Tag Archives: Fusion Patrol

Fusion Patrol Follow-up

It’s a long overdue update to my previous blog post about the tribulations of getting the audio right on the Fusion Patrol Podcast.

As last you may recall, I was testing Wiretap Anywhere from Ambrosia Software. Initial tests went very well and I subsequently purchased the software.

We’ve done several podcasts since then under a variety of conditions: our standard two-person editions and a couple three-person versions, once at three remote locations and another with two people being “in the studio” at my house and one at a remote location.

The results, to my ears, are outstanding. The quality of the audio (if not the actual content) is, I feel, on par or ahead of with the vast majority of amateur podcasts out there. We still have an issue in that Skype merges multiple remote sources into one, and I don’t know any way around that; however, Skype also seems to equalize them well enough that it isn’t too much of a problem.

In putting together our two-in-the-studio episode we did get some cross-over between the mics, which resulted in some echo problems, most of which I was able to remove in post-production.

Now I think it is time to move on to the next goal: increasing our audience size.

I’m not going to give numbers, but I’m frankly amazed at how many people do actually listen. It’s far more than could be accounted for than by “just my friends” but, at the same time, you couldn’t keep a radio program on the air with an audience of this size either.

Fusion Patrol Podcast Update

FP-Podcast-Logo.jpg

I’ve been reminded that I’ve been remiss about writing about my experiences getting the Fusion Patrol podcast up and running. I’d like to wait until I’m sure that everything is working right, but that day may never come!

We’ve now put out 16 episodes spanning three continents and there have been some hard won lessons learned. I think, in fact, that I’ve forgotten much of the frustration, but I think I can remember what I need to impart.

The fundamental flaw we’ve had has been in sound quality. I suppose that goes without saying for an audio-only podcast.

Perhaps it will be easier to explain if I describe our setup. Ben and I conduct the podcast over Skype from our respective homes. Ben uses a PC, which plays little or no further part in this story. I do the recording on my end on my Macbook Pro.

Skype does not natively record phone calls and I purchased a piece of software called Call Recorder, which plugs into Skype and can record all Skype audio. Unfortunately, there is no distinction between callers. Skype turns both ends of the call into one audio stream.

In our first episode, Ben’s audio was of poor quality and mine sounded good. This was really surprising because, while in the conversation, it sounded great to us. It wasn’t until we listened to the playback that the problems were obvious. A little (read: a lot) post-production magic improved things, but it was clear Ben needed a better microphone/headset. I gave him mine and I bought a new, USB headset. I chose USB because… I don’t really know why. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

For the next few podcasts, my audio sounded clean, but was extremely low in volume, week after week I was forced to spend hours attempting to balance the audio, manually raising and lowering the volume of each sentence spoken. Weirder still, my voice seemed to get quieter and quieter as each podcast progressed.

I decided I didn’t like my USB headset and preferred the quality of the original mic that I’d given Ben, so I bought another one, which has separate input/output plugs. My audio seemed to get even quieter.

It turns out the new microphone (and possibly the original that I gave Ben) is not powered, but a Macbook Pro doesn’t have a microphone in, it only has line in, which won’t work with an unpowered source. What was happening, it seems, was that I was actually recording though the built-in microphone on the Macbook Pro. As the podcast recording session would progress, I would begin to fidget and get further and further away from the Macbook, thinking that I had the microphone suspended in front of my face. The Macbook’s built-in noise-cancelling microphone is really good for telephony chatting but not what you need when podcasting.

When I discovered the problem I had a dilemma. I was in Taiwan and my options for buying and testing equipment were limited. I discovered, though trial and error, that the Macbook Pro’s headphone jack is actually the same audio in and out jack that is on an iPhone, and as I had my iPhone headset, I used that for one podcast. The microphone quality wasn’t as good, but it was definitely not going through the laptop’s microphone.

Having finally solved my problems, I was devastated to find that still my audio faded away as the podcast progressed. What could be causing it?!

