2,600 Hertz

Last week I took the opportunity to hang out for an evening with a guy named Emmanuel Goldstein (nee Eric Corley), the founder of the venerable 2600: The Hacker Quartely, a magazine written by and for hackers. He was in town for the technology portion of the local South By Southwest conference where a founder of Make Magazine, a friend of his, made a keynote address. Emmanuel was also slated to make a few presentations.

Two weeks ago in his radio show Off the Wall (broadcast in NYC) he mentioned that he was coming to Austin and that he would be interested in hanging out with any of his listeners here who would care to do so. My buddy John jumped on the chance and invited Emmanuel to join us at our usual friday night meeting. He accepted.

I was the first of our group to arrive; the big table where we usually meet was occupied by three guys I’d never seen before, so I set my stuff down at another table and made my way to the counter for coffee. As I passed the table, I overheard the three discussing when Austin 2600 meetings were held; one was under the impression that it was the 2nd friday of the month. This was the clue that told me these were the guys we were waiting for. I interjected and corrected them, saying they meet on the first friday. I turned to the older guy and asked if he was Emmanuel, he acknowledged, and I smiled and introduced myself by saying, “Ah, we’ve been expecting you.”

I got my coffee and settled in at their table; traded introductions with the other two guys. Within minutes, other people from my group were showing up and joining in. Emmanuel was asking us things, getting a feel for how life is in Austin, and he pulled out a digital audio recorder, asked us if it was ok to record us for his show, and we agreed. The final results can be found at the Off the Wall site.

He started by asking us where we were from, how long we’ve been living here in Austin; he wanted our opinion on how our hometowns and Austin represented life in Texas. Being a New Yorker, he likely has some notions of what Texans are like and he wanted some better depth to the image, hence the questions. I’m not sure how well we fleshed it out, but apparently he did leave Austin with an understanding of how laid-back it is here.

Emmanuel wrapped up his recorded segment by asking us about the local pirate radio scene. One of the things he does when he hits a new town is scan the dial and what he found was KPWR at 91.1MHz (they don’t do their own broadcasting; they’re of the new breed of pirates that essentially set up an internet-only music stream, and it’s up to volunteers to independently set up a transmitter and simulcast the stream). He dug into what we knew of them and the other “stations”, and he was blown away by how strong the scene is here. Later that weekend he got to take a tour of the KPWR studio and meet some of the volunteer staff there and was impressed.

It was nice to meet and hang out with Emmanuel. As unassuming as he is, you would never know by looking at or listening to him that this is a man who helped in the formation of an entire hacking subculture. He gave hackers one more voice, a touchstone, and a community in a dark time one decade before the public embrace of the embryonic Internet and the chat rooms, message boards, and document archives it enables. Well met.

From Scratch to Soothe the Itch

It’s growing. The itch to redesign Phaysis from the ground up is growing. Not just a redesign, but a rebuilding. It’s my webspace, and I should damn-well start doing something with it. I need a blog, a gallery, a space for uploaded files, RSS feeds, some commenting code, and, among others, a method to email me from a form.

I do have some of that functionality already, but it’s spread out in disparate pieces of seperately-maintained code. Currently, I have a journal viewer and a journal writer; two seperate pieces with their own libraries and very little shared code — totally inefficient. I have a form-mailing script which is a few major versions behind the latest revision I’ve written for use elsewhere. I have a fortune-cookie generator — cheesy and oh-so 1998. I even have a space where I can upload files, but the moment I share a link to a file with a friend, the URL for the rest of the space is easily discernable and other files can be grabbed. For a gallery, I have a static html page (yes, static) that pulls in the image files that I resize, upload, include and annotate by hand. There’s no tags, no categories, no users, no comments, no feeds. On the blogosphere, I’m rockin’ my own island. And my itch to rebuild it all is growing.

I’m having to learn and live with WordPress in the order of building the knitting site for my client. I vehemently hate to admit it, but I like it. It hurts to say so, because a) it’s an already-built piece of software, b) it’s written in PHP, and c) it’s subject to the same problems and vulnerabilities every other WordPress installation may be subject to. But it’s damn easy to install, configure, and use. I’m torn.

I guess my biggest problem with using something like WordPress is that I can’t help but feel a twinge of defeat and sadness when I go to a hacker buddy’s site one day and happen to notice that instead of reinventing the wheel as is sometimes the hacker creed he has, instead, installed a set of tires and has gone on about his day. It’s true that in this day and age nobody needs to know any programming to be published online, but when I see someone take the easiest road instead of using their skill for their hobby, my own stance on my hobby is challenged.

So I have two roads, really: the easy, pre-packaged route to my apartment home, or the difficult trek uphill to my own cabin on the mountain. Whichever path I take, the itch remains until I reach my destination.

Gaslight in our Front Yard

Gaslight comes through the window of my bedroom.
Its incandescent hues cast a broken square upon my wall.
It makes the old paint glow a faded yellow-white.
I can see the moving shadow of the curtains
blowing to the beat of evening breezes.
Lying in my bed, I feel so much;
only a child, but experiencing a memory of the ages.
Two other beds beside me.
In them, my cousins lie;
some on beds,
some on cots below,
and I’m the last awake.
Worn out, we’ve had a busy day
down in the river.
I can hear the traffic go by, to the late-night tempo,
down the street, just one block down.
The grownups are in the living room
talking, laughing, living.
I will remember this.