The webcam is up!

Thanks very much to our friends at Groove Factory and eluminated for making this possible!

The way this works is, one of the machines here at the club runs RealProducer, which digitizes and encodes regular video, then that machine ships one copy of that stream off to the RealServer software running at Groove Factory, which then ships it out to the all the viewers around the world. Since they're letting me piggyback off of their server, I didn't have to shell out a small fortune to Real for my own server license.

You may recall from last week's update that I was fighting with my firewall to make this work; well, I lost. I ended up putting the encoder machine outside of the firewall instead of inside. If you have ever successfully gotten RealProducer and RealServer to talk to each other through a firewall that is doing NAT for the RealProducer machine, please let me know: even after I ensured that all UDP ports on the producer machine were reachable, it still wouldn't work.

(Real's tech support was especially helpful: "try running the Linux RealProducer 7.0 instead of 6.0." I pointed out that they had never released a Linux version of 7.0, only 6.0 and 8.0 beta, neither of which work. "Oh. Firewalls are hard. We don't understand firewalls. Try putting it outside the firewall.")

Our second VA Linux machine arrived, so I spent little while setting that up. Once I put one more disk in it, I'll haul it down to our ISP's colocation facility, where it will function as our Icecast server.

Not much else happened this week; we met with the mechanical engineer, who is going to get back to us soon with specifications for the ventilation system (ductwork) that our architect can then incorporate into the plans. Barry's been in deadline-mode getting the latest issue of his magazine together, so I haven't seen much of him lately.

So I say to my friend, "I got to use a jackhammer today!"

She says, "where did you get a jackhammer?"

"We rented it."

"You can just rent those?"

"Yeah, there's no background check, or cooling off period or anything."

"I mean, they don't come with a guy? Or lessons or something?"

"Well, it's pretty self-explanatory: plug it in, hold the handles, squeeze the lever to make it go, and keep your toes away from the pointy end."

We needed to dig through a few spots on the floor to answer some questions our structural engineer had about what the foundation of the building looked like, since he'll need to know that when coming up with the design for the pillars that will hold up the new dj platform.

We also pulled down some of the drywall on the underside of the balcony for the same reason: to see where the support beams are, since that impacts the attachment of the platform. Today we're knocking down the wall of the former dj booth, which will eventually be the new men's bathroom. And by "we" I mean "Brian," the strapping young fellow in the tank top you might have been seeing on the webcam recently. (Wave to the camera, Brian.)

We have a meeting on thursday with the structural engineer. Presumably this meeting will bring us imperceptibly closer to getting plans from him, which our architect can then incorporate into his plans, since he can't start soliciting bids until that happens.

I also wasted some more time fighting with the firewall. You don't even want to know. PC hardware is all such junk, and Linux ipchains is super lame; I'm in the process of giving OpenBSD a try on the firewall box, since everyone tells me that the firewalling software there is worlds better.

People keep asking "what's with the wheelchair?" Well, just before escrow closed, there was about to be a production of Rocky Horror as a stage show at DNA, and they'd been rehearsing here. They left the wheelchair behind; I presume they'll want it back eventually. Meanwhile, I've been learning to do wheelies in it.

The structural engineer came by to have a look at the excavation we'd done, and it sounds like there are no nasty surprises. Well, he said that the layout of the support members in the mezzanine floor is pretty half-assed, but it doesn't sound like it's a real problem.

The mechanical engineer also came by and collected some more information so that he can design the plubming and airflow plans. He spent all afternoon walking around and drawing a map of where every water pipe in this place goes. Though we still don't know where the pipes under the floor run. You'd think that at some point there would have been plans for this, but apparently not: the plumbing was put in during an age when one could just dig a trench and drop a pipe in it, without having to spend a year dealing with the city bureaucracy first.

We're mostly done with disassembling the former dj booth, which will eventually be the new men's bathroom. When we took out the drywall on the north side of that room, we uncovered a second sliding fire door. It's twice as wide as the last one we uncovered. We haven't actually gotten it to move yet, so we don't know what part of the pizza shop is on the other side. Unfortunately, we probably won't be able to avoid walling over this door, since there are going to be urinals against this wall... That's too bad, because it's pretty cool looking.

