Last week some kid came in and bent Barry's ear with this "great idea." His idea was that we would let him do an event here, in the club's current disassembled state, with broken concrete and piles of wood all over the floor. He would set up skateboard ramps, and get some hip-hop band to play. This would, he assured us, be "bitchin'."

I'm sure he expected this to be an all-ages event too.

My friend Joe's analysis of my summary of the electrical system was something along the lines of, "what you wrote almost makes sense. I think you almost understand it." Oh well. He also thinks that 400 amps is a ludicrously huge amount of power, and we'll probably have enough left over to build a rail-gun or something.

On the other hand, I just found out that the guy who owns the scooter shop down the street just spent ten thousand dollars on a bookcase. Well, a toolbox. A big toolbox, mind you: it's about five feet tall, but it's still just a red metal box with a bunch of drawers. And apparently he thinks he got a "screaming deal" on it. I know I haven't done anything quite that stupid yet, so that makes me feel a little better about the DNA Money Pit.

In demolition news, Stephen is almost done pulling down the rest of the nails and screws on the underside of the balcony that were holding the drywall ceiling up. Why was it both nailed and screwed? Who knows; my guess is that they nailed it, then realized what a stupid idea that was (subwoofers make nails pop out!) then later they went back and screwed it.

Yesterday we went over to the former DV8 to play vultures and pick over the corpse of another dead nightclub. We got a whole bunch of gear: lights (Trackspots and Data Flash strobes), amplifiers, turntables, sinks, coolers, ice bins, and various other bar hardware. Alexis is quite the negotiator; it sounds like he saved us a bunch of money!

One of the doors in the basement of DV8 was a combination-lock vault door. It's very cool. We tried to take that, thinking "we can find somewhere cool to put this," but after ten minutes trying to wrestle the thing onto a dolly, we gave up and left it there. Aside from the fact that I don't think we could have gotten it into and out of the truck without someone losing a limb, the only place we could think to put it would be upstairs, and that would no doubt mean we'd have to reinforce the floor...

Speaking of which, we still don't have drawings from the structural engineer. But I'm sure you could have guessed that.

And now, the nerd news:

I found out that the video switcher I was considering getting does not, in fact, do timebase correction (a TBC is a device that takes a bunch of video signals and puts them in sync with each other, so that all the frame boundaries line up, and switching between them is clean) so I'm back to the drawing board on that one. I need a cheap way to do NTSC video switching from arbitrary non-genlocked sources (consumer VCRs, cameras, etc) that puts out a continuously clean signal.

Our audio and video feeds were down for more than six hours friday night. Our network situation is not a happy one.

I'm getting like 5% downtime on my Covad DSL connectivity to my ISP; it's very rare that I have connectivity for more than 12 hours in a row. It goes down several times a day for periods of from five minutes to two hours. This is pathetic.

On top of that, my ISP is whining about how much bandwidth I'm using: I'm paying them for what they advertised as "guaranteed 1.1Mb bidirectional DSL connectivity", but apparently when they say "1.1Mb" they mean "but only every now and then!" They don't like it that I'm actually using the bandwidth they guaranteed me, instead of being bursty like web browsers are. This is like the joke about the store that's open 24 hours, but not in a row.

It seems to me that DSL is just a crock. From what I hear, all the other DSL providers are even worse than Covad.

But my only other option is to buy a T1, and that costs easily 10x as much as I'm paying for DSL.

Gee, maybe one of you works for an ISP or telco who would like to give us a discount on decent connectivity in exchange for some kind of product placement, and my undying gratitude?

The SFPD is being sued over the search-and-seisure terms they forced 1015 Folsom to agree to! There's an article about it in today's Guardian.

Oh, and apparently we have yet another new police captain, as of August 5th. It seems that Captain Harper was also transferred to the airport, just like Captain Martel a few months before her. Southern Station's new boss is Captain Antonio Parra.

Much to our amazement, we were finally able to get our architect and structural engineer to commit to a date when the plans will be done: August 18th. Until now, the answer has always been "two weeks." No matter when we asked. Or how long it had been since the last time we asked.

Once the plans are done, then we can send them out to contractors to bid on the project, and also to the City, to issue the construction permits. The City will probably demand changes, but our architect assures us that those changes will be minor and won't result in our having to restart the whole process. He also assures us that the contractors' bids won't end up being twice as much as we expect them to be, also causing us to restart the whole process. I guess if that happens, I call the whole thing off, sell my loft, and just move in here. Either that, or I climb a clock tower with a high powered rifle.

In the meantime, we've been knocking more stuff down. The men's bathroom is mostly gone now. Underneath the drywall was another mural, this one featuring stencils of a dominatrix, and various combinations of some crazy chicken-horse hybrid animal (a chorse?) I wonder where the men's bathroom was before it was here, because it must not have been a bathroom when these were painted.

