Cohort

Seth Godin talks quite a lot about cohorts: “The people who get you. The ones who have been through it with you. Who see you.” An emphasis on peer-relationships is one of the defining features of his highly rated and very-low-drop-out-rated online workshops.

He’s got me thinking again about the value of a group of people doing similar work, with similar levels of experience. These are people – ‘fellow travellers‘ – who can relate to your struggles, share what they know, encourage you to keep going, push you to get put there and do better work. By turns they might be sounding-boards, collaborators, mentors, sympathetic ears, or champions of your work.

Where’s your cohort?

It’s relatively easy to find them among peers when your training for something – in school, on a course (although I’m agnostic about finding them on an online course), in your time in the army (!), or in the trenches doing your job. When I was teaching, colleagues at about the same stage of their careers were definitely my cohort.

But having a good cohort becomes harder if you move around, or as you start to manage and lead – by default there will be fewer ‘people like us’ around, and there are fewer natural opportunities to meet. Maintaining a cohort becomes something that you need to do deliberately by seeking people out and having conversations, by asking questions, looking for opinions and advice, and sharing resources with people who find them helpful.

Five Questions and – slowly – the Driverless Crocodile podcast are a way of doing this.

That saying (wherever it’s from) might be right: “… if you want to go far, go together.” Find friends for your work.

Podcasting resources from Buzzsprout

I just came across these excellent tutorials from Buzzsprout:

Audacity Tutorial: 17 Essential Podcast Recording & Editing Tips

Loads of stuff about settings, filters, export quality (although they recommend exporting to 256kbs, four times the quality of the 64kbs that most people recommend for mono audio for a podcast).

Podcasting 101 Guide:How to Make a Podcast

This is a good overview of getting started, including planning, equipment setup and distribution.

Doing to see

My sister and I just recorded a special episode for Driverlesscroc Podcast(‘Useful Things’), learnt a lot doing it, including:

  • That recording both ends of a skype call is a viable way to work over distance
  • The importance of triple-checking your mics after I made a schoolboy error and plugged my mic into a headphone jack. I could see that I was recording something, but it turned out to be my laptop’s built-in mic rather than my lapel mic, resulting in a voice-track that sounds like it was recorded in a bucket
  • That Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder do a really good job of keeping their Cool Tools show tight – we were trying hard to stay focused but easily racked up 40 minutes.
  • That Audacity projects are big (we hit a couple of gigabytes for all the uncompressed audio and project files).
  • That (I think) Audacity doesn’t play well with syncing to the cloud – some of the source-files for my project file somehow got corrupted and I almost lost it all – fortunately I’d made an almost-finished .wav of the whole thing so it was saveable.
  • That ‘ship the work’ sometimes means ‘finish the project’ – get it done, learn from it, move on. This project doesn’t exactly have a ‘client’, and its main audience is us – so we can say ‘not quite good enough – but finished’ with a clear conscience. I’ll post it to the podcast for completeness, and as a reference for anyone interested in the journey.

The idea that doing helps you see – that experience counts for a lot – is pretty obvious in lots of areas of life. You can’t understand being on stage, or driving a car, or playing in a sporting contest, until you’ve done them.

But we tend to forget how true this is for almost everything, and how context-specific our experience tends to be. By doing, we see.

DCPodcast howto – recording via skype

Happy to report that we’ve just recorded a special-edition first episode of the Driverlesscroc podcast and it went off without a hitch.

Recording between Jakarta and Buenos Aires meant that we couldn’t trust the VoIP connection (in fact, Skype held up really well), so we made two separate recordings.

Setup

Stu: Skype with headphones on my Android phone, with a separate wired mic (the sub $20 Boya BY-M1 – amazon) recording to Audacity. (see incredibly important note below)

V: Used a mic-and-headphones headset for both Skype in Windows 10 and Audacity to record the input from the mic.

Lessons Learned from recording

  1. Recording the introduction is the hard part – once we got into the conversation it was easy.
  2. Keeping it concise is harder than we thought. We tried to keep the conversation tight but still ran almost double the length of a normal Cool Tools episode. Mark Fraunfelder and Kevin Kelly manage the balance between going into technical detail and keeping things moving really well, and I couldn’t have seen this until I’d tried to record something similar.*
  3. Another time I might try Cube Call Recorder to record audio from skype as a backup.
  4. It was fun and worth doing for the conversation alone (a good sign?)
  5. Done is better than perfect!

Lessons learned in post production

  1. It turned out I plugged the mic into the headphone jack and recorded the whole thing with my laptop’s built in mic. It could be worse, but the proper mic makes a big difference. The noise reduction made a huge difference improving the sound.
  2. Noise reduction takes quite a while for a longer file – several minutes.
  3. Outtakes are hilarious

*See also: Doing to see

Podcasting Howto: workflow for recording and improving sound quality for a podcast using Audacity

This howto is entirely based on David Taylor‘s excellent Introduction to Audacity youtube lesson. With apologies for the boring soundcheck used in the examples.

Preamble

  1. Install Audacity and the LAME (.mp3) and and FFmpeg libraries following the instructions from the website.
  2. Have a mic of some sort ready and plugged into your computer.
  3. Have headphones ready too.
  4. If you haven’t done this for a while, re-watch David Taylor’s introduction to Audacity to refresh your memory.

