Homemade Blogger

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

So I’ve decided to roll my own weblogging software. Got tired of dealing with Blogger and its various outages, wanted to be able to add whatever features I felt like, and decided that there’s just not much to weblogging software in the first place.

So here we are.

Let me know what you think using my awesome comments feature! I’m also interested in knowing if anything is broken or a pain-in-the-ass to use.

Also, the old blog posts still exist but I haven’t decided what to do with them yet. They’ll come back soon enough.



Presentation Series #1 Pt. 2

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Anderson Mills came out to give a talk for the new AMODA Presentation Series I have been putting together the past few months. “From Zero to One: Expression in a Digital World” is the name of the Spring ‘03 Series. Snappy, eh? Yeah… Anderon’s subject matter: Psychoacoustics. You know, how crazy people hear things. No — how your ears and brain interpret incoming audio waves into the sensory perception of “sound.” Which sounds wonky. And I guess it is. But interesting if you’re into sound and just sort of into understanding the way things work.

The best parts of the presentation had to do with masking and .mp3 compression. Anderson explained in (what I thought was) a good amount of detail the physical properties of the ear, and how the comstruction of the ear allows certain pitches to “mask” or make inaudible other pitches. What’s cool about this is that if you understand how the ear masks different pitches, you can remove those masked pitches from the audio coming out of your computer speakers, and compress the audio files required to produce that audio. This is what .mp3s do (in a grossly simplified way). Maybe you knew this, but I didn’t.

Anderson also delved into the Fourier model of sound (the one I use in my “additive-subtractive synthesis” speech) to demonstrate how “virtual pitches” can be created. Like, how you can play a “G” pitch without actually having any “G” pitch frequencies in the sound. Doesn’t sound especially exciting, but it has some neat real-world applications. Some small speakers cannot reproduce low frequencies very well. One way around this is to use “virtual pitch” to make the brain think it’s hearing those low tones.

So anyway. That’s a summary of what he talked about. We should have a video of his presentation up on the AMODA website (along with the slides he used) in the next couple of weeks. I’ll post a link when that happens.

Oh. We had an attendance of about forty. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s about ten more than we had for Mocha Jean Herrup’s digital video presentation. And not many AMODA people or personal friends of mine showed up. I like having my friends come out to see things I put together, but having so many unknown faces is cool: it means that more people are enticed out by the subject matter (I hope), which is the goal.

Okay. Back to paying bills…



Sunday, April 6, 2003

I notice that I hate the idea of other people on the plane reading what I write as I type it. Considering that this will — soon enough — be on the web for all the world, odd that I worry that the guy behind me might read this through the cracks between the seats. Whenever one of the flight attendants comes past, I quick “Apple-H” hide this window. Like just a second ago. Twice. (Once for the flight attendant. Once for my mom.)

Anyway. We’re on a small plane — not puddle-jumper small, but five-seats-across small. (Insert: Every time the plane lurches a neuron fires in my brain saying, “That’s it — your Airport card has finally interfered with the workings of the plane and now we’re all going to die.”) The seat next to me is empty. At first, a Businessman sat beside me, making calls on his cellphone and hauling around a few books, including How to Cold Call, by America’s #1 Business Techniques Trainer. I capitalize Businessman because that’s what I call people who Do Business, but don’t seem to have any particular area of expertise. Besides their hair. They always have very well-groomed hair. And crisp white collared shirts and spiffy ties. Like this gentleman who sat next to me for the first five minutes. Before the plane took off he cupped his hand over the bottom of his cellphone in conversation, mumbled something he must have wanted me not to hear (transmitting cold calling secrets to associates in Miami is my guess), before mentioning going to “check out the cockpit” and, in the process of doing that, finding an empty row of seats which I guess he claimed as his own. Anyway, if I got anything from the tech boom, I got a sore distaste for Businessmen. My philosophy on the matter is you bring a skill or area of expertise to the table and the business element naturally grows around you. Books with titles like How to Cold Call naturally worry me. (Extreme turbulence. Yuk.) Especially since I used to cold call looking for web dev clients (during a brief period of my life), and not only did it not work especially well, but I felt somewhat intrusive and incredibly amateur. Organizations tend to know what they want in advance (it would seem to me), and thus cold-callers are at a bit of a disadvantage. If the service you offer is needed, whomever you contact would presumable already be taking care of the matter. My experience, anyway, was that anyone I contacted who seemed to need a web presence already had someone else either more experienced or closer to them (friends, relatives) taking care of the matter.

Anyway. I digress.

Everyone else aboard this flight has behaved themselves smashingly and I completely approve not only of their dress and behavior but of their friends, hobbies, and means of making a living.

Sitting in cool judgment over here in seat 9A…

Time to land.



Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Now that I’m drunk let’s hit the blogs and reveal deeply held secrets…

I’m wearing boxers with little dalmations and hearts on them and I draw the blinds at night even though I enjoy the sun coming into the room during the mornings because of my fear that the neighbors might look in.

