Tech rundown

I’ve been asked about the technical setup I’ve just recently put together to be able to do remote sessions, podcasts, videocasts and similar. Now, this is kind of a dangerous thing to ask me about, as I’m VERY much a techno freak, so you asked, you shall receive. In excruciating detail…

This is a picture of my home office – the place where I spend way too much time when I’m not at my day office (which is a fairly rare thing these days).

It’s a standard sit/stand desk from IKEA (one of the perks of being a Swede!) that I almost always have in the standing position. A tip I learned the hard way is that standing and working is hard on the feet – put a rug or similar underneath your feet and enjoy a distinct lack of discomfort! The stuff in the picture is as follows:

Logitech Spotlight wireless presenter

This i’ve already described in fair detail here: Logitech Spotlight -initial thoughts but the software has come a long way since then. I’ll do a followup in the near future as I’ve done som tweaks to the setup that has gotten the thing to the point where I’m quite happy with it.

Asus MB16AC external USB monitor

This was one of the more novelty purchases I’ve done, but in retrospect it turned out absolutely brilliant. I use it as a secondary screen where I keep my presenter view during speaking. Depending on if it is a remote session, a video (yes, I’m working on those) or a regular session at a conference, the secondary screen serves different purposes. It’s fairly lightweight, has a good resolution and is very versatile, but security people at airports have been known to be a bit confused as to why the “computer” won’t turn on…

Rode Procaster microphone

This mic I’ve been eyeing since I first started thinking of doing a podcast, but I’ve stayed away from it for several reasons. First, it requires a proper USB/XLR interface is a dynamic microphone. The old Yeti microphone I used to use to record the podcast has been exchanged for the AKG boom mic in my podcasting setup, but I always wanted a dynamic mic for the (in my opinion) better, richer sound. Unfortunately, this mic quickly showed me two issues that I was not aware of that I had – the first was that the (nonexistent) sound treatment of my room meant that the acoustics were … very bad, and that the mic required an insane amount of gain to get a usable signal out of. Fortunately I have a colleague who is a soundnerd of epic proportions, and he gave me a lot of help with choosing the most suitable sound treatment materials for my room. There is only so much one CAN do to a room in a rental apartment, but doing it is absolutely vital. More about that below.
The other problem with low gain and the subsequent noisy signal was overcome with a Cloudlifter (https://www.cloudmicrophones.com/cloudlifter-cl-1). It is, quite simply, a pre-amp that uses phantom power to give the signal a clean boost up to +25dB – and boy, what a boost it is. It completely changed the signal into a crisp, clear and strong signal that is absolutely awesome for podcasting, voiceovers, delivering sessions or anything else I might want to do with it.

Logitech BRIO 4K webcam

I had not given webcams much thought when I decided to get one. Fortunately, my partner in crime Simon had, and he was adamant that we get the Logitech BRIO 4k webcam, despite it being much more expensive than the other webcams out there. After using it for a while I can say I think I know why it is that much more expensive, as I find the picture to be absolutely excellent. Simon and I are working on doing webinars in the not-too-distant future, and these cameras are key to produce good video. I do find the built-in capability of removing the background live during a conversation to be more of a novelty than actually useful, though.

Yamaha MG10XU USB mixer

When I was working with my Pluralsight course I got a crash course in audio. As in – my audio was crap, and I needed to fix it – stat. My previous USB audio interface was pretty cheap and worked OK – or so I thought. When using proper headphones it became painfully obvious that the signal was simply too poor to be used, despite running it repeatedly through noise filters. I started to do research and stumbled over the Yamaha MG10XU mixer – a 10-channel mixer with more features you could easily shake a stick at. It’s more than I need, but it comes very highly recommended and after running it for a while I can conclude that my previous issues of noisy signal are gone. As it is an analog mixer I can tweak the sound to my preference, and it even has a built-in compressor so I won’t need to add any compression to the signal during the post processing step! I can easily add any other sound source to the mixer, apply effects and shunt the result straight into Audacity (my weapon of choice for recording audio). The mixer accepts XLR, RCA, phono plugs and probably a few other connectors I don’t even know about.
With the Cloudlifter I don’t have to crank the gain very high at all, but still enjoy a crystal clear signal. My iPad with a sound pad app is connected to one of the line inputs and one of the most amazing things – I get to hear what the mixer hears as I get monitor functionality with the MG10XU.

