that threw the threat of restrictive copyright into sharp relief: "What we're seeing is a slow-motion burning of the Library of Alexandria, all over again."
With the current length of copyright averaging out at around 150 years, we now have a situation where the prohibition on copying a work can be longer than the lifespan of the physical medium that contains it. All media eventually disintegrates. In the case of out-of-print books and music, there's a real potential for those works to be lost forever.
This idea was like lightning applied directly to my brain.
One of my all-time favorite albums is Fare Well, by an LA group called Uma. The CD is now out of print, and the band long broken up. One day, in a fit of clumsiness, I'll accidentally drop or step on the CD, breaking it, or scratch it beyond repair, or maybe it'll melt in the heat of a rogue sunbeam, whatever -- and there'll suddenly be one less copy of Fare Well in the world.
Eventually, all the copies will be gone or lost. My only recourse is to tape it, burn it to CD or rip it to MP3 files -- all of which are illegal the moment I distribute the copies. At least until 2165 AD.
It's just dumb and sad.
Yes, yes, yes. Shannon is planning a CD release, and is looking for donations to help fund the production. Let's see, if everyone who downloaded Dreaming Of Violets in the past few months donated a dollar, Shannon would probably have more than enough to cover the studio time and pressing, and maybe even the artwork. So c'mon, dig under those seat cushions, gather up those nickels sitting in the bottoms of your unused drink holders in your car, and make it so.
I'm blogging this from the lobby of the new Austin Convention Center Extension (shh, there's an open network on the ground floor near Exhibition Hall 4) where SXSW Music is now fully in the hiz-ouse. I just got back from a morning's worth of "crash course" panels, which have been suprisingly good. I'll probably post notes later for the musically inclined.
Hey, you know that hyperactive human beatbox guy from the Chili's TV commercial? He sat right next to me in the Touring and Booking panel.
March 10, 2003
Sunday night's set list:
- One Sure Thing
- Brickyard Bend
- A 30-second ditty for Ernie that I mentioned earlier. Just for the record, I offered Ernie his $20 back, but he wouldn't hear of it.
- A medley of 80's songs, including:
- Pac-Man Fever, by Buckner and Garcia
- Your Love, by the Outfield
- Hungry Like The Wolf, by Duran Duran
- Jesse's Girl, by Rick Springfield
- Cum On Feel The Noize, by Quiet Riot er, Slade
- Sledgehammer, by Peter Gabriel
- We're Not Gonna Take It, by Twisted Sister
- American Thing
...and, by popular request, here's the lyrics to Ernie's song:
Sitting in Austin, knockin' back a Shiner
listenin' to a guy by the name of Dave Winer
an' he's talkin' 'bout RSS, XML and RPC
talkin' 'bout things that don't make no sense to you or me
so tell me now, friends, why ya gotta be a hater?
just because my site doesn't pass the validator?
but I'm gonna get it right, I'm gonna get it straight
gonna get compliant with Section 508
so welcome to the Fray, I hope you're having fun
just a few more moments and my song will be done
an' if you don't like my song, then I guess you're outta luck
an' it doesn't really matter, 'cause now Ernie's gonna give me twenty bucks
I guess you had to be there.
DISCLAIMER: this song is a work of fiction. Dave Winer wasn't at SXSW this year, and I drank far more gin than beer.
March 8, 2003
Good: they're letting me take my guitar on the plane, saving me an unexpected $80 charge.
Not as good: as a result, the friendly TSA people confiscated the needle-nose pliers I use for changing strings.
Good: Wi-fi access while you wait at the gate.
Not as good: in about an hour, I'll be a kajillion feet in the air!
March 7, 2003
Attention Austin-dwellers! I need to find a place in the Austin area where I can rent a guitar right quick, just in case mine turns up missing at the airport. Got any suggestions? (I know, a guitar in Austin? Sorry, we're all out.)
A great Konfubulator tutorial by Scott Collins. "This tutorial will teach you how to create Widgets from start to finish."
One night last week at NoisePop, Ernie told me he'd give me twenty bucks on the spot if I worked the words "RSS" and "Dave Winer" into a song at the Fray Cafe gig. And then he laughed! Laughed! Somebody better bring his wallet.
