Friday, April 8, 2016

My Cheapskate Home Recording Studio Set-Up & recommendations

Audio is first and foremost when creating courses.  When doing online courses, the optimal sound is "I'm a voice in your head".  You hear it in radio announcements, podcasts, SoundsTrue recordings…that beautiful intimate tone and absolute lack of background noise that sounds like your own conscience is speaking to you.  That's the goal here.


I'm amassing a collection of mics, sound equipment, accessories, etc.  It started when I worked at Rogue Music in NYC (codename "Spike") in the 1990s, and I got a Tascam Porta-05, a couple of Shure mics, some ridiculously long XLR-to-1/4" cables, mic stands, studio monitor headphones, etc.  I didn't know enough, anything I recorded back then sounded like crap.  But it was MY crap.

I got an Edirol UA-25 at some point, which was 1/4" analog audio to USB (digital audio).  But it developed a high pitched whine I could never seem to get out of my recordings, although I recorded much better audio than I ever did on the Porta-05 for a short time.

I used my mics and created some live on-screen videos of myself, but most of the equipment sat in a bin for 20+ years.  I got rid of the Porta-05, I retired the UA-25, I actually used an Andrea headset (that came with Dragon Dictate back when they gave you a real headset) to record a bunch of screencasts for my business, and even used a newer Dragon Dictate headset when recording my first Udemy course. It really wasn't bad at all.

You can see some of the evolving home studio set-up in my blog post on echoes & reflections: blankets on the walls, my studio monitor headphones (Sony MDR-600s so old I had to crochet new ear covers for them -- using red and green so I can easily tell right from left) on the desk.  I was still recording with a newer Dragon headset mic at that point.

Note: all prices are in USD.  All links are affiliate links, but none of these products were given to me at a discount, and I do NOT own every product listed.  Products I have not personally purchased or tried out have ** next to the prices -- those are recommendations based on features, a low price & decent reviews.

Headphones - "studio monitor headsets"

First, a minor lesson in Hz:  "…the entire range of men’s and women’s voices remains between about 65 Hz for a male with a very deep bass voice to the highest note of a female coloratura soprano, just above 1,000 Hz, at 1,280 Hz. (A female high-pitched scream can go quite a bit higher, to around 3,000 Hz.)"

This means that human voices are a slice of the range of human hearing.  This can be helpful -- you can run your recordings through high and low pass filters, and eliminate frequencies below and above this range, but you have to be able to hear whether you've accidentally eliminated some of the "richness" of the undertones and overtones of the voice when you do this.

One of my peeves and frustrations is when people judge audio quality with sub-par equipment.  Good headphones make a tremendous difference when listening to test audio or editing your audio.  It might even be more important than shopping for mics!  If you can actually hear the problems, you can take care of them either before you start recording, or in post-processing work.  And why go through all the trouble of making a test recording if you have to upload your audio to get opinions from others, many of whom aren't wearing headphones either.  When the Udemy reviewers watch your video, I guarantee they're wearing a good headset.  You should too.

My Sony MDR-600 headphones have a frequency response of 5hz-30,000hz, but they're discontinued and the newest model of the line is over $100.  Here's a highly-rated pair of Superlux HD668D studio monitor headphones for $38**.  [Updated: better, cheaper Headphones]

Compare this to a toss-away pair of under-$20 headphones I purchased for just basic audio monitoring by ECOOPRO.  Their response is 20Hz-20,000Hz, and they're not so great in so many other ways -- I just have them to run a quick test and say "Is this mic on?" before I start recording audio.  I can at least tell whether there's a HORRIBLE problem with my sound before I start a recording run.

When you're listening to your test audio, you may need to listen a couple times because our brains can automatically filter annoying things out.  You're looking for that "I am your conscience" sound -- so listen for noise reflections (i.e. "echoes"), mouth noises ("clicks & pops"), hums, whines, cars passing by, etc.  If you sound like you're on a soapbox in a bathroom, you know you need to both treat your environment and quit projecting like you need your voice to reach the back of the auditorium.  It's just you and one listener, cozying up on the couch or sitting across from each other at a tiny cafe sipping coffee and chatting.

Microphones that Fit Your Purpose & Environment!

It's true that your mic makes a big difference in how you sound when you record -- but don't downplay the importance of the style of videos you're going to record, your recording environment, and your own personal recording style.

There's no need for this to get expensive; you can make do with a half decent mic if you control your environment and put a little effort into your post-editing.  However, in interests of time and efficiency, you will eventually want to reach the point of being able to bulk-process your videos with as little post-editing-work as possible.  That means near-perfect takes and near-perfect quality right from the start.

I ended up purchasing a good mic, the Audio-Technica AT2005USB -- a mic with both XLR and USB capabilities -- which cost me about $60 but is currently going around $75. This mic is a dynamic cardioid mic -- and for $25 less you can get the ATR2100-USB ($50) which also has XLR capabilities.  I didn't care for how the analog sounded on the AT2005USB when hooked up to my Behringer XENYX 302USB (below), so this would be a great starter mic for while you're still editing your audios and not looking for 100% perfection (which can be expensive).

