A Sensible Approach To AI

It’s obvious that AI is here to stay and, unfortunately, so is a lot of the confusing (often sensationalized) rhetoric that is permeating most media. As such, I think it’s important that we continue to look at what AI actually is in it’s current state and going forward, as opposed to what some say what it might become. Instead of the constant drumming of doom – most of which is based on science fiction – I find it far more sensible to keep educating ourselves as best we can about this continually developing tool.

What is AI?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer or machine to mimic intelligent human behavior. AI research has been highly successful in developing effective techniques for solving a wide range of problems, from game playing to medical diagnosis.

There are many different approaches to AI, but they all share a common goal: to create machines that can think and act like humans. Some of the most common approaches to AI include:

Machine learning: Machine learning is a field of AI that focuses on developing algorithms that can learn from data without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning algorithms are used in a wide variety of applications, including spam filtering, image recognition, and natural language processing.
Deep learning: Deep learning is a type of machine learning that uses artificial neural networks to learn from data. Artificial neural networks are inspired by the human brain, and they have been shown to be very effective at learning complex tasks. Deep learning is used in a wide variety of applications, including image recognition, natural language processing, and speech recognition.
Expert systems: Expert systems are computer programs that are designed to mimic the reasoning of human experts. Expert systems are used in a wide variety of applications, including medical diagnosis, financial planning, and manufacturing.

AI is a rapidly growing field, and it is having a major impact on many different industries. AI is already being used to improve the efficiency of businesses, to develop new products and services, and to provide better healthcare. As AI continues to develop, it is likely to have an even greater impact on our lives.

Helping AI Speak

Large language models (LLMs) are a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that are trained on massive datasets of text and code. This allows them to generate text, translate languages, write different kinds of creative content, and answer your questions in an informative way. LLMs are still under development, but they have the potential to be incredibly helpful in a wide range of applications.

LLMs are a powerful tool that can be used to power AI. They can be used to improve the performance of AI systems in a variety of ways, including:

Generating text: LLMs can be used to generate text that is more natural and coherent than text that is generated by traditional AI systems. This can be helpful for applications such as chatbots, machine translation, and text generation.
Translating languages: LLMs can be used to translate languages with a high degree of accuracy. This can be helpful for applications such as machine translation, cross-lingual search, and international communication.
Writing different kinds of creative content: LLMs can be used to write different kinds of creative content, such as poems, code, scripts, musical pieces, email, letters, etc. This can be helpful for applications such as content generation, creative writing, and entertainment.
* **Answering your questions in an informative way:** LLMs can be used to answer your questions in an informative way, even if they are open ended, challenging, or strange. This can be helpful for applications such as question answering, research, and education.

As LLMs continue to improve, they are likely to become even more powerful and versatile. They have the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with computers, and they could have a major impact on a wide range of industries.

Here are a few ways that LLMs can be helpful:

They can be used to generate text: LLMs can be used to generate text in a variety of styles, including news articles, blog posts, creative writing, and even code. This can be helpful for a variety of tasks, such as creating marketing materials, writing reports, or generating new ideas.
They can be used to translate languages: LLMs can be used to translate languages with a high degree of accuracy. This can be helpful for businesses that need to communicate with customers or partners in other countries, or for people who are learning a new language.
They can be used to write different kinds of creative content: LLMs can be used to write poems, code, scripts, musical pieces, email, letters, etc. This can be helpful for people who want to create creative content but don’t have the time or skills to do it themselves.
They can be used to answer your questions in an informative way: LLMs can be used to answer your questions in a comprehensive and informative way, even if they are open ended, challenging, or strange. This can be helpful for students, researchers, and anyone else who needs to find information quickly and easily.

LLMs are still under development, but they have the potential to be incredibly helpful in a wide range of applications.

Here are some additional benefits of using LLMs:

They can help you save time: LLMs can automate tasks that would otherwise take a lot of time, such as writing reports or translating documents. This can free up your time so you can focus on other things.
They can help you improve your productivity: LLMs can help you generate more creative and informative content, which can lead to improved results in your work.
They can help you learn new things: LLMs can be used to access and learn from a vast amount of information. This can help you stay up-to-date on current events, learn new skills, and expand your knowledge.

Overall, LLMs are a powerful tool that can be used to improve your productivity, creativity, and knowledge. As they continue to improve, they are likely to become even more useful in the years to come.

What’s Everyone Afraid Of?

