A VHF/UHF handheld activity proposal

With as many folks out there who have HTs, surely there is some way to get them more engaged, make everyone a better operator, and build some community.

Here’s an idea to do that – but it’s just the start really. I’ve put some details that need to be sorted out as questions. I’d like to hear your feedback in the comments.

I’m sure this has been tried before – anyone have the details?

Purpose

  1. Get people on the air
  2. Build community
  3. Learn to communicate effectively
  4. Use the most common equipment – VHR/UHF FM HT’s

Key elements

  1. Enough structure that newbies aren’t struggling with what to say or how to say it.
  2. Simple to get involved – minimal apps, or other stuff to sign up for or get. Maybe one site to register with & upload logs to.
  3. Communicate over large distances
  4. Points/awards/accomplishment/collections

Methodology

  1. The originator calls other hams using an HT and transfers a short, simple message. Maybe more of a token – three letter-number pairs let’s say. The originator logs each contact made, with UTC, and 8-digit grid square, and message.
    • How do they know who to call?
    • How does this get started?
    • How do they know what the destination is?
    • How do the recipients know to be on air?
    • What frequency should people use?
  2. Each of the recipients logs the contact, with UTC, 8-digit sub grid, and message.
    • How do the recipients know to be on air?
    • Maybe the event is spotted via dtmf tones?
    • Maybe they’re just monitoring?
  3. Those recipients then each call other operators and the cycle repeats.
    • How does everyone know where the message got to?
    • How does everyone know if it worked?
    • Some kind of instant logging network so people can see what’s happening?
  4. The logs are all submitted to a site & evaluated.
    • A chain is identified as the log entries that all have the exact same token/message. If someone gets it wrong, the chain is broken because those log entries won’t match.
    • Everyone in a chain gets credit for the sub grid squares from the start to their station.
    • Operators get credit for each confirmed QSO.
    • The folks who are part of the operator to operator sequence that reaches the destination get credit for all the sub grid squares in the sequence.
    • Extra points for speed.
  5. There would be some kind of site with stats on chains – longest chain by distance or links, fastest chain, top chain operators, etc.

So there it is. What do you think? Would this get people on air?

On Learning Python with Coursera

So my normal way of learning a new language or computer tool is pretty simple and probably the way most people do it: Dive in.

There’s a problem that lead to that language, google to find & install the tools, and then google to solve the problem. Repeat until the solution is good enough.

It can be slow but rewarding and it works. The price is certainly right.

The upside is that you never have to learn the tedious rules of the ‘proper’ way to do things, and you mostly learn the theory by doing. The downside is that it sometimes leaves me wondering, when I’ve solved a problem in some awkward way, “How would a properly trained person do this?”

Also because each of us has a blindspot and is enormously stupid in our own particular way, there will be some epic stupid programmer tricks. Yes, frustration is the pain you feel just before you learn something but no one really likes pain.

So when I decided the forecasting & other predictive stuff we’ve been needing to up our game on needed some attention I decided to use Python. Not knowing Python, I was tempted to just jump in but while I was reading a post by Lisa A. Chalaguine and saw her recommendation for the Coursera course Python for Data Science, AI, and Machine Learning Sounds perfect!

So I took the course. They say it’s a 5-week course assuming you finish one module a week. I finished in a bit over 24 hours elapsed time, maybe 7-hours of course time.

The title of the class is a bit aspirational. Yes, I did learn some Python but it was more learning about what was possible than actually how to do things. It was like watching a half-hour segment on HGTV on how to install a swimming pool. Sure, they mention all the big steps (decide where to dig, dig, put in liner, hook up plumbing, pave deck, fill and swim!) but you know you’re not really getting the full dish.

Well that’s ok. When I was signing up for the course they asked what certificate or degree I as pursuing. I’ve got two degrees, and I’m not interested to pay for more, so I decided on a certificate and on the list of courses was a more useful sounding Data Analysis with Python. This was much more useful. Covers all the major aspects – data cleaning, regression, multiple regression, testing, and more importantly the automation of the model.

A bit of hands on to solidify things in a final project module, and already I feel like I’ve got a reasonable foundation to start from.

Will I continue with the other three courses needed for the certification? Well, the 7-day trial ends in three days and I think I can make it.

Soundcloud vs Bandcamp

While it’s easy to find place to put written content on the web, audio content is less easy than just using a blogging site like WordPress.

Podcasts have an entire ecosystem of hosting providers, aggregators, etc.

