Monday, 16 April 2007

I've listened to several recordings of myself over the past couple weeks, thanks to the fact that we've recently started producing RunAs Radio, a weekly tech podcast. As I mentioned on the launch date, I am co-host with Richard Campbell. It's fun so far. We have a couple more shows "in the can" that will run very soon where we'll speak with smart and knowledgeable people about technology topics that matter.

I have found - as do most people, I think - that I really dislike hearing my own recorded voice. Honestly, it drives me nuts. Both metaphorically and physically speaking, nothing sounds the same inside our own heads as it does to the outside world. So when we hear a recording of our own voices, we tend to cringe - especially when we realize that's what we really sound like.

But the interviewing is fun, and Richard is a great guy to work with, so I have been enjoying the process. Some people tell me they're wondering what equipment I ended up with for the project. I bought a few things last week to set myself up (I had been borrowing Scott Hanselman's stuff for the first show and some testing). So, here goes:

The microphone is a Samson C01U USB studio condenser mic, which plugs straight into the computer's USB port and is recognized by Windows without any additional drivers. There is some fancy software available for Windows XP that can be used to pre-mix and some other fancy stuff, but for my use on Vista, I just plugged in and went. And it works great. For about $80 you can't really beat the quality. It's a solid, good sounding mic.

The mic is suspended in an audio-technica AT8415 anti-shock mount, which is one of those nifty rings with a bunch of rubber bands that keeps the noise from bumps, vibrations and other environmental noise away from the microphone. It can make a huge difference. I scooped up the anti-shock mount for $19 at a local store - it was in a box barely used without a price, and they were happy to sell it. New they sell for much more.

The desk stand is a short, basic Atlas Sound model that sells for under $20 and stands about ten inches tall when it's collapsed. It has a heavy padded base.

Finally, I bought a pop filter, which for all intents and purposes is just a fancy ring with nylon material (a lot like pantyhose) stretched across it, plus an articulating gooseneck mount that you can clamp to the mic stand. You just position it between your mouth and the mic.  The pop filter helps to ensure your P's and T's and what-not don't result in loud popping sounds to the mic - It keeps the harshness and resulting rush of wind from those types of syllables to a minimum. I didn't buy the most expensive model, and we'll just have to see whether or not I should have.

The way we record the show is a little different than most podcasters probably used to. RunAs Radio, like other shows done by Pwop Productions, is a fully-produced show, meaning a human being actually goes through the recording tracks, lines them up, cleans them all up and produces the final cut of the show. Quality of the sound is important to the producers. For my part, my voice is actually recorded twice during the interviews: Once by Richard over the phone on a system he has set up there, and a second time locally and in a high-quality mode on my computer using the mic setup described above and some special audio recording software from Pwop. The Pwopcaster software lets me set the mic levels, test, record and then upload the audio files to the Pwop studio, and they take it from there. My uploaded voice track is synched up with the phone track of my voice from Richard's multi-track recording, the audio is cleaned up for noise and edited for sneezes and such, and there you have it - RunAs Radio.

Of course, it's not really that simple - post-production is the hard part. The fact of the matter is that the main thing that makes it possible for me to participate in this show on my schedule is the fact that I only have to do the easy part: Chatting with smart people about interesting tech topics. I've turned down several requests and opportunities to participate in podcasts in the past simply because I did not have the time to do it all by myself and do it well. With this opportunity as long as I suit up and show up, we're good to go. And that's something I can work to make time for.

Stay tuned for more editions of RunAs Radio - coming very soon!



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AudioBlogging | RunAs Radio | Tech
Monday, 16 April 2007 14:02:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 15 April 2007

Microsoft on Friday released a patch for Outlook 2007 that addressed a number of performance issues (described in KB933493). Complaints of sluggishness have been circulating since before the product was formally released, typically where large OST (offline folders used for synchronization) and PST (personal folders typically used for archiving) files are involved.

From Computerworld:

The 8.3 MB update should accelerate the download of messages from the Exchange e-mail server and reduce temporary freezes resulting from deleting messages or copying them from one folder to another, according to Jessica Arnold, Outlook’s program manager.

The update should also let Outlook 2007 users switch between messages faster and enable faster program startup, she said.

I've installed it and will see how things go. Right off the bat Outlook started up faster, so that's encouraging.



