We fired the steel guys. This was kind of a shame, since they did really good work, when they bothered to show up. Which was increasingly seldom. And the worst part was that they would tell us they were going to be there, and then not show, and not call. Twice we sent them official "if you're not working tomorrow, you're fired" letters, and that got them to show up for two or three days in a row, then after that, they immediately started flaking again. All the steel work was supposed to be done more than a month ago. So this last time, we cut our losses. Now we're looking for new steelworkers to finish the last few details on the railing, and put in the front stairs.
Most of the workers we've had here have really been busting their butts, but every now and then we get a crew who are pretty much just killing time and waiting to go home. The current example seems to be the concrete guys, who are filling up a few more walls to make this place even more bomb-shelter-like, noise-wise. Basically, they mix up some concrete (dump a bag into the mixer, spray it with a hose for about a minute) then pour it from the mixer into a bucket, then pour it from the bucket into the hole in the wall. This is not a delicate process. They really do just dump it right in, it's not like they have to be careful about letting it settle or anything. Concrete is very much a liquid at that stage.
It took them all day to do a 3'x6' section of wall. Come on.
Our new front doors are definitely being delivered yesterday. Steve said they'd be here the day before yesterday, or yesterday at the absolute latest, so we'll definitely be expecting them to arrive yesterday.
On wednesday, Butter (the bar across the street from us) had a hearing related to their application for a Place of Entertainment permit. We didn't get to talk to the Butter boys before the hearing, so we didn't really know what the story was until afterward (like, why they felt the need to get this permit at all) but they asked us to show up for moral support, so we did.
The police station must have been built in the same year as my high school, because I swear, every time I go in there I get these horrible flashbacks. Same color scheme, same nasty lighting... One time we went into someone's office, and it was like going into The Office. *shudder*
Anyway, the way these public hearings work is, you sit in a big room full of uncomfortable auditorium chairs, facing a giant desk on the other side of the room. There are a couple of cops behind the desk with microphones, and over on the left side are various other bureaucrats (the permit officer, someone from planning, or whoever else needs to be there that day.) The presiding officer goes down a list calling off case numbers. Most of them go quickly: "Thirteen. Application for massage parlor permit." Pause. Nobody stands up to protest. "Approved."
When it was Butter's turn, Carlton and Chris went up to the bench, along with the permit officer, and they had a conversation with the officer behind the desk that none of us could hear. That's why they call it a public hearing: because the public couldn't hear anything.
So, nobody protested (which surprised me) but they also have to come back next week and do it again, because the cops forgot to do some paperwork dance or another. This also is typical.
The applications that require discussion are always the ones related to making noise. For example, "application for permit for loudspeaker, City Hall plaza, at noon on saturday." They discussed that for about ten minutes. I'm always amazed by this. I mean, here I am, sitting in a government building, listening to people applying for permits to gather in public and make political speeches. And I say to myself, "hey, isn't this completely unconstitutional?" And I ponder, and then answer myself, "Why yes. Yes, I believe it is."
"No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets."
So afterward, I asked Carlton why he was applying for a Place of Entertainment permit at all, when they don't actually have paid entertainment at Butter: they play music, but it's just a bar. I didn't quite understand his answer, but it was something along the lines of, someone from the Captain's office suggested that it would be a "good idea to have one anyway." Hmmm. Interesting.
There was a reporter at the hearing as well, and she asked me a few questions about the Dance Hall Keeper permit (since she was rightly amazed that here in this modern age, a city like San Francisco still regulates whether people are allowed to dance.) I told her the story of the time when the Holy Cow lost their Dance Hall Keeper permit for a few months, and had to hire extra security to wander around and tell people to stop dancing when they spotted it. After she had picked her jaw up off the floor, she asked me, "so how do you go about getting a Dance Hall Keeper permit, if you wanted to open a new club?" "Well," I said, "you don't. The only way to get a Dance Hall Keeper permit is to take over an existing business that has had that permit since the 80s." Because in the intervening years, South of Market has been re-zoned a couple of times, and nightclubs are technically not allowed here at all. The only reason any exist is because those were here already.