Software

Not pictured is the software I use, and that depends on what I am producing. For sound recording I’ve been using Audacity with great success. However, Audacity is missing one thing that I desperately need – the ability match audio volume between clips. I might have to look at Adobe Audition for that.
For video I’ve been using Camtasia. One of the many perks of being an MCT is free access to Camtasia, and while I like the tool I find some aspects of it … unrefined. The lack of keyboard shortcuts drive me nuts sometimes, and some things take forever. I’m thinking of going to Adobe Premiere, but Adobe is … quite more expensive.

I’ve used Google Hangouts for presentations, and there is one quirk that is going to be an issue for me going forward – you can’t see both the presentation AND the video of the presenter. As I’ll be doing some professional development sessions this fall, I need to *both* show the slides and the video as I’ll be talking about body language. Not quite decided on how to do things – maybe pre-record video and put it into the session.

Acoustic treatment

The room is you garden-variety 14-15 m2 room with one window, some closets and a hardwood floor. If you clap your hands in there, the echo hits you like a bus. Not a good starting position for recording good audio, where the idea is to reduce the bounce and echo to a minimum. There are several ways to do it, and my way lands firmly in the “not the worst way of doing it”, but definitely not nowhere near the “best” way either. The theory is … deep, to put it simply, but it all comes down to controlling sound bounce/reflection and echo using a combination of absorbing or diffusing materials. Since I’m only concerned with my voice and not full-spectrum music, I don’t have to go all out with huge bass traps and such, thus I’ve decided on a “middle of the road” approach with only acoustic foam. As the apartment is a rental apartment I couldn’t glue the foam to the walls (as is otherwise the way to do it), so I went online and got a kind of long tacks. They work well enough I can remove the foam with little or no damage to the foam itself, and the wall only look like I’ve had a poster or two there. I tried the 3M command strips as well, but they took both pieces of the foam AND the wallpaper with them when I tried to remove them. The cats loved to chew on them, though…

I’ve put some foam in front of my microphone to catch the sound of my voice, and I’ve put foam squares in the sloping ceiling behind me. I’ve also put foam on the other walls in hope of as much of the echos as I reasonably can. The corners are an issue (ask any acoustic engineer what they feel about corners!) but so far I’ve chosen to ignore them. For best effect I should have rotated the squares 90 degrees against each other, but for some reason my brain decided to forget this when I put them up.
The CNC machine and the R2D2 has nothing to do with the rest of this blog post, though 😛
Not shown is my rug. It’s a garden variety rug (also from IKEA!) on the floor to take care of the hard surface. You’d be surprised how much reflections come off the floor, and while I technically should take care of the ceiling as well, that is (at the moment) beyond my ambition.

And there  you have it – my home office as it stands right now. I’m working on a post that details my mobile podcasting setup as well, look for that in the near future!

SQLGrillen

I’m sitting at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam contemplating my midsummer weekend. I was accepted to speak at SQL Grillen, a free one-day (plus one day of paid pre-cons) event in the metropolis of Lingen, Germany. Never heard of Lingen? Well, neither had I, before this event. When William Durkin, the main organizer of the event, gave me the news that I had been accepted, I took the opportunity to ask him where Lingen was, and he told me that it was fairly near “the ass end of nowhere”. Having been to Lingen, I would have to agree.
Actually getting there turned out to be a bit of a challenge – in the end, the amazing Andrew Pruski told me that he was driving there from Schiphol, that his flight landed five minutes after mine and that he’d love travel company. Said and done, we found each other and proceeded to pick up the car. Then we proceeded to repeatedly park our way to Germany as there was a lot of traffic. 2,5-3 hours later we arrived in the sleepy town of Lingen.

After the speaker dinner I found myself talking to the heavy hitters of the #SQLFamily, and they pointed out that with one track being newcomer only, there were 28 sessions in total. Then I was told that they had had over 200 session submissions. Take a second to consider that. It was almost a 1:10 ratio between the number of sessions submitted and the available slots. And here I was. I looked around and marvelled at the company I was in. I was chosen when so many people were not, and for the first time in a long, long time I felt a very real feeling of pressure. I was here, so many people were not, time to really, REALLY get my head in the game.

