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Life

Finding a Minute or Two

After spending the greater part of the day working through changes to the leviathan I have been working on for the last several years, I cycled home through the bitter cold just in time to cross paths with my younger daughters who were heading out to rugby practice with their Mum.

After cooking some pasta, and adding it to the sausage casserole waiting on top of the cooker, I ate with my eldest daughter and looked for something easy going to watch on the television. We ended up watching the first episode of “Gavin and Stacey” – a comedy series that I somehow missed when first broadcast.

I’m not quite sure how that works – how if you miss a few episodes of something, you somehow fall out of it’s sphere of influence, and then find yourself on a parallel track compared to the rest of the world. Of course it’s not really “the rest of the world”, but it feels like it sometimes.

Afterwards I sat down at the computer in the junk room, plugged in the new microphone, and got ready to record a new episode for the podcast. It will go out on Friday evening, if you’re looking for something interesting to listen to. I’m starting to wonder if podcasting might be my “thing”, and that blogging was the thing that takes me to the thing. I’m probably making no sense at all. Maybe recording the podcast just feels exciting because it’s new. I was probably excited about posting to a blog when I first started – after five thousand posts, it’s become a little more like exhaling, rather than inhaling.

I’m sure Nora Ephron would approve.

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Life

Three Kilometres

I went for a run this evening with Miss 19. Actually, “run” is something of an exaggeration. It was more of a slow jog – or a fast amble perhaps. While it would be nice to think it had anything to do with fitness, it probably had more to do with mental health. At least we got out of the house though, right?

The stock photo accompanying this post isn’t entirely accurate either – but I couldn’t find one of a hassled father with his daughter running in rain sodden streets, in the dark, while trying not to get run over by lunatics racing home from work.

Within seconds of leaving the house I stood in a ginormous puddle – which made one foot weigh twice as much as the other. Miss 19 cackled uproariously at me. She’s so supportive.

To celebrate “doing something”, I came home, ate a pizza, and poured myself a glass of cider – more than obliterating any good done by running/jogging/ambling in a hurry.

And now somehow it’s 11pm. How does that happen ?

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Life

The Podcasting Story So Far

We are now a little way into the podcasting adventure, and I thought it might be interesting to expand a little on the learning curve I have mentioned a few times. Although I knew how to plug a microphone into the computer, I really had no clue about anything beyond that. It turns out there was quite a lot to learn.

My first purchase was a condenser microphone on an arm that could be bolted to the desk, and swung into position as you often see in radio studios. It turns out this was a mistake – but it took me a week to figure out why. I’ll explain why later. The microphone does look very lovely though – and was very inexpensive.

After plugging in the microphone, I realised I would need some software to record my inane babble, and turn it into something people could download. I installed “Audacity”, a program my children had used at school to mess around with sound. After tinkering for a little while I figured out how to record, and how to wield an imaginary pair of scissors to cut out coughs, “urrrs”, and “ummms”.

While Audacity was great, and just about worked for the first episode (ridiculously titled “Episode Zero”), I knew there had to be a better way of editing, and fiddling with the sound – partly because I grew up in a house filled with music keyboards and sequencing software, and partly because one of my friends composes and records his own digital music, and often shows me the latest production software.

I needed a “DAW” – or rather, a “Digital Audio Workstation”. It’s a piece of software that lets you mix together multiple recorded tracks of audio into a complete whole – with a virtual mixing desk stretching across the screen, replete with dials, knobs, sliders, and various needles bobbing around in meters. You go from “Billy No Mates sitting in the junk room” to “Benny Andersson sitting in the studio”.

I found a wonderful free piece of software called “Cakewalk” that ticked every box, and then some. There was only one problem – I had no idea how it worked, or how you were supposed to use such a leviathan. Enter my friend from work from stage left again. One lunchtime he sat with me, and showed me just enough to get me from “clueless knob twiddling” to “more by luck than judgement”.

