You might have noticed, if you follow me on other parts of the internet, a precipitous decline in my posts to Facebook and Instagram. More on that development and why that is in a future post but basically I have quit both of those services for my own sanity.

Likewise, if you have visited A Fine Dram recently you may have noticed a new item in the menu bar, SAAT.

So... What the heck is SAAT?

It's my tumblr site, Super Awesome Adventure Time[1].

The next logical question is why would I start a second site when I already have The Dram? Essentially, having a second, super-easy-to-post-to site[2] actually serves a couple of functions.

First, using tumblr and flickr to replace Facebook and Instagram gives me a place to share quick posts, pics, and videos without the discomfort[3] I have with Facebook and Instagram. This also gives my internet friends–heck, even real people–the ability to see what I post without needing to sign up for unnecessary or untrustworthy services.

Second, this change actually allows me to refocus the content here on The Dram. I want to focus the posts here on longer, 'article'-type posts and photography posts[4]. I'm going to migrate the current 'blog' section to an Archives page and begin a Main page with a clean slate.

To that end I am working on a number of new posts. I don't want to give away too much but I am very excited about the pieces I'm working on.

Thank you for reading. I hope you like the refresh. And please check out Super Awesome Adventure Time for quick posts, photos, videos, and whatever randomness I feel like throwing on the interwebs.

[1]: Which is at, but you can use the .com, too. It's the magic of the internets!

[2]: I can post to tumblr–as well as flickr and twitter–easily via multiple iOS apps. It really is super easy.

[3]: Unease, swarminess, sketchiness.

[4]: Sometimes those will be one in the same, as you will see very soon...

Casting Pods

So... You want to start podcasting...

Are you sure?

Ok. Well, here's how we do it on the Irrational Confidence Podcast.

Show Prep.

If I had to guess, I would say this is probably the part that is ignored by most people wanting to start up a podcast and yet it's probably the most important part. Each episode of our podcast, believe it or not, is planned out beforehand. No, we don't script anything, but we do plan what topics we're going to talk about and in what order.

We use a shared notebook on Springpad to organize show topics and create an agenda for each episode. We also talk—a lot—via email and twitter direct message about the upcoming show for most of the week before we record. If you're doing a podcast with another person, communication before recording will make or break your show. Brandon and I generally agree about what we want to do with the show and what topics we want to cover, so this isn't too difficult for us. But, you really have to be on the same page about everything from show length to who's doing intro/outro. It's important.

To help prepare, and to test our original workflow and our recording equipment, we did a complete test episode (eventually released as Episode 06: The Lost Episode) where we went from start to finish. I even edited it and uploaded it to a dummy site so Brandon and I could listen to it and make changes before we did E01.


Before you record one second of audio you need to get some equipment and make sure you have the right software for recording. We both have Macs so that's what I'll be talking about. If you have a PC, um, go buy a Mac.

Microphones. We both have a Blue Microphones Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone. It's a really good, inexpensive mic for recording a single audio source–like your voice. It's USB-only so you can plug it right into your computer and start recording (just make sure you have it selected as input if your Mac has a built-in microphone...). When I got my microphone I had Beatrix test it out for me...

Talking to Each Other. We talk over Skype. The quality isn't always great (see especially the sound artifacts in Episode 08: The Music Men in which it sounded like we were possessed by demons) but it works well enough for us to have a conversation. Until our latest episode I was recording both sides of our conversation via Piezo. Piezo works fine to do that, but the Skype quality was crap.

Now we're both recording our sides of the conversation in GarageBand on our own machines. After the show is done Brandon exports his and sends it to me via DropBox and I put them together in GarageBand. It takes a little longer to get the episode turned around, but the quality is so much better that it is definitely worth it.

Dropping Markers. Why would you want to do this? Well, if I cough and want to edit it out a marker would help me find it without having to re-listen to the entire track. Also, I like to mark funny parts that might make a good pre-roll opener. And I also mark spots where I might want to drop in sound effects or music.

To do this in GarageBand, you have to have the Podcast Track visible (and GarageBand must be the active window). While recording hit P to drop a marker. If you double-click on the podcast track you can see a list of marker times. Easy-peasy. And way simpler than trying to use the stopwatch on my iPad like I was doing before we started recording directly into GarageBand.

