I’ve talked quite a few times about how much I love the Internet and how many new friends Steve and I have made and new experiences we’ve had as a result of the Internet. Because of the Internet and podcasting, we met Don McAllister and became good friends. Eventually he gave my name to Captain Neil who ran the Mac Geek Cruises and I got a gig on the trip in Australia. On the Mac Geek Cruise we met Devon and Maryanne who live in New Zealand and ended up going there this year for their wedding. You remember Maryanne – she’s the professor who messes with your memories who was on the show a while back. Well Devon and Maryanne are working in New York City for five months. We figured it would be easier to visit them in New York than flying again to New Zealand, so last week Steve and I hopped on a plane to New York City!
I have to say that I never ever wanted to go there. Everyone told me it was extraordinary but my vision of what it was like was firmly cemented by real facts mixed with TV and movie fiction. A long time ago, NYC was a terrifying place with drug dealers and pimps in Times Square and murders and other violence in Central Park and that the subway was a horrifying nightmare. Even though people explained to me that in the last 30 years it had been cleaned up and was super cool and fun, I just couldn’t get that impression out of my head. At best I pictured it with dirty streets, super crowded, and definitely dangerous. I also pictured the monster alien from Men in Black eating the back of the subway.
Well anyway, I overcame my fears. Boy was I wrong! Maryanne convinced us to rent a teeny tiny little apartment in Manhattan on the upper west side (don’t I sound chic just saying that?) right near their apartment. I won’t bore you with my entire travelogue but we had a spectacular time.
One highlight was meeting up with Michelle Lopez and her husband Frank. You may know her as Cntrysigns on Twitter and in the live chat room. They took the subway and a bus for over an hour just to have dinner with us at Lenny’s Deli. It was awesome to finally meet in person someone we’ve “known” in the digital sense for years. Spoiler, she’s as delightful as you hope she would be!
Hopstop and Manhattan Rep
The subway isn’t at all terrifying, and Devon and Maryanne were great teachers. We have to work in a tech angle here, right? Google is a pretty cool way of figuring out what subway to take to get where, but there’s also a free app called HopStop that Devon highly recommended. With HopStop you tell it where you want to go (using Current location as the starting point or you can define a different starting point). That seems obvious but the cool part about Hopstop is you tell it what time you want to arrive at your destination. Let’s say it’s around 5pm but you want to get to the Manhattan Repertory Theater at 7:45 leaving from Lenny’s Deli. You give it that info and it tells you precisely what time to leave Lenny’s on foot, what station to find, which train or trains to take in which direction and gives you walking directions once you get off the train to get to the theater right on time.
I liked the app but there’s a couple of needed improvements in my opinion. The main thing is that quite often, perhaps half the time you’re on the subway you have no cellular connection. If you don’t touch Hopstop it will keep the info on screen but if you touch it in any way you lose all the information you had on screen. To be fully functional, they really do need a download for offline usage feature. Several times while I was in good cellular areas it insisted that it could not find my current location. Steve installed it on his iPhone (both of us on AT&T) and he never had the problem. I was happy though because I was secretly hoping NOT to be the one responsible for whether we got hopelessly lost on the subway!
I put a link in the shownotes to the free Hopstop app for the iPhone (sorry, no version of Hopstop for Android or Windows Phone) but you can also use their web interface over at hopstop.com. It might be even better to use Hopstop via the web because after you ask for directions a box pops up suggesting that before you go you could email or print directions. If I used that feature I could download to my phone for offline viewing. By the way, hopstop.com has this service for over a hundred cities in the US plus a smattering of cities in Canada, the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Germany, Norway the Netherlands and Israel. Pretty cool stuff!
I mentioned the Manhattan Repertory Theater because we actually did go there while in Manhattan. It’s an Off Off Broadway theater located right in Times Square. We went to Manhattan Rep because it’s run by our very own Ken Wolf. You may know him better by his other personana – Professor Albert! He comped us a couple of tickets to see a new play at his theater, and met us ahead of time in his office. We had a delightful chat over a glass of wine before the play. Again, he was as enchanting as you possibly could have hoped. When the play started, he introduced it and we were blown away by the story he told. The good news is he is, of course, a geek, so he recorded his introduction on his iPhone and sent it along so you can all hear the story.
=======insert Ken Wolf========
Isn’t that fascinating to hear where Professor Albert came from? Getting to meet Ken and see a rather odd little play in a theater as Ken said is the size of your living room was such a cool experience that we really enjoyed.
