The Charm of Podcasting

A Zoom H6 Handy Recorder at the heart of a future podcasting system. Photo: Zoom

This weblog post is mainly about acquiring podcast equipment (purchasing) and software (downloading). Perhaps the best place to begin is with the generation of sound in and around the mouth. This results in the production of waves in the air that can be sensed by microphones. Here, it is an advantage if a microphone does not have a frequency range exceeding that of a human voice. Recorded noise will only have to be removed during the editing process. It is claimed that a range between 80 and 4 kHz, should be sufficient.

The next question has to do with the number of voices in a podcast. If there is a single voice, and if production takes place in a quiet environment, a single condenser microphone can be used. I have a Røde NT1 that can be used for this purpose. Only a fool would attempt to record more than four voices. These can be recorded separately, using dynamic microphones, for example Samson R21’s. Dynamic microphones require users to speak/ sing/ perform directly into the microphone, because these microphones will fail to pickup sounds, including noise, originating outside of a narrow cone. Condenser microphones should be avoided, because they will pick up everything and anything.

Not all podcasts can/ should be made in a studio. This means using a portable recorder. Computers are subject to software glitchs. In far too many programs, files are only saved at the end of an event. Thus, if a computer crashes prior to someone hitting save, that content is lost forever. This is why it is best to record everything on a recorder, even if the content is fed immediately into a computer.

The Zoom H6 Handy recorder is ideal for the field, powered by 4 x AA (rechargeable) batteries. On top of the recorder, there is space for one of four interchangeable input capsules: X/Y, Mid-side (both of which come with the recorder), shotgun, and a dual XLR/TRS combo input (available as accessories). These will probably be used more by videographers who will place the recorder on their camcorder hotshoe.

Podcasters will focus on the four XLR/TRS combo inputs on the sides of the recorders , each with its own preamp, gain knob, and phantom power switch. At the bottom there is a 2-inch color LCD (320 x 240 pixels) display. The H6 can use an SD card up to 128 GB. It has a USB 2.0 connector, line in and audio (headphone) out using 3.5 mm jacks.

One of the main reasons for acquiring this particular type of recorder is its operational characteristics. Once a channel is record-enabled, the H6 is constantly creating a 2-second buffer. If you hit Record late, it will still capture the 2 seconds prior to this. Clipping is always a potential problem in sound recording. Enabling backup-record duplicates tracks of the L/R inputsat 12dB lower than that set for input gain.

Headphones use drivers (miniature speakers) to create sound waves, that then enter the ear. Headphones used for podcasting should fully surround each ear, to prevent sound leakage. Today’s choice is a Samson SR950 enclosed reference headphone, that effectively insulates sounds. It has 50 mm drivers, reproduces sound both above and below the human hearing range (10Hz-30kHz) has a standard 32 ohm impedance, 2,5 m cable, and a 1/4″ jack adapter.

Software

Audacity is an open-source audio editor. While it has advanced features, such as multi-track editing and support for live recording, the user interface is simple. It supports the WAV and MP3 audio formats used on the Zoom H6.

Audacity allows cut and paste editing, has noise reduction and navigation control features. While I intend to use this on a dedicated Linux workstation, Audacity is available for Mac and Windows machines as well.

LMMS, previously Linux MultiMedia Studio, is another open-source audio editor software, that works on Windows, Mac and Linux machines. It offers a large number of features, including an FX (effects) mixer, automation editor, support for a MIDI keyboard, some in-built audio effects and instruments and compatibility with some popular standards in digital music production and editing. The user interface is more professional than that found on Audacity. It also offers a variety of plug-ins that can improve productivity. It is also better able to integrate music into a podcast, than Audacity is capable of.

The Future

Hopefully, in 2020 interested listeners will be able to enjoy the stories of Brigand Brewer, narrated by Claude Hopper. Somehow, the art work of Billi Sodd will also have to be included, and possibly the music of Wes Honeywell & the Thermostats. Some of the tales will feature Alice Angel, potter, vegetarian and philosopher, and other residents of Beef, Cascadia. These will probably be featured in a new blog, possibly titled: enigmata.mclellan.no

Good Enough Websites

Websites have many uses. Perhaps two of the more important, involve the sharing of information, through emails and web logging, or blogging. The first email was sent by Ray Tomlinson (1941-2016) in 1971. He is quoted as saying that these first “test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.” The first web log post is 25 years old, this week. It was published on 1994-01-27 by Justin Hall. Here is a link to it:

links.net/vita/web/start/original

Statistics are hard to come by, but it seems at least half a billion people have their own web logs. On 2017-09-14, one blogger reported 440 million blogs just on Tumblr, Squarespace and WordPress. Most of these people, including myself, don’t have either the interest or the skills to set up a website that follows best practices. I am not sure that they even want to, I don’t. Instead, they want something that is simple but good enough for the needs of themselves and their families.