This bears repeating, because I don't think many people fully comprehend this part:
Since it's not legal to open a brand new nightclub in SOMA today, that means that every one that closes is never going to be replaced. It can't be. Not unless the zoning laws change.
Why do all these people want this town to suck? I just don't understand.
I got some email from my broker yesterday. Her comment could be summed up as, "Holy shit you're spending a lot of money! When is this going to stop?"
I wish I knew.
But at least there was some news that brought a giddy smile to my face today. As you may recall, two of our neighbors here on 11th street, the Transmission Theatre (a nightclub) and Twenty Tank (a brew-pub/ restaurant) closed their doors recently, and transformed into office space for internet companies. Well I can gleefully report that both of those companies have already gone out of business!
Bring on the recession!
Perhaps this means that Transmission will turn into a club again. I doubt Twenty Tank will be coming back, though. They are sub-leasing the building, since they couldn't afford to run their business there any more with the higher rent. So now they owe the rent on the property, and they've already demolished the kitchen and bar. Oops.
Oh, and VSF, the club at 11th and Folsom (formerly The Oasis), is for sale again. Sigh.
The concrete guys have gotten a lot more done this week! In addition to filling more walls with concrete, they're also doing a cement plaster over some of the adjoining interior walls, to make them look consistent. The entryway is going to look like it's concrete all the way through.
The bathroom walls are tiled and grouted, and the floors are just about done. They're looking great. The pattern of tiles on the floor in the womens' bathroom is really cool, since the lines follow the funny-shaped wall and radiate out.
We have new steel guys, and they kick ass. They're here, and they work fast, and their work is really well done. Right now they're repairing some cosmetic screw-ups in the railing, and doing some detail work like sanding down all the clothes-snagging burrs on the steel. We're waiting for the raw materials to arrive from which they will construct the front stairs, and the rest of the rail around the stairwell.
The carpentry work on the upstairs front bar is mostly done: the shelves and cabinets have been built and installed, as has the mirror behind the bar (you can't see it in this photo because it's covered with paper). We're still working out a way to secure that bar when it's not in use; the current plan is to do something like what was there before, and have stiff screens that swing down from the ceiling to cage it in. That way we don't have to worry about putting bottles away and otherwise making sure people don't get back there and wreak havoc.
Also mostly finished this week were the t-bar dropped ceilings above the downstairs front bar, and the kitchen area in the back. I really didn't want a ceiling above the bar: without it, you can see all the plumbing that is underneath the upstairs bar, and it looks really cool. But, bars count as food-prep areas, and the health code says that the ceiling has to be smooth and washable, and I guess a tangle of pipes doesn't really count. You'll still be able to see the pipes a little bit, though, since we're not walling in the front edge of the dropped ceiling. So if you are standing back from the bar, you'll be able to see into the gap between the lower and upper ceilings, which is full of plumbing, electrical conduit, and (soon) beer and soda lines.
The new front doors are definitely arriving two weeks ago, so we're still waiting for them. Nobody can tell me where they are. The vendor is doing "everything he can," which is, apparently, calling the distributor every few days and politely asking. If the distributor has an answer, I have not heard it. I've heard where they ought to be and when they should have been shipped, but nobody can tell me where the damned things actually are right now.
Some of the concrete work on the front wall couldn't be done until the door frames went in. We have the frames, and not the doors, but Steve was going to wait until the doors arrived to put the frames in (since the doors were, and are, going to be here "any day now.") After that, it's a small matter of doing the simple concrete work. Which is easy. It only takes a week. So I said, "well put the frames on now, that way when the doors arrive, we're an hour away from having working doors, instead of a week away." He didn't want to do it that way. I explained again how much money every day of delay costs me. So they put the frames on, over the strong objection of the carpenters, who say that if you put the frames on without having the doors that go in them, it's often a huge pain to get the doors to fit. But that's a risk I was willing to take to save a week, so we did it anyway.
