Cutting the Fat – Making a Seamless Site

I’ve spent a good amount of time making custom edits to ghost which is a fantastic blogging platform, but also a great stepping stone for web development. While the main visuals of The Unknown Artist Hour were put together by a collaborator and I, the structure isn’t too far off the default layout that comes with ghost. It just looks good.

I have used another theme or two while I figured out the best performing and attractive templates, but in the end the original theme only needed a good kick in the pants by a web developer (which was oddly enough just me) to get it running with ajax and steamrolling through pages. Since then I’ve integrated it with the radio station hog-tying some back-end and front-end resources together. However it is the back-end that’s really powerful and that’s where I’ve really been delving into. It was only a little while ago I figured out how to take over the templating engine and since then I was left to my own devices to make something great. Namely to improve the integration between the station and the website.

And that’s how I’ve arrived at artist pages, created right out of the same data used to make requests it was 100% compatible with the templating engine. A dream come true for me because hardly have I ever found a solution to a problem that was meant for the platform I was using. *However* its also nice for the future because the url can hand off the data that was used like a regular api, which is not like the original server behavior at all and is a cheeky addition to my toolkit for the future.

Everything is possible with a good cup of Joe.

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Wandering the Worldly Web

There’s a good reason to enjoy the internet, it can connect you to anyone regardless of where they are. That is of course a double edged sword and we all get a little nicked along the way. Having taken short breaks here and there it doesn’t take long to pick up on why the advantages outweigh the frustration, especially when it comes to music. Music is bad-ass enough on its own, but there are a few bands and artists which make the experience much worse or much more awesome than the chords themselves.

Over the summer I learned first hand why people should really diversify their friends and hang with some band geeks. Being the geeky type, not of the music nature, I am always here on the internet. Living and scrounging for nuggets of coding knowledge to use: I rest peacefully only when something works. Not exactly the person expanding on other skills. Hanging out with bands has opened me back up to my creative aspirations and kicked it into overdrive. In a negative light it is a bit disheartening to watch someone else shred a guitar and sit there wishing you could. On the positive side primordial jealousy is an amazing motivator, so here I am trying to improve my dexterity on a guitar rather than a keyboard.

Maybe I’m just using the wrong instrument, who knows? The internet is a constant learning experience. Short story it’s pretty awesome to meet and greet people across the net, even more so in real life.
*Side note I don’t actually advise meeting people from the internet in real life…people can still suck*

Photo By: Fabienne Serriere

Shuffling The Schedule: Problem X to Problem Y

Important is timing…in yoda speak…is something I’ve been slowly realizing. It’s not all about scheduling and getting priorities in order, sometimes its simply not screwing up at exactly the wrong moment. There are gaps in everyone’s schedule where priorities start to shift to a new task and focus is lost on x project and moved to y project. I’m definitely not an exception.

In this instance I’m talking about how I deal with the station’s automation. Recently I’ve spent some hefty amounts of time debugging sound issues. Of course while I’m not expecting them all to simultaneously disappear it seems very much like an indefinite process of tripping over one problem, only to discover another. Example Numero Uno: The mixing device I was using previously was generating a significant amount of white noise, and while otherwise functioning properly it made recording voice and instrumentals hell. You may catch some of the oddities if you catch my voice in the stream and hear the weird squeakiness (my best attempt at removing the white noise). Soon after ripping through all possible settings on the mixer it soon became clear that it was the USB device responsible for all the buzz and hiss. The mixer itself was fine, power wasn’t causing a ground loop problem, but connecting it to a computer the way it was intended and designed for was the actual failing point. *Fairly frustrating to say the least* Now after actively avoiding usb based devices I found a replacement, with its own problematic behavior. This brings us to example Numero Dos: My new mixer being significantly more advanced than the previous mixer, does all the audio processing, after which the digital stream is sent back. This bypasses windows audio processing entirely, which occasionally, but not always seems to hang all the audio processors temporarily as it sets itself aside. My software automating the stream does not play nice when its audio device suddenly resets, a problem I’ve been aware of way before I had even purchased the new replacement, but of course I hadn’t really considered that a new device could trigger the problem so consistently. The real issue of course is that automating the station means I’m away. A failure like this means a terrible experience for anyone who would like to listen in, only to find an empty stream.