There are a number of current fears about AI, including:

Job loss: AI is becoming increasingly capable of automating tasks that are currently performed by humans. This could lead to widespread job losses, particularly in low-skilled and repetitive jobs.
Bias: AI systems are trained on data that is created by humans. This means that they can reflect the biases that exist in society. For example, an AI system that is trained on a dataset of resumes that are mostly from men may be more likely to recommend men for jobs.
Misuse: AI systems can be used for malicious purposes, such as creating deepfakes or developing autonomous weapons.
Loss of control: As AI systems become more powerful, it may become more difficult for humans to control them. This could lead to a situation where AI systems make decisions that have negative consequences for humans.

It is important to note that these are just some of the current fears about AI. It is also important to remember that AI is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. It is up to us to ensure that AI is used for the benefit of humanity, and not for its destruction.

Whether or not we should fear AI is a complex question with no easy answer. There are certainly some potential risks associated with AI, such as the possibility of job loss, bias, and misuse. However, there are also many potential benefits of AI, such as improved efficiency, productivity, and creativity.

Ultimately, the question of whether or not we should fear AI is a matter of perspective. If we focus on the potential risks, then it is easy to see why some people might be afraid of AI. However, if we focus on the potential benefits, then it is easy to see why others are optimistic about AI’s future.

Ethical AI

Here are some things we can do to ensure that AI is used for good:

Educate ourselves about AI: The more we know about AI, the better equipped we will be to make informed decisions about its use.
Promote responsible AI development: We need to encourage developers to create AI systems that are safe, ethical, and beneficial to society.
Support policies that protect people from the negative impacts of AI: We need to ensure that AI is used in a way that does not harm people, their jobs, or their privacy.

By taking these steps, we can help to ensure that AI is used for the benefit of humanity, and not for its destruction.

So what do you think about the current state of AI, and its future?


My Time With The Pixel Watch

When it comes to new devices, the norm for many years now has been for Content Creators (whether well-known or up and coming) to rush to get reviews out as soon as possible. Nearly everyone in the content creation space desperately craves to receive the oh-so-coveted Review Units that device makers release in wild in the hopes of to not only gain some real world usage data, but to also drum up some buzz about their devices. Content Creators not only have the opportunity to score some free new tech, but they also get a chance to claim the “hashtag FIRST crown” which helps develop their reputation of always being in touch with what’s new and hot.

I’m not necessarily criticizing any of this. In fact, I’ve always been a lover of beta testing software and gadgets – mostly because of my love of tinkering in general. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like free stuff? Also, having Content Creators get reviews out early enough can help consumers decide on purchases – especially if the creators have developed trustworthy track records.

But there are times when I wish that some reviews could be held off for a bit longer. I feel sometimes that some device reviews would be better served after a few months of usage, as opposed to several weeks, considering some of the changes that impact many of today’s devices primarily thanks to software updates and security patches, as well as things such as the availability of accessories that tend to be made available months after a device’s release. Often when a device maker has a launch event, many of the features and/or accessories are tagged as “coming soon”. Thus many of the “cool” and “oooh-ahh” things that we see onstage won’t be available for months to come.

Aside from those reasons, I feel that sometimes a few weeks of living with a device simply might not be enough time to truly gauge the value of the device. For example, some devices can be quick and snappy early on, but as more time goes by that may no longer be the case. In which case if Content Creators talk about how fast and responsive a device may be early on, there may be no indication of device sluggishness after a couple of months. Thankfully there are many Content Creators and media outlets who in fact provide followup reviews later down the line, but oftentimes many consumers only look at announcements that are new. Finally I’m willing to concede that much of this is based on my personal preferences, so a lot of what I’m saying here may seem to be much to do about nothing to many of you reading. However I just wanted to voice my opinion about the device review cycle as well as offer some context as to why I waited from the date I received my Pixel Watch (October 17th, 2022) until now (I’m writing this on February 11th, 2023) to give my impressions of it.

The Band Had To Go

Speaking of content norms, it’s typical for reviews like this to start with tech specs. Rather than list them all individually here, I’ll instead point you to Google’s Specs Page. There you’ll find everything you need to know from connectivity, glass type, and battery size.

But from the day the Pixel Watch was officially announced and revealed, I know my biggest issue would have nothing to do with the tech specs. Instead it would be with the included watch band. Specifically, the material that it’s made from. This would not be the first time I’ve had contact with this type of band (made from fluoroelastomer), so even though I knew I wanted the watch I also knew one of the first things I would have to do is replace the band as soon as possible. Simply put, I can’t wear these types of bands for prolonged periods as they cause skin irritation and sometimes discoloration, especially during summer months. Since the Pixel Watch was launched in October, I had plenty of time to grab a replacement band. But with that I ran into a slight hiccup.

