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).