We've agreed on a final design and price quote for the new balcony railing, so as soon as the structural engineer approves that part of the plans, construction of the railing segments can begin.

The webcam is still down, and we haven't figured out why. Our best guess at this point is that something's gone even more wrong with the DSL connection, and the latency is too high for the servers to notice each other. Covad's techs are testing things on their end, so maybe things will clear up soon. In the meantime, we're still getting quotes for T1 pricing. It's not cheap.

I got a bunch of RF encoders that seem to work pretty well. As I mentioned earlier, the idea is to feed data to the various TV monitors by building a private cable system inside the club, instead of running 16+ cables to each TV. We just run one wire to all of them, and have 16+ channels on that wire.

Stefan stopped by and gave me a lesson on video mixing and distribution. It sounds like getting a 16-way TBC would be pretty difficult, but he had another idea. Since televisions are not picky about getting clean sync, but computer video cards are, we can reduce the problem to cleaning up the sync on the line that goes to the computer. He recommended that, in addition to a matrix switcher, I pick up a used Panasonic MX-50 video mixer to do this: it's a box that takes 4 video inputs and lets you do all kinds of wipes and fades between them, and by necessity includes a TBC. Now, since it only has 4 inputs, not 16, we'll have to do some creative switching, but I think I understand how to do it.

So there'd be two modes of operation: autopilot-mode, where the video mixer was being used only as a TBC to clean up the signal before it got to the webcast computer; and interactive mode, where someone was actually mixing live video (which is what this machine is actually for.) If we've got someone who knows how to run the thing standing in the dj booth with it, webcasts of live performances will actually look good.

I guess I ought to get the matrix switcher and see how badly the video card actually does deal with channel switching. If it's not that bad, we can drop in the fancier video effects at a later date.

Much demolition and hauling of trash this week. We tore apart the Flintstones couch, and the floor of the upstairs bar. The upstairs front bar had a concrete floor, poured on top of the wood of the balcony. The "Flintstones couch" was this built-in booth on the second floor that was constructed of a heavy wood-and-chicken-wire frame with thick concrete poured over it. It was probably the ugliest, most uncomfortable thing in this place, and also one of the hardest to destroy. But it's gone now. And I'm still sore.

We also gathered lots more garbage from all the nooks and crannies around the club; the place is fairly stripped down now, and the pile of garbage downstairs is impressive.

Work on the electrical upgrade to 600 amps has started; a few new electrical wiring cabinets arrived yesterday. They are these big gray metal boxes that are three feed wide and seven feet tall. Apparently they're mostly empty space for "wire-bending room," since the wires in question are really thick, but come on! One of these cabinets will have exactly six wires in in: three lines come up through the floor from the power company; and they are bolted to three wires that go on to the next box. Six wires, six bolts. For this you apparently need twenty-one cubic feet of space. Apparently the codes change constantly, and every five years, these boxes double in size.

I got a second video grabber card, so now we have both a RealVideo broadcast and a super-low-tech slideshow that updates every 30 seconds on the webcam page. (I had to get a second card to do this because the Linux drivers don't allow two programs to access the video stream at once...)

I got to cut through inch-thick solid metal pipes today with a variety of saws! The winner and still champeen was the circular skil-saw, easily beating out the sawzall and hand saw. I think that the hand saw was actually faster than the sawzall, though it took a lot more effort. Screaming metal, sparks everywhere! It was all very Einstürzende Neubauten.

Someone mailed me the other day saying, "I think I missed a whole chapter somewhere... just how did you go from `400 amps is a ludicrously huge amount of power' to `work on the electrical upgrade to 600 amps has started'?" Well, how that happened is, the electrician convinced Barry that we needed it, and after several meetings where I expressed my complete disbelief that we need any more power now than we had before, I just got completely sick of arguing and said "fuck it, I don't care any more" and let them spend my money so that they'd shut up and leave me alone. Not the soundest business decision I've ever made, surely, but what can I say: it was a bad week.

Anyway, the electricians got the new electrical boxes installed, and have run some of the conduit from the club out to PG&E's box; once PG&E hooks up the power (when? I don't know, PG&E won't tell us) then they can start switching over from the old service to the new service. Right now just about everything's running off extension cords from the few working sockets, as all nonessential circuits have been unhooked and the conduit removed.

Electricians have all kinds of good horror stories. Did you know that concrete is a conductor? And that electricity can arc up to one inch per ten amps? So your typical 200A overhead power line can fry you if you're grounded and get within a couple feet of it.

Remember back when I said that we'd finally gotten our architect to commit to a date when the plans would be done, done, done, and ready to send out for bids? The date I understood was August 18th. You may notice that August 18th was some time ago, and we don't have the plans. Well here's a perfect example of why this is taking so fucking long:

    "Oh, did I say ten days? I meant ten business days."