So – now I could record myself, and make myself sound vaguely human in a recording. Given that I wanted to record a podcast, the next problem was how to record somebody else at the same time. After a little googling, I came up with another free (and really quite wonderful) piece of software called “VoiceMeeter”. It’s officially designated as “donation-ware”, so I will be donating soon. It’s worth it. It took me hours and hours to figure out.

There are three versions of VoiceMeeter available – the most capable is called “Potato”. Don’t ask me why – the previous version was called “Banana”. It probably makes sense to somebody. VoiceMeeter lets you do all sorts of things – such as grabbing the sound from the microphone, and mixing it with the sound coming from Skype. You can then fiddle with the volume levels of the various sources, and route the result into your recording software.

So. I had seemingly figured everything out – and recorded the first two “real” episodes over the course of the next week – the first with my eldest daughter, and the second with a blogging friend on the other side of the world.

There was a problem though. Hiss.

I had bought an analogue microphone. I couldn’t understand why the microphone was very quiet, no matter what I did in terms of recording volume levels. It took an age to realise that “real” microphones – such as the one I had bought – are expected to be plugged into a “pre-amplifier” before being routed into the device that records them. They are quiet by design. Not long afterwards I found a setting in the sound card of the computer to boost the volume of the microphone significantly – and unfortunately this brought hiss with it. I’m guessing most of the hiss is being caused by the sound-hardware in the computer itself – being interfered with by the rest of the hardware inside the box.

Over the course of several nights, I experimented with all manner of methods to remove the hiss – mostly revolving around “noise reduction” effects in the recording software. While I could get rid of the hiss, it also affected the recorded voices quite significantly – introducing phasing effects on the sound, and occasional digital artifacts.

After describing the problem to my all-knowing co-worker, he suggested I buy a pre-amp for the microphone. I could pick one up for �50 second-hand on E-Bay. If I had �50 spare, I might have followed his advice. Instead, I decided to go another route.

Last night I ordered a USB microphone from Amazon. Had I known what I needed at the beginning, I would have saved myself some money. For �20, I have solved all of my recording issues. It records voices perfectly within perhaps a meter before the levels start to drop, and at rest records silence. I can now sit at my desk, and relax into the conversations with those I’m talking to around the world – secure in the knowledge that what’s being recorded is about as good as it will get without spending an exponentially larger amount of money on hardware, and soundproofing the room.

The new microphone is a “Yanmai SF-777”, if you’re looking to solve the same problem as me on a tight budget. It came with a good quality tripod stand, and a pop filter – to stop breathy noises being recorded (“plosives” – see, I’m learning!).

It’s worth noting that I already had some USB microphones. When the girls were younger, they had a number of singing video games – where you follow along with a variety of pop-songs on the TV, and get scored on how well you followed along. I thought those microphones might work as a good fall-back, but it turned out to be a false hope – they are designed to be held against your mouth – or at least held in a microphone stand. If you move your hands at all while talking into them, you can hear the clunking and crunching sounds moving through their body.

I have no excuses any more – and the focus is rapidly turning towards who to record conversations with, and when. I’m also thinking about perhaps expanding the podcast a little – to do more than just conversations with bloggers. I’m thinking a few episodes about the history of blogging might be fun too – to talk about the various platforms – their history, how they work, how much they cost, and where they are headed. I need to get talking first though.

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Life

Fisherman’s Friends

I watched the movie “Fisherman’s Friends” this evening – about the group of Cornish fisherman that recorded an album of sea shanties a few years ago, that unexpectedly stormed the charts.

I’m not ashamed to admit there were more than a few tears. I swear – as I get older, movies have found out all of my keys. It can be the smallest of human interactions within a story – and yet I find myself quietly falling apart.

From the “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, to “This Beautiful Fantastic”, and now “Fisherman’s Friends” – movies seem to have found all the keys to undo me.

I’m not listening to the fishermen singing now – honest – I might have been a few minutes earlier though. At the moment, while sitting in the dark of the junk room, Don Henley is singing “In a New York Minute”.

