Marantz Podcast Gear

I don’t know if this solid state recorder from Marantz would be good for podcasting, as an external recorder or mobile recording device. I do know that just looking at the ugly ass yet rugged Marantz form factor makes me happy. I used their analog cassette decks at WREK and they always rocked. In fact, the models they had there allowed you to plug a phone handset in and use it as a mike input. I used that as my phone interview recording mechanism for a long time. I also used them as my local uplink station when I was doing phone remotes (long story, but it worked great.) If someone that listens to my podcast recently hit the lottery and is floating in cash, it is getting close to XMas …. I have no idea how much this costs but Marantz != cheap.

Making IT Conversations Self-Sustaining

Doug Kaye emailed me to point out an interesting conversation occurring on his wiki. He primed the pump by asking about models to get his operation fiscally self-sustaining. It appears that I’m in the minority on there, because I think the way to go is via an underwriting model. Perhaps this might be because I’ve had experience with it and seen it work very well.

Most people seem to think that a subscription model is the way to go. I see that being problematic in a few ways. One is that no matter how you slice it, it will need supporting infrastructure. You need to clear payments, keep up with who has subscribed, who is expiring, etc. What about people who listen to a subset of the programs and wouldn’t be willing to do a blanket subscription? Do you need subscriptions to individual programs or ala carte pricing? That puts more complexity into the system that would also need to be managed. Another issue is that any way of locking the content behind a subscriber wall will put pressure on that point and reduce listenership. Right now, I think IT Conversations is on track to becoming the “channel of record” for certain types of audio content. Anything you do to lock it up, even with a standard/premium split like Marc Canter advocates, will serve to reduce that. I could be wrong and maybe the brand is so strong that loads of people would be willing to subscribe no matter what, but my guess is that isn’t how it would go down. By taking underwriting, all the shows can continue to be totally free for the listeners and encouraged for linking in and blogged, etc.

Doug mentions in his intro on that wiki page that he doesn’t have lots of time to make sales calls and work on that end. In my one shot at working with underwriting for Reality Break, I got a quarter’s worth of it at $100 a pop with a single phone call. Counting the call, followup emails, the paperwork, sending the invoice and all that, I maybe spent two man-hours total on landing that deal. It might take a little more energy with fishing for possible underwriters, but I don’t think it would take as much resource as Doug thinks it would. Anything subscriber related is going to take resources as well, in an ongoing fashion and proportional to the number of subscribers. Some of the transactions will be screwed up, some people will pay their money and not get in, etc. I can understand Doug not wanting to get into the sales business, but on the other hand going the subscriber route he’ll de facto get into the customer support business. My contention is that making the same amount of money via underwriting will be less of an overall drag than subscriptions, but we shall see.

Update: Eric Rice sees an issue I didn’t with subscriptions.

Besides, having dozens of different sites requiring subscriptions or various methods of collecting micro-payment for various forms of content would be a hassle. Think about it. We use RSS news readers to get blog content in one place, as opposed to hunting and pecking across the Web. Why should we pay for content any differently?

If we make the assumption that whatever Doug does, others will do – do you want to have subscriptions to each channel of podcast that you listen to? Even if they aren’t expensive, do you feel like managing that? Imagine if each one had an entirely different way of paying and authenticating.

Your Radio Voice

I mentioned in yesterdays cast about people “wishing they had a radio voice.” Here is one such post by Robert Scoble. Folks, you may not have a “radio voice everybody” but you have something far superior – your own voice. I think that is a vastly underrated asset in this world.

Be yourself, sound like you and let it rip. That’s really what I want to hear, not podcasts full of clones of the morning zoo crews. They’re already all clones of each other anyway. Talk to me in your real voice, and I will listen.

Apple Firewire Audio Interface for Consumers

Even though I’m pretty happy with my Griffin iMic, I’ll admit that one of these Firewire audio interface boxes looks pretty sweet. Assuming the levels could be worked out right and pre-amps are no longer necessary, this would be able to take two XLR inputs from actual microphones, getting rid of the need for mixers for most people.

Ah, by following the links to the Apple Insider article I see that these boxes can be chained together, include circuits to prevent clipping and mate up with a software gain control on the Mac. This could conceivably be a pretty sweet device for podcasting. If it doesn’t have that horrible delay that all the USB audio sources do, I’m buying one.

