Podcasting Equipment For Beginners

As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first.1 But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.

What kind of podcast?

Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?

Where will you record it?

At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?

Who will you record it with?

Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?

How will you record it with them?

If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?

How much is your budget?

You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.

How long do you think you’ll be doing this?

Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?

Starting small

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Easier iPhone 6 Battery Replacement

iPhone 6

You might remember from earlier this year a so-called scandal over Apple throttling CPUs to save battery life in certain models of iPhones, particularly the iPhone 6, leading to a battery replacement program. What you might not know is that there’s a better way to get an iPhone 6 battery replacement than standing in a store.

While claims of nefarious intent are somewhat overblown,1 Apple did agree to replace batteries at a steep discount until the end of 2018. The price before the deal was $79, but for now it’s $29. (After January 1, it’s only going up to $49, which is better than before.)

Unfortunately, everyone forgot until the last minute and Apple Stores, which are always jammed before Christmas, are even more jammed with people looking for appointments to replace their batteries. (Also keep in mind that only Apple is officially doing repairs. You may see other places offering battery replacement deals, but these aren’t part of the official plan and may charge you more.)

Last weekend, during some clean up I found that I still had an iPhone 6 that I’d forgotten about. I recall now that we’d been using it as a glorified iPod for use in the car, but—you guessed it—the battery life was a problem and we’d forgotten about it. So now, I was faced with the question of whether to bother braving the crowds to get in the deal before the end of the year.

But I found that it wasn’t necessary. Apple has a mail-in program for the replacement. I went on their website and filled out a form, they sent me a box and packing materials and instructions overnight to my house, I packed up the phone, and I dropped it off at a Fedex dropbox the same day, and the phone got to Apple’s repair depot the next day. That’s pretty fast!

Now, I don’t know how long it will take to get the phone back. I’m expecting it to take a few days, but that doesn’t bother me as this isn’t my primary phone. But it sure beats going to a mall and fighting the crowds while racing the end of the year clock to get my iPhone 6 battery replacement.

Update: I got the iPhone back in just three business days (dropped at Fedex on Thursday, December 13, and received it back on Tuesday morning, December 18). That’s pretty fast! And it’s good as new.

  1. At worst, Apple was guilty of a failure of transparency. Fevered claims of planned obsolescence and manipulation don’t match the facts. All phone manufacturers use forms of throttling to stretch battery life. But Apple should have acknowledged that the iPhone 6 battery did not live up to their expectations for its service life and should have told users that they would experience throttling effects unless they replaced their batteries. And they should have allowed people to turn off the worst throttling if they needed better performance in the short term versus battery life.

My Backup Strategy in 2018

It’s been six years since I wrote about my strategy for safeguarding my irreplaceable data with good backups, and I think I’m due for an update.

In the main, much of what I wrote hasn’t changed much. I still do multiple backups, onsite and offsite, to ensure that my data always exists in at least three places, but some of the details have changed. Some of that is because of the introduction of new cloud services and some because my own situation has changed.

I still run a Time Machine backup of my primary computer, which is now an iMac. I also do daily clones of this computer to an external hard drive, although I do not daily do two daily clones1. Because I work from home, there’s no offsite location for the second clone to reside. I do a weekly backup of the second hard drive in my MacBook Pro2, but because I keep all my important data in Dropbox, that all gets backed up when I back up my iMac. Likewise, I still do a Backblaze offsite backup of all my data from my iMac.

Additions to my backup scheme include iCloud Photo Library and iCloud backups for my iPhone and iPad. I pay for the iCloud 2TB storage tier, which may be a bit of overkill, but I’m also backing up Melanie’s iPhone and my Mom’s iPhone and some hand-me-down iPads that the kids use and that puts us over the 200GB of the next lowest plan.3 The iCloud Photo Library ensures that my photos are not only backed up from my iMac (where I have set the preference to “Download Originals to this Mac”) on my clones and to Backblaze, but also in Apple’s cloud.4
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Why the SmugMug Flickr cap is bad for the whole Net

When SmugMug bought Flickr from Yahoo earlier this year, many people suspected another shoe was going to drop and now it has: Smug Mug is dropping Flickr’s free tier from 1TB of storage to just 1,000 photos. In addition to being an inconvenience for active users, it has larger implications.

For instance, Melanie​ has long used Flickr to embed photos in her blog posts rather than take up our own previous server space. But once Flickr starts actively killing off any older photos above her 1,000 limit, those embedded photo links will all break. So will we have to start paying $50/year as another expense to keep her blog going?

But there are even wider implications for the web. One of the largest sources of Creative Commons photos online has been Flickr, but many, many of those photos are sitting on old accounts. The internet community is about to lose access to a lot of visual content. Many of the photos you see on Wikipedia, for example, are Flickr photos. The same with many of those public domain stock photos.

Another example is the Archdiocese of Boston’s Flickr page. George Martell and I set that up back in 2009 and it has over 31,000 photos. It is a valuable historical record of the past decade of the Church in Boston. In fact, there are many Catholic sites that rely on Church’s Creative Commons-licensed photos, like Aleteia. They’re going to lose this and I don’t think the folks who are running it at the Archdiocese of Boston now realize what’s about to happen to it.