March 6, 2003
Out for most of yesterday with a virus that's been toying with me for the past week. Later, Megan and I drove up to SF to the Mixonic offices so I could pick up the CDs for the Austin trip. Their office is in Potrero Hill, a few blocks from the Bottom of the Hill. I was transported back to 1999: a big, mostly empty carpeted first-floor office resembling a rec-room, with a scattering of desktops littered with CDs and multicolored cables, whiteboards and posters all over the walls, boxes of random stuff that will never get unpacked. No cubes, no wall dividers. The "lobby" consisted of a well-lit corner with a dot-com era Goodwill couch and a coffee table piled with magazines and demo CDs that showcased some of their better work (among them, the Fray Day 5 CD!).
I think they have about six employees. Everyone seemed relaxed and busy, like they were, y'know, enjoying their work. I didn't get the sense that Big Money was breathing down their necks. It made me wonder what it was really like, just few years ago. (I managed to miss the dot-com boom by a year or two.) Irrational exuberance be damned, there was something very appealing about that control-your-own-destiny vibe.
March 4, 2003
First it was Shannon, then Meg, followed by Matt. Now it's my turn. Redesign fever is ripping through the Web like a Spring cold. It's looking like green is the new grey this year.
I've had this redesign on the back burner for a couple weeks now. I've merged most of the content from the Walkingbirds site over here, and hopefully I haven't broken too many things. Drop me a line if you see something amiss.
So, what gives? Um, well, this was sorta planned to coincide with the release of my new American Thing EP, which I'll be taking to South By Southwest this year. I'll have about 100 copies to give away. The EP includes hotter, phatter remixes of "American Thing" and "Stay The Same," along with a brand-new tune, "The Big Lie That Solves Everything." I haven't had time to rip that one yet, so head over to Mixonic and give the sample a listen. I've also rearranged the MP3 page and included lyrics for the ones I wrote.
I'm equally happy being a webhead and frustrated musician, but recently I've been feeling like the former is becoming stale while the latter is atrophying like a long unused muscle that yearns for me to flex it! So. A little redirection of effort, as it were. I'll continue to blab about Web stuff, but in the meantime, I'm going to write more songs, put out records and try not to worry about it too much.
Now all I need is a band.
I just found out that Kathleen Edwards is going to be speaking on a panel at SXSW this year. And she's Canadian, no less.
Sez here that Apple may be gearing up to offer a music download service via iTunes. The decision to use an Apple-only format as low-level DRM is probably wise.
I know it's not an original idea, but I wonder if a pay-per-transmission model like BMI/ASCAP/SESAC has with radio would work to alleviate piracy problem while allowing unfettered access. In the current system, radio stations track and report their playlists to a performing-rights org like BMI, whose members (labels, publishers and indie artists) get a small slice of the fee BMI charges broadcasters for the right to broadcast those tunes.
I can see a similar model for online usage. ISPs track all .mp3 and .ogg traffic (only volume: we're not interested in invading privacy) and report these numbers as "playlists" to an online third-party BMI-like counterpart. Unregistered files are ignored -- it's the responsibility of the label/publisher/artist to make sure your songs are in the database. The fee assessed against the ISP (it would have to be fractions of a cent) would be distributed across all users on the network. The result: high-speed providers with lots of file-sharing traffic become more expensive, but customers don't get hassled for swapping files on the network.
It's not nearly as simple as it sounds. Files can be disguised and difficult to track accurately. BMI actually pays people to go into a city, listen to local radio all day, and report back what they hear, keeping the radio stations somewhat honest in what they report. There's not an easy way to do that online, unless you have a reliable third party listening in on ISP traffic. In other words, we'd be trading old headaches for new.
Still, I think I'd much rather pay for a premium service that allowed unrestricted file trading, than forbidden by law to participate at all.
March 3, 2003
Yuval Cohen gets it. A lot of people don't yet understand that it's not as simple as "piracy." What we're facing is a complete and total shift in the way people find and listen to music.
A couple of weeks later my father gave me a ride in his car. He is very conservative and buys almost all of his music. He had Jacques Brel (bought); Pavarotti, (bought); Cat Stevens (bought) and Don McLean (bought). Still, when I opened his CD case I saw Gigliola Cinquetti, burned; "War of the Worlds" soundtrack, burned; a collection of songs he likes, burned.
This blew my mind. So he explained it to me simply. "I couldn't find Cinquetti's album anywhere and I had 'War of the Worlds' on LP but threw my record player out years ago. I will not pay for twelve different CDs in which I like only one song. I wouldn't have bought them anyways."