Shooting Too Low

As you that follow this blog or podcast know, concision of expression is not my strong suit. I’m trying to boil down a notion I have scattered through casts and blog posts down to an absurdly simple sound bite. If anyone can help me digest this even further, please jump in.

To think that podcasts are about the next step of blogs is wrong in the same way as thinking that the X-Prize is about the next step of taxi cabs.

Here’s a post that is on to what I’m thinking. He begins with the statement ” I have stopped listening to the radio on my commute.” Bloggers who keep saying that blogs work better because you “can skim them, read faster” ad nauseum are, to put it bluntly, fucked. They are complaining that the rules of nickle-ante game don’t apply when you go to the $100K ante. If you think they should, you ain’t got the ambition or vision to play in the big games.

Podcast Microphone

People keep asking about my microphone that I use for podcasts. Let me post it here once for everyone (including Roland Tanglao, who says no one is telling him what mike to use). I use a modest Radio Shack mike, 33-3004 is the number. It costs $40, and you can see if they are in stock in your area. I’ve had it for nearly 10 years and it continues to work like a champ without incident.

I also run that through my cheap Radio Shack mixer to do the role of a pre-amp. The signal straight from this mike isn’t strong enough for the iMic input. This is a unidirectional mike, which is imporant because you don’t want it picking up all the room noise, just you. Make sure it is oriented so that all the noisy computers and crap are behind it, and it will help a lot. Be sure and spring for the extra $2.99 to buy the foam windscreen, aka “clown nose”, to put over the wire mesh. It makes a world of difference for a negligible amount of money.

Update: Roland asks the follow-on question, what mixer am I using? I’m using the Radio Shack SSM-60, SKU 32-1214. Looks like they don’t carry that anymore because searching on that item number brings up user manuals but no way to buy it. The closest equivalent I see is this thing. You could maybe use a mike pre-amp but the advantage of buying the cheap mixer is that if you get another mike or external source you want to pipe in, you can do that all in hardware with the mixer. The downside is the lack of portability. I’ve been happy with all my cheap microphones and my cheap mixer for a very long time.

Bittorrent Experiment, Iteration 2

OK, a new episode of EGC has been published. This is the second stab at the bittorrent experiment. I’m trying something that should ameliorate the slow times people were seeing. I think it is working, as it’s now 30 minutes after the publish became effective in the RSS, and there have been 40 serves of the file with 32 connected currently. I think last time it took around 45 minutes before the second seed came online because there were so many concurrent copies fighting from the only source in my house, that it worked against the process. There was more of a “soft launch” this time, so let me know what your experience was. Those of you who had terribly slow downloads on the first one, was it better this time?

The Morning After

Data is still coming in from the Bittorrent swap experiment. Some folks in Europe report really slooooow download times, like over an hour for the file. If your download is prohibitively slow, don’t think twice about switching back to the direct MP3 feed. Please do. Before yesterday, almost everyone used the direct MP3 downloads, now if 80% of people use the Bittorrents it is still a huge gain.

I’m curious – for those of you that had really slow downloads, are you in a networking situation that prevents you from uploading? I’m not sure how that part of the protocol works but I was under the assumption that your download gets throttled down if you aren’t uploading.

Thanks to everyone for your patience, and for playing along. I’m trying to push the envelope in this direction, and thus far it seems to be (mostly) working. Special thanks to all my seeding angels running Azureus or just leaving open a Bittorrent download to help be a seed. Thank you! You make this all work.

The Experiment Begins

At this moment, it is 10 minutes after my first publish of the Bittorrent enclosure in the main feed. I have at this moment 30 peers connected to me and I hope to each other. I’ve pushed about a share ratio of 2, but I don’t know how efficiently the short-lived iPodder clients will be about maximizing the piece distribution. I’d assume at this point that even if I disconnected right now, there would be enough pieces to make a full copy out there. If I did that, I wonder exactly what would happen? The connected clients would swap chunks amongst themselves and as each one completed it would drop off, leaving it a slow footrace to be the last one without a full copy. However it works out, as long as this is all working, I’m delighted. This is pretty much what I expected to happen – a big burst of simultaneously downloading peers happening right after a publish but I’ll admit that this is more clients in a shorter time period than I was expecting.