Once you're both ready hit record (on both sides if you're recording separately like we are) and do your show. We try to keep it between 45-90 minutes—although we are rarely under hour and the music episode is close to two hours. Once we're done and I have both files it's time to edit...


I'd love to tell you that editing a podcast is an art and that I love to do it. Um, no. It's a means to an end. I do it and I try to do it really well because I want out podcast to sound really good but it's pretty tedious and takes a lot of time. And it's not easy to do when you are tired from recording late because your kid doesn't go to sleep until 8:30 and then the episode goes long because you're talking about a good topic and GarageBand is being stupid and won't let you import the files in that format and... Next thing you know it's well after midnight and you have to be up for work in the morning and, well, that episode is gonna have to wait a day or so.

Editing is the part of podcasting that you do because you have to. It's worth doing right, though, because this is where your podcast goes from being just a phone call to being a professional-sounding show. Extra effort in editing will give you a product you are proud of.

So. How do I go about editing Irrational Confidence?

I pull the two tracks—one for me, one for Brandon—into GarageBand on separate tracks. I have a preset for the tracks that is loosely based off of the Male Narrator Noisy preset. There are also two tracks with that same preset that I'll use for the pre-roll once I select it. And finally a fifth track for the jingles and sound effects. I use the volume fader a lot on that track.

I have the opening music start right around five seconds in and I start my track—when I start the intro—at the appropriate spot in the music. Then I line up Brandon's track to mine. It helps to mute the music track for that because it could take a few passes to make sure they're lined up right.

That done, I start going through listening to the markers. If it's a spot for music or sound effect I split the tracks—carefully splitting both mine and Brandon's at the same spot (shift-click to select both helps a lot here) so they don't get out of sync—and put in the effect on the jingles track. I adjust the timing and volume fader to get it sounding right. That can take a few passes and a lot of tweaking. Once I've selected a bit for the pre-roll I copy and paste the appropriate sections to the empty pre-roll tracks at the start before the music. Then I add and fade-in/fade-out the music at the end.

Editing and production done? Nope.

Once the edit is done and I'm happy with it I export the whole thing in uncompressed .aif format. The resulting file is huge, around 1.5 GB or so. I do this so I can run it through a program called Levelator, which does what it says on the tin:

So what is The Levelator®? It's software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It's not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It's much more than those tools, and it's much simpler to use.

Basically, it just makes the file sound better, more even, more professional. And Levelator is free, so why not, right?

Then a quick trip back through GarageBand to compress and Boom. A brand-spanking-new episode of Irrational Confidence that sounds great but is only 30-40 MB.

Posting and Distributing.

How do you get your auditory masterpiece into everyone's ear-holes? The magic of the internet, of course. I've set up a second blog on my website that has the episodes as posts. I upload them and add some show notes and the RSS for that site becomes the feed for the podcast. Simple. Of course, it's simple because I'm already paying for Squarespace and they make it super easy. Your mileage may vary.

You'll have to submit your podcast feed to iTunes if you want it listed there but that process is pretty simple: open iTunes, go to iTunes store, click podcasts, click Submit a Podcast on the right sidebar and follow the instructions. In a day or so you'll get and email saying its approved (or not, I guess?) and then people can find it in there. If your audience uses podcast apps like Instacast or Downcast or even Apple's they can just plug the feed into there and it will pull it up for them to listen and subscribe. And they can always just listen directly on your site in their browser, I guess.


If you think you might want to do a podcast I would recommend trying out a test episode, whether you're doing it with one or more other people or solo, and go through all of the steps to get it posted. See if you're happy with the end product and whether it was worth it to you to go through the effort and spend the time. If so, then keep doing it. Week after week after week...

For Brandon and I it's well worth it. We enjoy doing it and (we like to think) our audience enjoys listening to it.

Some helpful links:

Apple - iTunes - Podcasts - Making a Podcast

Record a multi-participant podcast with GarageBand | TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Use Skype and GarageBand to make a podcast that sounds great | Macworld

GarageBand Help: Create an audio podcast

Download The Levelator for Mac - Adjusts audio levels within podcast or other audio file.

