Apr. 26th, 2017 10:08 pm
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I think this is the first evening in a very long time that I haven't had some sort of commitment. I'm still working full time at my consulting business while the radio stations we bought start to generate income.

We didn't buy the seller's accounts receivable, and radio clients often take 2 - 3 months to pay, so after almost three months of ownership, we're just starting to see money coming in. That means both of us have to hold on to our day jobs for now, making for some pretty long hours. Getting up at 3 AM yesterday to rescue a station 80 miles away didn't help.

There's very little room for anything else in my life right now. That's not good.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I've been spending way too much time behind the wheel of my car during the last couple weeks. There have been a number of scary situations: giant piles of snow making it impossible to see oncoming traffic; driving straight into the sun during afternoon rush hour; idiots appearing suddenly in my blind spot; and on one occasion, the car in front of me *stopping* at the end of a highway onramp, afraid to merge into traffic.

It occurs to me that autonomous vehicles, when they start to appear on the roads, are not likely to play well with Massachusetts drivers. The robot cars are surely going to get stuck in situations where they have to play chicken with human-driven cars in order to make certain turns or merge into crowded highways. When they fail, they'll back up everyone behind them, and the result will be a huge clusterfsck.

They're going to have to legislate manually driven cars off the road.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The manager running our two Vermont stations sent us an email an hour after we closed on Friday, saying he doesn't want to work in broadcast media any more and, therefore, he was resigning immediately. We knew his stations had been underperforming for a couple years, and had intended to have a talk with him once the dust had settled. But I guess he had plans of his own. Good luck to him.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Tomorrow (Friday) my brother and I close on the purchase of all but one of the radio stations we're buying. The last was approved by the FCC later than the rest, and its forty day period of fasting and penitence doesn't end until later in February. We have to wait for the Final Order, which automatically happens forty days after the initial approval. In the interim, the FCC can change its mind (rare), or a third party can file an objection (more common). The other stations became Final this week, but the last one still has some time to go yet.

This is going to be a busy month.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I wish I could get across to some people on one of my broadcast mailing lists that there is essentially no difference between someone who works for a company the size of Verizon and someone who works for, say, the Department of State. Neither has any incentive to give us ordinary mortals the time of day, and both can make our lives miserable with the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse.

I have spent days trying to get Verizon Wireless to transfer seven telephone numbers from the seller's account to ours, so we can keep using them when we take over the radio stations next month. Verizon is contorting itself in spectacularly perverted ways in order not to cooperate. I have spent hours on the phone with them to no avail. Their latest suggestion is that I go personally to one of their stores. I will try that later today, after stopping by the post office to submit another passport application after the State Department summarily denied my last one on Saturday.

The Trump-loving curmudgeons on the mailing list were ranting the other day against DAB, the digital radio system that Norway has deployed to replace FM radio in that country, calling it "socialist" because it forces all radio stations in a local area to use the same transmitter, insuring they all have precisely the same coverage. This is, of course, "un-American", unlike, say, cable television, where all the TV stations have the same coverage because they all go where Comcast's cable goes, and not an inch farther. But while Comcast may be the most hated company in America, the Norwegian government is the GOVERNMENT. That's socialism!

Ironically, transferring the seller's Comcast accounts to our company has been quite painless so far.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
D-O-N, A-L-D, T-R-U-M-P.

[Yes, his name actually fits the song, and even rhymes! Who knew?]

Come along and sing the song and join the G.O.P.

D-O-N, A-L-D, T-R-U-M-P.

Donald Trump (Mickey Mouse!)
Donald Trump (Mickey Mouse!)
Forever let us hold our banners high (high, high, high);

Now it's time to say good-bye to our democracy,

N-you real soon!

D? Because Americans are so gullible!

necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The FCC has granted its permission for my brother and me to assume control of the radio stations we're buying. February 3 is the date we've set to consummate the deal.

There is a lot to be done between now and then.