I’m writing this after jumping down an internet rabbit hole with my eldest daughter – telling her the story of Blondie forming a punk band in New York, and being picked up by a record label without knowing how to sing a note or play an instrument. I played her “Union City Blue” as an example of the “finished product”, and got told off for turning the volume up too loud.

Yes, my 19 year old daughter told me off for playing Blondie too loud.

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Life

Life Expectancy

We have a rescue cat at home – named Kaspar, after the cat in a Michael Morpurgo children’s book. He’s small, black, and scared of everything. While not pretending to sleep at various covert locations around the house, he seems to be poised on a hair trigger – always planning escape routes from uncomfortably close encounters with humans.

I’m starting to wonder if I need to adopt the same outlook on the world around me – not just to aid in survival in the longer term – more to aid in surviving until tomorrow. I probably need to explain.

While cycling to work this morning, I was nearly killed. Twice in two minutes.

The first incident happened as I passed a junction in the rabbit warren of Victorian town-houses that make up perhaps a third of the town. The roads are narrow, and the town is ridiculously affluent – meaning colossal four wheel drive behemoths and weekend sports cars clog up every driveway, parking space, footpath, and un-marked piece of roadside. It seems the drivers of the four wheel drive tanks – usually used to transport trophy children to daycare – have a common sight defect – they cannot see huge software developers on bicycles wearing luminous rain coats and day-glo crash helmets. I am invisible to them.

As I approached the junction, in full view of the truck waiting impatiently to drop their clutch and bully their way through town, they did just that – dropped their clutch, and accelerated straight at me. At the last moment I’m guessing, they realised that all of the cars waiting in traffic around the junction would see them drive straight over my bicycle, so had second thoughts – skidding to a halt, and staring at me as I also skidded to a halt directly in front of their car.

After re-composing myself, I continued on – as did everybody else.

A little further along the road, where the Victorian part of town meets the high street, two small roundabouts lead to a narrow bridge – famously the prototype for the bridge over the river Danube between Buda and Pest. Crossing the roundabouts in morning traffic is probably specifically stated in the disclaimer smallprint of every life insurance policy ever printed.

As I crossed from the first to second roundabout, a four wheel drive monster truck just leaving the bridge (no doubt illegally – there is a three ton weight limit) – accelerated onto the roundabout, not really registering my existence at all. I turned sharply across the roundabout – looking for an escape route – which somehow alerted them to my impending doom. I would like to say they slid to a halt, but I imagine anti-lock-brakes kicked in – the nose of their truck diving towards to tarmac as they lunged to a halt.

It’s worth noting again – I was in the middle of the roundabout when they launched onto it – and I was wearing a reflective yellow waterproof, and a luminous crash helmet. I’m not small either.

Luckily, I’m still here to tell the tale. As I cycled away from the roundabout, I shook my head – leaving them stranded in the middle while everybody else probably admired what they had nearly done.

I am beginning to wonder how many more “nearly” moments I am going to get away with – before some ass-clown succeeds in taking me out.

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Life

Falling Apart

I saw a quote on Facebook a few days ago, commenting that once you get past a certain age, finding out what aches or pains you might have each day is something of a lottery. I laughed at the time, and scrolled past.

I really should have taken more notice.

While emptying the dishwasher at home last night, I felt a pain go up my left leg, through my backside, and into the small of my back. How does that even happen? For the rest of the evening I kept forgetting, and then wincing as the pain returned.

Today, while sitting at my desk in the office, my left foot started hurting – for no reason at all. It just started hurting. I stood up, walked around the office, and flexed my foot around – which seemed to resolve matters for a while.

I’m wondering which random part of my body will cease functioning next. Perhaps this will be the pattern for the rest of my life – semi-anxiously waiting for aches and pains to appear. At least it will give me something to talk about when I bump into acquaintances though – I’ll be able to regale them of all of my aches and pains, and they’ll wish they hadn’t asked. I’ll enjoy that.

