By Jason Snell
August 31, 2016 1:19 PM PT
By Request: Desktop diagram
A few weeks back, I tweeted out a picture of my iMac’s screen while I was recording an episode of the Clockwise podcast. What followed was not entirely unexpected—you don’t post a screen shot of your computer interface in front of thousands of Apple nerds without knowing it will be analyzed, Zapruder-like, in moments. I tweeted the image because I thought people would be interested in it, and they were!
Subscriber Unai suggested that “some explanation on every app would be great. Maybe for the 6c magazine.” Sounds like a good idea, so let’s do it!
(I realize the image in this newsletter is tiny; there’s a full resolution one at https://mt.sixcolors.com/images/magazine/clockwise.jpg .)
Google Sheets: I use Google Docs and Google Sheets for most of my collaborative projects, including the magazine you’re reading right now! For Clockwise, we’ve taken a page from the book of Leo Laporte’s TWiT network and built a rundown spreadsheet with tabs for individual episodes. A day or two before we record, I send a share link to our two Clockwise guests and ask them to put their topic into the spreadsheet. (That’s really how it works—everyone truly does bring their own topic with them.) We also put sponsor information in here so that we know what sponsor read we’re doing for a given episode.
On another tab of the Clockwise spreadsheet, we do our scheduling, with episode numbers and dates and a field for the two guests we’ve booked for that week. Sometimes we book weeks well ahead; other times… not so much. We also have a calculation on that tab that shows us who our most common guests are, which can remind us not to overuse guests but also reminds us who’s good that we maybe haven’t had on in a while.
Skype: There in the back is Skype, with a head shot of Shahid Kamal Ahmad, one of our guests that week (and a co-host of Remaster on Relay FM). Yep, we still use Skype because it’s free and it’s easy and everyone has it. I have experimented with newer approaches, including web-based tools, and will continue to. One day, the web-based tools will probably win this one. But for now, Skype’s what everyone has and so we generally use it.
Audio Hijack: In the bottom left corner, behind the Google Sheet window, is Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack 3, which is a pretty incredible audio tool in terms of flexibility. Let me drop in a clearer shot of what’s going on here:
In this case, Audio Hijack is grabbing audio from two sources. At the top left is my USB audio interface, marked “USBPre2.” At the bottom left is Skype (I’ve set the Skype block within Audio Hijack to only record the output of Skype—by default it records your own microphone too, but I’m taking care of that separately.) Both sources run into Recorder blocks that save the contents into two separate mono WAV files for use in my final podcast project. Once this is done, both sources are routed (the Skype with a bit of a volume reduction so it doesn’t overpower my own microphone, which is a bit quieter) into an output device called Loopback.
Loopback is, in fact, a separate Rogue Amoeba utility that creates virtual audio inputs and outputs. This is useful because I can route all of my audio into a Loopback output, and then choose a separate app (like Nicecast, see below) to use that same Loopback output as its own input. The result is the ability to route an arbitrary collection of sound from one app to another. It’s pretty great.
But we’re not done! The audio that’s going to Loopback (and therefore to Nicecast) is also passed through the Menu Bar Meters block, which just puts a set of audio meters in my menu bar so I can be reassured that the entire thing is working, and to another Recorder block, this one a 96kbps mono MP3. That MP3 file is the source I use for a special “bootleg” feed of live recordings that I offer to members of The Incomparable podcast network. It can also serve as an emergency backup in case something happens to my own recordings of the conversation.
Nicecast: It’s not much to look at, in the bottom-right corner is Rogue Amoeba’s Nicecast is how our live streams happen. Up in the cloud there’s a server (Unix for The Incomparable, a Mac Mini for Relay FM) running a version of the Icecast streaming server. If you listen to our live stream, you’re connecting that server and getting the audio from it. That server, in turn, is fed from someone’s Mac running Nicecast. Nicecast picks up the input I’m sending it from Audio Hijack via Loopback, encodes it into the right MP3 format for use by Icecast, and sends it up to the server. That’s how the magic happens. (It also means that until I press Record in Audio Hijack, there’s no audio on the live stream, which lets me control when we start putting live microphone audio into the live stream.)
Lingo: The chat rooms embedded in both the Incomparable and Relay live pages (as well as the Accidental Tech Podcast and 5by5 pages, thanks to Marco and Dan for the inspiration) are powered by IRC. You can chat on the page itself, but I use an IRC client to do the trick. Unfortunately, the client I prefer is Lingo, and it’s been not just discontinued, but disappeared by its developer. The web site is gone, the download links are gone, the app has vanished. Sorry for taunting you fine members, but there’s just nowhere to get a copy on the Internet.
Floating Notification: I got a lot of guff on Twitter for the floating “Jessica out Tomorrow” notification in the top right corner. One of these days I will complain about how Calendar doesn’t really let me turn off alerts on specific calendars, but today is not that day. The larger point is, yes, I know there’s a Do Not Disturb feature at the top of Notification Center (scroll up, it’s there!), but the last thing I need is another item on both my pre- and post-podcast checklists. A floating alert here or there is fine. I don’t care.
Menu Bar and Dock People really do love looking at other people’s Menu Bars and Docks. It’s like looking through the windows of someone’s house as you walk past. So here are mine—free show! Of note are iStat Menus graphs (I have my reasons—again, that’s probably another story), the temperature outside (58 degrees Fahrenheit, because it’s summer in San Francisco—the zero in parentheses after it is the difference in temperature from 24 hours ago, which indicates another day of gloom is on tap), and the icon of a train on a track is TripMode, which I use to control bandwidth when podcasting. Off to the left is Bartender, which collapses a bunch of menu-bar items into a single submenu.
As for my Dock, what I can I say? I am a right-dock person, and have been for ages. (Worse, I used to be a “pinned to top” right-dock person, when that was possible.) My Dock is full of apps I use regularly: BBEdit, MailPlane, and Slack; and at the bottom, apps I use for podcasting: Skype, Lingo, Nicecast, and Audio Hijack.