So right now I’ve now switched my priority of updating and improving the website to keeping watch over the stream. Which is now a juggling act of it’s own with college classes in the way. All of this has of course taught me the importance of timing, like don’t update your equipment in the middle of the week and expect everything to go perfectly. *If the stream is dead, please fire an email at me to let me know!*

Photo By:
http://flickr.com/people/34048699@N07

Awesome and Yet Chaotic Code

I’ve learned several new things this week. One: I have the capacity to come up with awesome ideas and their instant solutions in code Two: I exaggerate a lot. Now I’ve had humbling moments before, but there’s a particular point where a developer faces his code and goes…that was stupid.

Specifically I was show-casing my station to one of my uncles, granted he is older. I know he hasn’t programmed in a variety of languages. However, it doesn’t take much to recognize a problem, specially when it spits into your face. This happened on the newer part of the website I’ve been diligently working on Make A Request and it killed my momentum in a split second. In that moment my show-case became two programmers trying to figure out went wrong. He started counting off what I should do to debug it and I of course was rebounding all of his suggestions: no it’s not this…I can see the code it is fine (but of course it wasn’t) it’s executing and following the flow I’m expecting…

At this point I’m tearing my code apart, in a panic, re-writing every line, checking all the if statements, checking the database. Then the real problem becomes very clear. I had made a literal fool out of myself, nothing was wrong with the code, I had earlier made a massive change to the website, and it wasn’t reflected in the piece of code I was using. I had never gone back to update it, I grabbed the old copy of the code changed one line then all the stress was gone.

Photo By:
https://www.flickr.com/people/24509941@N00

Hanging At The Mystery Box

Checking out the local scene is not what I spent time on this weekend, instead I hop-skipped over the course of two days to a four band event. It gave me way more than I was expecting.

Having called my own station The Unknown Artist Hour this new venue has given me room to wonder about how to create intrigue. Upon entering said venue there’s a counter where the door-man may spy you from the semi-transparent metal mesh of a door. Past this open door is a massive warehouse space filled with hanging lighting materials of music videos past, present and future and what appears to be a multi-colored barn-door which prompts you to wonder, am I supposed to go in there?

The answer of course is yes, that is likely where the band is setup on a stage hammering out their song in a room that does not play nice on the reverb. In short the artists play loud and proud so bring your ear-plugs, if the door-man hasn’t already suggested you use pieces of toilet paper as temporary ones. You will be needing these if you plan to leave the mystery box with a working set of ears. Of course you may get a better picture by checking out www.mysterybox.guru yourself.

The mystery box gives more than a concert’s fair share, with three different large spaces and fitting furniture and artwork. I have a ten by ten carpeted apartment riddled with audio equipment, there’s not much intrigue in this space and I certainly now would like to add more.

Links:
www.mysterybox.guru

To The Tower with Madus! (Bar in San Diego)

This week I spent some time Madus, a band which performed live here:

In The Tower Bar on Monday night and introduced me to a very crowded space with a lot of people. The whole band as I was told did not come, but instead was performed by only two of the members the drummer Sam and guitarist Dugan. Truth be told I’m not a bar-hopper. I have no idea the quality of the alcohol or the state of affairs. I can only guess this is an  average dive bar, however thanks to Madus showing me a great time in a place none of us had been in I’m now reconsidering what several years living in San Diego should have meant.