But what about the other stuff like field recordings, ambiances, and other audio? Content that’s not exactly a podcast, not music, maybe serial at times? For those of us wanting to post that kind of content there are two main options I’ve found: Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Both sites were originated to host indie music, and both cater mainly to that crowd.

But for field recordists the use case is near enough the same that they work that purpose as well. So for field recordings how do they compare?

Cost/Storage

BandCamp is free, and there doesn’t seem to be any storage limit beyond the 291mb limit on tracks. They offer a Pro version for $10/mo, which includes a variety of features, but they’re aimed at more complete branding & stats.

Soundcloud is free for the first three hours of recordings, but after that you’re going to need to shell out for a pro account at $16/month or $144/year. The Pro account also adds other features, like the ability to modify a track without losing stats history.

App

The iOS app for Soundcloud does mostly everything, albeit not everything the website does, but you can post files, look at stats, etc. The app for band camp is a listener app, and then there’s another app for artists & labels that lets you see stats, but neither let you post. So BandCamp requires a computer for posting where SC can post on the go.

Monetization

In Soundcloud tracks are monetized using some method that Soundcloud controls, and there’s no way to price a track specifically.

BandCamp offers far more control over pricing. You can price each track and album, you can let buyers choose their own price, or things can be free. However there is a limit on free downloads of 200/month.

While Soundcloud limits free uploads, Bandcamp limits free downloads.

Audio Quality

Both support lossless uploads, Bandcamp actually only accepts lossless formats. Both support downloads, with Soundcloud providing the original file, and Bandcamp offering conversion to 6 formats.

Publishing

Soundcloud has integration with a few editors – Twisted Wave, Hindenburg, etc. You can schedule posts to release on a date & time, a great feature if you’re doing more serial podcast or podcasty stuff. Soundcloud will also publish from their app.

BandCamp requires a regular browser to publish, and as yet does not have any editor integration.

Field Recordist Presence/Community

Because A Sound Effect requires library contributors to send a link to a SC demo for submitted libraries, a lot of recordists are nudged in that direction and all the major folks (i.e. Watson Wu, Frank Bry, etc.) have a presence there even if the last post might be years ago. More importantly there a lots of more casual folks who post stuff from vacations or recordings they make offhand. This forms a community that I haven’t been able to find on Bandcamp.

Instead, Bandcamp has more folks selling sound effects libraries. This makes sense because the platform is suited to it, but if you’re looking for recordings with a particular mic or recorder to see how things sound you’re less likely to find it on Bandcamp than on Soundcloud.

In Soundcloud each user is both a fan and an artist – you can post, follow, listen all from one account.

In Bandcamp, there are fan accounts that follow bands and buy tracks, and artist accounts that post tracks and albums. Multiple accounts can be linked to a single login, but there’s no way for an artist account to follow another artist. Instead, it’s the artist’s fan account that does the following. This separation of fan and artist is part of what gives Bandcamp a very distinct, capitalist sort of feel. In Soundcloud everyone is the same, not in Bandcamp.

Last but not least, Bandcamp has a more rigid feel than Soundcloud. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but posting non-music stuff there feels wrong, like I’m parking someplace that maybe isn’t a parking place.

Search

What about finding recordings to listen to, or finding recordings made with specific gear? Do a search for ‘MixPre6’ on Soundcloud and you get recordings made with that recorder. This is really useful for researching new mics, or being reminded of how little impact the gear has on the final product.

Do the same search on Bandcamp and you get tracks with ‘Mix’ in the title, or ‘Pre’, or maybe just something close. It doesn’t seem to search the description or the tags.

On Soundcloud the genre can be ‘Other’ with a custom field, so there’s a way to make postings have the genre of ‘field recording’, which you can’t do on Bandcamp, although you can tag it. On Bandcamp we’re stuck with ‘Ambient’ or ‘Experimental’, but I bet the fans of those genres are annoyed by recordings of forests, beaches, etc. turning up in their results.

Bandcamp does have a ‘discover’ feature with a genre filter, but there’s no ability to filter by tag.

Branding & Stats

Bandcamp wins here with quite a lot of control over what landing page fans are directed to, what that page looks like, even what the URL is including custom domains under a Pro account.

Soundcloud allows a custom header image, and not much else.

Both sites offer pretty complete stats on the main dimensions of plays, follows, likes, and downloads. Bandcamp also includes purchases.

Other Features

BandCamp has several other features that should not be overlooked:

Follower community

A place to post info to your followers, and there are comments. It includes email distribution to the followers.

Merch store

Allows you to sell t-shirts or whatever other merchandise you want to.

Live streams

Not sure what value this has in the context of field recording, but Bandcamp provides a way to live stream content.

