Woz Wuv

Jennifer and I are watching Woz on Dancing With The Stars. Whether he gets voted off or not (and I have to think he'll survive against the wooden Belinda Carlisle) there's no question he's got an amazing verve and love for life. But we knew that. We love you Steve! Great job!

UPDATE: Woz survives! It's got to be the Internet voting!


The Skypesaurus Story

We're still working on incorporating Skypesaurus into the work flow at TWiT Live. For those who haven't seen the beast, Colleen has combined four independent Windows PCs to run four instances of Skype into one monster beast: The Skypesaurus. Rawr!

We had to do this because Skype only allows one video-caller at a time and some of our shows have as many as four online panelists. We tried software solutions like Oovoo and iChat but they didn't give us good enough audio and video - Skype really is the king for that.

Here are the specs for each PC (with the Newegg SKU numbers and price):

  • 11-234-020 Case: WINSIS|WI-01 RT $43.99
  • 13-121-359 Motherboard: INTEL BOXD945GCLF2 945GC ATOM330 $79.99
  • 20-145-098 RAM: 1Gx2|CORSAIR VS2GBKIT667D2 R $24.99
  • 22-148-231 Hard Drive: 80G|SEAGATE 7K 8M SATA2 ST380815AS $34.99

That's about $175 per computer. Add four Acer V173B 17" LCD monitors for $107 each. and a $285 Ergotron Quad-Monitor desk stand and the total rig cost just under $1500, minus Colleen's time and miscellaneous cabling.

On shows with multiple hosts (like TWiT, MacBreak Weekly, and the Gillmor Gang) we use Skypesaurus to call as many as four participants and put their audio and video on the air. This requires some hairy routing, and those of you who have tuned in in the past couple of weeks have probably noticed an hour of sweating, crawling under the desk, and general gnashing of teeth before each show. I start by setting up the audio. Each machine's output has to be routed into our mixer, and a mix-minus has to be sent back to it (that's the full audio mix minus the audio from the particular Skype we're feeding it back to, so there's no echo). Our Mackie Onyx 1620 mixer only has four AUX busses so we have to repatch audio each time we want to use Skypesaurus. Something similar happens with video. The Tricaster Studio switcher we use only has six inputs, all of which are used by cameras now. I disconnect four of those cameras and connect the four Skype boxes each time I want to use Skypesaurus. But we've come up with a solution. Today Colleen is installing a new mixer: a $1300 Mackie Onyx 1640. It's a bit bigger but it has six AUX busses and four sub-mixer channels so we won't have to repatch audio each time we use Skypesaurus. I wish I had bought this mixer three years ago - it's a beauty. We'll keep the 1620 for roadshows, but the 1640 is going to be our day-to-day mixer. For a while.

I say "for a while" because Telos called last week after hearing about our issues with Skypesaurus audio and offered to lend us one of their new Axia IP-mixers which automatically does mix-minus to every channel! An IP mixer uses Ethernet to route audio and is fully digital. There's really no mixer at all, just two IP head units in a rack and a control surface that only looks like a mixer. All-digital production means we don't have to do the noisy digital->analog->digital conversion we're doing for all our Skype audio right now. We'll just take digital audio from the PCs and pump it directly into the Axia. Putting in this puppy is going to require major reengineering for our entire audio chain. Instead of the Firewire audio we're passing from the mixer into Audition, for instance, the Axia just sends packets to Audition which uses a custom driver to see all the channels. I think a fully digital production workflow will really improve the overall quality of all our audio, but it's a big change and might take a while. In the meantime, I'm very happy with the Onyx 1640.

I also want to stop crawling under the desk to switch the video cables, so we're going to buy an Matrix Video Router. I'm about to order a $1000 Knox Video Technologies 8x8 Matrix Switcher. This takes eight video inputs and switches them to any eight video outputs so I can just push buttons and switch-in the Skype output for a camera (and out again on the fly if I need more shots). In effect this gives us four more cameras. If there are any TV broadcast engineers who have some suggestions here I'd love to hear them. Everything is S-Video so this seems like the best way to do it but we're babes in the woods when it comes to this stuff.

So there you have it. Problem: how to get four hosts' audio and video on the air at once via Skype. Solution: Skypesaurus, a $3500 monster designed and built by the amazing Colleen. We're pretty excited about it - it's not the CNBC Octobox, but it's pretty close and for a heck of a lot less money.