Flipflopping

I’m in the process of changing over the default feed to be Bittorrent. I have thought a lot about how to do this to minimize the impact to everyone. I have decided on a long transition. As of now, the main feed is a hybrid. Beginning with the episode I’m posting right now, all newly published casts in the main feed will be Bittorrent in the enclosures. Until the old MP3 enclosure entries roll out the back end, the main feed will be a combination of both. I decided that if I did a radical switch and retroactively change anything, someone will be gratuitously downloading something they didn’t need. If I do the relatively gentle, slow swap, I think we can do the minimum of re-downloading.

If anyone has funky issues with this, let me know. Leaving a comment here is probably the best way because that will let others see your issues. My hope, fingers crossed, is that this transition will be painless and nearly issuelesss for anyone. Everybody should get the disclaimer/introduction file down, and most people should get the Bittorrent test file. Beyond that, all is well. I hope. I really hope.

iPodders

I’m getting kind of fed up with both iPodderX and iPodder. I had been using the former until I did an upgrade to one of the 2.2.1 series that went completely haywire and redownloaded things over and over. I backtracked to an older version, which worked for a few days and then just stopped.

I had downloaded iPodder, which seemingly at random appends nulls to the end of the URLs I paste in so that the RSS checks would fail because there were “%00” trash appended to them. Now, when I try to run it, it pops up some window with a Python traceback error for half a second and then the whole thing dies. I’m quite disappointed in both of these projects right now. I’m seriously considering shutting both down for good and going back to my get_enclosures script.

Anal Retention Rules the Day

It now seems like the strongest anti-podcasting meme is that of “Podcasts take too long to listen to. I can read X blogs in that time.” It’s tiresome to hear people over and over look at podcasts with blog-colored glasses. Because these people write blogs and read blogs and podcasts are in some cases (decreasingly so) associated with a sponsoring blog (such as this one), they think there is a one-to-one correspondence. When they have drank so deeply the blog kool-aid, everything tastes like blog to them. Ain’t so, McGee. I frankly don’t care how many text blogs you can read. As I’ve said over and over, audio carries far more extra-textual information and nuance and context than does the written text, so it is a fallacy that you are “reading more”. You are reading more and getting less, so I think that issue is a wash. If you think the value of a podcast is solely contained in its words, you have missed the point by a mile. You get the words, you get the personality, you form a connection to the podcaster faster than you ever can from reading their text weblogs. It’s not about speed of information datadump, its about the ease of feeling connected to another person.

Stop thinking of podcasts in blog terms, bloggers. If you have to score them, I’d take a stab that the DNA sources for them is 85% radio, 10% blog and 5% TiVo. Do you complain that “I can’t skim This American Life or The Howard Stern Show?” Is that really what is of value to you in a medium, how little you can pay attention to it while paying lip service to having “consumed the content?” God help us all if that’s the best we can do.

I’ve said it in conversations and around the net, but not sure if I’ve said it here in a top-level post. I think this prevailing feeling of “There are too many podcasts, I can’t listen to them all” is the wrong way to look at it. In every city or burg in the developed world and in some of the undeveloped world, you have more radio than you can listen to. You are locked into one channel at a time, and not only doesn’t that bother you but you use that to your advantage. When one sucks, you push the button and try another until you find one that meets your needs. The key metric is not what percentage of all podcasts published you can listen to, it is how much of the time that you’d like to be listening to something interesting, informative, or entertaining are you actually doing so? If 100% or close to that, mission accomplished. It’s about replacing the failure of radio to do that for us, not about taking weblogs to the ears. Frankly, those who think that podcasting is about creating an exact copy of weblogs in audio are shooting so absurdly low as to cause me physical pain. It’s about creating a new medium with new modes and interactions. Even if it started with aspects of all its genetic ancestors, it must go far past that or I will consider the whole grand experiment to be a failure.