Podcasting with Squarespace | 6 Squarespace Support

7 Tips for Launching a Successful Podcast

A House Divided

It is upon us again. We are called upon to choose our next President. I know who I am voting for. And I know that whoever votes for the other guy is wrong, misguided, easily-duped, etc. Whether you agree with me and my guy or—ahem—the other guy, you no doubt feel the same way.

I used to vote one way. Now I vote the other way. Most of my family votes the way I used to vote. I was just as convinced of about my 'rightness' then as I am about their 'wrongness' now. The thing is, though, we have more than enough to argue and fight about without dragging politics into it.

I know that no matter how right I am there is almost nothing I can say that will convince them that they are wrong. Likewise, the most well-reasoned argument will not likely change my mind. And those futile efforts would only result in hard words and hurt feelings.

So we don't.

We argue about a lot of things but we don't argue about politics. We go about our lives—them watching their news, me watching mine—without discussing it. We don't make sarcastic comments about our respective candidates.

We don't talk (argue) about politics because despite our differences we still all respect each other to realize that we are entitled to our opinions. And we love each other enough to not want to hurt each other's feelings. There is precious little to be gained by trying to convince people who are just as stubborn as I am. And there is much to be lost in the attempt.

My point is just this: You have family and friends who are complete idiots for voting for the wrong guy. But, they aren't idiots. They just disagree with you. You should put more value in the relationships you have with them than in your loyalty to an ideology, a political party, or some guy running for office.

Be nice to each other. Go vote and shut up about it.


Coffee is fuel. But for me coffee is also a hobby. I enjoy grinding, measuring, brewing, pouring. I see each pot and cup as a continuation of a coffee experiment. The variables are simple: temperature, grind size, amount of coffee and water, time. But the combinations are literally endless.

I have used some esoteric brewing methods including vacuum brewing, AeroPress, and cold brewing. Those are all either expensive or just plain weird (or both). My current favorite method is the Chemex. It's amazingly simple. Easy to use and to clean. And it doesn't cost much. The largest of the brewers—they call it ten cups; its really four good-sized cups—is less than $45 and filters are around $8 for a box of 100. It was invented in 1941 and its virtually unchanged since then. It's a simple, pour-over brewer that, with just a little practice, makes excellent coffee. Here's a look at a typical Chemex brew:

You might also want to read the accompanying blog-post, COFFEE . A CHEMEX METHOD, for details on the method used.

My method is slightly different. I use a Kone stainless steel filter rather than paper and use the Kone directions—45 gm coffee, medium grind, 15 sec. pre-brew, 700mL water—but one doesn't need to be fiddly with the Chemex to get good coffee out of it. The number one factor is probably the quality of your beans. I get mine, of course, from Tonx.

I took the opportunity of a day off today to take a few photos while making my daily Chemex brew. Unfortunately the beans aren't Tonx—the mailman is bringing my latest bag this afternoon—but I'm happy with the photos and enjoyed the coffee anyway.


A little more. A little too much.

Apple did some things I definitely wasn't expecting today. First, they live-streamed the 'A little more...' event. Then they went way beyond the expected iPad news to introduce a new Retina-display thirteen-inch MacBook Pro, a newly-redesigned iMac and an updated Mac mini.

The big news story of the day, though, was the introduction of the iPad mini to be sold alongside the current iPhone, iPod, and updated iPad (with Retina Display) lineup. I made some predictions in the latest episode of Irrational Confidence and some I was right about. Some I was quite wrong about.

I was right—or close enough to not matter—about the screen size: 7.87 inches diagonal. I didn't mention, but it was virtually common knowledge, that it would have a Lightning connector (it does) and run all current iPad apps (it does). And I was also right about it not being equipped with a retina display. As Mr. Gruber describes the iPad mini screen:

Screen resolution-wise, it’s exactly what I expected for a 163 PPI display in 2012: noticeably nicer than the 133 PPI iPad 1/2, noticeably worse than the 266 PPI iPad 3/4. The iPad Mini display seems brighter and to have better contrast than the iPhone 3GS display, but unsurprisingly, rendered text looks exactly like it does on the 3GS.

But the most important prediction I made—at least the most important to me—was the one I was most wrong about. I stated that Horace Dediu at Asymco called for a base model, 8GB wifi-only, version at $250. I predicted (read: hoped for) that model to be $200. He was right and wrong. His prediction for the 16GB wifi model was $350 (it's $329) and there is no 8GB model. That made me just plain wrong about the prices of the iPad mini.