That brought me back to some classic mics I already owned when I purchased audio equipment over 20 years ago.  The Shure SM58 ($99), a favorite of on-stage performers because it takes a licking & keeps on ticking, has a warm response, good tight pick-up so it rejects background noise well, and is inexpensive.  I think someone said they have left it in beer and were able to use it after it dried out -- but I don't recommend you do that.  It's so popular that Shure still produces this mic.  And the Shure 869 (which I'll mention later, but I believe is a discontinued model).

If you want SM58 quality, without the $99 price tag, check out the Samson CS Series Capsule Microphone.  This one has a swappable head and gives you 1 head that is comparable to an SM58 (voice mic) and another that's comparable to an SM57 (instrument mic).  At just $40**, you get to try out 2 types of dynamic XLR mic and see which you prefer.  You will need a way to go from Analog-to-Digital (XLR to USB) so you may want the Xenyx302USB or similar (below).

Capture every nuance of your home & neighborhood with these highly-touted mics

If you don't mind needing to pad your house with foam and blankets, many people recommend the Blue Yeti ($130**) or Blue Snowball ($90**) -- but what they don't realize that these are condenser mics and they pull in a lot more background noise, audio reflections, etc.  The people recommending these mics probably didn't get a headset to listen to themselves.  You can tell because when you listen to their recordings, you feel like you're in the room with them.  It's great quality noise -- but the opposite of the "I am your conscience" voice that works best for this type of intimate 1:1 application.  If you want to do less editing, skip the condenser mics. If you have a noisy environment -- cars, dogs, trucks, airplanes, old computer running its fan all the time -- avoid condenser mics at all costs.

Also, while a condenser mic WILL pick you up when it's several feet away from you, you'll pick up a lot more room, noise, sound reflections, etc.  If you want to re-record or do tons of post-work, use your Yeti or Snowball mic for recording talking head videos.

If you have a controlled environment, and don't mind having to pony up for phantom power, the Floureon BM-800 ($30**) is a cheaper condenser mic with great ratings.  For that price, even I might try a condenser mic again some day soon.  While it "really" requires phantom power, a Windows PC may send enough power to it for you to use it while waiting for your phantom power (or the money to afford phantom power) to arrive.  Hooks right into your PC's microphone port.  Will not work with a Mac without phantom power & digital (USB) audio conversion.

To go even cheaper, here's a well-rated Ohuhu condenser mic for $22**, requires phantom power.  What I do like about this one is that it's got good noise rejection so it's uni-directional.  I wish everyone would do a mic test like one of the reviewers did.  Unlike many other condenser mics, the sound drops considerably when you back up from the mic.  You have to be "all up in it" with this mic to get great sound -- so you won't be using it for talking head videos.  But for online courses, this is a good mic.

Get the mic out of your face: Talking Heads, Exercise Videos, Screencasts, etc.

You have to ask yourself whether you'd be better off with a lapel mic, shotgun mic or a headset mic.  For exercise videos and screencasts, many instructors use a headset mic.  Lapel mics are likely to pick up clothing noise, arm movement, etc.  You've seen Madonna dance and wave her arms around with a headset mic on, right?  For screencasts, it doesn't matter what the headset mic looks like -- huge gaming headphones, etc.  For on-screen headset mics, a good mic blends in to your skin tone or is unobtrusive (white-person beige version example ($13**), I wish they had other colors, requires a transmitter power pack or phantom power).  For live-action video like exercise or martial arts videos, you might want a wireless headset battery/transmitter -- not bluetooth but radio.  That's up to you, but you might find it's expensive.

An interesting mic to check out for talking head videos, especially where you're a wavy-arm person for any reason, is a binaural mic for $89**.  These mics record sound from inside your own ear.  "What?!? Get out!"  Yeah -- this is another mic I plan to experiment with someday.  Requires external power, and has a 1/8"/3.5mm jack -- you can use an adapter to 1/4" and use it with the XENYX -- I think.  They say it sounds more like your own voice in your ear because it's picking up vibrations through your jaw and skull.  Awesome.  They have an XLR version but it's expensive ($200**).

If you can talk without waving your arms about:  Lapel mics.  I had a chance to test drive the the Rode smartLav+  (~$80) with a client of mine who was looking to start recording videos and it worked very well on her iPhone with the Rode Rec (free) iOS app.  This mic is an excellent choice for smartphone-enabled folk who have enough space on their phone to take good audio &/or video.  I'm not that person: I have an older iPhone with only 8GB.  This mic is equipped with a nice long cable for talking head videos, so you can set your phone up on a camera stand with a smartphone adapter ($8) or get a camera stand and smartphone adapter set ($13**).  If you can, get the Rode smartLav+ -- but cheaper smartphone-compatible lavaliere mics that are well rated include this one at $25** or this one at $18**.