[The title, which translates as "customs has given the green light", is a line from the movie, "White Sun of the Desert", a "red western" traditionally shown to cosmonauts the night before launch.]
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I saw an article the other day that asked how we know we live in the real universe and not in an elaborate simulation, a Matrix-like virtual reality. To me, the answer is that every attempt at imagining a world, from the earliest novels to the newest movies and video games, has inconsistencies, discontinuities, or anachronisms. Every piece of software ever written has at least one bug. If we lived in a simulation, we'd see such things in every day life. Miracles, we'd call them. But there aren't any miracles, edges, seams, or limits in the real world. It goes on forever, seamlessly, and every attempt we make to get to the bottom of it reveals still more. Columbus's ships didn't go over the edge. The world is not hollow, and no one has touched the sky.

And the world works smoothly. It doesn't crash or run out of memory. It never needs rebooting; its batteries never need charging, and it doesn't have one of those switching power supplies whose capacitors eventually dry out. It won't catch an update from Microsoft that suddenly breaks some critical function, and its software never outgrows its hardware.

From an early age, I've been interested in technology. I watched on my parents' TV as John Glenn was launched into orbit. I followed the Gemini and Apollo programs with great interest, and Wernher von Braun was one of my heroes, even if he later turned out to be an SS-Sturmbannführer. I built my own Estes rockets and even competed in the National Association of Rocketry's NARAM-13. I became a ham radio operator. I discovered computers, in the form of an IBM 2741 Communications Terminal connected to an IBM 370 mainframe, at the age of 15.

I was a teenage computer hacker, back in the days when computers cost millions of dollars, required legions of white-coated attendants, and lived in giant air-conditioned rooms. I mastered FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/I, APL, and the IBM 029 card punch. In college, I stood amazed as I watched someone on a computer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, connect to another computer in Berkeley, California, via something called ARPANET. I never imagined that some four decades later, the same network, now called the Internet, would be so important in our lives.

After college I began a career in radio. It was all analog in those days: vinyl records, reel-to-reel tape, and NAB tape cartridges that resembled 8-track tapes but had only two audio tracks and a cue track. Transmitters and even some audio equipment had vacuum tubes. One station where I work still has a transmitter with tubes, a venerable Gates BC-1J, built in 1955. But it's only a backup.

Analog technology had its frustrations, for there are myriad subtle ways in which analog technology can fail. "The sound has no balls"; "there's no low end"; "the horns sound like kazoos." But those frustrations were almost entirely for us technical types to cope with; the average user found analog technologies very easy to use.

Today I often find myself dealing with digital technologies and user interfaces that are anything but intuitive. How should I know I'm supposed to press F12 to bring up the screen that lets me record a new cut for airplay? It takes me ten minutes to figure out how to reset the clock in my car radio every spring and fall. I am repeatedly bombarded with questions by ordinary users who can't get through a simple Web site registration.

Why does Windows often require a reboot after the most trivial update? It's because of Windows file locking, designed to prevent one process from modifying or deleting a file in use by another process. Windows file locking is primitive, reflecting the fact that Windows evolved from DOS, which only allowed one user to do one thing at a time. Linux and MacOS, by contrast, evolved from UNIX, which was designed from the beginning to be multi-user, multi-tasking. In Linux, you can do anything to any file (if you have the right permissions), and the operating system will sort everything out.

Windows file locking used to take one of my clients' stations off the air. It happened during Boston Celtics basketball broadcasts: the network would signal for a commercial break, and the station's computer would play the commercials, after which the station went silent instead of going back to the game. It didn't do that all the time, only once a month or so, and I tore my hair out trying to figure out why this Thursday's game had a problem and last Thursday's didn't. It turned out that the station was trying to record ABC News headlines during the game, and if the news was already cued up and waiting to run when the record command came down, Windows wouldn't let the file be opened, and the software would crash. The software developers whom I contacted couldn't figure it out, and it took me a couple months to do so.

Right now I'm trying to figure out why a backup process that has been running every night for eight months is only backing up a few of the files. This isn't running under Windows, but under Linux. And while I'm watching it, it seems to be performing flawlessly. But when I check the backup repository, nothing is being written there.

In the immortal words of Joss Whedon: grrr, aaargh.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
A depressed friend whom I have been offering support and encouragement these past few months well nigh bit my head off on the phone just now.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The FCC has granted permission for us to acquire five of the six radio stations; permission for the sixth will likely come by the end of the week. However, these decisions aren't final and are subject to "petitions to deny" from anyone who might feel we shouldn't be allowed to buy one or more of the stations, for whatever reason. We are therefore not going to close until the FCC has made its decisions final, which will be a few weeks from now if all goes well.