I have to admit that this is the first Apple product in a while, maybe since the early iPods, that really seemed over-priced to me. If that model, the 16GB, were $250 or if the $329 price tag brought a retina display then I would definitely see the value. As it is, I just can't pull the trigger on $329—minus whatever I could get for a now-three-generations-old iPad 2—device that for me only brings Siri and a lighter, smaller form factor.

That isn't to say that the iPad mini isn't worth the money. As an iPad user I can appreciate the usefulness of this handful of computing power. And if I had that knowledge in my head but still had the $499 I paid for my current iPad it would absolutely be a no-brainer to get a new mini. As it is, though, I don't have an extra $329 laying around just to hold a smaller, lighter iPad. Sorry, Apple. Put a retina-display on it—or drop the price a bit—next year and I'll be on board.


I'd like to tell you about my newest project. I'm doing a podcast with my best pal, Brandon. It's called Irrational Confidence and while there's only one episode so far, we're both really proud of it.

Episode 01 - The Genesis Project is about baseball, the iPhone 5, and the podcast itself.

You can check it out right here on the website—just click on one of the links above or on PODCAST up in the menu bar—or subscribe in iTunes (coming soon... It's been submitted.)

If you plug the feed feed:// into your chosen podcast app you'll get the full audio glory of every single episode.

Thanks for taking a look at it. We hope you enjoy it!

The iPhone 5

I've lived with my iPhone 5 for a week two and a half weeks now[1]. There are a lot of link-bait, FUD posts on the internet, as happens with any Apple product launch. This post, however, is merely my own experience with the device, pros and cons, since I received it.

First things first. The iPhone 5 is a fantastic device. It is noticeably lighter than the iPhone 4/4S. The extra screen real estate is very nice. Almost every app I use on a regular basis has upgraded to take advantage of the taller screen. Apps like Instapaper and iBooks go from feeling just a bit cramped on previous iPhones to being a true pleasure to use. Apps with a keyboard, like Byword[2], really benefit from a larger area above the keyboard to see your work. It took me very little time to get used to the larger screen. The change was clearly well thought-out.

The design of the iPhone 5—I have a black one—is, to me, more functional and unobtrusive than beautiful. Though, I suppose that can be a type of beauty. It feels very natural in your hand and the hardware stays out of the way when you're using it. The form truly follows the function.

I haven't seen as large a difference from switching from AT&T to Verizon as I thought I would. The process of switching was unbelievably easy, though. I simply ordered two iPhones from the Verizon website[3] and requested through a built-in web form that they use our existing numbers. When the new phones arrived I turned them on, went through the activation screens and Boom. Our numbers on brand new Verizon iPhone 5's and within an hour the old phones both said 'No Service'. I tested the new ones and they both sent an received calls immediately after activation. The process, which could have really been awful, was really easy.

As for the network it's been better but not amazingly so. Our biggest annoyances previously were signal strength in our house, in our local grocery store, and at Erin's parent's house in Hampton. Here in the house I do get three bars—unless I'm in my office; more on that in a bit—and the signal is usually LTE even though we are technically in the Extended LTE zone rather than full LTE. In the grocery store the signal dies just like it did with AT&T. That may have more to do with how the store is built than the phone or the network. I was probably too harsh on AT&T on that one. The network at my in-law's house is almost exactly the same. One or two bars, LTE in and out.

On the interstates and in Richmond, however, I generally get a full five bars and LTE. When I do get a good LTE signal it is fast. Really fast. Using the Speedtest app I've seen as fast as 17mbps down and 10mbps up. That's on par with my cable internet. And since my cable internet can be, um, less than 100% reliable during the day when I need it for work, I purchased a USB wifi adapter for my work computer that I can use with the iPhone's Personal Hotspot so I can keep working during my inevitable internet outages. I have tested that out just a little and it seems to work fine.

Ok. It is beautiful and well-designed and light and all. What about problems?

The battery is really good, but there are some things that really drain it fast. Previous LTE phones have really drained batteries quickly. The iPhone 5 does perform admirably when a good LTE signal is available—or when it isn't. The issue comes when it can just barely sniff out the LTE signal. Rapidly switching between the LTE and 3G antenna trying to lock onto LTE can really hurt battery life. It might be better to go into settings and switch off LTE in low-signal situations.

