Slowly But Surely

After the craziness of work, home, and idiotic escapades such as the podcast in recent days, I’m finally slowing down. There had been plans to visit a hobby store with Miss 19 this morning – which went out of the window when she didn’t emerge until a little before lunchtime. There had also been plans for Miss 16 to take part in a hockey match this afternoon – an email arrived moments ago informing us that the pitch is frozen.

Suddenly the afternoon has opened up before us, and we are relaxing into it with no plans whatsoever. A few hours of terrible television shows, internet surfing, and reading are probably just what the doctor ordered.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have all sorts of very important nothing to get on with.


Talking to Laura about Tumblr, WordPress, Snapchat, and more

The first official episode of the podcast is out in the wild. I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a journey, and that the journey isn’t over yet. I’m still learning, there’s still a lot to learn, and mistakes have been made along the way. It’s been fun so far though. I think.

We sat down to record mid-morning on Saturday, while the rest of the house were out and about doing other things. Half the reason for pushing something out so quickly was the news that Spotify has approved the podcast – yes, that’s right – from now on you will be able to find the podcast on Spotify, all over the world. It’s a day late with each episode, but still – IT’S SPOTIFY!

Laura has been desperate to do something involved with podcasting for a while, but anxiety, nerves, and plain old fear have so far prevented her from doing anything. I offered to talk to her about her attempts at blogging, and before we knew it we were sitting in the study with microphones hanging in the air in front of us – or at least I was. I rigged up a USB microphone in a hurry for her, tested the sound levels, and we were off to the races.

Learning how to record has been a vertical learning process for me. I’m getting better at it every time, but ending up with a recording that’s easy to listen to hasn’t been as straightforward as you might imagine. Today taught me that the USB microphone cannot be held – but by the time I realised you could hear Laura’s panicked grip on the microphone, it was too late to do anything about it (other than record the whole thing again). We just went with it.

I’m also learning how to use a “DAW” – a “Digital Audio Workstation”. It’s the software that allows me to edit the recorded sound – chopping out pregnant pauses, removing background noises, and adding introductions and background music. Luckily I haven’t had to spend any money on software yet – everything used was available for free.

The audio hosting at Soundcloud has been free so far. I can upload a certain amount per month for free (three hours, I think), but beyond that I will have to start paying. Somehow I can’t see myself becoming prolific enough to warrant a paid account, but you never know. Thirty minutes per episode seems like enough.

Anyway. Onwards and upwards. I suppose I should really get back to blogging about real life now, and stop ramming the podcast down everybody’s throat. I need to go make dinner, so I’ll leave you to have a listen. If you would like to feature on a future episode, get in touch via the contact [/contact] page!.


Waiting for Spotify

There’s an old saying that warns about putting the cart before the horse. It sounds like just the sort of saying I might completely ignore – in fact I have completely ignored it.

While listening to a podcast a few days ago, the host mentioned that Spotify had overtaken iTunes in terms of number of podcasts served out over the internet each month. I’m not quite sure where the metrics have come from, but I’m inclined to believe the story. Apple has a horrendous track-record when it comes to anything except building hardware and operating systems – all of their software and services outside of those has historically been utter garbage.

For years iTunes was the only game in town when it came to attracting traffic to a podcast – mostly because all other routes required a degree of technical knowledge, or dogged persistence. I remember back when I worked in London, I would download podcasts with a Linux application called “GPodder”, and then sync them to a Palm organiser to listen to while commuting – this was a couple of years before the iPhone arrived, and changed everything.

Until very recently, if you wanted to listen to a podcast, you would have to scratch around in the darker corners of the internet to find them – or go directly to the source of each podcast, and feed the URL into a piece of software specially designed to collate the downloaded files for you.

Notice I wrote “until recently”. In true “forces of Sauron” fashion, Spotify recently realised that the whole podcast escapade might be worth bothering with after all, and turned their gaze towards it. In the space of perhaps six months, they went from nowhere, to the primary means of finding podcasts on the internet.

Guess who’s podcast – which currently has one episode published – is waiting to be approved by Spotify ? Go on – just guess. To be honest, I started filling the submission form in at lunchtime more out of curiousity than anything, but then realised the enormity of it all while the mouse pointer hovered over the submit button.

While the first episode might have been rather pedestrian, and more of a “shake down” than anything, knowing that the podcast is listed and available for discovery to hundreds of millions of people around the world concentrates the mind somewhat. I need to start posting really great content, really rather quickly.

It will surprise nobody that knows me to discover that I am feverishly scribbling down a list of all the bloggers I vaguely know, and working my way through them – inviting them to take part in the podcast – to talk about how they got started, what they write about, when they post, who they are inspired by, and if there are any stories they might like to share about their experiences posting their inner thoughts too the unwashed masses of the internet.

It’s going to fun – and terrifying – but mostly fun. I think. Maybe. Just hang on a minute while I go and check the status of that Spotify podcast submission…


Small Moves

I chatted briefly with an old friend on the internet today about the various machinations involved in bringing a podcast to life. Just as I started firing questions at him, he reminded me that content counts for far more than sound quality, editing, post-processing, or anything else. He should know – he works for the BBC, and records one of the best podcasts I know.