We're getting quoted astronomical prices for installation of the new lights we were planning on buying. For example: I've been in here when there were all kinds of flashing lights going off. You would think (in fact, I do think) that one could just replace a few of those lights with new ones, and add a couple more, and that basically would be that. But we're being told that we have to replace the entire electrical infrastructure supporting those lights, including not reusing any of the existing wiring. Why? This is not at all clear. So my bullshit-meter is redlining again.

The most frequently asked question lately is, "hey, what's that crazy looking scooter on the webcam?" Please address all your scooter-related questions to Barry. I know nothing about scooters. He lives for them.

I don't understand electricity.

I didn't take notes, so here's what I can remember of the meeting we had yesterday with our electrician and the folks we're buying our lights from. (If you were watching the webcam yesterday, this was the meeting where I kept resting my head on the table and looking like I might be about to cry.)

Apparently some people think the way you decide how much electricity your building needs is that you take the maximal power consumption of every device in the building and add it together. When you do that for the sound system and lights that we were planning to get, plus refrigerators and so on, you get a figure something like a jillion watts. The club does not currently have a jillion watts. It currently has, lets say, a quarter jillion watts. Which they tell me is not enough.

Everyone seems less than compelled by my handy existence proof where I point out that there's been a club in this building for the last two-plus decades, and not only was it Really Fucking Loud, but also they had the music and lights on at the same time! Everyone just laughs when I point this out and look at me like, "how naïve."

So our electrician keeps talking about upgrading the power. Well, apparently PG&E can't provide the jillion watts we need to this block (or something like that.) What we need is a jillion watts of "three phase power" (and I have no idea what that means) and what we have is some smaller number of watts of blah-blah-mumble power, which as far as I can tell, it two wires of X and one wire of Y-less-than-X, where that third wire is unusable. Or something. Like I said, I don't understand how this works.

Then there was some discussion of converting one into another, and all we'd have to do for that would be to build a transformer vault, that is, find a car-sized space in the club where we can put a concrete bunker into which we can put a giant carcinogenic humming noisemaker, and that should only cost between $50,000 and $70,000. This would fall firmly into the category of "Things That Are Not Going To Happen."

So tomorrow our electrician is meeting someone from PG&E at the club to try and convince her that they actually can provide us will the jillion mumbles we need, but I gather that even if they agreed that they could, it would involve replacing transformers and mogrifying the frotzes, and that would cost us megabucks and take a year anyway, so we're not gonna be doing that, so why were we talking about it again?

Anyway, I guess the next step is going to be to get the sound and lights folks to come up with a plan for what we can do in here with the power that we have, because it seems clear to me that getting more power into this building is just not feasable.

Barry said, "if the answer is that with what we have, our sound and light system has to be a boom-box and two maglites, then just tell us that." Nobody but me found that funny.

I don't know how much of this is reality and how much of this is crap. Do these lights actually need more power than the existing lights (which, again, demonstrably work) or is this some absurd overly-literal interpretation of the building code?

I mean, we passed our electrical inspection with the old sound and lights, to get our permits! The city inspector didn't bat an eye at that stuff, he just made us take down the extension cords and put up more emergency lights.

What have I gotten myself in to?

In other news, we're ready to start broadcasting music, as soon as we get one of our servers into our ISP's colocation facility. I was supposed to drive it down there today, but my friend who runs the ISP isn't answering his phone, so, uh, I guess I'm not.

Oh, and Alexis got us a good deal on some subwoofers. We were just going to have our existing subs re-coned, but these new ones aren't much more expensive than the repairs were going to be, and they're in better shape. They're also smaller, which will make installation easier (they're going under the stage, and the smaller they are, the easier it will be to isolate the stage from vibration and feedback.)

So what do you folks think of the webcam? Is RealVideo working well? Do you like it being a plugin on the page, or should it just be a link to an external player? Should we also have a 1994-slideshow-style updated-every-30-seconds JPEG version as well?

(I thought this post was pretty funny.)


We now have streaming audio!

I was able to hook up with my friend at our ISP (, they rock) this evening after all, and put one of our servers in colo. So now we can make our MP3 streams available to the whole wide world. Have at it, and let me know if you run in to any problems...

I figured out how to update the metadata in the audio streams, so you can now see the title of the current song, if your MP3 player supports that.