That’s not to say I’d now expect people to show up in San Diego only to party / drink. There’s a reputation San Diego has of being a music and party scene which I know it doesn’t live up to, or now I might but in a different way. Just as it also doesn’t live up to the nickname “Sunny” San Diego (sure it’s bright and cloudless…sometimes…and less frequently than what seems to be the rest of California). Monday night has turned me around to look at the scenes I miss because I don’t check out bars, I don’t peruse alcohol-based drinks like some of the college students who I know are collecting bottles of their favorites. That’s to say so far I’ve only really experienced concerts or live studio performances. Live studio work however doesn’t happen nearly so often as concerts and even concerts don’t happen so often in comparison to gigs hosted at places like The Tower Bar. Of course these are regular gigs for musicians so you could very well find merch like a CD or sticker afterwards (the band will definitely appreciate it).

TLDR; If you don’t like alcohol (like me and are 21 and over) see if you can’t find a dive bar near-by you with live music, there may be the cost of a drink to stay but it’ll be worth it if you’re staying for the whole thing. Plus hanging out with a band or two afterwards at in-n-out is something I would like to have happen over and over again.

Links:
www.thetowerbar.com

www.facebook.com/MADUSMUSIC

Conversation Killer: Is This Really Radio?

Since volunteering at a local campus radio station and putting together this radio station I’ve run into a few perplexing  elements about radio. Most of it seems to deal with a kind of identity crisis meanwhile making conversations confusing.

One of the primary examples I have seems to hog-tie itself with a follow-up question: “Do you broadcast?” Followed by: “So what channel are you on AM/FM?”. Sometimes but not often the second question or third follow-up at least acknowledges the existence of the internet and the potential internet broadcast. The sad part about these questions is that at least from where I sit; yes some people miss that possibility, yes some people don’t associate radio to do with anything online, but I know for a fact my station is online only. At the very least when talking about my station in comparison to others (including the one I volunteer at) I make sure to mention where to listen in online as opposed to ever mentioning a frequency or band to tune a radio to so that there’s no confusion as to where it exists. Part of this awkward element might have to do with people’s interpretation of the word broadcast or their familiarity with the internet. For those who’ve ever touched radio as a business its not far off to understand a live-stream as a broadcast through the internet as opposed to through the air with high frequency waves. More often than not people with hands on tech experience will find broadcast mentioned related to packets sent over the internet. People with tech experience associate it as a technical term and the identity of radio stations seems stable in their minds. There are some ways however I’ve had this posed to me which wrecks my motivation to speak, usually because it cuts down to: “Is this really radio?”. The answer to that so far as I’ve learned above really depends on how much experience a person has with radio related material. Without having the chance to at least answer, this phrasing turns into buzz-kill. Especially when it comes as a passing comment when people walk by the station on campus, can’t help but feel crushed.

For all the poking and prodding people may do without understanding I’m at least glad to have some opportunities to explain. There have been a few times where I’ve had the chance to hammer home the concept of radio and I’ve been happy to do it. So if you have any questions about what really goes on check out:
righttoradio.com

CSSound Nightmares

A learning experience this week made it’s way over from the oh so sensitive mixing board. In essence patience ran thin and blood boiled up until a friend routed out the problem point…not the mixing board. As of right now a similar experience is rearing it’s head for the main site #righttoradio.com and I’m glad my gut reaction was not to rip it to shreads. (Although technically speaking in the process of tweaking it, I did backup and delete the main site).

What am I dealing with? CSS and SVG images. For those not familiar with the .svg format as opposed to .pngs and .jpgs this format is especially gracious when it comes to the internet and modern websites today because it is a “scalar vector graphic”, meaning the file is size independent. The format essentially describes HOW the image is drawn out with polygons as opposed to what pixels to color in. It also conforms to websites in another way, in that svgs are described with xml, the same format for html and also “styled” or colored in with css. This gets really cool and tricky because it essentially allows the designed and programmer (both me in this case) of the website to directly manipulate the image in the exact same way they’d manipulate the looks of a website. This becomes especially awesome because the styles can be programmatically controlled with javascript. SVGs however present a certain conundrum, while they may scale, always look incredible at any size, they don’t save space data-wise for the user. For highly detailed images SVGs do not match up to older compressed formats because they’ve been optimized for a particular size, and the data (as xml) is clunky and takes up a considerable amount of space per polygon. Essentially SVGs is a one size fits all solution, but as a one size fits all solution it means the format is always essentially downloaded at its highest quality and size and can increase how long it takes to download the entire site. The frustrating element is this, it is fast to break apart an .svg into it’s smaller polygonal components, but placing the parts back together with css is snapping a few circuits in my head, and what I was attempting to do was to load balance different sections of the image so it could be used elsewhere. Now all of this wouldn’t be difficult, but the configuration of the server I use requires a restart to update resources embedded into the theme of site.