It’s a shame when invaluable internet resources like this are so dependent on one commercial entity and doubly a shame when they shut down or radically pare back. This is going to be bad for the internet for sure.

My Solar Power Odyssey with Tesla and National Grid

You’d think in this time of “green” everything and climate change, in a state where liberal do-gooders hate oil and coal and love solar, that it would be easier to go solar. Last September, I wrote about our solar power struggles to that point, but little did I know that our struggles were only just beginning.

To recap: In February 2017, I responded to a Google promotion that connected me with several different solar providers who provided some initial information. I selected Vivint, but we hit a snag and so I turned to Solar City (which has since become Tesla). That was in June, 2017. We had some back and forth over the summer getting the system designed and paperwork completed and by September, we had a signed agreement.

But then we hit a snag. National Grid wanted us to pay to upgrade the local transformer for more capacity. Since the Tesla business model is to lease the panels to me at a fixed rate and then sell excess electrical power back to the utility to offset nighttime draw from them, the local transformer has to be able to accommodate more power than usual. And because there were already several solar installations in my neighborhood, my installation would put it over the top. So National Grid wanted $3,500 for the new transformer. From my point of view, the new transformer benefits National Grid (upgrading their infrastructure) and Tesla (so they and other solar companies can sell more installs in my neighborhood), so why should I be expected to subsidize multi-million and billion dollar corporations? So I told Tesla that they had to pay for it and if they didn’t, I was walking away.

Tesla agreed without much hesitation, but then National Grid said it would take 12-28 weeks to get it done. Care to guess how long it took? Yes, six months. Which seems to be par for the course as in everything having to do with the utility took the long end of the estimate or more. (You can see my previous blog post on this situation here.)

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The New Censorship

Bill of Rights

I find the mass banning of Alex Jones of Infowars from nearly every online media platform to be chilling. Sure, the case can be made that InfoWars is the source of a lot of crap online, conspiracy theories and lowest common denominator misinformation that contributes to our dark times. That’s what makes it so easy to overlook the seriousness of the current situation.

This past Monday, Apple, Facebook, Google’s YouTube, and even LinkedIn all banned Jones’ InfoWars from their platforms. Twitter is expected to follow suit. This effectively muzzles Jones, preventing his video podcast from reaching the mass audiences he’d been reaching before. Sure, he still has his web site—for now—but without YouTube, he’ll have to put together a complex and expensive streaming video solution to replace it.

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How I Work in 2018

It’s been three years since I first did a “How I Work” blog post (at the prompting of Tom McDonald) and since then I moved to a different full-time job and then to another (current) full-time job, where what I do is now almost completely different. And where I work has now shifted to my home office. So, I thought it would be fun to do an update of that post now. Some of the details have not changed, but I will share those that have.

Location:

South of Boston, still, but in a different town. I work from home in a room we’ve set aside as the office, but which is also our primary library and the TV room, so occasionally, usually when the weather’s too bad outside or the kids are sick, I have to vacate and work from another room in order to let the kids watch a video.

Current Gig:

I am now the CEO of the StarQuest Production Network (SQPN), a podcast network whose show explore the intersection of faith and pop culture. I first became connected to SQPN as a listener more than 10 years ago when I started listening to Fr. Roderick Vonhogen’s podcasts and then to other shows on the network after it was formed about 2006. In 2010 and again in 2013, I helped organize SQPN’s Catholic New Media Conference when it was in Boston. Around the time of the second CNMC Boston, Fr. Roderick asked me to co-host the Secrets of Star Wars podcast with him. Later, I also joined the Secrets of Doctor Who in 2014. I became a part-time executive director in 2015 and then as of January 1, 2018, Fr. Roderick stepped down as CEO and I took over, first as part-time, and then on May 1, I took on the job full-time.
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Don’t Delete Facebook

Actually, delete Facebook if it will make you feel better, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter at this point and it won’t do any good.1 Here’s the backstory: A big news story broke this week about a British company, Cambridge Analytica, that used data harvested from a Facebook quiz by an academic researcher to compile profiles on millions of people that it then (maybe) used to target political ads. And because those ads may have been for Trump, everyone lost their minds and said they needed to save themselves from Facebook.

The fact is that you’re closing the barn door after the horse is gone, but you can take control of some of what Facebook knows and shares about you.

I say the horse is out of the barn because this harvesting of Facebook data for political purposes is old news. In 2012, the Obama campaign was openly bragging about the Facebook data it collected on the young users of its app. It’s the same data that Cambridge Analytica was seeing. And keep in mind that the data that Obama got six years ago is still very useful and has probably been dispersed into a bunch of successor organizations. They’re also been collecting all this data for however long you’ve been signed up and they don’t delete it when you quit. They’re also not the only one. This kind of Big Data harvesting is happening every day through Google’s ad networks and Amazon’s sales records and your music playlists and your brick-and-mortar purchases. This is the reality of the world we live in. So deleting your Facebook profile is just one drop in the bucket.