The good news is that Google also announced alternative watch bands available in the Google Store. The bad news, in my opinion, is that they are all a bit pricey. So I did what many would do – I turned to Amazon. Going in, I knew specifically what I was looking for. I prefer more traditional metal watch bands, and found this $17 band from E ECSEM. This band is easily adjustable and can easily be attached and detached thanks to the Pixel Watch attachment design. You can view my full Amazon review here. Also, at time of this writing, the price has been reduced to $11.18! And yes – I’m still wearing this band daily.

What’s Not To Like

No beating around the bush here – simply put, the battery. Back when the first Apple Watch became widespread, I chuckled at the iOS faithful who complained about the battery life. After all, what good is a watch that requires you to charge it every night, and sometimes in the middle of the day? (Bear in mind, Apple claimed the watch could achieve 18 hours). As newer models were released, I still heard the same grumblings. In fact, it made me wonder if the whole “smart watch” craze was truly worth it. Sure – there are lots of cool features, sleep tracking, health tracking, etc. But was it all truly worth it if you have to charge them every night?

I began to wonder if there would ever be a worthy offering in the world of Android. Samsung began boasting 40 – 50 hours of battery life with the Galaxy Watch line, which is pretty impressive indeed. But I was already loyal to Google’s Pixel line (not just the phones, but I also owned the Pixel C as well as a Pixelbook), so I was hopeful a watch was son on the way. As it turns out, I had to wait a few more years for this to become a reality but I was hopeful to try a smartwatch just to get a feel for things.

I had read about the Amazfit Bip and gave it a shot. It was an interesting watch that sported a 14 -16 day battery life. It didn’t have any WearOS functionality – it was merely a bluetooth watch that could be used with either Android or iOS. It included it’s own proprietary app for sleep tracking, step tracking, even mobile payments. And above all else, it cost me a mere $35 at the time.

But I then discovered the Amazfit GTR-2 , pictured here to the right of the Pixel Watch. As you see, it has a large, beautiful display, integrates with Alexa, bluetooth calling, Blood Oxygen and Heart Rate tracking, and so on. But most importantly, it also features the impressive 14 – 16 day battery life that I can only WISH the Pixel Watch could achieve.

It is, in my opinion, one of the best smartwatch values for Android users. In fact, be sure to check out Amazfit’s entire line because I’m quite sure you’ll find something to fit your style and needs.

That being said, I was a bit disappointed when the Pixel Watch specs began rolling out, and it became known that it would have a 24-hour battery life. Yes, I still went ahead with it. I, like some reviewers I’ve read, have learned to schedule charging times during less impactful times of the day, which is typically first thing in the morning as I’m getting ready for work. The good news is that it does truly get a full 24 hours, so once I have it fully charged by 7:45AM I don’t have to worry about it again until 7:45AM the next morning. And it charges pretty quickly – in about an hour and a half it can go from about 26% to 100% easily.

Aside from the battery life, I was also a bit confused by Google somewhat ignoring Google Fit in favor of pushing a Fitbit Premium . Look, I get it – Google bought Fitbit so of course they’re going to market it as best they can. But I’ve been using Google Fit since its inception, and I personally have no reason to want to switch. Also, I like the Google Fit interface because it’s clean and simple. Thankfully there’s Health Connect , so I can have Fitbit running and collecting the data I want but I can view it all in Google Fit.

The Final Verdict

Overall, I truly love the Pixel Watch. I love the style, the customization options, and all of the general Googliness! I think there’s room for some improvements that can hopefully be done with software updates (case in point, Bedtime Mode should enable automatically like it does on the Pixel Phone). I think it’s a great value at its price point, and other than the battery life I think did a great job with this latest induction into the Pixel family.

Free Classic Gaming

With some 2.9 billion active players worldwide, the video game industry is now worth more than $300 billion.* Many of us, myself included, have watched games evolved from mere black and white blocks found in 1972’s Pong, to more elaborate 8-bit classics like Pac-Man and Contra. As the industry has continued to grow over the decades, we’ve seen more and more technological advances in gaming consoles, as well as the games themselves. Today, many AAA titles are produced in the same fashion as blockbuster movies and on equally large budgets.

Along with the growth and development of the games themselves there has also been huge growth in the online gaming community, with some players generating enough income through affiliate programs that they have been able to turn gaming into a full-time career.