Why stress to obtain the best, when good enough will do? Patmos, Farm vehicle near Chora, Greece. Photo: Brock McLellan/ Digitization: Patricia McLellan. 1979-07-27.

Having gained some experience through work, with Moodle, a Learning Management System, and being dissatisfied with a couple of web hosting providers that were supposed to support this product, I opted for one.com as a host, on the advice of someone I trust. The first lesson, then, is to ask for help from 1) someone who has experience with family oriented websites, 2) is trustworthy and 3) knows you, your family and your situation.

The proposed solution, which was implemented, may not be the world’s best hosting service, but it is certainly adequate, inexpensive and good enough for my family’s purposes. No issues have arisen during the past year that make me want to change vendor.

We purchased, or more correctly rent on an annual basis, a domain based on our family name, which provides email addresses for members of our family, but they are not in active use by everyone. We also paid for “Starter” web hosting services on a server.

Like most web hosts, our provider tries to make customers feel that they are getting a lot, or at least something, for their $3 a month in hosting fees. They try to impress with a content list that includes ten items: Unlimited bandwidth; Email on your own domain; Unlimited email accounts; Unlimited email aliases; Spam & Virus Protection; Fully featured professional webmail; Individual Calendar & Address Book per email account; IMAP/POP; Single domain; and, 25 GB SSD Storage. While I have a theoretical interest in some of these services, including spam and virus protection, the main product being purchased is storage space. This storage is being used for emails, as well as web logs.

Now, a second domain name has been purchased/ rented for a family member with a different surname. This has necessitated an upgrade to a “Professional Plus” web hosting service, offering hosting of multiple domains, eight times more storage (200 GB) as well as Backup & Restore facilities. Above this there is a “Business” level that offers 500 GB of storage, as the only significant difference.

Sometimes an upgrade is necessary. But that does not mean it has to be expensive. Honda Van, Exeter, England. Photo: Brock McLellan/ Digitization: Patricia McLellan. 1979-06-21.

An aside: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if names didn’t have to have elitist attributes? Why not name products after winds? The breeze, the gale and the hurricane. Or birds? The crake, the coot and the crane. I would even accept the apprentice, the journeyman and the master, or even a simple level 1, 2 and 3.

The needs of most families are relatively simple. They are not running businesses that need complex e-commerce solutions, with marketing and sales support, traffic management and guaranteed up-time. Everyone finds downtime detrimental, but it is something that can be lived with.

So, one of the first questions to ask is: Why not just use Gmail/ Hotmail/ Outlook/ Yahoo? Yes, some of these offer lots of storage space, spam and virus protection, and much more. Google offers 15 GB of storage for each user, Yahoo offers 1 TB. Personally, I am not using more than 10 GB, for email and web log, and other family members are using considerably less.

Similarly, one can ask: Why not just use Facebook to post information/ opinions that would otherwise end up in a web log?

The main reason to avoid multi-national corporations, is to protect families from the effects of long-term exploitation. These corporations are mining data and monetizing it. Yes, that is a big word, and it means they are making money off of your data. In the long-term, this will make you and your family poorer and less secure, while the elites grow richer. By using your own website, you will prevent these corporations from accessing the data they need to manipulate consumers and voters. These corporations, and a few others, are instruments effectively used by an elite, to consolidate their power.

Another important reason for having a family domain is for blogging. Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, has written that information and disinformation look the same; the only difference is that disinformation generates more revenue, so it gets better treatment, at Facebook or Google. He claims that there is no way for these giants to avoid influencing the lives of users and the future of nations. Recent history suggests that this threat to democracy is real. McNamee proposes fundamental changes to their business models to reduce the harm they cause to democracy

The rest of humanity cannot wait for these enterprise Titanics to turn in an attempt to avoid icebergs of dictatorship and oppression. People must take control of their own lives back again, to the degree that this is possible. This means reducing our presence on Google, Facebook and Twitter, and increasing our presence on our own personal websites.

Blog is short for weblog, an online journal or informational website displaying information in posts, generally accessed in reverse chronological order. Some blogging platforms are run by the Titan(ic)s. Blogger (previously called Blogspot) is owned by Google. Tumblr is owned by Verizon. Instagram is not so much a blog, as a photo and video-sharing social networking service owned by Facebook. Two open source platforms are WordPress and Joomla.