This door thing is a huge hassle, because waiting for the doors to be installed is basically the only thing stopping us from scheduling our Noise Abatement inspection, which is our last serious hurdle before we can finalize our operating permits. (We were granted the permits last year, after a long battle, but they're contingent on passing a bunch of inspections, all of which we passed last year except Noise Abatement, which is why we did so much soundproofing during the remodeling.)
(Ok, everybody please stop suggesting that we use plexiglass tiles above the bar. Yes, we thought of that. It's too expensive, a huge amount of labor, and it would look like crap very quickly anyway.)
Those doors. After days of screaming, they finally showed up. "They'll be installed tomorrow." Then, the next day: "Oh, there are some parts missing. They're going to send them to us, uh, soon."
Now, I don't even care that it takes so long to get the damned doors. I don't know what the door industry is like. If someone had told me, "it takes eight weeks to get doors," I would have said, "wow, that's strange," and accepted it. But what really yanks my chain is when someone promises me that they'll be here in two weeks, and then they don't show up for eight! And every day, instead of telling me, "we're really sorry, there was a delay and it will be another six weeks," which would have been bad enough, they spend those intervening weeks telling me "oh, they should be here tomorrow. Or the next day."
Other than that, a lot got done this week. The cage around the upstairs front bar is done. The upstairs bathroom walls are mostly tiled. Now that the downstairs bathroom floors are in, the plumbers are back and have been installing the toilets, urinals, and sinks. The company we're buying the bathroom stall partitions from have been out to take final measurements, so that they can start constructing the partition walls (they wanted to wait until there were toilets in place, so that they could measure reality instead of less trustable blueprints.) There has also been a lot more drywall work: most of the walls and ceilings have been closed up.
Steve has been experimenting with various concentrations of acid on the railings, to encourage them to rust in interesting ways. They look different every day: with this acid to encourage it, steel will turn from dark black to bright orange over night! (The orange part is the first layer of rust, you get more "rusty" colors as it works its way in deeper.) After decaying the metal a bit, we'll clear-coat the parts that people come in contact with, so it won't get you filthy. That will also make it a good deal darker.
Here's a before and after:
Do you have any idea how expensive cash registers are? Oh, wow! I'd seen them in office supply stores for like $200, so that set my expectations. But apparently those kinds of registers are really slow and generally crappy. Registers that you'd actually want to use are over a thousand dollars. Oh, but if you want them to network together (so that you can change prices from one register without having to go and touch all of them, and so that only the night manager has access to the end-of-night totals, which I'm told is a good way to circumvent one of the main ways that bartenders steal from their employers) then they're like $2,200 each!
Each. We need nine.
So I started looking around for Linux-based point-of-sale systems. There are quite a few out there, but most of them seem incredibly flaky, or like they're just nowhere near being completed. The most promising one was LinuxPOS, whose main feature is that it's the only one I got to actually open a window. But, its interface seems to be geared toward stores with huge inventories, where you'd either be typing in a product number, or scanning it off a barcode. In particular, it doesn't seem to have a way to put up a grid of products, like you'd want in a bar or fast-food restaurant, where there are less than a dozen products total and you want to just be able to smack the button labelled "hamburger" or "beer, imported."
So now I'm playing around with writing my own from scratch. The software side of it seems pretty simple, since it doesn't really have to do very much (e.g., we don't need it to scale to hundreds of tellers.) I think that if I do it this way, I can keep the hardware unit cost per register down around $600, but that depends on how cheaply I can get touchscreens and computer-controlled cash drawers and so on. (Suggestions on such hardware that is known to work with Linux would be greatly appreciated!)
Speaking of hacking, I've finally gotten around to putting up the scripts I've written to keep the webcasts running. You can see it on the Source Code page.
Even though the watchword of the last few weeks has been "triage," I got talked into buying some more used lights. We got a good deal on them, and they're really cool. They're Emulators, which do laser-like things (sheets of light, drawing letters, etc.) using tightly-focussed white light.