What else? I saw so many bands last week during SXSW that I nearly decided to give up music altogether and pursue other arts such as creatively standing in sound-proof chambers or jamming unwound paperclips into my eardrums. Weird that I love listening to music at home, but I really don’t always enjoy going out strictly to hear musicians perform — especially the IDMers who, while they have a keen grasp of audio production, make terribly boring live performers… Hey, it’s another guy glaring down at a laptop with an facial expression frozen into the form of someone to whom you’d just offered a congratulatory handful of dirt. Woo!

With the exception, I must say of one Max Tundra — a gentleman of about 4’6” who parties like a rockstar on stage while belting out the lyrics to his electronic melodies. Recommended. He even got laid as a result of playing at our AMODA Showcase. Not a first, for sure… After all (and here’s an organizational secret) AMODA was founded to get all of the volunteers laid. And it’s happened to a bunch of us. Not this volunteer quite yet, but I haven’t quit yet… A surprising number of AMODA volunteers currently date people they met at our events.

So, anyway… I think the moral of this post is that Josh’s computer should have a little tube attached to it that required a quick breathalizer test before accessing any domains with “blogger” in them. Blowing into the headphone jack doesn’t seem to do anything. But that won’t stop me from trying.

Where’d my egg go?

[Originally posted to Brenna’s group blog, “The Magical Futon.”]


On Blogging, 2003

Sunday, March 9, 2003

This is my reply to an e-mail from Ana Sisnett of Austin Free-Net:

My name is Ana and I’m the director of Austin Free-Net, a nonprofit providing access to computing resources, the Internet and training in public spaces for people who don’t have computers of their own.

Hey, Ana. I’ve heard about Austin Free-Net, but don’t know much about it. Sounds like a great service, though. You may have figured it out from the website, but am also a Director for the Austin Museum of Digital Art.

I’m on a panel for SXSW on blogging—a reality check so to speak—but I landed on your site, purely coincidentally, while looking for wireless coffee shops in Austin. It’s a great resource, btw….but, I’m writing about your experience with blogging especially your accessibility awareness (rare). We’re going to be discussing if blogging is indeed a tool for democracy, civic participation, etc. or just another “next new thing” that will quickly fade away or is over-hyped in certain sectors.

Well, I guess the short answer is that yeah, blogging seems to be the “next new thing.” It’s getting a lot of press these days and does seem to be altering the journalistic landscape — several “mainstream” news sources have started offering blogs by their writers or blogs on specific topics.

As with many “next new things,” there will be a sort of honeymoon period (which we’re currently in the middle of) full of experimentation and new ideas, but then this “next new thing” will mature and become a natural part of the journalistic landscape. E-mail and websites were once the exciting new things, but now they have sort of become everyday utilities people use and many people (like myself) have a very hard time imagining living without.

Blogging is an *awesome* tool for democracy and civic participation. I get nearly all of my news through blogs of various sorts. (And, to be fair, I read the Austin Chronicle.) I don’t read the Statesman and I don’t watch t.v. news simply because I cannot get the level of detail I’m interested in when I want to know about news events. And, to be honest, I don’t entirely trust those sources. When I read a good blog, I feel like I am reading the thoughts of someone I can identify with and so I feel like I can trust them to be honest with me. Not try to manipulate me or provide me with half-truths out of journalistic laziness. This trust is a powerful and important thing.

I think the act of blogging is personally important, as well. Any sort of good writing requires active thought. It’s one thing to passively watch the news, having the news piped into your brain with no action required on your part. It’s quite a different thing to learn about something enough to smartly respond to it or report on it. It’s educational for the blogger herself or himself, and it creates a public discussion that anyone can join in on. And it’s my belief that American’s are, on the whole, woefully undereducated — and that lack of education is causing all sorts of problems for our country these days. Any sort of environment that invites participation rather than passive viewing is a great thing.

Whew. Getting kind of preachy, there. :-) Did that sort of answer your question?

I was particularly motivated to write to you because you discuss the Borders -Book People issue, and most importantly, because you were aware of accessibility issues.

1. Could you tell me how you came to be concerned enough to put up the Bobby and W3C links?

Sure. I do web development for an income. Web developers who don’t pay attention to usability and disabled accessibility are bad web developers. Also, I have had a blind coworker and I used to work for Dr. John Slatin at UT (who is also blind). My experiences being asked to read stuff off of some website for them was enough to teach me how much of a problem it creates for disabled users when developers are ignorant of these issues.

I put the links on my site because I want to advertise that I’m a good web developer who’s aware of these issues.

2. Would you mind sharing how you identify ethnically? I’m not sure what the ethnicity angle will be, but as a Black woman providing services to a diverse population (from middle class to un/der-employed) and looking for other people of color, I’m curious about bloggers who identify as people of color, low-income, living with disabilities, etc.

Sure. I’m of northwestern-European ethnicity. English/German. White.

3. How much time do you spend blogging?

Oh, I don’t know. Not much, actually. Since I work in front of a computer, I sometimes take breaks to just write a little about something I’ve been thinking about. That’s just a few minutes a few times a day.

I couldn’t pay you what you deserve for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer me, but I’d certainly put in a word about your website, the wireless list, and anything you don’t mind my mentioning /crediting you with saying during my presentation.

That’s fine. Yeah, just a mention or credit would be great.