Joomla is powerful and flexible enough to be used to build any kind of website or blog. There are enough templates to choose from, to customize any site. Extensions add more features. Yet, because Joomla has a shorter reach than WordPress, there are fewer themes and addons, and less support. Backups, updates, and security take more work.

WordPress provides sufficient control website, and allows one to add extra features like forums and an online store, if that is the direction of travel. Website management can have its challenges, especially things like backups and security. Despite some imperfections, WordPress is the platform used on Brock at Cliff Cottage. Personally, I do not see any advantages to throwing away my insights with this platform, just to select a different platform that will require more time to learn.

Video bloggers are called vloggers. Many choose to upload their videos to YouTube, another Google owned site. Here, one creates a free and simple vlogging channel, with an existing audience close by. Other websites for video content include: blip.tv, vimeo and veoh. However, there is nothing to prevent a vlogger from using their own site to host their own videos. This, in fact, is in the spirit of this weblog post. WordPress offers several plugins especially designed for vlogging.

Some web logs are very specialized: auto repair, cooking, fashion, music, Norse mythology and robotics come to mind. In addition to vloggers, there are podcasters, who make web logs featuring audio tracks. Some people create portfolios of their work. Others just want a place to display their photographs, or their paintings/ drawings/ etchings. It is all up to the individual. Artists and artisans may want to upgrade a website for business purposes, including the display and sale of merchandise. It is relatively easy to build out WordPress with plugins to accommodate new needs.

WordPress can be updated using plugins, into a website for e-commerce. Three-wheeled electric milk van, Exeter. Photo: Brock McLellan/ Digitization: Patricia McLellan. 1979-06-22.

There are several WordPress books for beginners. The one I prefer is: Michal Bradek 2017 WordPress Guide for Beginners. The only challenge with this book is that it is based on WordPress version 4.8. Version 5.0 was released 2018-11-19, and is becoming standard. The greatest change with this update is the Gutenberg editor, which is actually easier to use than the previous “classic” editor, but is different – so some skills have to be unlearned, and others learned.

V2: Minor corrections made 2019-01-24 19:47

Open Source Mapping

An embedded map of Trondheim Fjord, Norway, showing the location of Cliff Cottage. It was made using an OSM (OpenStreetMap) plugin, in the WordPress program, used to make this weblog.

While I might have included a screen shot or image to display a map, a more flexible approach is to embed one. This requires adding a mapping plugin to the WordPress program that I currently use. Since there are so many plugins available, I have to decide which one to use. I’m using one that is open source to make a policy statement!

It all started with this item in /. ( https://slashdot.org/ )

Background theory: A factoid from Economics 101 – perfect competition leads to Pareto optimality, which is just a fancy way of saying that businesses that compete will stagnate. There is no way for any of them to make any profits. Ultimately, a little mistake will lead to bankruptcy. So businesses will do almost anything to avoid competition. They want monopolies or,  if that isn’t possible, a large market share, so they can charge whatever consumers will pay, to make lots of money.

Background event: As explained in the /. article, on 2018-07-16, the free ride of using Google Maps’ application programming interface (API) is over. Google is going to make it more difficult and expensive to use its API. The good news (for Google) is that they should be able to extract more revenue from users. The bad news (for organizations and people using these APIs) is that custom maps will be less sustainable or even unfeasible for organizations that made them. See: https://developers.google.com/maps/billing/important-updates

When a company makes programs that are high quality and free, people will use them. Google Maps is no exception. Thus, the most popular WordPress mapping plugins are (with the number of active installations in parentheses, from largest to smallest): WP Google Maps (400 000+ ); Google Maps Widget (100 000+); MapPress Easy Google Maps (100 000+); WP Google Map Plugin (100 000+); Google Maps plugin by Intergeo (60 000+); Snazzy Maps (60 000+); Google Maps Easy (40 000+); Simple Map (40 000+).  All of these plugins relate to Google Maps. It is only when one gets to Leaflet Map Marker (30 000+) that an alternative to Google Maps can be found that works with OpenStreetMaps and Bing Maps, as well as Google Maps.

Consequences: People who need a map, but don’t know how to program, and don’t have a budget to pay for a customized solution, have been able to make maps using Google (or equivalent) APIs. Google’s actions are part of a trend away from easy access to free mapping tools. Fewer companies are offering free accounts and there are fewer alternatives to Google.