If you have an XLR set-up with phantom power available, check out this lavolier mic with a full-sized XLR plug ($40**, sets of 2 available).  Just remember this is analog recording, and that mic cable is thin and probably un-sheilded.  Keep it away from transformers and electrical wires, etc.  I've never tried the mic, but it's on my hot list of mics to try out, and I'm curious as to whether to try cardioid or omni.  With all the noise in my house, I might try cardioid, but the few people who selected cardioid didn't seem to have a great experience.

I'm now working on testing out a shotgun mic.  I was looking at another model which was meant to mount on top of a video recorder, but actually ended up changing my mind and going with a Pyle PDMIC35 Shotgun Mic with an XLR connector ($26)…which will be here tomorrow, so I can't review it yet.  I'll update this post and post a review on Amazon once I've tested out the new mic.  I'll use my scissor stand, which is mounted behind my monitor, to point the mic at me from on top of the monitor and see how that sounds.

Update: the Pyle mic didn't work for me. It's extremely sensitive.  It picks up the cat lapping at her water bowl in the next room.  I sent it back.  In the meantime I had tested all my mics again and decided to swap my Shure SM58 for the Shure 869 for a while.  The 869 is a condenser XLR mic (phantom power with battery back-up just in case) with a tight cardioid pattern recommended for use on podiums for ministers, lectures & presenters at events. It has excellent noise rejection, extraordinarily low noise, and while not as warm and rich in tone pick-up as the SM58 it should be great for recording online courses.  You wouldn't perform at a rock concert with it (that's where the SM58 comes in) but it doesn't pick up reflections and barely needs noise reduction run on it.  This is a boon with the cats, teenagers and roosters in the background.

Mic Power! and other accessories

After I had bought the AT2005USB, I still ended up frustrated with my mic set-up -- ready to try to get richer sounds and do less post-editing.  I really wanted to give my 2 classic Shure mics a go and see if I could improve the sound of my recordings.  Enter the Behringer XENYX 302USB for $50.  This tiny mixing board is about the size of 12 ounces of hard cheese.  110mm x 130mm (about 4.5" x 5.5") footprint on your desk, not counting room for cables.  It's a 2-track mixing board with 1 XLR or 1/4" combo input, RCA inputs, analog headset mic inputs, mic gain, 2-channel equalizer (EQ) on each input channel, and USB output to your computer.  I was able to test out 2 mics I already owned because I put this piece of equipment into play.  Now, I'm using it to provide phantom power to my Shure SM58 mic and to control the gain on the mic, and I'll need it for gain and phantom power for the new XLR shotgun mic.

If you don't want a mixing board, check out the InnoGear 1-channel Phantom Power Supply for $20**.  Your mic hooks into this box via an XLR Male to XLR Female cable.  And you need another cable to bring the XLR output to your computer.  Some mics come with an XLR-to-1/4" jack that you can hook into your computer, in which case you need an XLR-to-XLR cable.  But most mics come with an XLR-to-XLR and you will need some way to get the audio into your computer.  You can get an XLR-to-USB (for Mac or Windows, note the connector is a little larger than most USB connectors) or an XLR-to-1/4" (for Windows onboard or soundcard mic-in jack).

So you're going to be set back by several pieces of gear unless you get a direct-to-USB mic.

Mic Stands

In my soundbooth I used a traditional floor mic stand.  When I first tried working with my old mics and the XENYX, I used a telescoping desktop stand.  But it's ALWAYS in the way.  You bump it, the mic picks it up.  You end up craning your neck to reach the mic rather than sitting correctly and having the mic come to you.  So I purchased a scissor stand with shock mount and XLR cable at about $22. Now, I've moved where it's clamped once, I was careful not to over-tighten the clamp on my desk, and it's been here for months -- so I think it's a good purchase. When I don't need the mic, I push it aside.  When I need it, I pull the mic over to me.  I sit comfortably, and I don't kill my back and neck trying to reach the mic.  The Shure SM58 doesn't fit the rather large shock-mount, but a piece of foam pipe insulation tucked inside the clip works just fine to hold my mic firmly, and you can't really see it if you use black foam and cut it down enough.

Shock mounts are important if you're bumping around on your desk and the mic is picking it up.  The scissor stand I recommend comes with one.  If you already love your mic set-up and don't need the scissor stand, for the same price ($21**) you can get this shockmount with a pop-filter built in.

Pop-Filter, Windscreen

You have to choose what type of pop-filter you want, I of course got one of the cheapest ones I could find at under $8.  I also threw a foam ball windscreen into one of my orders -- in case I ever bring a mic outdoors for some reason, or if I need a fan blowing on me in an audio booth -- or just because they were so cheap at about $2.50.