You know how you should never go grocery shopping when you're hungry? Well, you should also never let someone talk you into buying lights when you're out at a club watching a light show.
The most interesting thing that happened this week was the tuning of the sound system. The sound guys kept describing the first step as "making noise," since apparently when a new system is first fired up, you usually can't even tell what song is playing, it sounds so terrible. But when they fired our system up, it sounded amazing to me: if they had told me they were done, I would have believed it... They were surprised too, apparently they haven't heard one sound this good without tweaking before.
And there was a lot of tweaking to be done! The first step was to make sure that all the speakers had the right polarity (meaning, the positive and negative wires were not transposed anywhere in the system, so that none of the sound waves are out of phase with each other.) They used a magic garage-door-opener to check: they played a loud SNAP, SNAP, SNAP through the speakers again and again, and held this device up to each cone in turn. A green light came on if the cone was in phase, and a red light if not. I don't really understand how that works, but apparently the little box can hear the difference between the magnet pushing the cone out-then-in, versus pulling it in-then-out.
Check out this picture of Greg hanging from the truss from his legs to hold this device up against the cones in the center cluster...
After the polarity was adjusted, the next step was to set the delays and equalization curves for each of the speakers. He did this by pointing a microphone into each of the speaker cones, playing white noise through them, and seeing what happened to it during its journey through the sound system and back again. Then he sat there and tweaked the equalization curve on his laptop until it was flat.
Well first, each speaker cabinet has several different cones in it which are meant for different frequencies. (Oh, and sound guys seem to call speaker cones "drivers." I don't know if "cone" means something different to them. But whatever.) So with a home stereo, you generally just send the same signal to all of them, but with a PA, you send different signals to the high, medium, low, and subs; the signal that goes to a driver will emphasize the frequencies for which that driver is designed. The device that does this (dividing the signal up by frequencies) is called a "crossover."
Next, each type of driver is going to have slightly different characteristics: they aren't going to have a linear response over the ranges you're interested in, so you need to boost some frequencies and squash others. That's what an equalizer does. A parametric EQ is one where, instead of having, say, 16 sliders that divide up the spectrum, you set control points and it does bezier-spline-like things to get a smooth curve, given the control points you've picked. (To adjust this part, you need a good ear for this sort of thing. From watching these guys work, it's clear that they can hear things I can't. I can hear "loud," "not loud," and usually "good" and "bad," but they seem to be able to pay attention to particular frequencies in a way I have a really hard time doing. For me it gets... uh... lost in the noise.)
Next, you need to delay some drivers, because they're not in the same physical space. Sound waves take time to propagate, and this is actually perceptible. You sometimes have to introduce a slight delay between one set of speakers and another, or else it will sound like there's an echo.
Next, the room itself affects the sound, because of its shape, how hard or soft the walls are, and a zillion other things. That sort of thing also needs to be taken in to account with equalization in order for the music to sound right.
Then there are compressors: these are kind of like what "auto-gain control" does on your VCR: normalize the volume of a signal to prevent it from getting too loud (or too quiet.) What these are used for is protecting your equipment: if there's a compressor in the loop, you can set it so that it's not possible for an idiot dj or sound engineer to blow out your amps by overdriving them: they can keep turning up the volume all they like, and after a certain point, instead of getting louder, it'll just get kind of muddy instead. This is a very important thing to have when you have djs and band coming through who are not your employees and don't really care what happens to your gear...
And finally, you need a whole bunch of amps, not just because you need to push a lot of electrons around to make all that noise, but because any speakers that are not getting exactly the same signal can't share an amplifier (since equalization happens to the signal before it hits the amp, not after.)
So that's a lot of stuff. But in answer to the lead-in question above, all that junk in the rack is... amplifiers. We don't actually have any physical equalizers, crossovers, or limiters: instead we have one tiny box called Soundweb. This box contains a computer and a bunch of signal-processing hardware, and it simulates crossovers and limiters and all that good stuff. Your mixers plug into one side of the box, and all of your amplifiers and speakers plug into the other side. Then you attach a laptop and run their controller program, and draw a flowchart of where you want the sound to go, and what devices you want where in the signal stream. And it does the whole thing digitally.