To diss a medium because “I can’t listen to it all” is the cry of anguish of the anal retentive. You can’t watch all of TV, listen to all of radio, read all books or magazines published, read all the weblogs out there. When did this become such an important factor? You need enough to keep you happy and occupied, not to feel like you must be able to listen to every second of every podcast ever published. I say that the rallying cry of podcasting is in the words of one of our greatest American philosophers:

With the lights out it’s less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now
Entertain us

Thank you, good night, drive safely.

Swap, Meet

Over the course of this weekend, I will be executing the swap of direct MP3 downloads and Bittorrent, to making Bittorrent be the default in the main enclosure feed and the direct MP3 to be a special separate feed. My goal is that no child is left behind here. For maybe 80% of the people, things will just keep on working but now they’ll be getting Bittorrent files. They may not even know the swap has happened, which is fine.

I’m publishing two files, which will be jimmied in the RSS feed to be the permanent first two files in the default feed. One is a small Bittorrent MP3 file that says “The test worked, you can get Bittorrent files, all is well.” The other is a direct download MP3 that says “If you didn’t get the Bittorrent test, you need to subscribe to a different feed” and then goes on to describe a little about what to expect from the show and then the long promised goofy disclaimer. My theory and goal is that when I make the switch, most people will get both files and all will be well. People that use tools that don’t support Bittorrent or are in a network situation where that won’t work will have to go back and resubscribe to a different feed. I might lose a few people on this, but I hope not many.

In the long run, this will be the way to go I think. My big curiousity will be to see what the Bittorrent is like the first time I publish a regular podcast after the switch. I’m thinking I should get close to an order of magnitude more people downloading via BT, which should mean lots of simultaneous downloads and faster responses for everybody. Cool, no?

Podcasting from Mac OS X – A Recipe

Ingredients:
1 – Macintosh OS X computer
1 – Griffin iMic (for machines without a line-in input)
1 – Microphone
1 – Set of earphones or headphones
1 – copy each of the following pieces of software installed:
Audacity
Soundflower
Soundflowerbed
LineIn
Sound Source

Directions:

  1. Open Audacity. Using its preferences, set sound input source to Soundflower (2 ch).
  2. Use SoundSource (headphone icon in the menu bar) to set “Output” to Soundflower (2 ch). Set “System” to built-in audio if not already set there.
  3. Open LineIn and set it to input from your microphone source (Built-in audio if using internal microphone or a line-in, the USB sound source if using an iMic or USB microphone) and output to Soundflower (2 ch). If you make any changes, click the checkbox to disable and re-enable to make them effective.
  4. Open Soundflowerbed. Set the Soundflower 2 Ch monitor to “Built-in Audio.” At this point, you should be able to hear in your headphones the sound from the microphone.
  5. Open any media player programs you will be using – iTunes, Quicktime, etc. For any player program that was open before you began and for which you are not hearing output, close and restart it. Some programs (like Quicktime) only set their outputs at startup. iTunes, on the other hand, happily changes outputs while it is still running.
  6. Begin recording in Audacity. You should be able to see the waveforms of the recorded sound from your microphone, et al. Try playing sound from other sources. You should both see them recording in Audacity and hear them in your headphones.
  7. At this point, you are set up. Let your creativity be your guide. When done recording, always save your audio files before editing. Audacity is not crash free, and you don’t want to lose your copy of the original by editing before you save it (says the voice of experience.)
  8. Shutting down is not to order dependent. Be sure to use SoundSource to set sources back to their proper locations.

How to edit and do all that fun stuff is beyond the scope of this particular joint, but this should get y’all started.

These directions should be pretty close to on the money. As I was setting up my current podcast, I actually used this recipe to verify I had all the steps right and in the right order. LineIn is a step that can be tricky, because changes don’t take effect until the next time you enable with the check box. I have also been bit before by the fact that if you have Quicktime already open, it will never respect that you have directed the audio output to Soundflower. Until you restart it, it will continue going wherever it was.

If you use these and have any issues, let me know and I’ll publish errata. There is the caveat that this may not cover every possible configuration and I’ve never done it on the beefier Powerbooks which I think have more audio stuff. It works great on my iBook and I think it should work on nearly any OS X Macintosh.