Conclusion

If I was promoting my own band or music Bandcamp would be the obvious choice. It has more of the features I’d be looking for and a better back end from a business perspective.

If I was selling sound effect libraries, I’d still probably go with Bandcamp. But I’d also have a demo on Soundcloud because I’d probably end up needing it for one of the library aggregators. I’d love to hear whether the folks who are selling libraries on Bandcamp as well as a personal site see significant revenue from Bandcamp.

For myself and maybe for field recording in general Bandcamp is less of a fit.

I’m not selling libraries (yet?), and it’s unlikely much revenue is going to come from my recordings as they are. So the monetization features are not so important. Nor is merch or live streams.

My goal is to get a few likes, a few follows, and be part of a community as I enjoy this hobby and develop some craft. Right now that community is on Soundcloud more than Bandcamp. I’m also more likely to post more often if posting is easier, which it is via editor integrations.

So, sacrifice community for a free experience, or pay for the community?

If it’s just a hobby that’s not bringing in revenue why use a service I’d have to pay for? While it’s more likely to bring in revenue on the service that has better monetization, if no one can find it, or ever runs across it, the point is moot. My stuff gets heard on Soundcloud, not so much on Bandcamp.

While the fee for Soundcloud is annoying I have to acknowledge folks are paying it, thus there is value there.

[UPDATE] Despite what I wrote above, I decided to let my Soundcloud subscription lapse because I haven’t been posting (or even recording) regularly enough. But that’s a gap on my side, not theirs.

What about Freesound.org, Radio Aporee, etc?

Freesound is really aimed at sound effects, less so at ambiances, and even less so for any kind of serial or album-style presentation.

Radio Aporee is very cool, and I need to do more there. It is a way to put ambiances on a map, and so you can zoom in and hear the sounds of a place. It’s fascinating to listen to, amazing how much and how different places can sound, even at the same time. It is specialized though, and not a fit for serialized works.

Podcast solutions, like iTunes or Spotify, aren’t a good fit for anything that’s not a podcast – serial work, all with a common theme of some kind.

Solving the Mutli-Channel Audio Detected error using MixPre with FiLMiC Pro

So you’ve got your Sound Devices MixPre recorder and you want to connect digitally to your iPhone to get some audio into FiLMiC Pro. You connected a USB-A cable between the phone and recorder (because if you use USB C your phone ends up powering the recorder, which sucks, and a USB-A cable allows your phone to be charged by the recorder which rocks) and you selected your recorder in the audio area.

But, when you hit record in FiLMiC Pro you got a message saying the Muilti-Channel Audio Detected, and it won’t work.

There’s a trick. You have to set the USB Audio, in the system menu, to Stereo Out instead of Normal. In Normal, it outputs all the channels. In Stereo, it’s just two.

Change the setting here from this:

To this:

And Voila! Now your MixPre recorder will deliver awesome audio to FiLMiC Pro on your iPhone or iPad.

Excessive interviews could save you

I see a lot of posts & comments where folks are complaining about having to interview with more than a few people for a new position at a company. It seems like these folks think just the future boss, and maybe one other person should be enough. Since interviews are hard, we should have less of them, seems the overall vibe.

Well, maybe, but in my experience it depends on how you look at it.

When I interviewed for my current role I met with each of 5 senior management folks & their teams, in groups ranging from 1 to 6 people, as well as the CEO , HR, and the guy who was hiring me (twice, actually). Yeah, it was a hella long day and I was pretty limp at the end.

While that might have been overkill, I realized something after I started the job. All those people I interviewed with were part of a round table to evaluate the candidates and were able to not only voice their views on me, but hear why the manager wanted to hire me.

Now some were rooting for me, and maybe some against me, but all had some level of ownership. As a result when I started and I was going to various departments to learn processes and gather info while building a data warehouse I ran into few obstacles. I have no doubt it was because I was someone they’d met and had their say on, instead of some stranger selected in secret by the Adminisphere.

So if you’re in your nth round of interviews for a job, try to take comfort in that if you get hired, you’ll be working with fewer strangers, and folks will be more invested in your success.

Solution for iPad that won’t charge

Got an iPad Pro that won’t charge? Tried resetting it and that didn’t work? Same here. I can’t guarantee a fix, but this worked for me and has a few times now:

  1. Let the iPad die – all the way. This may take a day or so, but let it get down to where it shuts off.
  2. Then hold the power button until you get it to start up again. Keep doing that occasionally until holding the power button results in the screen that shows the dead battery and power cable instead of starting the iPad. It might take a while for the battery to die enough for this to happen, maybe a day or two or three.
  3. See if it will charge then. Mine always has.