Before saying goodbye, I arm twisted him into recording a chat with me for my podcast at some point. Ok – maybe not arm twisting as such – more “can I record a chat with you?”, “of course!”. It’s worth noting that he writes a very lovely blog, and has done so for almost as long as me.

After taking on board that it’s all about content, and not about equipment, or software, I ordered a new microphone for myself – to help with the content, honest. I’m pretty sure having a shiny new microphone will help enormously with content (stop laughing). Seriously though – the new microphone and it’s stand will make me look almost professional – or at least as professional as you can look with the cheapest podcasting kit available via next-day delivery from Amazon.

This whole podcast escapade has turned into a snowball rolling down a snowy mountainside, hasn’t it. I need to stop writing about it and just get on with doing it. As an aside, I found out why the sound was so awful on the first episode, and have hopefully corrected it for the next one.


In other news, I watched the first episode of “The Witcher” earlier – while everybody else was out. Am I the only person in the world that couldn’t make head or tail of the story? I asked my other half – who has binge watched the entire series – and she said it took her several episodes to sort out the various inter-leaved stories too. I don’t quite know why Netflix threw money at “The Witcher” anyway – they should have carried on making “The OA”.


Podcasting Rabbit Holes

After taking our middle daughter out for her sixteenth birthday last night, we got home at about 10pm, and three hours later I somehow found myself in the depths of quite possibly the deepest rabbit hole yet.

I started tinkering with the software needed to record a podcast – to have some control over the sound coming into the computer, and how it is recorded. After an hour of head-scratching, I’ve come to realise just how skilled sound engineers are – or rather, the mindset they have that I lack.

Armed with a good friend on the other side of the world, we jumped down the sound recording rabbit hole together – and somehow succeeded in recording both sides of a Skype Conversation with no feedback, and no background noise. Given that I was sitting in the UK in the early hours of the morning, and she was sitting in Melbourne Australia, several hours ahead of me, the resulting recording was somewhat miraculous.

I supppose in some ways the process of discovery was controlled by a lack of funds, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of talent. Rather than having any sort of plan, I tried to solve problems as they occurred – usually resulting in one or the other of us realising that either we couldn’t hear the other person, or they couldn’t hear us for the last several moments. That happened several times.

Perhaps the most amusing problem to solve was the microphone stand itself. Rather than sit there like a lemon holding the SingStar microphone I had acquired from the children, I found an old desk lamp and tried to jam the microphone into the wires above the light fitting – which worked to an extent, but also perfectly translated every vibration of the desk straight to the microphone – a sound not unlike somebody hitting a telegraph wire at a distance with a wooden bat (don’t ask me why I know what that sounds like). Rather than put an order in with Amazon to acquire a cats-cradle style microphone holder, I wrapped my trusty SingStar microphone in a duster, and jammed it back into the desk lamp arm. It worked. Almost perfectly.

At least I now know why the cats-cradle microphone holders exist.

Finding my way through the software maze took longer than I’m willing to admit. I have ended up using a piece of software called “Potato” (no, really) to capture the various sound sources, and record them to MP3. I am then using another piece of software called Cakewalk to edit the recorded conversation, and to mix it together with background music for a lead-in, and lead-out. I haven’t actually done that bit yet (because I have no conversation to do it with), but at least I know HOW to do it.

The end result of all this idiocy is that I might conservatively claim to be ready to begin recording podcast content. As soon as I’ve written a few notes to guide the first episodes along, I’ll give some friends a call, and see how they feel about spending an hour chatting with me.

This whole podcast escapade is starting to feel a little more real, and I can’t quite decide if I’m excited or scared. An old friend emailed me, and asked how I thought people might react to my accent (I sound very, very English) – I’m guessing we’ll find out soon.


Magic the Gathering

Our middle daughter is 16 years old tomorrow. I still think of her as the unsure little girl clinging to my leg at infant school – I probably always will. There is a small bundle of wrapped presents waiting for her in the living room – among them a card game we have been looking at for as long as I can remember.

Have you ever heard of “Magic the Gathering” ?

I’ve heard other people talk about it in guarded tones – some sort of dangerous secret from their youth. They exchange knowing looks, and protect their secret.

So yes – we have a smartly wrapped box in the middle of the living room containing this dangerously addictive underground card game, along with a number of other bits and pieces that befit a 16th birthday. Of course this is our middle daughter – so the presents are themed towards rugby, music, cooking, and board games – rather than the makeup, clothes, and mobile phones obsessed over by so many of her peers.

I’ve heard a rumor that a new Warhammer army may be arriving too.


Stranger Things at Secret Cinema

It’s rare that I’m lost for words, but even two hours after a long journey home, I’m still trying to decompress, and absorb the events of the evening. It’s all a bit difficult to explain too – because, you see, this evening I returned to 1985. Not the 1985 I remember either – I returned to 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana – the setting for the TV show “Stranger Things”.

My eldest daughter and I were bought tickets for Christmas – to visit the “Starcourt Mall” at a secret location in London on the 12th January. Although we instantly knew where the name of the location came from, the rest remained a mystery over the intervening days – only knowing that we would have to dress in period clothes.