So right now it’s a lot of slow and progressive guesswork to get everything to look ok. The obvious solution is, move the website elsewhere so that all the changes I make are instantaneous and smooth on my end while producing the all together optimized website. This may not happen for quite a while.

There Once Was a Social Hub

Been pouring time on social media and who would’ve thought it’d be worthwhile? Not me no more than a few weeks back.

Part of the reason The Unknown Artist Hour was put together was to address some of the issues I’d learned plagued bands. I didn’t like that particular feeling, it didn’t sit in my gut very well while working at a radio station. I don’t like the term starving artist in the least, it feels like a short way of saying: “Your creativity isn’t valued. Here! Out of pity have a cup of noodles…” So I got curious and I stuck my hand in to find what I now realize are pain points for bands and artists in general.

1: Your content doesn’t have to be worthwhile (good marketers can market anything). This contributes to the feeling of hypocrisy of the whole thing, if your content is good, it should just fly off the imaginary shelves…right?
2: The above isn’t an excuse to make worse content, it just means get help marketing. This (me included) typically flies over people’s heads, when this clicks your second reaction will probably be *#% I’ve wasted a lot of time.

And that’s about where a month back this hit me very…very hard. After a particular person helping out, told me to follow advice I’ve at least heard once before on the internet. Obviously speaking as a techy person, all the stuff I read online comes with an enormous amount of salt. So to hear that the secret to the internet was to follow and subscribe to people on any form of social media, just to get their attention, felt like being parched and eating a salty pretzel, it was bland and didn’t leave a pleasant taste in my mouth.

In other words, never use any form of internet ads, just follow interesting people to advertize yourself. Say hello, pick their brains maybe, the main point is to let them know you exist. I’ve read this kind of thing over and over and it just sounded weird, why should I (person with content or opinions of value) go out of my way to find people to get interested in my content?

The first time I’d read this type of thing was in a blog about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Which is a method to get more traffic by landing yourself higher in search results on Google and the like. If you’re running a website and you haven’t heard about this…I no longer care that much because as I just learned…SEO is not how you should start. SEO is the sort of kick in the pants to whatever content you may have later on that you’re providing to the world. I’m almost considering kicking SEO out of my own vocabulary because in a way it’s not as effective, it actually (oddly enough) takes more effort and at the end if you’ve only just started (or have never seen a traffic bump before only to realize it’s spam) you’ll only feel defeated and crushed by that thing called the internet and the fact SEO isn’t helping.

To get back to the posed question: the answer is this: the main point is to let people know you exist, but the key part ties into another saying you’ve probably heard, it’s about who you know. Now personally I may not know all the people who’ve found me, but I do know one thing about the people who have followed back. That’s that statistically speaking, they are more likely to be interested in what I’m doing. Another key point, follow real people, or try your best to attract real people, spam ruins everything…even as food $%* spam. Buying followers or bots prevents organic growth, it’s like a person buying a tree, poisoning it, then going to up to people…”Look how well this tree has grown!” Short story, your tree is probably going to die, and if any of the people happens to know botany, they’ll know you’ve abused your tree (and they and whoever they decided to tell will never trust you ever).

So lesson: Social media is awesome because it’s as social as you are on social media and you want people as social as socially possible because those people have a tendency to be socially relevant. You only get back out of social media what you put in. So if you’ve been burning a hole in your pocket buying ads, you can stop now, you now have the secret to the internet, there’s a lot of social hubs to help you out.