We have a lot of homework to do in the meantime, and this is my least favorite time of year, when even getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. Ugh.

I spoke with the seller last night; he is spending the winter in Florida, where it was 75 degrees outside.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to make my clients happy. One of the stations I support has a problem with its audio processor that is intermittently producing digital distortion on the air. Of course, I don't have a spare. That's the problem with running radio stations on a low budget; when something goes wrong it can take a while to fix, and meanwhile listeners are tuning out. There's a crappy old Optimod at another station I can install this evening; they're not going to like how it sounds, but it will be better than doing nothing.

I just read two more articles predicting that Donald Trump's policies will trigger a new economic boom. I suspect these people are indulging in wishful thinking; regulation and high taxes on the rich have certainly not been holding us back, so getting rid of them is hardly going to unleash a flood of new economic activity.

Meanwhile, assholes on the radio keep telling lies and distorting facts. Howie Carr was ranting yesterday on one of my clients' stations about the Obama administration disciplining scientists at the Department of Energy for not supporting his "climate change cult". Howie, where you deserve to go it's going to get lot hotter than 2 degrees Celsius.

Oh, and I should mention that this guy is also on one of the stations we're buying, and we're going have to keep him there. Grumble grumble grumble, mutiny mutiny mutiny.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
An unusual string trio from a Siberian orchestra recorded this rock version of a 1970's-era Komsomol song. The tune is by the celebrated Russian composer Alexandra Pakhmutova.

Although this is an instrumental performance, the words of the original song offer some hope in this time of darkness:

"In summer heat and winter snow, the world is poor but also rich;
The youth of the planet, our brigade of builders, is with us;
And the battle goes on, and our hearts are troubled;
And [somewhere] a young Lenin awaits his new October."

(words by N. Dobronravov; translation mine)
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
It's not really that cold. but it will probably get down into the teens (F) before morning.

December is my least favorite month of the year, and this year it comes with the realization that some truly evil people are going to be taking over the government in a few weeks.

On Tuesday I had someone approach me, through a third party, asking for a job. I sent back the message that there might be something available, and to give me a call. But we won't make any changes right away; my brother and I need to get up to speed ourselves and identify what is and is not working at the stations we're buying.

The FCC will probably give us the green light in about a month. There's little to do but wait until then.

It was a very dear friend of mine's birthday yesterday. Unfortunately, she's not here to celebrate it; she died on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. We all miss her sorely.


Nov. 20th, 2016 12:27 am
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Donald Trump is being called a fascist. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out, but it is clear that if he delivers on his promise to boost the standard of living of his working-class supporters, it can only be by following in the Fuehrer's footsteps: massive infrastructure spending; re-equipping and vastly expanding the military; and, ultimately, war.

Will he go there? We'll see.

Part of me wants to move to New Zealand or somewhere equally far away.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The FCC is still considering applications to transfer the licenses of six radio stations in Vermont and New Hampshire to my brother and me. We expect a green light in January, after which we'll consummate the deal and become radio station owners.

There are two country music stations, two news-talk stations, one with a "variety" music format, and one that plays classical music. The news-talk stations account for most of the advertising revenue, and that's a problem for me because "news-talk" in the radio industry is a euphemism for right-wing propaganda. Rush Limbaugh, Howie Carr, and Michael Savage feature prominently on both stations and we have to tread carefully lest we wreck the business. If we dump any of these shows, Great Eastern or Binnie Media, our two principal competitors, will pick them up along with the local advertisers who support them. Right now I am leaning toward adding more local content with the goal of broadening the range of views included in our programming, but whatever we do has to be compelling and interesting. We can't just slip "Democracy Now" into the schedule; it tends to focus on events and issues that aren't very relevant to residents of the upper valley, and the style of presentation leaves much to be desired.

But it particularly galls me when Howie Carr asserts that science is an arbitrary belief system comparable to religion, and calls global climate change a "cult". If the scientific method were not valid, technologies built on its findings -- such as radio -- wouldn't exist, and Howie Carr would have no audience.