    "Oh, did I say I'd be done with the plans? No, I meant, that's when the structural engineer will be done with his plans. I still need to integrate his plans into my plans."

We have to put up with this kind of bullshit constantly. It's just stultifying.

Back in May or June, our architect told us that it was likely that we'd be open for business by the first week of September. He showed us a schedule and everything. The reality is that it's unlikely that we'll even have gotten our bid accepted by the end of October, and who knows when construction will actually begin. And of course I'm still waiting for the dropping of the other shoe, where we see how much the contractors actually say the job will cost. Because, remember, this same guy also assured us that the contractors' bids on his plans will end up being within our budget. So let's hope his money estimates are one hell of a lot better than his time estimates, or we're back to square one.

And now, the nerd news:

I finally replaced the firewall machine; now it's running OpenBSD instead of Linux, and it's much, much better. Don't try and use Linux for a firewall, kids: the moving-target Linux firewall software is just crap. The OpenBSD stuff is way simpler, more powerful, and generally just works right, whereas Linux... doesn't.

With the OpenBSD firewall, I was able to bring my RealProducer machine back inside the firewall, something that wouldn't work when the firewall was Linux-based.

We're still trying to get a better network connection to the club, since DSL is crap. A friend of a friend has generously volunteered to give us bandwidth for free, so long as we provide the telco T1 circuit from the club to the router he has in colo at This will probably be a huge cost savings, but the problem is that it means we need to get a T1 from San Francisco to San Jose, which is pricey... People keep telling me "oh, that should be around $300/month," but that's not what we're finding:

Nextlink:    $484/month plus $500 installation, 1 year commitment.
Nascio: $713/month plus $975 installation, 1 year commitment.
MCI: $756/month plus $1,099 installation (waived with 1 year commitment.)
A-link: $995/month plus $1,100 installation, 1 year commitment.
AT&T: $1,201/month, free installation, 1 year commitment.
Sprint: $1,214/month, free installation, 1 year commitment.
PacBell: $1,470/month $1,201 installation, 1 year commitment.
ICG: They won't even talk to us without us waiting 48 hours for a call-back. Some service! Fuck them.
Genuity: They haven't answered yet.

These prices are just for the circuit, not for IP bandwidth. If you know of someone who can get us a better price for a T1 circuit from SF->SJ, please let me know! Or, for that matter, SF-local circuit+bandwidth at better than the best price above...

The San Francisco Civil Grand Jury recently completed an investigation of the nightclub permitting process, and recommended that control of permits be taken away from the SFPD. The report is pretty interesting reading, and seems pretty realistic to me.

We met with our architect today, and finally saw the structural engineer's plans of where the duct work will go, and what reinforcement we need to do to the balcony supports in order to attach the new dj booth. No big surprises. I'm still a little concerned about how much space these ducts take up, and whether they will make the ceiling feel a lot lower in some rooms.

He says that the plans will be in a final state by friday evening, and will be FedExed to a bunch of contractors for bids on monday. And there was much rejoicing.

We also met with a "permit expediter." A permit expediter is a consultant who ensures that your permit application makes its way through the City's bureaucracy as efficiently as possible. Like they say about the process of making sausage, I think this is one of those things where you really don't want to know what the details are. But as far as I can tell, use of expediters is common: you get to pick between spending a bunch of money, or waiting forever for processing of your applications to begin.

Our architect keeps using the euphemism "value engineering" for "cutting things out of the plan." I assume this is his code for "when you see the bid price that the contractors come back with, you're going to shit yourself."

The enormous pile of garbage taking up the right side of the downstairs is gone now. The dump guys had to make three trips to get it all.

This is hilarious: Trickery Irks Building Inspectors.

So here are a couple of silly ideas:

  • Do you know how to make Quake levels? I think it would be really cool to have a Quake walk-through of the DNA building. We could update it as construction progresses...

  • We're going to have some booths/couches upstairs, and, well, cringe if you must, but I think it would be really cool if one of those couches was actually a Cray-1 or Cray-XMP (the first supercomputers to come with built-in couches.) Anyone know where I can get the cabinet to one of these? I don't need the actual computer, just the cabinet...

Today the electricians finally unhooked the pizza place next door from our electrical service (the second floor of their building had been running off a pair of breakers in our building for years, for some mysterious reason.) They're still working on transferring the service from the old hardware to the new hardware, and seem to be spending a lot of time asking the city inspectors when they are going to come out and actually look at the work so that they can finally close up the gaping hole in the sidewalk...

You might be wondering, are our plans done and being sent to contractors for bidding today, as claimed earlier? No, they are not. There's been another random delay ("the structural engineer decided to take a few days off") and so theoretically they will be going out tomorrow.

And now I'm off to Burning Man, because that's just how hip and fashionable I am. Back in a week...