Slau’s Amazing Audio Studio
I promised not to do the full travelogue of our trip but there’s one more amazing experience we had in New York that I think you’ll enjoy hearing about. In the very early early days of podcasting, I met a guy named Slau through the Internet. We had the chance to meet up during I think the second Podcast Expo I attended and we hit it off. He’s funny and as sarcastic as I am so it was clear we’d be friends for life. Around that time, Adam Curry, known as the Father of Podcasting, was bemoaning the fact that there was no podsafe Christmas music because all of the classics are actually copyrighted. Adam found out that Slau and a buddy of his had written a song called If Every Day Were Christmas and he decided this would be the perfect song for his cause. He encouraged all of the podcast musicians of the time to send in audio recordings of them singing to Slau, volunteered Slau’s time to mix all the music together AND to give all of the proceeds for sales of the song to charity. Think We Are the World and you’ll get the idea.
This project was a HUGE project for Slau, and if you want to hear him describe exactly what it took to create this awesome song with so many people of different pitches, tempos, styles, I highly recommend you listen to his podcast episode about it. I put a link in the shownotes to his podcast Sessions With Slau (unfortunately he’s not recording new episodes but this one is fascinating!) By the way, Adam renamed the song from its original title of If Every Day Were Christmas to Podsafe for Peace.
By now you’re wondering why I’m blathering about this in a story about New York. As it turns out, Slau owns his own recording studio, and it’s in Queens New York. I have always wanted to go see this studio and I knew Steve would enjoy it even more than me. You know I’m not a crazy music person but Steve is, and even more he enjoys seeing how things are made, so seeing how Slau actually creates music would be a huge treat for Steve. However. This meant traveling to QUEENS on a New York City subway. It meant taking the Q train when we’d only been on the trains with numbers. It meant switching trains. Even worse, it meant taking different trains on the way back! Maryanne and Devon tricked us by saying they’d go with us and then feigning exhaustion when it was actually time to go.
Of course we did fine on the subway and it was probably the coolest thing we did on the trip. Slau and his friend co-wrote If Every Day Were Christmas as I mentioned before, and they’re actually remixing it for a version of their very own. I’m going to attempt to describe what Slau showed us, but forgive me if I use some incorrect terms here and there. The remixed version will have Slau singing, playing guitar and piano, along with a drummer, and four stringed instruments – violin 1 & 2, viola and cello. He recorded his voice, the drummer, and the piano independently. Then he mixed those three together so that the stringed instrument players could hear this music while they played their own. Slau showed us how he positioned each artist inside the live recording booth, how they had individual mixers of their own to bring up/down the other instruments so they could hear just what they needed/wanted to hear, and how he positioned the mics on these giant boom arms.
He recorded the stringed instruments four times, so he had four separate recordings of each instrument (four violins, four violas, etc.) Now picture this. We’re sitting in his studio and he’s got this GIANT mixing board in front of him with maybe 25 faders and more dials than I could count. He starts the song playing and in real time, he’s moving the faders for his voice, the piano, drums and maybe a couple of other instruments, but at the same time the faders for the 16 stringed instruments are moving all by themselves. From what I understand, he manually adjusted the fader levels of the stringed instruments throughout the song, and recorded/automated these levels so that he could work on the next section of instruments without having to bother with the stringed instruments. So we were watching and listening to a combination of automated mixing and live mixing. It was sooooo cool.
I put a couple of photos in the shownotes so you can see what we saw as he was playing. I did record him playing the remixed version for us but ahead of time I promised him I’d never play it outside the family. You’re going to have to wait for the final product yourself, to be released on iTunes in time for the holidays! I should mention that the song is AMAZING, and that both Steve and I like it WAY better than the Podsafe for Peace version, and we liked that one before we heard Slau’s version!
All while we’re watching Slau with the mixing board, we were also watching a giant monitor above him that was displaying the software Pro Logic, which was mimicking (or was it driving?) the mixing board itself showing the sliders moving and lights lighting up and such. The funny thing to notice is that the software was running on OS9. I guess I neglected to mention that Slau is completely blind. Slau has been working with the Pro Logic folks for YEARS to get their current software up to snuff for VoiceOver users so he can finally abandon OS9 and move to OSX.
Slau showed us his computer rack (one of the best parts) with its array of redundant disk drives, his giant G4 running OS9, and his diminutive Mac mini awaiting the transition to OSX. He explained to us that he will be able to use the little Mac mini (and survived all these years on a G4) because the real horsepower of the music processing and the tools is done by an array of PCI sound cards. Think of them as the analog to your graphics processor only for sound.
He also showed us his microphone cabinet where I think he said he had over 80 high-fidelity microphones, including one that was custom made for him in the Ukraine. He is of Ukrainian descent, and travels there often to work, so of course he has a custom made mic from there!
After we finished in the studio we got to go have dinner with Slau and his wife Audrey who was amusing and entertaining as well. It was a perfect evening with awesome people.
I said at the beginning that the Internet has opened the world for Steve and me, and I think this mini-travelgue explains how. I can’t thank Devon and Maryanne enough for getting us off our duffs and out to New York, and hosting us for such a great visit. I do see the irony that it took two people from New Zealand to convince us to go to New York. In case you’re wondering, when I got home I went to bed at 8pm and slept for 10 hours!