Eliminating other Noises

Ok, I'm not really recommending this one if you're a cheapskate like me.  But I had the world's noisiest chair (and a lot of pain in my lower back).  You could hear the back of the chair squeak, metallic bumps, rollers scraping the floor, the air lift noises when I adjusted my weight.  I can't have all that noise in the background of a screencast video.  And I've mentioned the back issues caused by leaning in to mics rather than having the mic come to me.  So I opted to help my back (and by extension my videos) by buying a ball chair -- I got the Sivan Health & Fitness ball chair at about $70 and well worth strengthening my core, improving my posture which also helps my breathing, which also helps my asthma and helps me sound better in my recordings.  I can even bounce up and down, and you don't hear my chair in a recording.  I wrote a review on the chair on Amazon.  You have to pump it up every few days until it stops stretching, but aside from that it's very comfortable, and absolutely silent.

The next annoyance in my recordings was the clicking of my mouse.  Keyboard typing is bad enough, but I don't want to hear every mouse click especially in the middle of a sentence.  So I got this Kensington Silent Mouse for under $13.  It's exceptionally quiet.

Recommended Starter Kits

I know: "Just tell me what to buy!"

This is a starter kit that will do you good for non-talking-head videos -- screencasts, voiceovers, presentations, podcasts, etc.

Level 0: Wannabe Instructor:

  • Audio-Technica's ATR2100-USB ($50**) .  Whether you're on a Mac or Windows, you can't go wrong with this mic.  It comes with a stand clip, and a stupid desktop stand that you can discard if you want.  Especially discard it if it makes you have to crane your neck funny or if you're planning to type while recording.  Put it right back in the box.  [I own the very-similar AT2005USB by the same company, but this is the cheaper of the two right now.]
  • scissor stand with shock mount and XLR cable at about $22.  As a starter, ignore the XLR cable.  You can use it when you upgrade gear later.  A piece of foam & some electrical tape and it's a non-issue. This takes care of 2 birds with 1 stone: you now have a stand and a shock mount for the price of a shockmount.  If you're not recording at your desk then get a floor mic stand.
  •  cheap pop filter $8  This attaches to the mic stand, and has a gooseneck so you have many choices of how to position the filter, so it's not interfering with your line-of-sight.

Level 1: First Course Audio Rejected Upgrade:

I'll meditate on this and see if I come up with more "upgrade paths."

Where I'm at now...

One of my cats decided that my sound booth was a great deal of fun and started playing "Can I drag the curtains down?"  So, since the blankets were just clipped into place and I got tired of hooking them back up, I ended up dissembling my PVC sound booth and donating 2 of the moving blankets to my son, who has started doing his own recordings.  I had to pad his room, both to improve his recordings, and to improve my sanity.  We took 2 moving blankets and stapled them to his walls with a staple gun.  It's AMAZING how much they helped both his audio reflections, and muffle his voice that used to carry through the whole house.  In my area, we have Harbor Freight, a tool-supply surplus store.  I wait until I get a moving blanket coupon and go to town -- which happened last week. I now have another 3 moving blankets to re-do a booth around my desk.  That's the next Home Recording Studio project…I'm thinking ceiling hooks this time.

Note: links in this article are affiliate links.  It doesn't change your price, just gives me a kickback for making the recommendation.    I am not affiliated with ANY of these manufacturers in any way, and I was not given any products for free or discount to test them or review them.  Most products, whether purchased or not, were selected based on price, features & decent reviews of the product with the primary exception of the Blue mics which are frequently recommended mics in the Udemy Studio.

** Items in the article that I've never personally purchased or tested.  If it's not marked, I either own it or have personally tried it out when a friend purchased it.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Farm Markets 2015

I loves me some Farmers' Markets!  And here in Orange County, NY we have a good number of them.

There are many reasons to buy your food, especially produce, from a farmers market.  Here's some highlights:

  • Time to table - sometimes you're buying foods picked the same day, or at least within 24hours of purchase.  At a grocery store, foods are on trucks and in distribution centers for days.  They last longer in your house.
  • Travel to table - most farms at your markets are local to you, certainly within less than 100 miles of you.  Can't say that about much of what you get at the grocery store.  Read labels and boxes - Product of Chile, etc.
  • Carbon footprint - you reduce your food's carbon footprint significantly by buying direct from the farmer.
  • Saves money & keeps money local - there's no middleman, no upstream -- even if you're paying almost the same price, you have just significantly helped that farmer!  You might think you're paying the same price, but farmers are usually more generous with their bundles.
  • Wider variety - not all foods are tolerant of the manhandling and time-to-market as the ones that we get shipped thousands of miles or from out of the country.  You can find not only fresher foods, but a wider variety of foods, and many heirlooms, at a farmers' market.  When you don't recognize something you have the right person to ask right in front of you.  The farmer yesterday explained that a butter cup squash is similar to but more flavorful than a butter nut squash.  And cook it like any other squash.  Sold for $1.50.
  • Healthier - for many of the reasons above.  Volatile nutrients are still available, variety in your diet, fresher food, and so on.
  • Encourages eating your veggies.  Take your kids along, let them pick out the things they like, but steer them clear of the baked goods booths.  Give them a "farmstand budget" to spend on fresh produce, even if it all gets spent on berries.  Let them ask the farmer for suggestions.  For example, if they know they don't like bitter -- the farmer can steer them towards sweet or mild vegetables.
So yesterday I went to the farmers' market, and I purchased foods I couldn't get at the grocery store.  And I bought things like red & green bell peppers for $1.00 per pound -- in my local stores it's $1.99/lb for green peppers, $2.99/lb for red peppers.  I got zucchini the size of my thigh for $1.  And a 16.8lb heirloom hubbard squash (the farmer suggested to use in recipes like a potato) for $3.50.