I am greatly disturbed by the election of Donald Trump, and wonder if his regime will even allow us to broadcast once he consolidates his power.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
One of my clients' radio stations has been off the air since 6 AM because of a power failure. Supposedly the electric company is working on the problem, but when I found the supervisor earlier this evening it became clear that they hadn't done a damn thing all day.

Boston Edison, as it used to be, responded pretty quickly to these sorts of emergencies. They sold out to a company called NStar a few years ago, and NStar sold out (last year? the year before? time does fly) to something called Eversource, which is a national company, no longer based locally. And Eversource, like the phone company, doesn't have to care.

This has to end tonight; I can't be here to deal with it tomorrow, as another client needs me in New Hampshire to help cut over to a brand new studio.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Amtrak's last remaining full-length dome car, Ocean View, is running in one of the Downeaster train sets between now and the middle of September. I rode it last Saturday, and it's on this train right now. It would have been more enjoyable earlier in the summer when the days were longer; as I type this, it's almost too dark to see anything.

The Downeaster is a very comfortable ride and usually runs on time -- this year, anyway; last year it was all bolluxed up due to track work by the successor to the old Boston and Maine Railroad, which, believe it or not, calls itself Pan Am Railways and uses the old airline logo.

I love New England. There is so much to see and experience here. I keep finding new gems, like the magnificent stone train station in Laconia, NH, where I had lunch while visiting a radio station where I did some work. They had passenger rail service from Boston until 1965. I am always surprised to see a stone station on the ex-B&M; the ex-New York Central Boston & Albany line had quite a few of them, but the B&M trended more toward wooden stations, most of which haven't survived.

Are we running late? That's what I get for writing that this train is usually on time. I am meeting J. for dnner, after which I'll get to see J's kitty cats, Victoria and Sadie, also known as the Calico Cabal.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
...or Fascbook as I like to spell it.

I may be the last holdout on the planet; certainly it feels like I am. I do feel, though, that there is something morally wrong with vacuuming up people's private information and using it for profit. There is also the matter that dollars that might otherwise go to support my radio clients, and, therefore, me, are instead lining the pockets of Mr. Zuckerberg and his greedy Wall Street backers. Communities lose their newspapers and local radio stations, and thereby become less communal. Local elections go on with 10% of the voters showing up at the polls and no one knowing who the candidates are or what they stand for. I can't blame all of the social entropy rotting our democracy on Facebook, of course, but there are places I used to live that have declined greatly from the prosperous towns I knew in my youth.

No, I don't like Fascbook, nor Twitter, for that matter. We are going to end up with Donald Trump as our President on the basis of messages amounting to... what is it? 160 characters? What on earth can one say in 160 characters that can convey true understanding of even the least complicated thing?

I remember when I didn't like LiveJournal; I loved Usenet, though. There is not much left of Usenet or the communities it spawned, alas.

The older I get, the farther to the left I go. I quoted Lenin the other day on dailykos, arguing that Bernie Sanders could never lead a revolution from the White House. What would Christianity be today if the Romans had made Jesus emperor instead of crucifying him?

It afterwards occurred to me that many of the differences between Christianity and Islam can be accounted for by the fact that Jesus was executed as a rebel but Muhammad died as ruler of Arabia.

These people I interviewed with today did indeed offer me a job, and it looks like I will be taking them on as a client. Their politics are one hundred eighty degrees opposed to mine, ironically.

I feel myself at a crossroads; I can continue as I have been, or go to work for these people (or another group that wants to hire me full time), or do what I would do in the best of all possible worlds, buy my own radio stations.

Spring is turning into summer. Everything is lush green, and daylight lasts well into the evening. It is a glorious time of the year. The green frogs are singing in Framingham.

The more we look for answers, the more we find questions.

I have started rewatching one of my favorite TV shows, Seventeen Moments in Spring, about a Russian spy in the closing weeks of World War II. It was produced in the Soviet Union in 1973, and was filmed largely in the Berlin in which it is set. I am haunted by the score by Mikael Tariverdiev, especially the songs "Moments" and "Somewhere Far Away", sung by Russia's answer to Frank Sinatra, Josef Kobzon.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I'm not looking for a full-time job at this point in my career, but I'm willing to talk.