The reason we were offline for about an hour today is that Covad dropped a bunch of their SF customers for some unknown reason. Our connectivity has not been super-reliable, and my ISP and Covad keep pointing their fingers back and forth at each other. Me, I'm betting on it being Covad's fault, but really I just wish the problem was even understood.

Our electrician stopped by today to meet with the PG&E rep, and while he was here, I had him give me a remedial lesson on electrical power distribution. He was very tolerant of my ignorance, I can tell he likes his job! So this whole electricity thing, it all seems very ad hoc, really. I get the impression that the background on a lot of this stuff is, "this is how Nicola Tesla did it, so we're still doing it that way now."

The Eminently Skippable "Ask Dr. Science" Interlude:

    So down at the power station, they have these generators. Heat runs turbines, and turbines turn a big magnetic wheel. Around the magnet are three sets of coiled wire, evenly spaced 120 degrees apart. As the positive pole of the spinning magnet swings by one of those sets of coils, its field induces a positive (or negative? I forget) current in that coil, and as the negative pole swings by, it induces the opposite current. One end of the wires in each of these three coils is attached to the planet ("ground"), and the other end leaves the building. Inducing a current means that the magnetic field sucks a whole bunch of electrons up out of the earth and pushes them through the wire, then lets them slide back the other way. That's AC, "alternating current."

    So the reason that there's any talk of "three phase power" at all is because that's how the electric utilities actually make it: the generators have three sets of coils on them. Maybe there's some efficiency reason for this, or maybe it's "just because."

    The "phase" part comes from the fact that the three lines have voltage curves that are out of phase with each other. If you were to graph the voltage of one of the output wires over time, it would go from +120 to -120 and back again, each time the magnet spins around (60 times a second in this country.) But the starting point of each of these sine waves are offset by 1/3 of the cycle.

    So then there are two types of transformers that this power might go through before it reaches you. The internal details of these things are kind of neat, and made my brain dredge up things I haven't had to think about since my high school trig class (study math, kids! It's useful for more than writing video games!) but the bottom line is, the output of one type of transformers is two 120 volt lines, and one 208 volt line; and the output of the other type of transformer is three 120 volt lines.

    The first kind is called a "delta" transformer (because schematically, it's a triangle) and the second kind is called a "star" or "three-phase" transformer. The difference between them is just how the three hot lines are wired together. I'd explain how that works, but to do that I'd have to draw pictures of them, and I'm just not up to that right now. I'll give you a hint, though, and it's that 208 is 120 times the square root of 3.

    Anyway, "delta" transformers are what feed your house, because all of the stuff you own runs on "single phase" 120v power. It turns out that there's pretty much nothing in the world that uses 208v power, so that third leg on a delta transformer is useless.

    Things like residential clothes dryers run on 240v, which is a pair of 120v lines strapped together. Though "240" is sometimes spelled "220" and "120" is sometimes spelled "110" for some reason. Taxes? Inflation?

    Big electric motors like to run on "three-phase" power, because they can feed each of their three sets of coils from a different power source, and they're already properly out of phase with each other, so that's very efficient. (Remember, motors and generators are the same device, one's just running backwards.) So big gear such as compressors and walk-in refrigerators tend to take three-phase power.

    Well, this neighborhood only has delta power. This seems odd to me, since this used to be a warehouse and industrial district before all the yuppies moved in, and I would have expected there to have been a lot of heavy equipment here, but apparently not.

So anyway.

What we've got in here is 400 amps of delta, meaning a pair of 120v lines and a single useless 208v line. The electrician ran his numbers again, cut some things out, and was able to come up with a plan for our equipment that shows us using only 366 amps. So that means that we can run this club with the the sound and light system that we're getting, and still have power to spare, without having to upgrade the service. We'll be pretty close to maxed out, and if we want to expand, like if some day we want to put in a real kitchen, we'll need to upgrade the power then.

So imagine that! We are able to operate a nightclub on the amount of power on which a nightclub has been operating here for decades! I for one am shocked. Shocked, I say.

The PG&E rep thinks (she's going to check) that we actually have 600 amps available to us, if we dig up four feet of the sidewalk and run some new feeds. The electrician seems excited to do this, but it's not clear to me that it's necessary. It's also not clear to me how much doing this would cost, but I'm guessing, oh, let's say, a whole hell of a lot. I anticipate this being one of those situations where someone wants me to replace something because it's "old" or "beige" or "just plain needs killin'," then I'm going to say "but does it work?" and they're going to say, "...well... yeah" and I'm going to say "so what's the problem?" and they're going to say "well... nothing, I guess."