The event itself has been running for just a few years, growing from very few speakers and a small number of attendees, to a hard cap of 200 attendees and 35 sessions. New for this year was that one of the tracks was given over to newcomers – people that had never given a session at anything bigger than a usergroup or similar. This is simply a stroke of genius. The catch-22 of speaking is as simple to understand as it is depressing in practice – in order to be selected you must me a somewhat known entity. In order to get known as a good speaker, you need to – yeah, you guessed it – speak. The newcomers were, in a word, exceptional. With no exception, all of them performed absolutely great. I had the pleasure of attending a session on “soft skills” by Robert French, a gentleman from Scotland. I do a fair amount of speaker mentoring and presentation skill training, so I tend to keep track of small things that can be improved in pretty much every speaker I listen to, but Robert was … as close to absolutely brilliant as I’ve ever seen. I can’t remember the last time I left a session with such a feeling of disbelief due to having watched a master at work. I can’t wait to see him present again, and I sincerely hope the rest of the speaker circuit sit up and take notice, because this man can teach something to EVERYONE. Each of the speakers had one mentor assigned to them, and Robert was paired with the equally brilliant Cathrine Wilhelmsen, so he could not have been in better hands.

My session was the first one after lunch. At the same time as Grant Fritchey. Grant. Fritchey. Yes, THAT Grant Fritchey. The good thing with being on at the same time as Grant is that I wouldn’t be having him in the audience, but the other side of that coin is that I wouldn’t have anyone else either, as they’d all be at Grant (or any of the other three tracks). Now, Grant is an amazing guy – exceptionally skilled, always eager to help, kind, open, super-helpful, approachable and all the other good things, but he’s one of the very few people that genuinely scare me. The thought of having him in the audience would take some self-control to handle.
The session I presented this time was “The Force Awakens – Azure SQL Server for the on-prem DBA”, a new version of one of my original Azure sessions. All in all it went well, but I’ve got a list the length of my arm of things that I want to improve, and it is so interesting to see how easy it is to give advice to others and completely miss it yourself – I *know* I have a stoneface and a deadpan demeanor worthy of the highest echelons of the British royal family and that I *need* to loosen up. Did I? I’ll let you take a guess. It’s yet again on the list. At the top. In red. Underlined three times.

When the sessions were done for the day, the other two words of the SQLGrillen logo came into play – “beers” and “bratwurst”. The evening consisted of talking to all the amazing sponsors, attendees and speakers – all while eating excellent German sausages and grilled meat and drinking different kinds of German beers. In short – it was amazing. Social interaction ALWAYS lead to new friends, new insights and new ideas. At the surface “databases, beer and bratwurst” doesn’t sound like a very serious event, but this has been one of the best events I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. During the evening I was asked if I would consider being a mentor for a new speaker at DataMinds in Belgium later this fall. I did not have to think about that for more than a second, as I would be absolutely honored to help out any way I can. And so it was that I became one of the newcomer mentors for DataMinds.

I would like to finish with a heartfelt “thank you” to William, Ben and all the other organizers, sponsors, speakers and attendees. This was one of the best run events I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak at, and definitely one of the most fun. I would like nothing more than to get to come back next year, even though the chances are slim. I’m so happy to have been given the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to meet my #SQLFamily.

Episode 44

The fortyfourth episode is up, a.k.a the “retrospective special” where we take a look back at the first half of 2018, what we’ve done, where we’ve been and what’s been happening in the world of tech. We managed to sneak in a quick discussion of Azure backups as well!

We’ll be doing webinars in the not-so-distant future, and we’d love for you to tell us what you want the webcast to be about!

As always we gladly accept tips and criticism, as well as ideas for content for us to cover. Just tweet Alexander (@arcticdba) or Simon (@bindertech)!

Knee-deep in Tech on iTunes

Kneep-deep in Tech on Spotify

Episode 43

Episode 43

The fortythird episode is up! We’re talking Intelligent Cloud Copenhagen, ConfigMgr updates, Intune updates, Microsoft aquiring GitHub and using Power BI with Brent Ozar’s first responder kit.

We’ll be doing webinars in the not-so-distant future, and we’d love for you to tell us what you want the webcast to be about!

As always we gladly accept tips and criticism, as well as ideas for content for us to cover. Just tweet Alexander (@arcticdba) or Simon (@bindertech)!

Knee-deep in Tech on iTunes

Kneep-deep in Tech on Spotify

Episode 43

Episode 42

The fortysecond episode is up! We’re talking huge improvements for Sharepoint and Onedrive, Azure Saturday in Munich and GDPR!

We’ll be doing webinars in the not-so-distant future, and we’d love for you to tell us what you want the webcast to be about!

As always we gladly accept tips and criticism, as well as ideas for content for us to cover. Just tweet Alexander (@arcticdba) or Simon (@bindertech)!

Knee-deep in Tech on iTunes

Kneep-deep in Tech on Spotify

Episode 42