Setup

  1. Plug in mic and turn it on.
  2. Open Audacity.
  3. Decide whether you want to record in stereo or mono (smaller files), using MME, with project rate set to 44100Hz.
  4. Shut door, turn off fan.
  5. Mic check – check that audio doesn’t go above -0.0db on the meter.

Recording

  1. Click record.
  2. Wait for 3 seconds to capture ambient noise.
  3. Start speaking – be spectacular.
  4. Click stop.

Post-production

.wav file of the raw audio
  1. Zoom out to see entire clip; zoom in on ambient noise section.
Noise Reduction

Noise reduction gets rid of some of the background hissing and ambient noise to clean up the sound of your recording.

  1. Select the empty three seconds, then: Effect>Noise reduction
  2. Click Get Noise Profile.
  3. Select the entire clip (manually or using Control A then Effect>Noise Reduction. Click preview. If it sounds okay, click okay. It makes a huge difference in the project file, but less of a difference in the final .mp3.
  4. Trim off the empty three seconds.
Post noise-reduction
Normalisation

Normalisation brings up the sound levels so that they’re consistent across the recording.

  1. Effect > normalise. Use -2.0 as standard.
Normalised to -2.0 decibels (i.e. made louder)
Equalisation

Equalisation can help increase or reduce key frequencies in your recording – for example by getting rid of excessive bass or treble.

  1. Effect > Equalisation. Click equaliser to show sliders. I used AM radio to reduce sibilance but bought up the treble a bit.
  2. I tried again using the voice setting but bringing down the treble too. Not sure if I can tell the difference.
Post-equalisation using AM Radio setting, with a bit more treble
Post-equalisation using voice setting, with a bit less treble
Compression

Reduces the dynamic range of the recording (the difference between the loudest and quietest parts) – it can make the audio sound better when it’s amplified.

  1. Effect > Compressor.
  2. Uncheck Make-up gain to 0DB and uncheck Compress based on Peaks.
Re-normalisation
  1. Normalise again to -2.0
Other tweaks
  1. For any too-heavy peaks or plosives, zoom in and select them, then use Effect > Amplify and reduce the gain for that section.
  2. Use silence to remove any breaths etc.

Export to .mp3

Export as .mp3 using these settings:

  1. Export to mono for a podcast
  2. Constant Bit Rate
  3. Either 64 (common

Podcast recommendation: Marc Andreesen on The Moment with Brian Koppelman

I’ve already shared an extract from this episode about systems thinking here, but the whole interview is fascinating and everyone I’ve recommended it to has thanked me for it.

Marc Andressen more-or-less invented the web-browser as we know it and made Netscape (the biggest internet browser of its day, which was sold for a profit), which seeded the development of Mozilla Firefox, which you might be using right now. These days he’s a really influential venture capitalist, a quick (and very smart) thinker and fast talker.

This interview is full of useful and interesting gems, and Brian Koppelman does a great job of pulling out some interesting applications to art and pop culture. Apart from systems thinking, highlights (to be unpacked in future) include:

  • The importance of networks and scenes (‘scenius’) in fostering and spreading innovation
  • How to make your way, taking as a given that many things of life are unfair or wrong
  • The relative value of ideas versus work
  • Marketing, sales, and how to get your ideas in front of people
  • The Test – the ability to get a ‘warm referral’ to investors or key players not as cronyism but as an excellent test of the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur

Highly recommend.

You can listen to the episode here, download it here or read the transcript here.

Ordinary people. Good work.

Good to Great is all well and good, but what about Pretty Good to Very Good?

I’ve been mulling over the DC podcast and this is what I’m going to focus on: ordinary people doing good (and important) work.

Not multi-million pound-dollar businesses and organisations, but those working with tens or hundreds of thousands.

Not companies boasting world-class-execution-across-the-board, but individuals who are very-good-at-a-few-things with (if we’re honest) patches of mediocrity and plenty of room for improvement.

Not role models glimpsed as they soar through the stratosphere, but peer models who can share something that they’re good at and what’s worked for them, as well where they feel they’re falling down, and start some conversations.

The people I have in mind are a different set of elite performer – people who do work that they think is important and do it well, who buy their own stationary, wash their own dishes, and pay for their own mistakes.

Ordinary people. Like us.

Podcast: a few minutes to worldwide distribution

It turned out that when I got to 121 minutes I wasn’t too far off worldwide distribution and an audience (okay, potential audience) of billions.

Not that I want an audience of billions, but it’s amazing to think about it. Pow – you have distribution that the biggest media companies in the world could only dream of a couple of decades ago.

Back to the podcast – the morning after this post I installed the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin for wordpress, and their stats add-on (both free) muddled through with filling things in, and then found this excellent article from elegantthemes.

And now I have an RSS feed that makes my podcast downloadable or streamable to anyone with a web browser or a podcast app on their phone.

I’m not on itunes or Google play yet – they’re not exactly the point, and take some extra registrations – but I’ll get there eventually.

For now, here are my amazing stats:

DC podcast stats

iphone users show up as iTunes downloads. I’m not actually on iTunes yet – I just serve a classy demographic.