The official county list of farm markets is at Cornell Cooperative Extension.  But I don't like how their list is formatted.  It's a list of locations, but doesn't show the times in a useful way for a real person.  There are also MANY farmstands at the farms in the area where they are open daily.  But this is a farmer's life, and sometimes they close (just like the farm markets) before commuters get home.

In the hopes of encouraging more locals to get their produce direct from farmers, I created a county farm market list that I hope is more useful.  And here's a printable version (PDF).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Raising your own Chickens in your Backyard -- get plenty eggs for your family!

Got eggs?  Maybe not for long!  Egg prices are rising.  Currently prices across the US range from $1.99 to $4.49 per dozen according to the USDA.

If you're like me, you rely on eggs for breakfast, for baking, and more.  But it's likely that you don't have what I have -- I have my own chickens.  More about that in a moment.

The problem?  A bird flu epidemic that struck the midwest this spring.  But we have to brace for Round 2.  They expect the bird flu to hit the Southeast in the fall.  Over 40 million birds were slaughtered in the spring, putting the squeeze on the egg industry.  Supply drops, prices rise.  Simple laws of economics.

So what are we seeing?  We're seeing places taking eggs off their menu.  Expect the prices of your favorite breakfasts to go up.  Rita's isn't serving frozen custard, and fried rice won't have eggs in it, and you have number limits on the amount of eggs you can buy at some stores.  It's going to get worse, not better, if the bird flu hits this fall.

I created an online course called Raising Chickens in your Backyard to help people who are as clueless as I was a few years ago to get up to speed on how to take care of chickens so that they have their own egg supply.  As the prices rise, either we'll have, or not have, eggs in our refrigerator.  It may be better to get them on your own.

If you're interested, there's an image of Henrietta asking you to join our course on the right sidebar.

Chickens are incredibly easy livestock to raise.  They can take up part of your backyard, or if you have a few acres and a good layout, you can free-range them.  They're relatively self-sufficient with the caveat that they cannot survive on their own without assistance, and you can collect your own eggs from the flock every day.  It's also a great project if you have kids, to teach them more about where food comes from and how to take responsibility for their lifestyles.

So the way it looks right now, you can start looking into what to do to replace eggs in your diet -- or have a barn-raising (or shed-raising or coop-raising) with your family and find yourself some hens.  You won't regret it.

Discount Coupon for Raising Chickens course

Data source:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Reducing Echo, Sound Reflections or Reverb from audio recordings

Since I come across audio issues in videos quite often, I thought I'd write a quick article explaining about sound reflections (echoes) and some tips on how to control them.

Correcting echo in recordings?!?!

Ok, the title is a misnomer.  You will have a VERY hard time reducing echo from completed audio recordings.  Echo or sound reflections are exactly the same pitch as your voice, and much harder to remove from recordings [Ed - as compared to background noise, see below] without affecting the quality of your own vocals.

What you do instead is control your recording environment before you record.  Here's a good quick video someone created, with tips on controlling your recording environment:

If you must reduce echoes and reflections in the recordings, I give some quick tips at the end of the article.  But let's assume you did a test recording or can re-record first.

My first attempt - control reflections in my bedroom.
desk for recording on right with blanket on desk,
pinned a towel on the curtain behind desk over the wall.

Controlling the environment - My first attempt

When I first tried recording, I was working at my temporary desk in my bedroom.  I planned to make many courses, so I needed to have great quality.

So I in a similar way to the video's first section and recorded in my bedroom.  I put blankets on the walls with thumbtacks, a towel on my desk, pinned a towel to my curtains behind my desk with clothespins, etc. See the image "My first attempt" to the right.

It worked great, in spite of wooden floors and bare ceiling.  But once I moved my desk back into my living room, I didn't want to record in my bedroom any more -- and I wanted to see if I could do even better.

Second attempt - works beautifully

PVC frame.
The audio quality in my living room is abysmal.  It has an archway to the kitchen, and a long hallway.  Recordings outside the booth sound like I'm shouting on stage in an auditorium.  I honestly started looking for the automatic "reverb" setting that must be on the application I was recording in.