When will you give your presentation?




Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Urban Legends site has an informative lead in to the question of where we really get our oil from in this country. A series of ads claims that the extra gas required to power unneccessarily weighty SUVs puts money right into the pockets of the people who have contributed most to our middle eastern problems. How true is this?

You should probably poke through the data on the links within the Urban Legends page to decide for yourself. A search for the string “Iraq” on this page published by the US Department of Energy seeems to indicate Chevron (of all the providers with stations here in Austin) purchases the most Iraqi oil. Shell, new owners of the gas stations (formerly Texacos) I use doesn’t appear to get any of their crude from the middle east. They do get some stuff called “MTBE” from Saudi Arabia, though.

Anyway, the end of the Urban Legends article mentions how this data might be misleading — that gas stations don’t always get their feul from the company printed on the marquee and that increasing the demand on one company’s supply would just force them to buy more oil from the middle east.

But. A barrel of oil does cost about $30, and $30 times the about 11,000,000 barrels imported to the US alone from Iraq in the one month of November 2002 equals about $330,000,000. That’s $330 million. In one month. From one (albeit one very consumptive) country. And I suspect that the amount we import was lower in November 2002 than in previous months and years. The UL article claims Japan purchases about as much oil from the region as the US. So, let’s say that’s another $270,000,000 (for nice round figures) in November. Making $600 million in purchases in that month or, let’s say, $600m times 12 months equals $7,200,000,000 ($7.2b).

This report seems to say that our Nov 2002 imports were about 1/3 of what we brought in from Iraq during the month when we brought in the most from them: September 2001. (I’m finding some of this data through the DOE’s Monthly Energy Review site.

Anyway. To say that all of this money went straight into Saddam’s pocket for building weapons of mass destruction would obviously be wrong. I don’t know what part of that money goes into the Iraqi coffers and what part goes into the bank accounts of the various companies who drill for and ship the oil around the world. And what does end up in the hands of the Iraqi government might end up draining out for whatever meager social services and infrastructure Iraq offers its citizens. But, no doubt, a sizable wad ends up going to projects that our government would say go directly against our interests.

The issues are very complex, but attaching dollar amounts to the different points makes them seem more tangible. The final moral would be, I guess, to continue understanding that the most powerful vote you have in the affairs of this planet comes from the inside of your wallet, not at the voting booth. It’s difficult to know exactly to whom your money goes, but it seems socially responsible to at least try to figure it out.

And reducing the amount of driving you do overall is probably a good idea. Not that I am completely opposed to gas-powered vehicles — or even SUVs, for that matter. But each tool has its place. A family of six needs a large vehicle to get around in. Jimmy Fratboy probably doesn’t, even if his family can afford buying one for him.


My Periodic Run

Sunday, February 16, 2003

So I’m about to go for my periodic run. Running ten miles per week had been my big new year’s resolution… That hasn’t really happened. Between cold weather and busy-ness and laziness, well. That’s a bunch of miles. But. I do this run about once a week (with shorter mile-runs a few times between the longer runs): I start at home (about 38th and I-35) and cut across town until I get to 1st and Congress. Then I walk back (stopping at Little City for coffee). It’s about four miles each way.

Those of you who don’t know Austin have no idea what I’m talking about.

Anyway. My path makes an interesting transect across town. I start in my 20-something neighborhood, run through the lower-income traditionally minority neighborhood, run through the University of Texas campus, then through the government buildings and across the state capitol grounds, down through the “entertainment district” of the 6th Street area, and finally stopping in the big business part of town. Residential. Educational. Political. Recreational. Economic.

Not bad for one path…

Anyway. I’m off…

[Originally posted to Brenna’s group blog, “The Magical Futon.”]


Clinton Speech

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Former public servant Bill Clinton spoke at the Frank Erwin Center this evening. He gave a solid, concise picture of the forces acting upon some of our national “enemies” (Iraq and North Korea) and presented a good framework for creating solutions to these problems: 1) That for global safety reasons, these countries do need to be disarmed and 2) That the United States would set dangerous precedent by acting without the support of the UN. Doing so would give Russia, China, and whoever else the ability to “preemptively strike” whichever foes they might wish to — Chechnya, Taiwan… He gave the Bush administration a fairly positive rating when it came to dealing with these issues and did a good job, I think, of bridging together the events of the first “war” with Iraq and the current situation. Sounds like, while the administration may not be doing the perfect job we might want, they are making close to the right decisions.

And then he totally cut loose on the budget and recent tax cuts. I can’t remember his exact words (and it’s too early to have a copy of the speech anywhere online), but I can paraphrase: In any organization, when dealing with money you first do the job, pay the bills, and plan for possible emergencies — and only then, after all other things have been done, do you start giving out the profits. Not before. You don’t buy the home stereo before you pay the rent (my version of the quote). He called the 2001 tax cut the “worst thing any president’s done in a month of Sundays.” He called the removal of taxes on stock dividends a terrible idea, quoting Alan Greenspan, and said that he — as a rather wealthy citizen — did not feel his best interests would be served by a tax break.

Anyway. I’ll post a link to the speech when one appears. Good stuff.