About this time I also discovered a piece of software called “The Levelator” which automatically does something similar to what I was doing manually by raising and lowering the volume. It does a remarkably good job, but not good enough. I found myself using the Levelator and then tweaking the final results, which did make for a lot less work for me.

Perhaps belatedly, I began searching for other possibilities as to what the problem and I came across a possibility. It seems that the Mac version of Skype differs from the PC version of Skype inasmuch as the Mac version always has auto-level control enabled and does not have user-accessible option for turning it off. With that knowledge in hand I conducted some tests and, sure enough, if I would make a slightly louder sound, the Mac’s audio input control would be lowered by Skype. Oddly enough, the so-called auto-leviling never raised the volume when it got too low. In the essence, it simply kept lowering the audio and never raising it back up. By the end of a podcast, my audio input was down to nothing.

With a little checking online, there are some hidden control XML files for Mac Skype that you can edit, adding in some commands that will disable the level control.

Thinking I’d solved that, my next task was to try to find a plug adaptor that would take the in/out plugs from my headphone and neatly combine them into a standard iPhone style jack. Despite the millions of iPhones out there, I couldn’t find such a device, save for one company that makes equipment for court stenographers. Being such a vertical, captive market, their prices were not realistic to my budget. As a fallback, I purchased an iMic, which is a audio in/out to USB converter, effectively turning my new headset into a USB headset. (You might think I’d just go back to the USB headset, but it really does have a poor microphone.)

With no auto-leveling and proper microphone placement, things seemed perfect, just in time for our (extended) discussion about Doctor Who with our guest Simon from the UK, who also joined us via Skype over our first ever three-way Skype conversation.

That was quite a day. We’d expected to talk around 90 minutes but ended up talking for over 4 hours. It wasn’t easy scheduling a time when everyone was available and just 30 minutes before the appointed time, my neighbors began mowing their lawn. I was worried that the lawnmower would interfere with the audio. It did, but only indirectly. They were done long before the podcast started but the gunk tossed up in the air began to slowly, almost imperceptibly to me, clog up my sinuses. My breathing became somewhat more labored than normal. This is fairly common for me and I rarely notice it. Little did I know how horrible it would be!

With my audio now solid and uninterrupted, I should have realized Sod’s Law would take full effect and Ben and Simon’s audio would be very low. Once again, for the four-part podcast that it turned out to be, I was forced to raise and lower the volume on a sentence by sentence basis. It would have worked, except… for my sinuses which continued to labor away while they were talking. When I’d raise their audio, so my belabored breathing got raised up as well.

Once or twice during the long podcast, I no doubt bumped my headset, lowering the microphone closer to by breathing, making it worse in some parts of podcast.

It’s all horribly, horribly embarrassing.

While our most recent Podcast #16 wasn’t perfect, I did not have to extensively tweak the audio, although I did let the Levelator work on it, which seems a great improvement to me.

What’s really needed is multi-track recording, but that seemed impossible with Skype. It seemed the only solution would be to find a way to bring my audio and Skype’s audio into a mixer before being recorded. Ideally we’d bring each participant into a different input to the mixer and then I’d be able to adjust each audio source independently in GarageBand in post production. That’s an extensive hardware solution that I was just not willing to invest in.

But just yesterday I read an article about a piece of software called Wiretap Anywhere from Ambrosia Software that sounds like it may be the very solution I’ve been looking for.

Wiretap Anywhere allows you to create virtual multi-channel audio devices from any number of hardware and software sources. For example, you could put the audio input from the computer’s microphone, iTunes, a USB microphone and Skype output as four stereo inputs into one virtual device. That virtual device can then be used as an 8 channel input device into GarageBand (or any other input capable destination). GarageBand can only use one input device, but it can record each of the channels independently (either individually as mono sources or as stereo pairs). In simple terms, it allows GarageBand to do multi-channel recording from practically anything that generates sound on your computer.