Then I built a PVC booth, which is more similar to the 2nd part of the video above -- a dedicated cubby with padded walls for recording.  In the video, he uses mattresses and blankets and says that you can cover all 4 sides.  That's what I did.

First I drew myself a sketch and decided how tall I wanted the booth, so I could figure out what types of connectors I'd need, and how many pieces of pipe.  I already owned a PVC pipe cutter -- I brought that to the store with me along with a tape measure and fine-point permanent marker to mark lengths of pipe.

I hung heavy duty moving
blankets from the frame,
and draped some garden
cloth over the top.
The booth is made from inexpensive 1-inch PVC pipes, and a bunch of connectors.  I cut pipes to the right length for the tall poles while in the parking lot, so they would fit in my little hatchback.  When I got home, I finished cutting out all the smaller pieces and built myself a booth that's about 6'4" tall (a foot over my head) and about 4 foot by 3 foot.

I bought 3 thick "heavy duty" moving blankets to hang from it, and I found the perfect sized clamps to hold up the blankets at a "dollar store."

Assembly was quick.  I didn't glue the pipes so it can be disassembled, but it can also skew, so I have it in the corner of the room where I can nudge it towards the wall so it has no place to go.  You could build a better booth, I'm certain!  I just needed a place to hang my blankets.  I also could change how it's assembled to make it larger inside if I want to, but I haven't needed to.

This booth works much better than the blankets strewn around the room, especially considering it's in the worst room in the house!

Sound booth interior:
clamp lamp, mic with pop
filter on stand.
Inside the booth I have a mic stand with a mic, and pop filter.  I have a clamp lamp I already owned to help me see notes or just not be in the dark within the booth.  I use clothes pins to pin up notes, or I have a small flexible camera tripod and an iPhone adapter so I can hang my iPhone up and read notes from the screen.

Next I want to make a version for when I'm sitting at my desk doing screencasts.  I've also considered ways I could possibly use the current booth materials to create a greenscreen for video recordings.

What about background noise?

The sound of machine fans running, cars driving by, my chickens clucking, or just the mic's noise with no other desired noises going on is called "background noise."

To get rid of it it's called "Noise Reduction" -- you can take a (free) application like Audacity.  You record about 30 seconds at the beginning or end of each lecture without talking.  That's a "noise profile".  Then you first have to select the noise profile section without talking and tell Audacity that "this is the background noise profile"  Then you tell it to filter that out of your recording.  Because that sounds different from your voice, that's pretty easy to do.  [Ed -- see Noise Reduction in Audacity or watch this video.]

Another way to reduce background noise is to get closer to the mic.  The closer you are the easier it will be to filter everything else out.

I already recorded, now what?

If there's no option to re-record with more control for echo and reflections, you might be able to play with the noise filter, or a sound gate, and reduce the reflections.  But it takes a lot of time and experimentation to get the settings right for you, your voice and your environment.

Go forth and record!

It's always best to record the cleanest, clearest audio you can right from the start and save a lot of time on the editing & audio processing end.  If you have a lot of audio to clean up, it can take hours to fix minutes of audio.

So try recording in your room before & after the blankets, try further and closer to the mic, try with and without a pop filter, and use headphones so you can actually hear your recording more accurately than through computer speakers.  Side-by-side you should be able to tell the difference in the recording quality.

Test!  Test again!  If you test and think you have it all right, then go back to record the next morning -- test again.  The worst things are simple, like the pop filter moved and now is against the mic, or you forgot to turn the mic on, or you are dehydrated so you have dreadful mouth noises today, or you can hear the rain outside but it wasn't raining yesterday.  Test & listen to it.  Play with the editing commands with a short test piece.  Are you happy with how it came out?  Did it take too much fussing and still not sound very good?  Tweak the equipment, recording settings & environment until everything is right for today.

And feel free to ask for help.

New:  Someone pointed out this great article -- if you're the engineer and DIY type, plan to create a serious DIY home studio, and can drop some cash on higher-end materials to soundproof, this article's for you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My first Udemy Course on Tricky English Words!

Man sitting at desk writing in a journal, only his arms, desk, notebook, pen and a computer in the background are visible.  A thought bubble rising up from the notebook depicts "bear feet": a picture of someone wearing bluejeans and brown fuzzy clawed monster slippers.
Course Image: "Bear Feet"

I'm so excited to have my first course on "Improve Your English Vocabulary with over 70 Tricky Words."

Mistakes can be embarrassing -- and for some people it can cost them a job opportunity, lose opportunities for a promotion, or cause them social media anxiety.  If you ever get confused between which spelling of "capital" to use (or is it "capitol"?), if you get embarrassed when people correct your word choices ("you mean 'accept' not 'except'"), if you don't know when to kick your autocorrect for adding an apostrophe to "its," this is the course for you! 