Update: I forgot to cite Hugo Schotman as the pioneer of this class of Mac OS X audio setup. He’s the first guy who started doing really cool combinations of freeware off-the-shelf components to create a full system. Also note that this only takes you up to recording a file. There is editing, getting it to MP3 and then publishing an enclosure feed all necessary before you are actually podcasting. The former of pretty simple with Audacity and there are docs out there. The latter is highly dependent on your blogging tool and not something that can be addressed in a general way. I don’t want to give this impression that this is a be-all and end-all, because all this is just step one in a process.

Podcasting Vibe

From Podcasting Avenue:

What about this special Podcasting Vibe? Everybody involved is buzzing with energy and ideas. Deep irritation about futile mishaps has given way to endless goodwill (ALL crucial systems halt while ipodder starts downloading!!) and most are suddenly blessed with a thick skin and flexible ego (nobody gets mad at Dave Slusher, no matter how hard he tries).

Dude, I don’t understand it either. Actually, this was written before the Scalzi incident, so maybe this has since been discredited.

Rob Greenlee Responds

WebTalkRadio’s Rob Greenlee responds to me. I mostly agree with him and left him a comment on his blog about the couple points where I diverge from him. I probably did go too far in my previous post. Note to self – don’t post when you are pissed off by reading a bunch of backlash posts and delirious with a fever. I’m going to stand off the subject now, bow respectfully in his direction and wait impatiently for their next episode to magically show up in my iTunes.

They Only Jump When You Hit the Nerve

A combination of wise feedback from loyal readers and listeners of this blog combined with my inadvertent fever-induced vision quest and a good jolt of Robert Rodriguez has left me with a feeling of peace and clarity. I’m beginning to grok the podcasting pushback, and the more I understand it the less it bothers me. In fact I’m beginning to downright enjoy it. There will be no more time spent in my audioblogs talking about contrarians that bring me down, because they can no longer bring me down.

The prototype of knee-jerk-off pushback is this highly cited article by Dvorak (a JV version of the same sort of thing by Sean Gallagher is here.) So here’s the thing – when some pundit sort tells you “there is nothing to this podcasting” or “a lot of podcasters are boring” or the like, what are they saying? Are they saying “If you like them, you are dumb” or perhaps “Despite what we’ve been saying about how the internet enables communication amongst people, when you actually do communicate with each other we think it is silly” or the like? I now know of hundreds of people who have directly told me they like listening to this podcast by email or writeback and I am very far from the most listened to audioblog, by orders of magnitudes. Are you, Dvorak, calling all those people dumb for enjoying podcasts? If they were as smart as you, maybe they’d realize they should hate it. Actually, the best rebuttal I’ve seen, matching him snark for snark is this one by Joe Mullins, which concludes with this:

And now an open letter to every publication that carries Dvorak:

Dear people,

Please hire me instead of John Dvorak for your sham tech industry journalism needs. I promise that I can meet or exceed John’s high standards of apathetic sloth and sloppy half-researched ass-clownery. While it may be a challenge to weaken my understanding of technology to match his flaccid, tenuous grip on the industry, I will do my best with large amounts of alcohol and prescription pain killers. Thank you.

I now desperately want to get buttons made up with the words “sloppy half-researched ass-clownery”. Brilliant!

But, here’s where my peace comes in. The only reason people feel the need to pushback is because they think there is something signifcant to push. You don’t get anywhere taking on imaginary targets. All of these people talking the smack are doing it because they want to be controversial, enjoy being contrarian, live on the umbrage, thrive on the attention. They only jump when you hit the nerve, and they only poke sticks when they think they can make you jump. I’m trying my damnedest to supress my natural inclination towards rage at this stuff, and converting that to laughter. It’s really more fun that way.

While I’m on the subject, and to get a little towards Robert Rodriguez who has been on my mind a lot the last few days, I’d like to point out some big differences between those under the podcasting tent and those lobbing rocks at it. Rodriguez repeated the cliche in his “Ten Minute Flick School” that he heard from one of his art teachers in his cartoonist days – “Every artist has 500 bad drawings in them. The more you practice, the quicker you will work through them.” The podcasting tent is highly open membership – either as listeners or podcasters themselves, anyone that says “I want to be in your club” is in the club. This group is remarkably supportive of each other, remarkably ego-free (or at least ego-resistant), and constructive. They understand that anyone has a certain number of bad recordings in them. Rather than saying “Your ‘cast sucks and you should quit boring us”, they say “Your audio levels are too low and your theme music runs on too long” or “I think you need to tighten the focus of your premise” or other things that would allow one to get better. We encourage each other to do their own podcasts, and we acknowledge that the first ones will not be as good as later ones, as they work through the bad ones and get to the good ones.