Open source API choices to replace Google Maps APIs include Leaflet and OpenLayers.

Leaflet is an open-source JavaScript library for desktop and mobile platform interactive maps. The API code is small, 38 kB,  but has most mapping features needed by developers. It can be extended with plugins. Its focus is on the optimal performance of basic mapping features, rather than on an extensive features rich environment. See: https://leafletjs.com

In contrast OpenLayers is much more extensive, and larger (10 MB) requiring greater insight.  See: http://openlayers.org

Mapzen, often cited as a third open soure tool that ran on OpenStreetMaps, shut down its operations at the beginning of 2018.

For me, open source matters, so I chose to add on OSM – OpenStreetMaps, as a plugin. It took a couple of minutes to download the plugin, and up to several seconds to activate it. Here is the entire procedure:

Select Generate: OSM shortcode

Select the OSM control theme of your choice

Adjust the map and click into the map to generate the OSM shortcode

Copy (Ctrl+C) the generated shortcode and paste (Ctrl+V) it into your article or page.

Notes: The generator was located immediately below the WordPress text frame; Once the map was pasted into the text, the preview button had to be pressed to show the map. The only thing left to do is to publish the post!

 

Enlightenment

Some people may get the impression that I spend my screen time reading  news at The Guardian and its alter ego, The Independent; learning French, German and sometimes Swedish at Duolingo; finding documentaries at mvgroup.org or other videos at Zooqle or Veehd (Yes, I miss Richmond, BC based, Isohunt); as well as technological news at Slashdot (/.) and BC news at The Tyee .

Today, I’d like to suggest four other sites that I visit less often, but which have interesting approaches. These are, in alphabetical order: Aeon, Bella Caledonia, Ello and Kottke.

Aeon

The most prominent characteristic of Aeon is their incessant quest for donations. Despite this, I like them because they do have thought provoking articles. They see themselves in more elegant terms:

“Since 2012, Aeon has established itself as a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.

Aeon has three channels, and all are completely free to enjoy:

Essays – Longform explorations of deep issues written by serious and creative thinkers

Ideas – Short provocations, maintaining Aeon’s high editorial standards but in a more nimble and immediate form. Our Ideas are published under a Creative Commons licence, making them available for republication.

Video –  A mixture of curated short documentaries and original Aeon productions.”

An example of their content is this video about Why racial segregation is a design feature, not a bug, of US cities https://aeon.co/videos/why-racial-segregation-is-a-design-feature-not-a-bug-of-us-cities

Redlined areas keep foreign-born and Afro-Americans poor!

Bella Caledonia

Could an independent Scotland become yet another Nordic country? An attempt to answer that question keeps me reading Bella Caledonia, with its subtitles: independence, self-determination, autonomy.

“Bella Caledonia was formed in 2007 by Mike Small and Kevin Williamson as an online magazine combining political and cultural commentary. Bella is named after a character in Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things (1992). Like Bella we are looking for a publication and a movement that is innocent, vigorous and insatiably curious. Bella is aligned to no one and sees herself as the bastard child of parent publications too good for this world, from Calgacus to Red Herring, from Harpies & Quines to the Black Dwarf.

Poor Things is a remarkable book. Presented as the memoir of Dr Archibald McCandless, it describes his life and that of a colleague – Godwin Baxter. A monstrous proto-Frankenstein, Baxter performs surgical marvels, his greatest achievement being the (re) creation of life: he brings to life a drowned woman by transplanting the brain of the foetus she is carrying. The full-grown woman with the infant’s mind, is Bella.

In Gray’s story Bella is a metaphor for a nation.”

An example of their content is this article by Mike Small, Hostile Environment. https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/05/12/hostile-environment/

Bella, a symbol of Scotland.

Ello

Ello was mentioned in the same breath as Diaspora, as an alternative to Facebook.

“Ello is The Creators Network, a publishing and collaboration platform connecting and supporting a global community of artists. Founded in 2013 by a collection of artists & designers, Ello re-imagines the future of creative work by providing a contemporary forum and virtual workplace for artists, brands, agencies, publishers, and their fans.

At Ello we’re committed to advancing the intersection of art, creative opportunity and new media to inspire what only the internet has made possible. We believe that by empowering and rewarding today’s creatorswith visibility, influence and professional opportunity that we can embolden a generation of talent and transform the way creative work gets done.

Learn more about to see how we partner with brands, agencies and publishers to launch creative briefs and harness the power of real-time community collaboration.

Ello is a mission-driven Public Benefit Corporation committed to putting artists first.”