I've leveraged my creativity and brainstorming capabilities to find innovative ways to remember different sets of words and tell which is which, to make it easier to write and proofread what you've written.
  • Look more professional
  • Avoid miscommunications
  • Sharpen English writing skills
  • Say what you mean
  • Make a great first impression
In 24 closed-captioned lectures spanning about an hour and a half, you can learn mental tricks and stories to tell apart over 70 (currently 92) tricky words.

People who have found my course helpful:
  • English language learners (intermediate)
  • Businesspeople
  • Native English speakers who have writing anxiety
  • Homeschoolers
I have over 2,000 students in my course, and some great reviews.  I look forward to helping more people.

Feel free to watch my promo video, below, and my blog readers get a special discount!  Click here to view the course information, preview lectures, etc. and it will load a discount coupon for the course in case you're interested (it's currently $29,  and the coupon makes it only $5).  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Are you hungry?

One of the things I haven't discussed on this blog is food and, by extension, hunger.

Today is Blog Against Hunger day... so here's my 3 cents:

There's hungry -- those with nothing of any substance to eat.  And today is mostly dedicated to them.  We like to think these people live far far away, but they're here in our community also.

But then there's hungry -- those with an insufficient amount to eat.  And sometimes they're our neighbors.  You pass them in the street, in the supermarkets.  The mothers who go hungry to make sure they feed their children.  The families who can barely buy anything, and must make do with as little as possible.

And there's the invisible hungry -- those with much more than enough to eat, but it's is sub-standard or lacking in vital nutrients.  Unfortunately, that's most of us.  We may think we're eating well, but what we're eating isn't really food  at all.  Reconstituted foods, over-processed foods, foods that had to be "enriched" because the nutrients were stripped out and then added back in through "nutrients" made in factories.  Foods rendered unrecognizable to our metabolism through science.  Free-radicals that are costing our health.  We eat more and more because underneath all that massive food we're eating there's very little of actual substance or sustenance.

Those of us in the invisible hungry could improve our food intake, and fight for food freedom & responsibility -- then we won't be hungry anymore, and the food industry will respond to our demands and become more responsible.  That improves the food available to those who don't have a sufficient amount to eat who live next door, too.  Then together, we can help people find ways to grow good food locally, improve their soil, improve their water use, so that they can eat where they live, and live where they eat.  That's been the answer for the vast majority of human history: technology cannot change the fundamental fact that this is the healthiest way to eat, that it's how our bodies evolved to eat.

For more information on Food Freedom, I'm always posting on my Facebook timeline on this topic, but check out my Fairy Goddaughter, Linda Borghi of Abundant Life Farm.  She's got it all down and helps people learn about growing their own food.  She's been helping people in Africa grow their own food and become self-sufficient.


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Game of Essay Writing

So many of us have kids that are hyper-focused on games.  So here's an example of both an essay and how-to write and organize an essay for a kid who loves gaming (written for my son).

One of the problems is the word "essay" -- once we have the skill of "writing an essay" down it ends up being used in emails, in brochures, in business plans, in letters of request or recommendation -- the same skills we call "essay writing" in school is even used for short-form facebook posting through to long-form thesis or dissertation writing.  But we call it an "essay" which makes it daunting.  We could call it "Writing an Instruction Manual for a Game System".  We could call it whatever -- it's just "good writing technique".  Or if you will a "sandwich writing technique".  Or best of all "writing for the reader".

Monday, June 20, 2011

More on Writing

Writing Fiction For Dummies
Excellent Fiction Curriculum

I've actually come across the National Novel Writers Month  ("NaNoWriMo") and decided to participate both this summer, if possible ("Camp NaNo") and in November when the "official" NaNoWriMo kicks off.  For adults, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  You are allowed to do pre-writing tasks before the event, in fact it's encouraged (and helps you write a quicker, much more cohesive project).  There are no prizes, although winners might get special offers from sponsors.

They have NaNoWriMo YWP (young writer's program) where you (the instructor or parent) helps a child set a word-count goal that's within reason but still a stretch for them, and they can also set off and write along side you (if you participate).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fruits of his Labor

Photo by Jo Christian Oterhals via Flickr
When we were discussing homeschooling, my son's father gave him an assignment: write a 1200 word essay on the pros & cons of homeschooling.

This is the same 13-year-old-boy who would write exactly 3 5-word sentences if that's all he was required, whose IEP writing goal in 8th Grade was to write 3 paragraphs.  His main problems being a huge reluctance to write due to handwriting issues when he was younger, years of handwriting remediation, and having convinced himself (and others) that he "can't" write.  His paper comes out with approximately a 10th grade readability level!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I live in a Pig Palace

I don't remember how young I was.  Much too young, I'm sure.  I was probably caught between the trap of being a preschooler, an only child, having a "pack rat" father and a tidy mother, and never having been taught how to declutter and purge.