I’m trying really hard not to break any confidences, expose any secrets, or ruin surprises for anybody that might stumble upon this post in the coming days – while the Starcourt Mall is still open for business.

Imagine walking through a door into 1985, and into the world of a beloved television series. Imagine cutting yourself off from the world you have always known, and diving headlong into perhaps the most confounding shared experience you might ever try to describe – shaking your head as events unfold around you, and only realising after leaving that from the moment you walked in you were on the stage – that you were a part of it.

You pick it apart afterwards, you try to deconstruct the experience with those that shared the secret with you, and you smile. The most interesting thing? You have no photographic proof – only memories, and stories.

For several hours this evening, the Hawkins of 1985 came to life, drew us in, erased the lines between fiction and reality, and left us stunned, and struggling to decompress for some time afterwards.

Secret Cinema is a wonderful, wonderful thing.


An Opportunity to Tell Your Story

Following a chance conversation with a distant friend this evening, I’ve been turning an idea over and over in my head. I have no idea how I might go about proceeding with it, but that’s perhaps half the fun of it.

This friend – who lives on the other side of the world – made a comment that her latest online endeavor had not attracted as much interest as she hoped. Alongside her day job working in a hotel, she does modelling shoots at weekends – quite often Alberto Vargas inspired photography using old cars as props at vintage automotive events. Here’s the thing – there is much more to her than a wicked grin, and a slender leg splitting a 1940s skirt – she has a story to tell – one that few would suspect unless they gave her the time to tell it.

I’m wondering about doing just that – giving her the chance to tell her story. Perhaps not just her though.

Everybody has interesting stories to tell. We might think our own stories mundane, inconsequential, boring – but they explain who we are, and how we came to be here. We are all interesting in our own way.

I’m thinking about starting a podcast.

I hesitate to call it a podcast – rather a collection of conversations with friends – people I have crossed paths with on the internet. From the glass artist in Oregon, to the dance teacher in Newfoundland, the aspiring model in Kansas, the hockey-mom in Ontario, the warehouse manager in New York – the list is endless, and so are their stories. Interesting stories. Stories of happiness, sadness, victory, loss, stress, anxiety, loneliness, serendipity… so many stories that few of us know anything about.

What do you think? And perhaps more importantly, when are you available ?


Memories of Mix Tapes

After a few days bumping along the bottom of the blogging barrel, I have arrived at the weekend armed with a glass of red wine, a new blog, and no idea what my fingers might write next. Once you realise my fingers are almost entirely responsible for the content I publish to the internet, with little or no involvement from my brain, a lot of things start to make sense.

Tears for Fears just burst through the computer speakers with “Everybody Want’s to Rule the World” – courtesy of an 80s playlist from Spotify. I’m becoming increasingly lazy when it comes to music – happy to leave a playlist running in the background for hour upon hour. In my teens and early twenties music meant more somehow – the contents of a mix tape was a window to your soul. When somebody shared a tape with you, you knew they had spent hours compiling it – carefully editing and curating – scrawling the artists and track names into the paper cover with care.

My children must be sick of Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Duran Duran, ABC, Go West, Roxy Music, The Eurythmics, and the countless other artists of decades past I gravitate towards if left unsupervised. It probably doesn’t help that I look down my nose at Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, and Lewis Capaldi with such aloof derision (mostly designed to annoy my children – one of the few vices I can indulge in while washing up to the strains of yet another sentimental whinge-fest by Mr Sheeran).

I remember making a mix tape for somebody I worked with many years ago, and trying to hide a message within the selection of songs. I was secretly moritifed when I learned she had no interest in listening to anything outside of the “top 40”, and had completely ignored three quarters of the tracks I so carefully compiled.

Journey have just begun singing “Don’t Stop Believing” – forever etched in my memory as the theme song to that movie where the impossibly pretty serving staff dance on a drink sodden bar without breaking their ankles *. Of course there are other memories of concert footage from YouTube, involving skin tight denim, massive hair, and Steve “The Voice” Perry belting the song out to an adoring audience of similarly stretch-denim clad massive hair fans.

My other half and eldest daughter have just returned from an induction at the local gymnasium. Apparently tonight they went on the walking machines and cross-trainers – doing “cardio”. I guess that means the end of my partner-in-running-crime. Doing the “Couch to 5K” before Christmas reminded me how much I like running. It’s a shame the weather doesn’t feel the same way – it’s been raining pretty consistently since late August last year. Doing anything outside seems to involve coats, waterproofs, hats, and changes of clothes – which in turn causes the biggest clothes washing mountain in the known universe.

Anyway. I’ve probably rambled on quite long enough. The glass of red wine is now empty, and acquiring another will no doubt involve a walk (in the rain) to the corner shop. I swear the man behind the counter thinks I live on a mixture of bread, washing up liquid, cheap wine, and chocolate.

  • A wonderful friend just informed me that my memory is broken! The lead actress in Coyote Ugly sings “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” – not “Can’t Fight That Feeling”. Please excuse me while I have wonder what else I can’t remember!