So, you might be wondering why I have had this happen several times. Well, it took me a while a to figure out the cause but I think I’ve nailed it down. It’s when I use a wired ethernet adapter. I’ve used two different ones, and it happens after it’s been connected for more than a day or so.

I’m in the process of doing a photo library export to a network-attached storage system, and that’s why I need an iPad up and connect to the net for days at a time.

Why does the long-term ethernet connection result in no charging? No idea. If anyone knows, please comment.

Zoom H1n As Only Recorder

In late 2021 we took a trip to my wife’s childhood home of Miami, Florida. We spent several days see some sites, visiting some folks, and spending time with her mother.

After the trip to Maine earlier that year where I brought the MixPre6ii and multiple mics, I decided to try the other end of the spectrum. I brought only my Zoom H1n.

For wind protection I brought a foam I’d bought online, and over that the Zoom furry from my H2n. I’d figured it would be enough. Only half right. It worked ok for mild breezes, but the 10mph on the beach required the high pass filter and even then wind was audible.

Sitting in the 3rd row of a minivan trying to catch banter between the driver and front row passenger doesn’t work very well, but noise reduction helps – more on that in another post.

Handling noise is not so great. It’s pretty intrusive to the recordings vs. a normal handheld mic. The noise can be avoided with careful handling, but any movement between hand and recorder is noisy.

Startup time is a problem with large memory cards, and with smaller (4GB) cards its down to 4 seconds.

Sound quality is good enough for clear intelligibility, I didn’t really have an issue with the sound quality while listening back. With music it might be different but the combination of voice and general sounds came through ok. The MixPre6 has less noise, and it paired with a ‘real’ microphone sounds better, but not game-changing better.

The level control is a bit fiddly – between 5 and 7 it doesn’t seem to have much effect based on the meter, but above 7 it ramps up quickly – so I just left it at 5-6 and that worked for most everything. I did not use the limiter, but did use the high pass filter sometimes.

Setting the filename to be the date & time made post processing pretty easy. It would be better if I could add meta data to the recording while it was in the recorder, like the MixPre. I missed the bluetooth functionality a bit.

I started out using nimh rechargeable batteries, but picked up lithiums during the trip.

Warning: If you set the battery type to lithium you will not be able to use nimh batteries until you get it set back. This may require a fresh set of lithiums to get the battery level high enough to allow the recorder to run

Battery life with lithiums was enough for most of not all the trip. I will definitely use those going forward.

I like that the H1n is small enough that it doesn’t attract much attention. It can be set down on a bench or thigh, or even tucked into a shirt pocket (with substantial risk of noise when moving) for hands-free operation.

I don’t like the wind protection. It obscures the level control, and isn’t strong enough in anything more than a stiff breeze. I’ve purchased a Rycote windhover, which seems to be more effective.

Would I take it again or is there a better alternative?

While the H1n is small enough that it’s not much bother to take along, I think there may be better options that would have me very tempted:

Tascam DR-10x

Bigger package, omni mic, better wind protection, mono only.

Zoom H2n

Better wind protection, front and back stereo could be mixed to mono, has pre-record

MixPre + regular mic

Best sound quality, very big package, better metadata and longer pre-record.

Tascam DR-10x Review First Looks

Just got a Tascam DR-10x to play with. I was looking for something with lower handling & wind noise than the H1n, less size than the MixPre, and wasn’t concerned with stereo for a lot of what I do. $137 delivered.

Mixed bag so far, but I don’t think I’ll be sending it back. Size is awesome. Starts fairly quick even with a 32gb card. Headphone output is pretty minimal, but I wasn’t expecting much from an AAA powered device.

It is designed to work with dynamic mics. No phantom power, and there are four mic gain settings: EXT, Low, Med, High. The manual says that EXT is for ‘external input, Hot pin unbalanced.’ So, I had confined myself to the other three settings and started testing the mics I have.

Beyer M58 – Works well on low or mid gain, virtually no handling noise, but it feels like I’m holding a billy club. With the foam on it’s pretty windproof but it is comically large.

AT8004 – Lots of handling noise, best on low gain, same meh sound I always get with this mic.

SM58 – Same as the AT8004, but with better sound.

AT8010 – Hot output, even low gain can be clipped with loud talking. Low handling noise, easy to protect from wind.

ME66 – Super hot output. Low gain a must but even then useful only for quiet stuff. Really needs to be in a blimp for use outdoors.

AT8035 – Low gain is fine, reasonable handling noise for a shotgun, same as the ME66 for wind, needs a blimp.