Inevitably I got to an age, probably 5 or 6 at most, where I was expected to have developed cleaning habits and skills in the face of a daunting amount of STUFF in a room much too large for someone my age to be fully in charge of.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I think I'd like to use this absolutely brilliant "Portfolio" assignment for an 11th grade writing course (following a creative writing course), although I'm considering working it in sooner rather than later and doing the assignments for myself alongside my son working on them. The end-product of this year-long assignment is a publishable autobiography. The teacher who created this curriculum packet has had a great amount of success with other teachers adopting it as well, including foreign language teachers, and has used the assignments in literature classes as well (where you write the portfolio assignment "as if" you are a character in a book).

Creative Writing

Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
Hamlet on the Holodeck
If things in homeschooling, assuming we homeschool, go the way I plan, then my son's remedial writing will focus strongly on expository writing skills. Thinking far ahead, in ways I probably shouldn't, I think the follow-up would be dedicated creative writing. I took creative writing twice in High School and again in College, and I believe it strengthened my overall writing abilities tremendously. My son's reading interests are very close to mine back then, and I can explain to him the importance of having the skill of creative writing. It doesn't hurt that he's read some of my own fantasy stories and liked the style and thought it was good.

The Myth of "Socialization"

How much "socialization" does a child get in school? How much does a homeschooled child "miss out" on this so-called socialization.

First, the term "socialization" makes it sound like something deliberate, like animal husbandry. You pair kids in the corral for purposes of "socializing them." Anyone who has been to a school knows this is simply not the case; the schools group children together based on their classes, which are usually based on their abilities and at the starting level children are grouped simply based on their chronological age. If we were to purposefully socialize our children, wouldn't we pair or group them based on common interests?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Child-Centered Teacher in UK Sacked for Saving 5 Boys' Education

Here it is, another anecdote from the good-teacher vs. bad-system movement:

5 students that are completely beyond help, and one teacher who decides to put them first. So much so that she uses their first names and their group nickname in a fictional tale about how people in a downward spiral can turn everything around if they want to. The boys identify with the characters, I'm sure it's partially because their first names are in the book, and they actually read it. The students do so well, are so inspired to learn and straighten their lives out, that they all go on to post-secondary education. The teacher is given promotions and kudos.

The teacher's husband, without her knowing, puts the book up on the Internet and the teacher gets canned. Read more...

This is how we reward the world's best teachers.

The importance of missing the mark

Pay for performance. It's currently a pretty hot issue. There's plenty articles telling us how poorly it's working, too. A great summary of US and UK tests on pay-for-performance is at the Telegraph. Basically, giving teachers incentives for improving test scores of $3000-$15,000 is not effective in increasing the children's test scores.

I'm sorry, but everyone's completely missing the mark here!

Making History

So as adults, I ask how much of what you learned in History lessons do you use today? I'll say I use more of it in helping my children with their classwork -- and that's the be-all and end-all of the facts and details I was spoon-fed in K-12. In SPITE of the fact that I've done historical re-enactment! In other words, absolutely NOTHING I learned in K-12 classes helped me EVEN with my hobby of historical re-enactment! Shame on the school system!

Math - to Curriculum or NOT to Curriculum

My son loves math. He's got a lot of talent for math, and frankly I think schools and big textbooks hold him back. I don't really feel confident teaching Algebra, even though I think I remember all the important basics and could always brush up from resources online. However, I'm very confident that my son can almost teach himself Algebra with the right tools and materials.

Remedial Writing

My son has had quite the journey regarding writing challenges ever since Kindergarten. He was identified as gifted, but also earmarked for needing occupational therapy (OT) for handwriting. So in 1st grade, he went to a gifted program and had 1:1 instruction to try to correct his fine-motor issues.

I have a genetic nerve disorder, and perhaps my son is not entirely in the clear. However a neurologist didn't find anything in particular wrong, and so the OT continued until 7th grade.

Due to his continuing difficulty with writing, my son avoided writing like the plague.

Quality Schools Part 2

Don't forget to read my Part I on this topic!

I didn't realize that one of the books I already own has a whole chapter (a long! chapter) dedicated to quality schooling. So I started reading The Quality School (William Glasser) and the introduction referred back to that chapter in Choice Theory, so I went to the chapter and read it.

I'm so impressed with this concept, I want to make it a cornerstone of my homeschooling experiences.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

William Glasser & Quality Schools

I can't wait for my books that should be arriving on Quality Schools. I already have several of William Glasser's books: Choice Theory, Counseling with Choice Theory and The Language of Choice Theory. The Quality School is going to be arriving on my doorstep shortly. Aside from how you treat your student (in my case homeschooler) in terms of verbal contact, there's a basic difference in how children's learning and work is treated that returns dignity, respect, and a higher level of useful expectations to the children.

Basically, children work at their exercises until their work is an A or B level. Barely-passing work is no longer accepted.