They have a free 30-day demo and after a bit of trial and error, I was able to successfully record my end of a Skype conversation and the remote end as separate tracks: exactly what I’ve been wanting. The proof will be in using it in actual podcast conditions, but it looks like this might be the solution to one of our major difficulties.

At $129 it’s a bit on the expensive side for someone like me that’s just podcasting with no major ambitions towards world domination, but on the other hand, if it keeps my blood pressure down, it’s worth its weight in gold.

I’ll be testing the demo on the next podcast. Keep your fingers crossed.

Fusion Patrol on Vimeo

I’m experimenting a bit with Vimeo instead of YouTube. So far, quality on Vimeo looks much better.

This is the first in a probably endless series of videos put together from years of all the junk we shot for Fusion Patrol.

Alternate Fusion Patrol Titles (1995, Unused) from Eugene Glover on Vimeo.

Originally shot in 1995, this is one of several attempts to revamp the opening titles for Fusion Patrol.

This footage was deemed unusable, largely because of the awful quality of the performances and pacing, and was never edited together.

Subsequent improvements in video editing software availability made it possible to digitally trick this into something… meh… but much better than possible using the old, finicky analog linear editor we had at the time.

Novel Writing without Thomas Hardy

It’s been a long time coming.

Ten years, in fact, since I first formulated the idea for Fusion Patrol: 1999 as a Public Access TV series.

Sadly, due to significant logistical problems that proved to be our undoing, we only got as far as producing the pilot episode, The Last Pizza and about 60% of principal photography on the second episode, Feng Shui.

Nonetheless, I have a significant pile (that’s the technical term) of material associated with it. Scripts, scraps of ideas and snippets of dialog all litter (that’s also the technical term) my hard drives. From time to time I dust them off and say, “I really need to do something with this.” I re-adapted them as radio plays, tried to storyboard them as comic books and even toyed with the idea of generating them in a CGI form, but all to no avail.

Two weeks ago, I undertook my latest effort, the novelization.

This is quite an interesting project. I’ve set a target of about 75,000-85,000 words, which is typical of the accepted publishing size of a new author, and am currently seven chapters into the book at about the 16,000 word mark. What’s interesting is the discipline of writing.

Writers are funny birds.

I used to know this guy who owned a bookstore, and then he decided to write novels. I certainly don’t claim him as more than an acquaintance, and although he’s a nice guy, he’s not the type I’d hang out with. (He’s the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-liquor type.) Anyway, I was talking to him one day before his first book was published, and we came across the topic of writer’s discipline. He explained his system to me.

Every day I get up, I go to my typewriter and I write one chapter of my book before I allow myself a cigarette or a bourbon.

Now, neither of those appeals to me, so they wouldn’t work for me, but I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s one way to force yourself to write.” Then his book came out and I was comped a copy. I sat down to read the first chapter, hearing his words in my mind, as I read the first page. I turned the page and I was now reading Chapter 2. So much for discipline. 🙂

On the other hand, I’ve read of the habits of other authors, such as Leslie Charteris and Ian Flemming, both had disciplined systems, treating their writing as (shock and awe) their job. They had set routines that they stuck to each day.

I’m afraid that doesn’t work for me, I find my writing to be very similar to the way I program. I’m a very fast programmer when I’m in the zone as it were, but I’m easily distracted. It helps when I turn up music really loud to drown out the rest of the world (Often, 007 or Star Trek soundtracks, or the Beatles or Herb Alpert). I can’t sleep with music on, it keeps my mind too active, but I can write because it seems to keep me on track. I never had understood that.

Still, I find myself plowing through a certain portion of the novel or a program and then, I must get up, pace dramatically around the room and go over in mind where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Any other writers out there have their quirky systems to share?