I have this kind of conversation a lot. It's very frustrating.

Barry was in Portland this weekend, and talked to a couple of bar owners who had installed Glycol systems recently, and according to them, it just doesn't work if you go more than 20' horizontally. They said that if you ever go more than a couple of minutes between pouring a beer out of a given tap, then a lot of the contents of the tube turns to foam; they both said that this resulted in 30% of the product going down the drain. Within a year after installing it, they both tore out their systems and installed coolers at the bar instead of in the back room, and their profits went way up.

The distributors who want to sell us the Glycol system tell us that this is nonsense, of course. But whe you play the "follow the money" game, you see that it would be in their interest for us to throw away 30% of the product, because we buy that product from them... So they're not exactly objective in this situation. The problem is, we don't know anyone else who has actually installed and used a long-haul Glycol system.

If it turns out that we can't use Glycol, then we're going to have to redesign the front bar again, to make room for keg coolers back there. This is a hassle, and might mean we'll have to have to reduce the number of bartenders who can work that bar.

We also spent a while trying to figure out the economics of beer in bottles versus beer in kegs. There are a lot of variables there, so it's tricky. Bars generally charge the customer the same for the same brand of bottled versus draft beer, but bottles cost the bar more than kegs do. But on the other hand, it's a lot faster to hand someone a bottle than to pour a beer, so you can serve more customers. And glasses (and plastic cups) cost money. And the serving sizes are different. And there's a lot more spillage when using a tap. And...

So after much figurin', We decided that the prices, when taking into account all these other factors, are pretty much the same. Except that since you can move bottles more quickly than pints, they probably come out ahead. So now we're playing with bar designs that assume we have mostly bottles and only a few things on tap. (This isn't just a matter of what products you stock: the bar itself has to be built for it, so that you have room to store all those bottles and/or kegs.)

Our architect finally got plans from the mechanical engineer for the ventilation system. Basically there will be a pair of ducts, one on each side of the building above the balcony.

We still don't have plans from the structural engineer about the dj platform. I think that's the last missing piece preventing us from having a complete set of plans on which we can get bids.

Brian's pulled down most of the sheetrock on the underside of the balcony, exposing the struts. The ceiling seems higher there now, and this mean that the under-balcony lighting can be recessed. We also had our electricians disconnect most of the nonessential conduit, and pulled that down, so now the existing electricial situation is a lot easier to understand.

We got a love letter from the police the other day, telling us that we are in violation of our permits because we haven't yet passed our building and noise abatement inspections. That really made my day. It turns out that it's just bureaucracy, though: some part of the lumbering beast didn't know (or didn't believe) that we're not actually open yet, so now we have to waste time convincing them of that with another paperwork dance. (Also, as far as I know, we did pass our building inspection.)

And in this week's club and restaurant closure news:

  • Club Mercury (formerly DV8) will apparently not be reopening. Rumor has it that the owners are giving up on the dying San Francisco night life scene and moving to LA.

  • The Caribbean Zone restaurant (the very good Jamaican place on the back of that same building) has also closed. Both will become
                      ...wait for it...
    office space for some software company.

  • Cocodrie (in North Beach) is also closing, eliminating one of the few (two?) remaining under-21 punk rock venues in the Bay Area. There's an article about it in the Chronicle.

Well, the muffler shop next door is going to be office space within the next six months, too. The neighbors will like that. It will be so much quieter!

Earlier today barry got a delivery of his magazines, and the guy on the truck didn't have any way to get them out. "We need a forklift," he said. "I don't have a forklift," Barry retorted. "Well, we need one," the guy said. And stared.

So Barry went next store to the glass block place and borrowed theirs.

Someday soon we will no longer live in a neighborhood where you can borrow a forklift when you need one. Post-it notes? Sure. Pens? Sure.

So, what with the webcam and the music, we might as well have an IRC channel, right? Why not.

Let's use GIMPnet, it's not very crowded. Channel #dnalounge on port 6667. I always leave IRC running, so if I'm in front of a computer, I'll be on that channel. Stop by and say hi...

Don't know IRC? Start at for an intro, and where to find clients.