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Tech
Sunday, 15 April 2007 07:38:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 13 April 2007

I used to be a Netflix user. In fact I was subscribed for well over a year, but after the first few months I never built the queue back up and I just didn't care to use the service. I found myself constantly forgetting about it. Movies sat around the house after being watched. My monthly fees were going nowhere. Then an opportunity came along to sign up for Blockbuster's online service, and I took it - and promptly canceled my Netflix account. As it turned out, Blockbuster not only offered three movies at a time for a competitive price, but I would also be able to get free rentals in the local store by using monthly online coupons that I'd just load in my browser from the web site and print out at home. That sounded pretty cool to me.

Fast forward about a year, and Blockbuster enhanced their online rental service to allow you to return movies to the local store - they call it Total Access. On top of that, when you return your movie in its mailer to the store instead of dropping it in a mailbox, you get to exchange it for a free store rental of your choice. Now that's a great deal. In the end, it means I can sit at home and set up my rental queue, and rent online, and when I drop them at the store I can get three more movies to watch while I wait for the next set of movies to ship in the mail from my queue. And I still get the two free rental coupons (which can be used for movies or video games) each month. It's pretty awesome. We are watching a lot more movies as a result, and we're also watching more movies that fall into the "interesting" category, too.

I have only one wish-list item for Blockbuster to improve its service, and this is a big one in my book: Right now, if I put movies in my online queue to have mailed to me, there is no intelligent connection between what I rent in the store and what sits in the queue. So, if I put Children of Men in the online queue and I also rent it in the store because I find it on the shelf while I am in there, currently there is no way for the online service to "know" I have already rented it. What Blockbuster needs to do (in my humble opinion) is to compare what I rent in the store to the list of movies in my online queue. If I pick up a movie in person, they should prompt me to remove it from my queue, or allow me in my account settings to have that film automatically removed. More than once I have picked up a movie at the store only to have it shipped the next day or so from the mailing service. In those cases I have just taken the duplicate mail copy and exchanged it for an in-store rental, so no real harm or anything, but I would sure like to have some inventory and queue connection happening with my account.

I highly recommend Blockbuster Total Access. They ship fast, the selection is good, and I am really enjoying the in-store integration.



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Friday, 13 April 2007 14:09:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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One of my favorite people in the whole world, Scott Hanselman, has launched a campaign to raise donation funds for Team Hanselman's goal of $50,000 in this year's Step Out to Fight Diabetes fund raising walk.

Last year, Scott's team raised around $12,000 on a goal of $10,000. This year Scott's pushed way ahead and has more than quadrupled that amount for the team's current goal. You can help! Go to:

    http://www.hanselman.com/fightdiabetes/donate 

... and provide your assistance there. Here is what Scott has to say on his blog about the walk and the goal:

This year Team Hanselman, led by myself and my wife, Mo, who had this whole idea, will be walking to fight diabetes on Oct 20h, 2007. We have set a goal of raising US$50,000. Crazy, huh?

If only 2500 of you, dear readers, gave US$20 to this cause, we've met our Team Goal. If only 1000 give US$50, well, you get the idea. If you can't donate, that's OK. Post about this on your blog, spread the URL http://www.hanselman.com/fightdiabetes or put some of our Diabetes "Flair" on your site!

Last year this time, there were over 5000 people subscribing to this blog (for the technical content, I assume) - this year there are over 14,000.

Let's see what we can do to add to the pot. There are more than 14,000 daily viewers of this web site, as well - so if there is anything you can do to help, even just a couple bucks, please consider making a donation!

Read more about the walk, Scott's own motivation and battle with diabetes, and get all the details at Scott's site.



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Helping Others | Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Friday, 13 April 2007 09:16:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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A few weeks ago I had to fly with a coworker down to Santa Barbara. It was a last-minute trip. Of course, if you absolutely have to fly somewhere for work at the drop of a hat in March, Santa Barbara's a pretty darn nice destination. Good weather, good food, interesting people. We spent almost all of our time there indoors, but we did get an evening outside to enjoy the nice weather and check out the town.

Anyhow, this particular story actually starts right about the time we arrived at the airport for our return flight back to Portland. My co-worker Matt and I finished up our work and dropped off our rental car. We headed for the terminal at the last minute. In the process, Matt found out first-hand why one shouldn't pack liquids in carry-on bags (heh).