Shameless Plug for Ghost House

Here it is. Ghost House… a short video we did for Fusion Patrol some years ago. Back then, we were making fun of Taiwanese and Japanese ghost shows, which usually ran a couple hours and consisted of placing two girls in an abandoned house in the dark and waiting for them to get scared of something. Afterwards, they’d find some dust floating in the air, or paradolia in a window or something and declaring it a real haunting.
Little did we know that these programs would be adapted and polluting American TV screens in the near future.
Why am I posting it to the site today? I was looking over some new YouTube demographic tools after I posted the earlier video today and, Ghost House is our most popular video, without over 100,000 views – and, if the tools are to be believed, 56,000 of them are from schoolgirls in France (age 13-17.)
This makes sense of why at one point my YouTube account suddenly became French.
I still love the comments on Ghost House… a video, clearly labeled as “comedy” and so obviously (obviously!) staged, still has people believing it’s real. (I loved the comment from the guy who said people like us give “serious” ghost hunters a bad name. Ha!

Fusion Patrol Returns

Some 15 years ago we used to have a little thing called “Public Access TV”, now largely defunct.

For those not familiar with the concept, Public Access was supposed to be a way that local community members could use the medium of television to reach out to their community. In one of the brighter, more lucid moments of government regulation, someone figured out that television vastly shapes and informs the opinions of the public. They also realized that television was a medium that requires large sums of money to participate in.

The mechanism was that, as a city granted a monopoly contract to a cable TV contractor to come build out the infrastructure, they were were required to maintain a channel that any citizen could air video on, without censorship (within certain generally loose restrictions: No pornography as defined by community standards, no sales, no gambling and no solicitations for money.)

Further, the cable companies were required to supply equipment and studio space for these programs to be produced.

This all seems quaint in this age of internet video, dirt-cheap camcorders and home computers with sufficient power to do video editing, but back then, this was a significant investment.

I always thought it was a grand idea. There was just one flaw. As with so many other grand ideas, the people fail to live up to them. What had been conceived as an outlet for artistic express and community-building became a wallowing ground for crackpots, fringe radicals, churches (big ones trying to skit the no solicitations for money rules and little ones trying to build their flock) and teenagers (and post-adolescent wannabe teenagers) who thought it was cool (and/or funny) to swear on TV.

After watching enough Public Access, one day I just had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s perfectly acceptable to gripe about things, but eventually you have to put your money where you mouth is and do something about it. For me, Fusion Patrol was that something.

One day, while watching a show on Public Access, hoping against futile hope that the program, which was a bunch of teenagers standing around reciting Metallica lyrics (although you couldn’t tell because the sound was inaudible) would actually do something, I snapped. I could stand the crap no more and Fusion Patrol was born.

Over the course of a several years, a band of intrepid volunteers and I put on a TV show. Honestly, it sucked. Well, OK, it started of technically sucky, but with time and practice and a desire to improve which seemed lacking in the other Public Access producers, the show got better. Technically better, anyway. You either like the content or you don’t. Although, one of the proudest moments in my stint at Fusion Patrol is when one of the popular local morning radio DJ teams saw the show and talked about it on the air. They called us a “…local, Pythonesque comedy troupe.”

How cool is that?! Compared to Monty Python! And not even in a negative way! (Admittedly, they did, by coincidence, happen to see our most Pythonesque episode and even still we’re not a patch on the Pythons’ collective asses.)

With the program getting better (again, I stress, technically better) it took more and more time to produce, and as each of us progressed in our lives, we had less and less time to devote to the production. Fusion Patrol died not in fire, but with a whimper of missed deadlines and conflicting priorities.

Nowadays, I see the YouTube phenomena as the ultimate liberation of television from the hands of the vested corporate interests. Web video has finally created the environment that Public Access dreamed of creating.

…and yet, when I look at YouTube videos, more often than not, I get that same feeling I had watching those damn teenagers all those years ago.

I shall produce more Fusion Patrol.

Of the original crew of ten, two are dead, two are missing without trace, one has not been available and three others have been added, making the “new” Fusion Patrol a team of eight.

Keep watching this spot. We’re in pre-production meetings now. I’m working on revamping the Fusion Patrol Website soon to accommodate video podcasting and hopefully soon I’ll have more information and details about the production.