A retired music teacher friend, Ruth Johnsen, needed help setting up a virtual performance by her music students. Because I was eager to learn a new video editor and because it’s really impossible to say no to Ruth, I stepped up and took it on. For the past few weeks, videos from each musician has been filtering over to me and I’ve been learning all I can about stitching them together. Fortunately, the occasional karaoke videos I’ve created have given me a little insight into the best way to get this done. Here’s my recipe for successfully recording musical parts for a virtual performance.
Consistency is key. The video clips I was given all look and sound different. That’s to be expected from so many musicians and no way to use identical hardware and software. There are some aspects that can be easily standardized, such as:
Video orientation. Have everyone use either portrait or landscape mode. It will look much better. Purists insist on landscape but portrait can work, too. Whichever you choose, it’s best if everyone uses it.
Distance. Be consistent with camera distance. If your phone or camera is too close, you will overwhelm the microphone; too far and you won’t be heard at all. You’ll also make work for the video editor as she has to scale or crop the video to make everyone look consistent. Continue reading →
I’d been dreaming of getting fiber to my home for over a decade. It was that long ago that I spent my days hooking up ten-gigabit fiber connections to massive file servers at NetApp. I led a successful grassroots effort to lure Google Fiber to Raleigh, because competition can be a great way to spur innovation and investment. You can imagine in 2018 how excited I was to learn that fiber was coming to my neighborhood. While it wasn’t Google, it was AT&T. I swallowed my pride, quietly rescinded my ban of ever doing business with AT&T again, and signed up for their fastest package: symmetrical gigabit fiber. Cost was $80/month initially and thereafter $90/month. I’m sure I’m one of the few in my area who max it out. Hey, geeks gotta geek.
While I’m happy to use up as many AT&T bits as possible, I still don’t entirely trust the company (though I do trust them more than Time Warner Cable (TWC), a.k.a. Spectrum, and this as you know is not saying much). While providing direct access to my home network to a major telco may be a bit on the paranoid side, a number of security vulnerabilities have been discovered with other AT&T devices. Though AT&T might not be snooping around my network, I could not be entirely comfortable that hackers wouldn’t. AT&T’s RGs were discovered to have the built-in ability to do deep packet inspections (DPI) themselves, being able to snoop on the network traffic of its customers. For this and many other reasons, I just don’t trust any devices on my home network that I do not control.
I kept a firewall between TWC and my network for this reason. AT&T wants you to use their device, which they call a “Residential Gateway” or RG, as the firewall. It also acts as a WiFi point, DHCP server, and the like. This may be fine for most people, but I am an uber power user. As an engineer, I want to squeeze the maximum performance out of my networking. I will happily void the warranties on my networking gear. I didn’t spend time tuning my home firewalls for maximum throughput just to discard them when some corporate box comes along. This just won’t do, you see.
The Power User’s approach
My first approach was to switch things over to my TP-Link AC1750 access ponits, running OpenWRT. While my AC1750s could keep up with the slow (300 Mbps) speeds of cable Internet, they were balking at gigabit speeds. The hardware acceleration the AC1750s utilize require proprietary drivers which OpenWRT does not provide. It was time to list them on Craigslist and try something new. Continue reading →
My membership warehouse company, Costco, sells both the iRobot models but also the Ecovacs brand. I was intrigued so I brought home the Ecovacs Deebot Orzo 920. What do I have to lose, with Costco’s generous return policy protecting me? I ordered the Orzo 920 online and waited patiently for it to arrive.
The Orzo 920 is almost perfect as far as robot vacuums go, though I’m not sure why is has such a long name (how many brand names does one robot need?). A Chinese model, it nevertheless has clearly-written documentation and labels. The box contained the robot, charging dock, booklet, two HEPA filters and a tool for cleaning the brushes. Instinctively I set up the charging dock and put the robot on it, not realizing I had to flip the red switch on top to actually turn it on.
Modern robot vacuums need Internet access, so I had to go through steps to connect it to my home network. I downloaded the Evovacs app for my Android phone and set the vacuum up to advertise its WiFi signal. Connecting it to the app was simple and quick.
Once the Orzo was charged, I used the app to set it up. The Orzo uses LIDAR laser ranging to map the floors of your home. It maps your home the first time it’s run, after which you can edit the map to divide areas, mark off spots with “virtual boundaries,” and make other adjustments. Different advanced vacuums use different technologies to map rooms (iRobots use a visual camera) but in my experience the LIDAR is tough to beat. It was a treat to watch as the app filled in walls as the robot proceeded around the room. It does an amazingly accurate job figuring out where it is and what the room looks like. I could tell this was not a robot that would ever get lost on the way back to the dock.
One thing I learned right away is that the initial mapping takes longer than a normal cleaning. This may just be my experience but I wanted it to be thorough in its mapping at the expense of deep cleaning the first time. I discovered an option in the app’s settings which allows you to set the vacuum’s power on the “Quiet” setting. This uses far less battery than the normal power modes so I was able to get the vacuum to completely map my floor without having to stop and charge mid-way.
Multiple floors are supported, so once the Orzo had mapped the downstairs I moved the dock and vacuum upstairs and had the Orzo map it, too. Only two maps seem to be in the app so if your home has more than two you might be out of luck. Continue reading →
Many years ago through a “Woot-off” clearance sale, I became the owner of a first-generation iRobot Roomba robot vacuum. It was novel advanced for its day, bouncing randomly around the room, but it frequently either got stuck somewhere or lost its way back to the charging dock, sending me on a whole-house search to find it. When the battery died I packed it away and switched to old-fashioned vacuuming.
With the recent addition of two dogs to the family vacuuming has become a priority again. To keep up without spending an hour manually pushing a vacuum around the floor, I revisited the state-of-the-art for robot vacuums. I quizzed my friends with vacuums to see what they liked about theirs. I read several web reviews and product reviews.
iRobot’s latest models seemed okay but didn’t wow me. They seemed to have a high price tag for what they offered. iRobot is no longer the only game in town, so I thought I’d look at the competition. The Evocacs Deebot Orzo 920 is sold at Costo and seemed like a good candidate, so I ordered one. I also read some great online reviews of the Roborock S4 so I ordered one of those, too. After a few weeks with each I’ve decided to post my reviews of them, starting with the Orzo 920. I’ll post the link to my Roborock review here once it’s done, too.
January marked a year since we said goodbye to our Black Lab, Rocket. The house has been clean but quiet since then but facing the prospect of an emptier nest this fall, Kelly and I began kicking around the idea of another dog.
In February, a friend who is a volunteer dog rescuer brought over a dog she was trying to home. While this female dog seemed okay, she was unusually focused on tracking down our porch cat and seemed to pay us little attention. It would have been nice to help our friend out by taking in this dog but that spark I expected to feel just wasn’t there with this particular dog. Our search resumed.
One of Kelly’s friends mentioned to her that there were two dogs needing a home. These dogs had been abandoned at a neighbor’s boarding service ad were part of a trio of dogs, one of which found a home with another neighborhood friend. We arranged for them to visit us so that we could decide which one we would adopt.
Our boarding service friend Laura brought the dogs, Abbot and Tobin, over March 1st and gave us their long backstory. Both are hounds who had been in the kennel for the best part of a year. One was a stray and the other was part of some kind of dog-hoarding situation. They’d been together for months. Continue reading →
One friend on Facebook who normally stays genteel watched one of Trump’s coronavirus press conferences and then unloaded on him in a post:
Watching the daily Presidential press conference on the Corona virus. Sorry Trump fans but how pathetic can one be. So far its been me, me, me!! How great I am, how much I’ve done, previous administrations are responsible, Governor’s are totally responsible. Everyone but me is responsible!! Forget the 30,000 dead, 700,000 infected and continuing. Outrageous!! Sorry for venting on my few posts.
Most of the responses to his post were in agreement, but one of his friends responded with this:
He’s actually none of those things and he’s doing a great job he’s he is talking himself and the task force up a lot but only because this is his only chance to defend himself the media totally lies. They are blaming him for a delayed response to the handling of the virus when in fact Dr. Fauci said on Feb. 29th that there was no need to change our behavior. Dr. Birx also supported the White House response and timeline at the press conference the other day. No one has a crystal ball and no one knew how bad the virus would be our president took decisive action and he was a genius in partnering private and public partnerships to get all the PPE and ventilators and things that we need acted very quickly he does deserve a little credit and he’s been working really hard and it’s very unfair shouldn’t matter what your politics are we should all be coming together in this time of crisis.
This totally blows my mind. It’s like this person is on another planet, viewing a different president than I am. Continue reading →
After a public performance or two over our New Years trip I thought I’d take my singing more seriously. I quickly realized the huge library of karaoke songs on Spotify and that could use this and some Googled lyrics to turn a PA speaker into a karaoke machine. I’ve posted two of my songs to YouTube already (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” By Elvis Costello and “Pink Cadillac” By Bruce Springsteen) and have gotten positive feedback. It feels good to be able to try something new, share it with the world, and get feedback on it.
It’s been a good lesson on how I sing, too. I sang in chorus in middle school and sang in my church’s youth choir around that time, too. I’ve been singing along to my favorite music whenever I’m alone at home or in the car. Once my colleagues caught me singing in the server room when I thought the roar of machines was drowning me out! Rarely did I sing for an audience before.
I have learned that singing with the goal of sounding the best is new to me. I realized that many of the songs I’ve been singing along to, ones that I’ve enjoyed singing, are not necessarily songs fit for my vocal range or style. When I’ve tried to do karaoke versions of these songs I quickly realized the ways in which my voice came up short. You know what? I have learned to be fine with this. I can’t nail every song but there are still hundreds or even thousands where my voice fits just fine. My list of karaoke songs is now well into the hundreds and I can easily organize a hefty, interesting set list to cover any performances. Continue reading →
Wednesday marked the start of our seventh week in COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine. Not much has changed in our situation, which is good. We have gotten into a bit of a routine, with Kelly and me sharing an upstairs office, the kids doing remote classroom work in their rooms in the morning, and everyone retreating to quiet areas of our home when needed. Our new dogs (did I mention we now have dogs?) have taken to this routine very well as it’s the only routine they’ve known since we brought them home from the kennel. Having them around has provided us good company.
I still go out on occasion for groceries, braving the line at Costco about every two weeks. I try to get there when it first opens to minimize contact with potentially sick people. At the start of the pandemic, I might wait outside for 30 minutes while the store metered the number of people inside at one time. By my last visit on last weekend, the wait was down to six minutes.
The routine is this: wait in a “socially distant” line outside of the store, with 6 or more feet suggested between people in line. Get to front, show card, get let in in a group of two or fewer at a time. Grab a freshly-sanitiz3ed cart, then shop as normal except for following the taped arrorws on the floor, indicating what direction traffic should flow in each aisle. When it’s time to check out, wait 6 feet behind the person in front of you (helpfully marked again with tape on the floor), then put your items on the conveyor, being careful not to mix them as the plastic dividing sticks have been removed. Stand in front of the cashier with a large plastic shield between you. Take your items to the door, where your receipt is placed on a small cart in front of the inventory checkers. Walk out of the store through the “exit” area that’s been set up and back to your car. Continue reading →
Life as we know it has changed in an astonishingly quick moment. Last week it was fairly normal when it looked like China might be able to contain the virus but then panic set in across the country. Sports leagues like the NBA, NCAA, ACC, and NHL canceled their games. Raleigh’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade was called off. Then Wake County Public Schools decided last Friday to not count absences before turning around on Saturday and closing schools. A week ago I worked my first day at home and have not been back to the office except for a brief time Saturday to retrieve the plants off my desk.
We are doing what is termed “social distancing,” where we interact with as few people as possible. The kids are at home, Kelly and I are at home and we have largely given up any trips outside of the house except for dire emergencies. It is frightening and surreal. In an instant life has changed drastically.
It has been day three of our all being at home. Our home is big enough that we can find our own corners and not disturb each other. When we’re sharing our home office, Kelly has complained about how loudly I chew gum (narrator: it’s not that loud). Spirits are high now but the realization is setting in that this will not be over any time soon. We may have to shelter in place like this for months.
The saving grace is that we are not strictly confined to our homes. At least, not yet. We can go for drives, walks, bike rides, dog walks. Whatever. We are just encouraged to maintain that six-foot distance experts suggest will keep us safe from getting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Continue reading →
After some back and forth with the N&O editorial staff, I have trimmed my CAC op-ed into more of a long letter. Hopefully it will run in Friday’s edition.
A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils
Amid concerns that rapid growth was distancing city leaders from the community, Raleigh launched its Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). For 46 years, CACs were a forum where citizens and government officials could exchange information and concerns until Raleigh City Council abruptly ended this decades-long partnership in a vote that demonstrated a shocking lack of transparency and good governance.
Much has been made of the (merely advisory) role played by CACs in rezoning cases but CACs were so much more. CACs stepped in when neighbors needed help, organized school supplies drives, and provided a forum where wary neighbors met with Raleigh Police officers to build connections, and the list goes on. It didn’t matter who you were, if you were a resident your voice counted.
All other city advisory boards get their direction from the top; work must first be approved by the City Council. In this model, how do we ensure citizen concerns are adequately addressed? Who’s doing the listening and who’s doing the talking? Absent the independence of CACs, community engagement quickly devolves into a one-way conversation. The partnership is no more.
CACs had their challenges but they also represented one of the most basic forms of democracy: neighbors coming together to work things out. We will be hard-pressed to do better.