Here is a photograph, from Dark Beauty magazine:

Photographer/Stylist: Ksenia Usacheva 2018 Beauty Intoxication
Hair/Makeup/Model: Julie Demont

Kottke

“Founded in 1998, kottke.org is one of the oldest blogs on the web. It’s written and produced by Jason Kottke and covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity. Frequent topics of interest among the 26,000+ posts include art, technology, science, visual culture, design, music, cities, food, architecture, sports, endless nonsense, and carefully curated current events, all of it lightly contextualized. Basically, it’s the world’s complete knowledge, relentlessly filtered through my particular worldview, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails.

kottke.org has helped influence the design and format of social media on the web since its inception. In 2000, the site introduced the permalink as a deliberate design feature, now the atomic element of social media. kottke.org has been cited in hundreds of books and academic publications and was one of the first blogs covered in major media like the New Yorker. In 2005, work on the site was 100% funded using a patronage model that anticipated services like Kickstarter and Patreon. The launch versions of both Gawker and BuzzFeed were partially based, in design and function, on kottke.org. The site has helped discover and popularize many emerging ideas and media forms, including tumblelogs in 2005, about a year and a half before Tumblr launched.

More recently, The Guardian named kottke.org one of the 50 most powerful blogs in the world in 2008. In 2013, Wired Magazine asked me to write about kottke.org for their 20th anniversary issue honoring the people, companies, and ideas that “have shaped the future we live in today”. Slate wrote a robotic blogger to see if the site’s output could be matched algorithmically. Time named me one of the 25 best bloggers in 2013.”

Yes, some bloggers see themselves as more important than others.

As an example of their content, I will mention this brief article about the merger of Essilor (“a French multinational that controls almost half of the world’s prescription lens business and has acquired more than 250 other companies in the past 20 years”) and Luxottica (“an Italian company with an unparalleled combination of factories, designer labels and retail outlets,” including Ray-Ban and LensCrafters). I do this because of my first RyanAir flight (to Sicily), two passengers immediately ahead of me were stopped at customs and fined for bringing fake Ray-Ban sunglasses into Italy.

https://kottke.org/18/05/the-visual-divide Following the link, just takes one back to the Guardian!

Not just a big lens, but two gigantic lenses seach occupying millions of square kilometers!

Weblog

A tidy desk reflects a tidy mind.

In the beginning there was a blog. Its first post was published on Saturday, 13 June 2009 at 22:22, brockmclellan.wordpress.com eventually morphed into Brock at Cliff Cottage. On Thursday, 12 May 2016 at 19:49, it was supplemented with the first post from unitwon.wordpress.com, Unit One, originally used an assortment of personas to write about various topics, before its focus changed to workshop operations.

These personas explored different topics. Jade Marmot looked at video production; Qwerty Asdf specialized in screenwriting;  Proton Bletchley investigated science and technology; Alexa Qvam wrote (children’s) fiction, while Billi Sodd addressed art. There were also minor personas: Precious Dollar wrote about the economy, Brigand Brewer about history, Liberty & Modesty Patience about ethics.

In order to write more about industrial design, I usurped my daughter’s blog designeeds.wordpress.com stylized as Needs, Seeds and Weeds, on Sunday, 29 October 2017, publishing my first post at 04:37. She had originally started it Thursday, 19 July 2012 at 13:33. After writing five posts, it was not used after Wednesday, 24 October 2012 at 09:44. It had been dormant for over five years, before I started using it.

These three blogs still exist at WordPress.com. They are currently hibernating, and will continue to do so until their replacement (brock.mclellan.no)  is mature enough to survive on its own. Yes, as noted in another post, all three of these have been merged, because it became impossible to distinguish the one site from another.

Despite having written more blogposts than tweets, by more than an order of magnitude, I am still a novice when it comes to blog writing. Writing a blog for me, serves much the same purpose as writing a diary does for others. It also replaces Facebook.

In much the same way that the prefaces Needs, Seeds and Weeds indicate that a post is concerned with (industrial) design, Ethan & Ethel posts are for young woodworkers, Charm relates to travel and photography. Now, Weblog will alert readers that a post relates to the technical, aesthetic and social aspects of blogging. In the future you can expect new prefaces to indicate special topics.

Operating a blog outside of WordPress or Blogger, is a very different proposition to operating one inside. Like a transition to adulthood, there is more freedom, along with greater responsibility. Thus, it has becoming necessary to learn new blogging skills, which will be reported on here using the Weblog preface.