Ironically, it's going to take me longer to drive to this broadcaster's Boston studios than it took me to drive to Dover, New Hampshire yesterday.

I'd rather buy a station or two of my own, but I haven't seen the right ones on the market yet.

I'm back.

May. 15th, 2016 06:27 pm
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Since I was last here, much has happened. My brother and I tried to buy some radio stations in northern New England; after some research, we found that they were overpriced, but the seller didn't want to negotiate, so we had to walk away.

Had we succeeded, we would have found ourselves in the embarrassing position of owning a station under contract to carry Rush Limbaugh and Howie Carr. I'm not sure how we would have handled that.

I am still in the market for the right station or stations, should they appear.

Meanwhile, life goes on. I've been seeing J. for almost two years now; the conductors on the Amtrak Downeaster now know us both quite well, as we are now frequent travelers.

Last night's trip home was something of a misadventure. There was a problem with the track at Royal Junction, where the Brunswick Branch (ex-Maine Central "Lower Road") joins the Pan Am Railways main line; as a result, I got into Boston an hour late, missed the connection to my commuter train, and had to take the MBTA Green Line to a point about two and a half miles from home and then walk. But it took me 20 minutes to discover that the Green Line trains that serve that branch no longer run to North Station, and I had to go to Government Center to catch my train. I then missed my stop, had to wait for a reverse train, and got home only well after one A.M... and then I was awakened promptly at five A.M. by a call from Dover, NH, where one of the stations I support had just gone off the air, requiring me to jump in my car and drive up there (ironically, I could have just got off the Amtrak train in Dover last night).

Today was Pentecost, the fiftieth and last day of the Easter season. I am still singing in the choir, and we sang several hymns and anthems about doves, fire, and other such metaphors. Oh, and there was cake. Because Pentecost is considered the birthday of the church, there was cake. Very good cake, even if some of the decorations meant to resemble flames looked more like strips of bacon.

Oh, and someone even compared the traditional Pentecost story of the apostles speaking in tongues to the revelation of Ambassador Kosh in the Babylon 5 episode, "The Fall of Night."
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Today is the seventh day of Christmas, the last of December and 2015, and my Massachusetts grandmother's birthday. She would be 121 years old were she still alive.

This December has sucked. I'll not be missing it.

The ground is covered by ice; working on an antenna tuning unit at a transmitter site in Connecticut last night, I almost slipped and fell down the hill several times. Oddly, there is actually water on the ground here in Dover, NH right now; I'm not here to work today, just passing through on the train.

I should have taken the train here Tuesday when I was here to work; there were accidents and spin-outs all over the highway.

It looks like Tuesday's storm brought about half a foot of snow to Dover. In Boston it was all ice. Given a choice, I'd take the snow, but of course we are never given a choice in such things.

I seem to have caught another cold. The stress I've been under these past few weeks has done me no favors. Now one of the Brazilians my client has hired wants to replace the automation system with something Brazilian which has no U.S. support and which no one in this country knows anything about. I said this is a really bad idea, and that the only way to do it would be to fly someone in from Brazil, pay him or her to do the work, and retain him or her as a consultant.

Now comes January, my second least favorite month of the year. And it's going to be 2016, the year of the rabid Republican. Someone really ought to take these people out and shoot them, or at least send them to the Aleutians.

There as a time when one could ride a train from Boston all the way to Nova Scotia. The 1948 Boston and Maine timetable lists trains on three different to Montreal, and one to Chicago via Fitchburg and Troy. Now much of that infrastructure is rusting away or overgrown by weeds.

The 1938 B&M timetable lists something truly strange: a train leaving Boston's North Station at 7:41 AM going to Waltham via the now abandoned Watertown branch. It stopped every half mile or so, reaching Waltham in about 40 minutes; then after ten minutes it followed the same route back to Boston. There was also service to Bedford via Lexington on what is now the Minuteman Bike Path, and service through Waltham, Wayland, and Sudbury out to Lancaster via a line long abandoned and overgrown.Our crumbling rail infrastructure is a metaphor for the decline of American power and prosperity, for it parallels the slow evaporation of factories and mills all over New England. The train I'm on now wouldn't be running if not for federal subsidies; and after Cruz or Rubio takes office a year from now, this line too may be consigned to the weeds.
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