However, as I said, you can take back some control. For Facebook, you can limit what data it shares. For one thing, stop using your Facebook or Google profile to create logins on other sites. It is so tempting to do so because it makes life easier not to have to manage more passwords. For that I say, get a password manager.2 But you should know that if you do use your Facebook or Google profiles (it’s often OAuth or Open Authorization login), you are giving both Facebook and the site you’re signing into access to more data about yourself. In fact, that other site can pull in all kinds of data from your FB profile like your friends, your likes and dislikes, contact info, birthdays and more. This is all Big Data gold.

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Solar Power is in Reach, But the Old Dinosaur Still Stands in the Way

Men installing solar panels on a roof

We finally have an installation date for our solar panels from Solar City/Tesla. As you may recall, we started this odyssey at the beginning of last summer (2017) and signed the paperwork in July. But our local electrical provider, National Grid, had told us that we couldn’t put them on their grid because their local connection equipment wasn’t up to snuff.1 They said that an upgrade would take 16 to 20 weeks!

So nearly six months after that, the upgrade has been done and now our solar panels are scheduled for installation in mid-March. But that doesn’t mean they will be running by then, because after the installation we have to wait for National Grid to inspect them to make sure they are connected to their grid properly. The current wait time is running 10 to 11 weeks. When all is said and done, we’ll have waited almost a year to get up and running on solar, nearly all of that time due to National Grid’s foot-dragging. And because they’ve dragged their feet, they will have sucked an extra $3,600 out of us.

Of course, the electric utilities don’t like everyone going solar because not only do they lose the money for the electricity they were selling us, they also have to buy back any excess electricity we generate. But it didn’t have to be this way.

In fact, they could have avoided all of this if they had been a forward-looking innovator instead of a backward, too conservative monopoly more interested in the status quo. Imagine if the electric utilities themselves had gotten into solar leasing instead of letting companies like Solar City and Vivint take over. National Grid already owns all the infrastructure and has relationships with all of its customers. They could show up one day and say, “Hey, let us put solar panels on your roof and cut your bill in half. It won’t cost you a dime.” Sure, on the one hand, they get half of what they were getting. On the other hand, half is better than none. Even better, they don’t have to buy back the extra electricity: It’s already theirs. And they can then sell that electricity to other customers, having created more capacity in the grid without having to build expensive plants or buying from a regional cooperative.

But old, comfortable companies, especially those with monopolies, don’t think like this. No cable company could have invented Netflix. No bookstore chain could have invented Amazon. No record label could have invented iTunes.

So now, I’m left waiting to get my solar panels up and running as National Grid runs out the clock on their monopoly, squeezing every possible cent out of the system. And no one will mourn them when they are gone someday.

  1. We’d actually tried connecting with a different solar company before Solar City, but National Grid said their local transformer that serves our neighborhood needed an upgrade to serve more solar panels. So they had so many solar customers already and before more could be added, they need to upgrade. They told us that we would have to pay $3,500 for the equipment upgrade. No thanks! I’m not subsidizing giant corporations so they can then serve more customers because once the equipment is upgraded any neighbors who want to go solar in the future would benefit too. When I went to Solar City they agreed to pay the upgrade. I wrote about this last September.

Social Media Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Men in business suits boxing in a ring

The latest tragedies grabbing the headlines and especially the ensuing bluster on social media have reinforced for me why I have lately decided to stop engaging in discussions about these things there.1 In fact, I have been using a browser extension called FB Purity to block any updates that contain certain keywords from appearing in my timeline.

It’s not that I’m a heartless ogre who doesn’t care about making our country safer or protecting it from dastardly forces. Nor does it mean I don’t care about the Catholic Church and her doctrines and teachings and whether some of her leaders are undermining them.

It’s that I don’t believe that bluster and acrimony on Facebook and Twitter are going to change a damn thing. No, wait, it will change something: It will make me more bitter and angry and sinful.

Much of what passes for discourse on subjects like gun control or Donald Trump or Pope Francis consists of straw man arguments, emotional venting lacking in rational thought, failures to engage charity or to give the benefit of the doubt, silly memes that usually contain falsehoods and/or that mock others without engaging them. Then the comments on these posts devolve into shouting matches and insults that drown out anyone trying to make rational, intelligent responses.

Shakespeare could have been describing these “antisocial” social media debates when he wrote in “MacBeth”: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And in the end, no one ever has their mind changed about a single thing. I’ve never seen one of these shouting matches result in someone saying, “You know what? You’re right! I’ve been wrong all this time. I’ve changed my mind.”

So what’s the point of it all?

Now, you may ask me why I haven’t just deleted my social media accounts, like so many other people have. For one thing, social media is part of my job. I need to be there to administer and monitor several social media sites associated with my work. For another thing, once I’ve excised the vitriol from my timelines, I can engage with my family and friends in uplifting and fun discussions and share news of our lives and share articles about interesting or uplifting topics. Social media doesn’t have to be a wasteland. It’s what you make it.

I choose not to make it a place of anger and falsehoods and cheap ideological grandstanding.

  1. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I’m not always successful in staying out of them. But I nearly always regret it.
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