Tired of Twitter Talk? Me Too!

Got this email today from my friend Ben:

Leo, I'd like to propose a challenge.

Next weekend, while you're streaming, refrain from mentioning twitter. Both days. You're viewers and listeners love TWiT, but we're just afraid you have a problem, and we want you to get better. Give it a try?


Remember when the iPhone was the big story? People got awfully sick of that. I'm just as sick of talking about Twitter as you are listening to us talk about Twitter. The problem is that Twitter is a big story, and getting bigger all the time. We talk about it because it's one of the biggest stories of the day. I understand if you're bored with it, but we can't ignore stories just because some of our listeners have heard enough about them.

I refer you to the great radio newsman Scoop Nisker, who signed off every newscast on KSAN in San Francisco with the words,

If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own!

I look forward to covering your great leap forward!


Austin Alarums

Up inadvertantly early. Henry's alarm went off at 6:38a. Which is weird because I'm sure it never goes off at all on school days.

Once again I'm not at South by Southwest. Every year I jealously read all the posts from Austin and wish I could be there. Seems like everyone I know, or would like to know, is there this week. But it's just too complicated to move the radio show and TWiT Live. I'd have to arrange studio time at an Austin radio station for The Tech Guy or set up a broadcast studio at SXSW.

We came very close to doing that last year but the logistics proved unmanageable and I had to cancel. Jason Calacanis's crazy idea of a rock and roll bus trip to Austin this year never materialized either. But it's good to know we can get a bus that sleeps 12 for around $1000/day. Maybe next year.

We have friends whose movie, My Suicide, is making its US Premiere today at SXSW. It won a Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. The lead, Gabe Sunday, is a recent graduate of Petaluma High School (we're launching a new podcast with his dad, Michael Sunday, about the new way of work soon). Another friend, Eric Adams, wrote the screenplay. See it if you can.

Reading about all the trouble people are having with their iPhones down there makes me feel a little morose delectation, though. (Note to self: bring the G1 next year - or maybe the Palm Pre?)

Visit the TWiT Army - no #sxsw hash tags there. I'm going back to bed.


Meanderings of a Weak Mind

  • Happy Pi Day: 3/14. I remember Pi to 10 digits using the following mnemonic: How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy chapters on quantum mechanics. Counting the number of characters in each word you get 3.14159265358279. I think I learned that from one of George Gamow's books. I read them when I was in high school. They were wonderful introductions to physics.
  • Quiet evening at home. Henry's at a friend's house for the night. Jennifer and I are watching Emma On Demand. It's from 1996 - Gywneth Paltrow looks so young. Just 24 by my calculations. Toni Collette is also in it and looks awfully young, too. Jennifer recognized her - I didn't - but it reminded me that I've been meaning to watch The United States of Tara (written by Diablo Cody of Juno fame and my favorite celebrity twitter). It's not on iTunes, though. Guess I'll have to get it elsewhere.

Emma quote: "Vanity working on a weak mind produces every kind of mischief." Werd.

  • Hit 100,000 followers on Twitter today. Once a significant number but meaningless since the Great Twitter Inflation of Feb '09. 100,000 is only enough to get to #83 according to Twittercounter. I mentioned this benchmark yesterday and got some heat on Friendfeed. Apparently it's gauche to focus on follower numbers, like talking about how much money one makes. I'll shut up now although I can't help noticing that Twitter cleverly encouraged this race for followers by putting the Follower number front and center on the Twitter web page. I never mention my FriendFeed follower number (18,892 but not visible to anyone else) even though FFHolic says I'm number two just under Scoble. There. I've done it again.
  • I left my iPhone somewhere at work. I can't find it anywhere. So I switched my forwarding number on Google Voice to the G1. Google Voice FTW! The G1 is not my favorite phone, but I've at least solved the battery issue by turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Now it lasts about eight hours.
  • I need the phone by my side because I agreed today to photograph everything I eat by way of a food log. It was my new trainer's suggestion. I'm looking for an online food log. I'm already a member at Gyminee so I guess I'll give it a try. I think I signed up there when we had them on the TV show in Vancouver. It Twitters every time I make a weight goal. That's gonna lose me some followers.

Emma seems to have found true love, so I guess it's time for bed. Tomorrow, The Tech Guy and TWiT with Dvorak, Bwana, Alex Lindsay, gdgt's Peter Rojas, and David Prager to tell the story of how he vanquished his late night intruder. Night, all.