That same antenna-switching contributed to another problem: heat. Under normal use the iPhone 5 runs nice and cool. Indeed, the aluminum back makes it actually feel cool under normal conditions. I can attest, though, that low-signal antenna switching plus having GPS on for turn-by-turn directions plus charging the device will make make it run very hot indeed. Almost to the point where it's uncomfortable to hold. Honestly, though, you really have to be pushing the hardware really, well, hard to get that kind of heat. In addition to the LTE switching and charging and GPS/turn-by-turn I was also streaming music over that same LTE/3G and had at two other apps—Downcast and Reminders—running location services in the background. 99.9% of the time, under normal to moderately heavy use, it runs as cool as can be.

Maps and directions. I totally get that a lot of people are disappointed with the new Tim Cook has even apologized for the issues. I have every confidence that the situation will improve, but in my experience I have had no problems with Maps or directions. I have used the app for directions all over central and southeast Virginia without any problems. Despite the problems people have had with the data set, there is no denying that the app itself is a definite upgrade from the previous It's been completely rebuilt with vector graphics and lets not forget that we are no longer sending location data to the increasingly-creepy Google. If you do have problems with the new app you can definitely use a third-party navigation app in the meantime, but I believe that Apple is making Maps a high priority and we will eventually see iPhone Maps live up to its potential.

One weird issue I'm having that I have not seen with previous iPhones is audio interference when listening to audio—music or podcasts, does not matter which—in my office through my stereo amp. I'm running the audio through a male-male headphone cable directly from the iPhone to the amp. Doesn't matter which cable I use or whether the phone is plugged in or not. Every few minutes I get an audible, static interference that goes away when I pick up the phone and hold it across both sides of the bottom of the device. So, it seems that whatever signal is interfering with the phone is affecting the bottom metal part of the case. I'm of an opinion that this is a product of the headphone jack now being on the bottom of the iPhone—never had this with any other iPhone or iPad—and the fact that I have a lot of devices, many wireless, running in that room—it only happens in my office. My simple, low-tech fix? A piece of aluminum foil laid on the desk under the iPhone. I need to do some experimentation with better audio cables, moving devices around the room, and trying Erin's iPhone, but the aluminum foil is a pretty cheap short-term fix[4].

The Lightning Connector is a pro and a con. For me it is a great piece of hardware that's functional and looks great. My only complaint is that we just have the two Lightning cables. We both have three locations where we generally want to plug in to charge. For me they are: my nightstand, my desk in my office, and in the car. For Erin: her nightstand, her desk at work, and in her car. This means we have to move our cables around with us quite a lot. It's a short-term problem—I've ordered two Lightning-to-30-pin adapters and I plan on picking up some extra cables at the Apple Store this weekend—but it is a hassle. A big customer service win for Apple would have been to put one of the adapters in each box with the new iPhone 5, but that's definitely not the Apple way. Just ask the VGA port and the floppy drive...

Bottom line: The iPhone 5 is a really wonderful mobile computer. There are some aspects of the design that you really must experience first-hand to appreciate—the weight, the taller screen, etc.—but once you do you will find that the iPhone 5 is a worthy successor to the iPhones that preceded it.

Addendum One: I did finally find an issue with A local nine-hole golf course was closed a few years ago and made into a small subdivision. Maps has all of the new streets there, but still labels the whole area Bermuda Golf Course and shades it green as if it's a park. I checked and it's correct there. I reported it through Maps as a 'problem' but it seems pretty low priority to me.

Addendum Two: I believe I have gotten to the bottom of the excessive heat problem. I only feel the iPhone heating up when I am both plugged in and running Spotify. I think that perhaps there is something about that app that makes the processor work extra hard. And it is more noticeable when streaming music than when playing music saved to the device in Spotify. Charging + Spotify + Network = Heat. Incidentally, Spotify is one of the few apps that still has not been updated for the iPhone 5 screen size.

[1]: I have been really slow writing this...

[2]: Which I'm using right now to write this on the iPhone 5.

[3]: At 3am. It's a good thing it was simple because I was just barely awake.

[4]: I'll post a follow-up when I get it solved.