Rodriguez exhorts his viewers and fans “If you love movies and want to make them then write a script you care about, grab a camcorder, convince your friends to act in it and go. Your first ones won’t be good, but every one will get better. And for god’s sake, enjoy yourself!” I’ve encouraged a number of listeners to start their own ‘casts, and tried to give them as much detailed, actionable feedback as I can. It’s not about poopooing the medium because you heard a bad podcast, it’s about cherishing the variety of voices. It’s not about slapping down amateurs who have the gall to think they have something to say, it’s about lifting up and enabling everyone to express their passions. When people give these broad, blanket criticisms of the platform you should read what they say very closely and try to discern their agenda. Why don’t they like citizen speech? Isn’t that why blogs are supposed to be good? Are they personally threatened when the people get a voice? Is it that hard to not subscribe to podcasts that you don’t like? This way lies enlightenment.

So, I’m not the boss of anyone, so take this with a grain of salt or even a whole salt lick. I’m suggesting that we go for the best possible rebuttal of the knee-jerk-offs, by producing good and joyful work full of our own passions and our own voices. Don’t get too hung up on point-counterpoint. As my buddy Coop loves to say “If you swim with the dirty fishes, you get dirty.” Ignore the naysayers, they’ll work themselves into irrelevance soon enough. If you would like to hear an example of podcasting effecting positive change in someone’s day, listen to this post. Fight the power, bring the noise, rock the vote, joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck.

Asking the Wrong Questions

Even though we have a fake feud going on (or at least we did, I think we’ve mutually dropped it for fear of a joke running on too long), I do like WebTalk Radio. It does seems like Rob Greenlee is torn and simultaneously understands why this new world of podcasting is exciting but is kind of bugged by it. That’s a natural enough reaction – he and Dana spent a long time and lots of effort (and I presume money) climbing over the gates of the media system, only to find that they were swung wide open after they are already through. I like the guy and I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he’s one of the guys in the “this isn’t really an innovation camp.” I’ve been talking against that outlook, and now I’m going to be as blunt as I can be about it.

In this article, Rob says a lot of things that make a lot of sense (including expressing admiration for the podcasts of Brother Curry and myself, which is always nice, and the admiration is mutual). Like I did the other day, he also credits the catchy term as giving the spark to this meme-driven brushfire. He also says this:

We are only seeing the very beginning of this time-shifting of audio movement. The truth is that most of this Podcasting news is new “old news” as many radio shows like WebTalk and KenRadio have been offering mp3 downloads for years.

The content pioneers of downloadable spoken word content are Audible.com and KenRadio.com as they have been offering content for many years.

Yes, as I’ve said 1.7 gazillion times, podcasting has no technical innovation whatsover. Trying to figure out why the old-timers in internet audio are not getting their props is asking the wrong question. The correct question is “What have all the old-timers been doing so wrong for so long that a couple-dozen dumbasses writing open source aggregators in their evening and weekends and recording amateur audioblogs have created an excitement in the space of two months that these companies with far greater stakes in the game and far more resources to devote to the problem have failed to do in years of work?”

The pioneers are missing the point if they are indignant about the situation. They should be trying to figure out how this motley group of enthused amateurs ate their lunch, and work very quickly about trying to come up with a new lunch. Rob is doing this, by podcasting their shows. The others he cites ought to be paying attention fast, or risk watching the landscape shift underneath them. This is all straight out of what Hugh MacLeod has been on a tear about lately.

Update: To make this clearer, despite the blunt wording above I don’t blame any of the old-timers for not having created podcasting or something like it previously. Like I’ve been saying, until recently it wasn’t “steam engine time” and now it is. However, appealing to seniority ain’t going to cut it . Despite the injustice of people newer to the party getting the attention, that’s the way it is. Time to learn the new dance steps,