The AT8010 was what I’d planned on using it with, and I was really hoping it would work out but even low gain was too sensitive. So I tried the EXT setting just to see, and that dropped the input by 10-20db and that solved the clipping problem, but at the expense of increased noise.

The limiter proved to be the answer. Normally I never use the limiter on inexpensive recorders because they don’t work very well, but I decided to try this one and so far the results are acceptable.

It’s small and light enough there’s no reason not to bring it. With the mic attached it fits in the bags I carry. The lack of wires and no headphones gives it sort of a film camera vibe because I have to listen back to see what I got. For what I’ll use this for I can’t make any changes anyway, so monitoring has less value.

The BWF data in the audio file includes a lot of info on the settings like mic gain level and low cut filter, auto level, and limiter settings. This is nice.

I need to use it more before I decide on the sound quality, but for now I’m thinking this is a keeper.

What do you call the audio equivalent of home movies?

So we’re back from our trip and I’ve got several hours of recordings. Something I’ve been trying to figure out is how to turn the recordings I make of my family into more of a finished product. Over the years I’ve accumulated something over 600 recordings. Just like a huge stack of photos or a bunch of videos, the recordings are fine by themselves to a point, but they are often long and have lots of dead space in them. Or they may be full of just ambiance, but it’s 90 min and really 3-5min is more than enough.

How to edit this down? How do I make this something that is more entertaining, and has more of a structure?

The normal process is to start with a story idea, go collect audio based on that idea, then piece it together in a way that tells the story. But what if there’s no story at the start?

The good news is that the audience is very forgiving, if a bit small – me and my family, maybe a bit of extended family – and the story doesn’t have to be of NPR or even podcast caliber.

The bad news is that there isn’t an established process for forming a story from a bunch of raw audio. At least, I haven’t found one. So I’ve come to a basic strategy and we’ll see how it works:

  1. Listen to the tape, and see what the common themes emerge. For example, on this recent trip I made much more of an effort to get family banter so there is more discussion of the ‘Are you recording this?’ line along with discussion about which is better, audio or video in the beginning and then the discussion changes over the trip as recording became a bit more accepted (or they just got resigned to it). Another was that as we drove from one part of main to another we started to run into places being closed and it became a running joke.
  2. List these themes and the chronology of events.
  3. Form a story structure of the events & themes.
  4. Go back to the audio for the bits that support those items & pull the clips.
  5. Assemble the piece, using narration to fill the gaps as necessary.

I have no idea if this will work or no, but it’s the best I can come up with so It’s what I’m doing.

For what it’s worth, I’m using Hindenburg Journalist to do most of the editing, with Reaper being used to split up some of the polywav files.

Last but not least, what do I call the result? In the interest of helping whoever else might be trying to do the same thing, what do we call the audio version of home movies or a scrapbook?

Powering the MixPre – reconsidering the options

The SoundDevices MixPre recorder comes with a battery ‘sled’ that holds 4 AA batteries along with an AC adapter. A set of 4 Alkaline batteries might power the MixPre for maybe 20 minutes, which isn’t really useful for anything. Four rechargeable batteries fair a lot better – over an hour in my experience – and are useful for short recordings. Anything longer though, and you’re looking at needing to either swap batteries or use some other power source.

The crafty folks at SoundDevices added a USB C port to the MixPre, and it can be used to power the unit as well. The USB A port can also be used, but with limited capabilities.

While planning a recent vacation trip I recalled the last time I’d taken a recorder on vacation and decided to re-examine powering options. Going through my notes from last time I learned some things about what I used and didn’t use:

  • I brought some USB power banks (Anker 10,000mah, and 26,800mah), along with a cable to connect to the MixPre6ii. Both power banks can do Power Delivery, so they were the obvious source of power, except the only bag I had at the time was the Orca and I decided not to bring it. As a result, the recorder had to live in the backpack when using the power banks.
  • I really like using the recorder with the AA sled & strap. I’m usually carrying just one mic and ‘phones, and it’s a very simple setup. No trouble getting to any controls on the recorder, and it’s nice & small so it fits in whatever bag I’m using to haul all the other stuff when I travel.
  • The AA’s are a very bulky and heavy power source. Spare batteries require big pockets or a bag, and the charger is pretty big and requires access to AC.

In reconsidering power options for the next trip I decided on a goal of a total 6 hours of record time per day, although not necessarily in one recording. That’s to cover recording, listening back in the car, entering metadata, etc. So that’s enough battery to cover six hours, and the ability to charge it overnight.

Here’s a table that shows how the options I considered compare.