Immediately we were faced with a departure delay. Now, I'm not sure what the rest of the world's experience is with SkyWest Airlines (a regional commuter airline that operates and flies the smaller aircraft fleet for the "bigs," in this case United Express), but my consistent experience over the past year is that they do a pretty poor job of being on time and they generally come across as semi-pro. They're just a bit too casual. By contrast, other regional carriers for United Express have always been quite professional and timely. Your mileage may vary, I suppose.

Anyhow, eventually the aircraft showed up from it's previous leg. When it came time to board the airplane, an E120 turboprop, we waited in line as instructed, like impatient school kids waiting with eager anticipation five minutes into a fifteen-minute recess to be told they can run onto the play field, staring out at our aircraft. Our anticipation was interrupted a few minutes later as we were ushered back indoors and directed to take a seat again. "They have to reboot or reset something or another with the airplane, but they didn't tell me what it was," the gate agent informed us. "We'll let you know when it's time to go." Breeds confidence. Nice.

No less than two minutes later they got us back up, hurried us back into line (by now it really did feel like first grade), rushed us to the airplane like a herd of cattle. I looked at my watch. We were nearly an hour behind schedule by now, and it was very unlikely we'd make our connecting flight in San Jose.

Fast forward about 45 minutes to our landing in San Jose and sure enough, we hit the ground five minutes after our connection had already left for Portland. Nice. We headed over to Alaska Airline's service desk (because that's who had the ticket for the flight we'd just missed) and the agent there quickly told us that she would not be able to help us find a flight, that we had to go down to United. There's probably some rule or something that says who has to deal with the ticketing that I am not aware of, but I can tell you that it seemed as if she really just didn't want to be bothered (although the lady standing next to her was quite nice) and was brushing us off without any real concern to the next counter, but what the heck. I'm a frequent flyer with United and have what they call "elite status" with them (I easily broke the 100,000 mile mark last year), so we marched with our bags in tow down to the United ticket desk.

That's where things changed. As it turned out, there were no more flights that night from San Jose to Portland (save an Alaska flight later that night, and I was not about to go back there). But the United desk agents jumped right in and saved the day. They hired a town car (on their dime) to drive Matt and me to the San Francisco International airport (a 40-minute drive) and got us on a flight to Portland that evening. Even better, we ended up in first class and got home the same day (it was late, but at least is was not a day later).

The fact is that traveling for work is not the super-fun thing that people who don't travel sometimes assume it is. More often than not I get to see airports, the insides of office buildings, hotel rooms and lobbies, and the scenic drives through often industrial areas from the airport to the hotel and back. Several months back I started to make a point of scheduling some extra time at my own expense in places where I know I would regret not seeing the sights and taking some time for myself (and Lord knows if I didn't take vacation time that way I would pretty much never get any).

But it's nice that all that flying means I can count on United to be there when things get tough. They may not have the most comfortable seats on their aircraft (Alaska's got them on that one for sure), but the people are consistently great and believe it or not they almost always get me there and back on time, even with all my flights that go through Chicago, which is pretty good in this day and age. So -- Thanks, United.

Do you have a favorite airline? If so, why?



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Friday, 13 April 2007 08:24:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Exactly forty years ago my mom and dad brought me into this world. As I recall (from their stories, not from personal memory), my dad went to park the car and by the time he got to the delivery room I was already in preschool (not really, but it was a very fast delivery and dad actually got there real quick). I'm told that when they handed me to my mom, I peed in her face, and the rest is history. What a great way to kick things off, eh?

It's been quite an interesting journey so far, with lots of life lessons, trials, tribulations, successes, fun and great experiences. I am blessed by the many terrific people, friends and family members who are and have been a part of my life - and for that I am truly grateful. Thanks everyone. I only hope I can give as much back.

I suppose it's just about time for a mid-life crisis, so... I think I will sell my motorcycle. How's that for backwards? And the spur of the moment trip I made this past weekend to Las Vegas with my good friend (and with less than an hour's notice)... Well, lets just try for a bit more of that kind of fun.

Mostly it's just another day, and it's always nice to keep adding those on - one at a time. I don't plan to do anything particularly special, other than to maybe getting outside and enjoying the day for a while and hanging around people I work with and a couple friends.

Maybe I should shave my head or get (another) tattoo or something?

Or maybe not. Heh.

Here's to another forty, if I'm lucky enough.



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Tuesday, 10 April 2007 23:09:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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