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Life

Recording

I spent much of this evening recording and editing the next episode of the podcast. I used “Cakewalk” for the first time, using all the lessons learned so far about mixing tracks, volume levels, fiddling with graphic equalisers, and so on. If I do my job well, you won’t notice I’ve done it.

While the episode is ready to go, I’m going to hold it back until the weekend. I’ve kind of committed myself to releasing episodes on Saturdays – although I’m already thinking about sneaking it out on Friday night, to give Spotify, iTunes, and TuneIn time to update their listings.

Anyway. Somehow it’s already midnight. Time for a cup of tea, and then bedtime.

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Life

iTunes and Facebook

In-between picking away at change requests for the colossal business automation project I have been working on for the last several years, I have submitted the podcast to iTunes, and created a page at Facebook.

I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m doing.

The iTunes decision was an easy one – given that 50% of America supposedly use Apple products of some description. Quite how they afford them is something of a mystery to me. After wracking my brains to remember iCloud credentials, the little podcast that could was sent off to the ivory tower in my imagination for somebody to decide if it is worthy or not.

According to a google search or two, I have between three and ten days to eat all of my finger nails.

Creating a Facebook page for the podcast seemed like an obvious decision, but also a slippery slope. While inviting people to the page, I wondered how many of them know each other by their real names – and if that might introduce a stumbling block of sorts. I know a number of people that keep their blogs firmly under lock and key – wrapped in pseudonyms, and passwords. I wonder if they will keep the podcast at the end of a very long stick, even if they appear on it at some point ?

I’m also aware that adding all of these bits of periphery around the podcast means I have more workflow to churn through after recording episodes – updating Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on. I suppose I’ll just have to get used to that. Thankfully Spotify and iTunes will update themselves.

Anyway. The Facebook page is up. If you’ve not visited it yet, head to the following link, and click the like button:

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Life

Slow Puncture

For the last several days I have been cycling to and from work with a slow puncture in the front tyre of my bicycle. I pump it up in the morning, turn the pedals like mad to reach the office before it deflates, and repeat the process in the evening.

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t fixed it yet. So am I.

I suppose in my head it’s become “one more thing”. One more thing that’s not ideal, but doesn’t completely stop me in the state it’s in. It’s becoming a metaphore for my life in a way.

If you believe the social internet highlight reel, you begin to convince yourself that everybody else lives some kind of 1950s nuclear-family life, with straight-A children that are seen but not heard, an unquestioningly supporting other half, a lego brick house, and a neighbourhood filled with friendly Truman-Show acquaintances.

I do my best to take no notice of the social internet highlight reel. It’s interesting though – when people share their latest boast-worthy exploits, they are usually littered with little heart icons – “hate likes”, as many have begun to refer to them. The more interesting thing is what happens when people tell the truth about bad days, or falling-down moments – usually an awkward silence, punctuated with one or two close friends trying to comment something supportive.

In recent years I’ve found myself sharing increasingly abstract moments – photos of things, or moments, rather than places, or people. A voice on my shoulder continually tells me not to be “one of those people” – and yet I’m not really sure who I mean by that. We all have excited moments where we want to share something, brave moments when we might reach out, and subdued moments when we just want to know we’re not alone. It’s easy to put people in boxes – to classify them – to generalise. I suppose it doesn’t help that we’re surrounded by a media that teaches impossible standards, and that castigates anything but perfect behaviour.

When was the last time you saw a celebrity admit to invariably staying in on their own, eating pizza, and watching a rubbish movie?

As an aside, I remember watching an interview with David Beckham a few years ago – where he talked about buying LEGO kits when he’s stuck in hotels. He can’t wander out to explore, or sit quietly in the corner of a restaurant people watching as the rest of us might – so he buys LEGO kits, and builds them in his hotel room. And yet he also courts publicity to sell his brand. It’s a strange kind of duality, isn’t it.

I’m not sure where I was going with this. Maybe it’s time to put the kettle on, then go read my book. I’ve started reading the Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin.