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MS Dev Show Hardware Update

This is an update to my earlier post How We Produce the MS Dev Show Podcast. Carl and I have focused on streamlining the process to minimize the amount of time we need to dedicate on each episode. That means we have more time to spend with guests and content (and day job).

This is the setup Carl and I each have for a typical podcast:

Full Rig

Bye Compressor/Gate/Limiter

We previously had a compressor/gate/limiter wired in to our audio chain. What I've found is that there is nothing you can do in real-time during recording that you can't do in post editing. In fact, during editing, there is more information available. The Auphonic Multitrack Processor does a phenomenal job selecting the right track at the right moment, and determining the perfect level. It also does an amazing job at removing noise. For Carl and I with our good mics, the noise is minimal. For guests, sometimes we deal with a lot of noise. Auphonic reduces the noise as much as possible, and attenuates their track when they're not speaking.

Due to our dependence and quantity of usage of Auphonic, we switched from their online service to their desktop application. This means that we spend less time transferring files back and forth with the cloud, and we don't have to worry about per-episode costs.

Hardware Recorders

Zoom Recorder

We originally bought a Zoom H6 Six-Track portable recorder for a conference, but we were just blown away by the capabilities. We ended up buying a second as a spare. We also started using our hardware recorders as a backup for our audio tracks. By using a simple XLR splitter, we're able to use the recorders as dedicated audio backup devices. Even if Carl or I have a computer issue while recording the show, the hardware recorder ensures we have a reliable raw track to fall back on.

Our mics run into the XLR splitter, and then go directly into the hardware recorder as well as our USB interface. This simple design minimizes any single points of failure.

The recorder also functions as a mixer, and when we do shows at a conference, it's easy for us to adjust gains while recording.

Better Cables

We found out the hard way that our cables sucked. Interestingly, price doesn't seem to correlate with quality. We had a cable with a bad end that would cause occasional static.

TIP: If you have a bad cable, cut it and throw it away! It's not worth keeping!

We've had good luck with Hosa XLR cables. The ends are top quality, and the connections have been great.

Hosa XLR Cable

Headphones

A good pair of headphones will allow you to hear a complete range of sound without artificially changing it. Not only do they sound great for music, but they also give you an unbiased representation of what you're recording. During the editing process, they're invaluable in hearing every detail.

I picked up the Audio Technica ATH-m50x headphones. They come with interchangeable cables. For podcasting, I use the coiled cable with a 1/4" connector. The cable extends long enough that I can go up to a few feet away from the USB interface if needed.

Audio Technica ATH-m50x

Basic Stands

I thought having a big boom arm for my mic was a necessity, but again, simpler turns out to be the better option. I switched over to a basic mic stand that I can just move into place on my desk. As an added bonus, it's over $100 less expensive.

Mic Stand

Isolation Shield

I have a sound isolation shield that I put on my desk behind the microphone which helps reduce echo from my walls and monitor.

Isolation Shield

Guest Gifts

Our amazing guests are one of our best assets. We wanted a way to show our appreciation. Starting in 2016, we'll be providing a care package to guests. We're still working on the details, but our current plan is to include the following:

  • A thank you letter
  • MS Dev Show M&Ms
  • An MS Dev Show mousepad
  • An MS Dev Show Moleskine notebook

M&M's mmmmm

What's Next?

One thing we're looking at is an easy way to wire in an XLR mute box. Basically, we want to have a button we can push to temporarily mute ourselves if our kids or pets are loud. We're still working on figuring out the best option here.

Summary

I believe the absolute key to keeping a podcast going is making it as little work as possible. This allows you to focus on content.

Automate.

Keep it simple.

Enjoy.

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Moving My PC Into the Basement

Most computers generate a lot of noise and heat. A few months ago, coincidentially the middle of summer, I realized I could move my PC into the basement and solve both of these problems.

Here is a photo of my tower in my desk - pardon the dust:

PC In Desk

It's pretty dusty, and since it's in a fairly enclosed area, it runs hotter than it should. My original solution was to add a fan to the desk, and drill holes to allow the air to flow through. Unfortunately, this turns my desk into a giant room heater.

Originally I planned on running the cables through the wall down to the basement, but the DVI cables have large ends, and I didn't want to remove much insulation from an outside wall. I decided to instead drill a hole in the floor using a standard size used in desks so that it's easy to cover/cap as needed.

This is the type of grommet I picked up:

Floor Grommet

I used masking tape on the wood floor to avoid splintering, and then used a hole saw to drill a 2.5" hole.

Here is what the finished hole looks like, with the plastic ring dropped (again, the same as what you would use in an office desk) in to make it look nice. It's near the wall so that it's out of the way, and my desk is close enough to the wall to run my cables under the desk into the hole.

Finished Hole in Floor

Let's head down to the basement.

I built 2 brackets to hang from the floor joists and hold the tower.

Brackets

Here they are installed with the PC sitting on top. I'm going to put some hooks in for wire management.

PC Mounted in Basement

Blu-Ray Drive

One issue with having my PC in a different room is that I can't phsyically access the Blu-Ray drive without going into the basement.

I found a USB 3.0 to SATA adapter that connects to the drive and provides power and a data connection.

Anker USB to SATA Adapter

I don't want to scratch my desk, so let's add some protection.

Blu-Ray Drive Feet

Here it is sitting on my desk.

Blu-Ray Drive on my Desk

Other Connections

Not a lot of cables are required for my setup. I have 2 dual-DVI connections, a 3.5mm audio connection, and a couple of USB extensions allowing me to connect a USB hub and other devices.

One suggestion if you're thinking of doing this - run a few USB extensions so that you can directly connect devices like keyboards to the PC. If your keyboard runs through a USB hub, you may run into issues if you need to get into the BIOS since the USB Hub drivers may not work at boot time. I've also seen delays in Windows recognizing the keyboard when connected to a hub.

I keep my PC on 24/7, so accessing the power button isn't important. It's easy enough for me to go into the basement in the rare case where I need to push the button. If you need access to your power button remotely, it would not be overly difficult to run 2 low voltage wires and connect a momentary switch. The power button simply closes a circuit momentarily, so it's easy to extend.

Conclusion

Even though my setup was extremely quiet before, it's noticably quieter now. We also had some warm days recently and my office stayed nice and cool. I'm happy with the solution so far, and the extra space in my desk was a great place to hide my printer.

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Azure in Plain English

Recently I saw a great page called Amazon Web Services in Plain English. I searched for the Azure equivalent, and as it turns out, one doesn't exist! Time to set that straight.

The most interesting thing about this exercise is that Azure services are actually named fairly well. For each of the official names, it was extremely difficult to come up with a better name.

Base Services

Azure Service Could be Called Use this to... Like AWS...
Virtual MachinesServersMove existing apps to the cloud without changing them. You manage the entire computer.EC2
Cloud ServicesManaged Virtual MachinesRun applications on virtual machines that you don't have to manage, but can partially manage. 
BatchAzure Distributed ProcessingWork on a large chunk of data by divvying it up between a whole bunch of machines. 
RemoteAppRemote Desktop for AppsExpose non-web apps to users. For example, run Excel on your iPad.AppStream
Web AppsWeb Site HostRun websites (.NET, Node.js, etc.) without managing anything extra. Scale automatically and easily.Elastic Beanstalk
Mobile AppsMobile App AcceleratorQuickly get an app backend up and running. 
Logic AppsVisio for Doing StuffChain steps together to get stuff done. 
API AppsAPI HostHost your API's without any of the management overhead. 
API ManagementAPI ProxyExpose an API and off-load things like billing, authentication, and caching.API Gateway

Mobile

Azure Service Could be Called Use this to... Like AWS...
Notification HubsNotification BlasterSend notifications to all of your users, or groups of users based on things like zip code. All platforms.SNS
Mobile EngagementMobile PsychicTrack what users are doing in your app, and customize experience based on this data. 

Storage

Azure Service Could be Called Use this to... Like AWS...
SQL DatabaseAzure SQLUse the power of a SQL Server cluster without having to manage it.RDS
Document DBAzure NoSQLUse an unstructured JSON database without having to manage it.Dynamo DB
Redis CacheEasy CacheCache files in memory in a scalable way.Elasticache
Storage BlobsCloud File SystemStore files, virtual disks, and build other storage services on top of.S3
Azure SearchIndex & SearchAdd search capabilities to your website, or index data stored somewhere else.CloudSearch
SQL Data WarehouseStructured Report DatabaseStore all of your company's data in a structured format for reporting.RedShift
Azure Data LakeUnstructured Report DatabaseStore all of your company's data in any format for reporting. 
HDInsightHosted HadoopDo Hadoopy things with massive amounts of data. 
Machine LearningSkynetTrain AI to predict the future using existing data. Examples include credit card fraud detection and Netflix movie recommendations. 
Stream AnalyticsReal-time data queryLook for patterns in data as it arrives. 
Data FactoryAzure ETLOrchestrate extract, transform, and load data processes.Data Pipeline
Event HubsIoT IngestorIngest data at ANY scale inexpensively. 

Networking

Azure Service Could be Called Use this to... Like AWS...
Virtual NetworkPrivate NetworkPut machines on the same, private network so that they talk to each other directly and privately. Expose services to the internet as needed. 
ExpressRouteFiber to AzureConnect privately over an insanely fast pipe to an Azure datacenter. Make your local network part of your Azure network.Direct Connect
Load BalancerLoad BalancerSplit load between multiple services, and handle failures. 
Traffic ManagerDatacenter Load BalancerSplit load between multiple datacenters, and handle datacenter outages. 
DNSDNS ProviderRun a DNS server so that your domain names map to the correct IP addresses.Route53
VPN GatewayVirtual Fiber to AzureConnect privately to an Azure datacenter. Make your local network part of your Azure network. 
Application GatewayWeb Site ProxyProxy all of your HTTP traffic. Host your SSL certs. Load balance with sticky sessions. 
CDNCDNMake your sites faster and more scalable by putting your static files on servers around the world close to your end users.Cloudfront
Media ServicesVideo ProcessorTranscode video and distribute and manage it on the scale of the Olympics.Elastic Transcoder

Management

Azure Service Could be Called Use this to... Like AWS...
Azure Resource ManagerDeclarative ConfigurationDefine your entire Azure architecture as a repeatable JSON file and deploy all at once.CloudFormation

Developer

Azure Service Could be Called Use this to... Like AWS...
Application InsightsApp AnalyticsView detailed information about how your apps (web, mobile, etc.) are used.Mobile Analytics
Service FabricCloud App FrameworkBuild a cloud optimized application that can scale and handle failures inexpensively.

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Jason Young I'm Jason Young, software developer at heart, technical evangelist for Microsoft by day. This blog contains my opinions, of which my employer may not share.

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