Cohen goes on to articulate what we should've have known all along:
The music and software industries fight a battle against "piracy," because they KNOW that in order to survive they will HAVE to raise their standards, release only GOOD software, and make music collections that will be CHEAP and CUSTOMIZED...in order to compete in a much harder marketplace everybody will need to do their best to sell every single album (or piece of software) -- for less pay in return.
There's that pay cut again. Staring ahead into the future, being a rock star signed to a major doesn't seem so lucrative.
March 1, 2003
...or, "How to Waste a Saturday." It's been a long time since I did any hacking with Movable Type, but necessity forced me to look into the plugin architecture. Specifically, MT allows you to limit posts by category by using the
category attribute of the
MTEntries tag. What I needed was the reverse: the ability to exclude posts by category.
The closest solution I've found in the wild is Staggernation's FilterCategories plugin, which doesn't affect
MTEntries but instead suppresses specified categories in a list of categories, not posts.
So, after much bumbling around and cursing the vagueness of Perl, I came up with a miserable, miserable hack: an Exclude Categories plugin. This plugin creates a new container tag called
MTEntriesExCat, which behaves exactly as
MTEntries does, except that it reverses the functionality of the
category attribute, excluding posts that fall under the listed categories. You can still use the Boolean AND or OR syntax (but not both at the same time) to specify multiple categories:
<MTEntriesExCat category="Didacts AND Narpets">
There's a known problem with it. It doesn't play too well with the
lastn attribute. For example, let's say that you specified the following in your template:
<MTEntriesExCat category="Foo" lastn="10">
Now, if your last four posts were in category "Foo," you'd only see six posts, not ten. Why? Because there's no way (yet) to give MT a NOT query, like "give me the ten latest posts NOT in category Foo." So what happens is that MT hands back the last ten posts, then the plugin sorts that result set, throwing away posts from the offending categories.
And that is why it is a miserable, miserable hack. But it works pretty well if you use
days instead of
lastn, or to supress posts from special categories you only use occassionally.
If you're feeling particularly brave, you can change the tag name in the Perl file from "EntriesExCat" to "Entries," thus overwriting the native
MTEntries tag. If you do this, bear in mind that the
category attribute will be reversed everywhere you use it with
MTEntries. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Download Exclude Categories plugin (2K Zip file).
Ya know, I used to be sympathetic, but I'm getting really tired of hearing musicians whine about illegal file trading. "If I can't get paid for my work, why would I write and perform songs?"
Okay. So what I'm hearing is: I'm in this for the money.
Right. Good luck with that.
The notion that musicians will stop making music because they don't get paid is a ridiculous and misinformed one.
Oh, I've heard some pipe-dreaming about how someday, some big name artist will walk away in disgust. Yeah, like that's going to happen.
See, here's the problem. The artist, being inherently egotistical to some degree, believes that their work is worth what they (or, if signed, their labels) say it is worth. In other words, art alone justifies that $18.99 price tag. This is not the way markets work.
Markets work this way: there is a demand for something, then several suppliers come along to fill it. The supplier to gives the people what they most want, the way they want it, wins.
Artists mistakenly think this demand is for their music. No. In the current context, the demand is for access to, and portability of, music.
Repeat after me: the consumers have spoken.
So, you're not making money from your music, and you blame illegal file swapping. (Did you say that in public? Excellent move. 50 million potential fans are now looking at you crosseyed.)
Did you consider that your album is overpriced? Or maybe you should have stuck to a smaller recording budget? Or maybe you should have released an 3-song EP instead of a 13-song LP?
Or maybe, just maybe, you need to write better songs?
Sorry comrade, I have no sympathy for ya. If you need an example of an artist operating at a loss, you're lookin' at one. I have made exactly zero profit from my musical venture. (And I deserve every negative cent of it, by not promoting it or playing gigs or the umpteen other things that "music career" encompasses.)
What, don't I want to make money? Duh, of course I do. But let's cast aside these delusions that we're somehow going to maintain the status quo by killing off file sharing. It's not going to happen.
Music, art, writing. These are commodities that know no scarcity. People will continue to create stuff long after the money tap is shut.
So let's bury this stupid idea that artists won't make art if there's no money in it, and get on with making this new thing work in our favor.
(PS: this post is partially a response to a message sent to Anders Rasmussen's IFS (Inspirations For Songwriters) newsletter, which contained a tired rant from some musician in TX, about how illegal file trading alone somehow brought down Wherehouse Music, which recently filed for bankruptcy. My advice to him? Work smarter, or take a pay cut.)