In addition to simplifying matters, and taking up less rack space, this also gives you the ability to reconfigure the sound system on the fly. Most clubs that have both DJ acts and live acts have two completely disjoint sound systems, since it's too much of a hassle to reconfigure things. With Soundweb, we only need one, and we flip a switch to go between the two (or more) modes.
In the previous entry, I mentioned that I had started playing around with writing my own point-of-sale software, so that we can build our own cash registers more cheaply than a commercial setup. Well, I goofed around with that this weekend, and put up a rough draft of the kind of thing I'm thinking about (and some related pondering.) You can get the (Unix) source code over on the src page.
I'm not really sure this is such a good idea. Maybe we should just stick with post-it notes and cigar boxes instead of cash registers.
The front doors continue to be a major source of stress.
All the pieces finally arrived, and the south door was installed on monday. Then the fellow who installed it took off, because he was going on vacation the next day. So I went to look at it just after he left, and it seemed fairly solid. I went outside, locked it, and tugged on it. It rattled, but it was locked. Then I tugged on it really hard a couple of times, and it popped right open! I went back inside and looked at it, and discovered that he had attached hardware to the left door, but not to the right door. Notably missing was anything that would secure that door to the frame or the floor, meaning that there was no way to actually lock up the club. And almost everyone had left for the day: after all, it was almost 2:30pm, that's quitting time!
Fortunately one of the guys who hadn't left yet figured out a way to carve a 2x4 into kind of a hook, to slip under the doors and then nail to the floor to hold them closed. So we didn't have to actually poke any holes in our brand new doors to be able to go home that night.
So remember how it was only going to take a day to put the doors on once they arrived, which was why they wanted to do the concrete work after the doors? Well, so far, installing the doors has taken two guys seven full days, and they're still not done. The doors still don't close right (they lock, but you have to tug on them: when they swing closed, they don't latch.) And when they're closed and someone tugs on the handle from the outside, you can see the whole doorframe twist and deform. So I'm worried that even if they spend weeks tweaking and tuning these doors so that they fit properly, the fact that the frame is flexing means that the first time some idiot tries to break in by yanking on the handle repeatedly, the frame will bend enough to throw the doors out of whack again.
Our contractor's notion of what a "schedule" is drives me insane. It seems like when he says, "it will be done by wednesday afternoon," what he means is, "the guy who will be doing the actual work told me it will be done by wednesday afternoon." But the thing is, he knows that the guys who work for him are total flakes, and sometimes just don't show up at all. Yet his answers suggest that this takes him by surprise every single time. So it has proven utterly impossible to schedule anything based on his dates. He seems to think that answers like "well the guy didn't show up" should satisfy me, when I have to call up the person I've scheduled and tell them, "oh, nevermind."
One day this week, a guy came in and introduced himself as the sales rep for the company that manufactured our toilets. He'd heard we were using them here, and just wanted to take a look. He seemed really pleased, I guess he doesn't often see them in places that aren't prisons!
The drink rail along the balcony is in place. The sound guys have finished tuning the sound system. They want to come back and tweak it a little more once the room is full of people instead of construction debris, but they're basically done.
The floor in the kitchen has been tiled, and they've started tiling the floor behind the bars. (These areas have to be particular kinds of surfaces for health code reasons; apparently concrete is more porous than they like.)
The guys from the beer distributor have been slooooowly installing the refrigerated beer lines, going from the walk-in refrigerator to the taps at the front bar. They had to drill some four inch holes through some beams to run the line, and it took them two days to drill the first hole, so we finally gave up and had the plumbers knock out all six holes in a couple of hours.
Sadly, the beer tubes won't be much to look at, once everything is closed up: the tubes are wrapped in really thick foam insulation, so it's just a big black pipe. I wish you could see the fluid moving through them, but alas.