But with all of this accelerated growth, innovation and change in gaming, it may sometimes seem that many who’ve enjoyed gaming over the years may no longer have a way to play the types of games they’ve always enjoyed – especially classic titles. I’ve personally spoken to friends who’ve pointed out how they’d love to play some of the games that their kids play, but those games are sometimes “just too much” for them. On top of that, they have no way to play many of the classic games they’ve enjoyed because the consoles they used to play them on are long gone. They simply have no way to play them.

Now they do with Solitaire.org, although at first glance it may not appear to be the case. From its name to its landing page, you may first think to yourself, “Ok. It’s a site for playing Solitaire.” However, it has some hidden gems up its sleeve!

Of course, if you simply want to play a game of Classic Solitaire, you can from right here on the main page. But if you hover over Solitaire you will find more versions to play – Klondike, Spider, Free Cell, Pyramid, TriPeaks, and Golf. Each version features a list of instructions that include game play, rules, game design, history of the game, and more. Some versions also include casino-styled music to help enhance the gaming experience. But I encourage you not to stop there – hover across the black navigation bar to discover more game categories including Card Games (including my personal favorite Black Jack), Mahjong Games, Hidden Object Games, Match 3 Games, Logic Puzzle Games, and Word Games (including Crossword and Word Search).

Some Of My Favorites

If you’re like me and you’re looking for a bit more than card games, be sure to move further down the black navigation bar to the Logic Puzzle Games section and check out Battle Ships Armada. This naval fleet battle game, reminiscent of the Parker Brothers classic board game, was an instant favorite from the first time I played it! Just as with the board game, you start by placing your fleet of ships strategically, while your computer opponent does the same. You take turns firing missiles – trying to take out your enemies fleet before they take you out. There are 3 difficulty levels – Easy, Normal, and Hard. If you’ve never played this type of game before (or if you’re just a bit rusty), I would suggest starting with the Easy level. Normal is a bit more challenging, and I have yet to beat the computer on the Hard level!

Once you’ve finished your great sea battle, head over to Tetra Blocks if you’re looking for more of a challenging puzzler. Different shaped blocks fall from the top of the screen and it’s up to you to correctly place them to prevent them from piling up. You can flip them and move them from side to side, and as you complete connecting rows across the screen the blocks will clear. Game play progresses faster and faster as you clear blocks and progress through levels. This type of game has been one of my favorites for many years, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it included here!

Last, and certainly not least, navigate to the Hidden Object Games and select China. Truth be told, each of the games in this section have the same objective – you have a set amount of time to find all of the hidden objects in each scene before you can progress. I just happen to like the look of the China Temple.

Did I Mention FREE?

If you’ve been following me long enough, you know my favorite price is FREE, and every game on Solitaire.org can be played for free! So if you’re looking for some classic games – card games, puzzle games, or word games – be sure to check it out. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll enjoy just as I have. I’ve found myself playing these games often after work when I just want to wind down but without having to power up a game console and grabbing a hand held controller. Simply go to the site, pick a game, and start playing.

Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

* According to figures provided by Earthweb, a business and tech site that specializes in gaming, social media, and cryptocurrency.

Great Sound On A Budget

Testing one, two, three. Is this thing on? Okay, so you did it. You have a great podcast idea. You know, you always wanted to start a podcast that you finally jumped into it. You have a great name, and you even have some topics that you know you’re going to cover, and you may even already have your cover art. 

You’re good to go. Awesome. So, you start looking into, “how do I even start a podcast”? And then, eventually, you may have landed on something like Anchor which, by the way, my podcast Voluntary Input, if you didn’t know, is an Anchor podcast and Anchor is absolutely awesome. 

And  for me personally, it is the easiest way that I found to start a podcast because the simple thing about Anchor is first and foremost, it’s free. You can’t beat that! And secondly, Anchor does all your distribution for you. So when you sign up, as you may have learned, and you record your first episode, Anchor immediately starts working on distributing your podcast for you. 

So you don’t have to do all that heavy lifting in the background. I don’t know if you guys have ever looked into how you distribute a podcast. Of course, you can do it yourself. It’s not impossible but it can be a little tedious and tricky. But like I said, the cool thing about Anchor is that they do all this for you. 

All you have to do is create – which is what you want to focus on in the first place, right? You just want to record your podcast and get it out there. Awesome. Great. So again, you find the likes of Anchor. And yes, there are other services that are similar to Anchor. 

I’m just partial to Anchor because it’s what I’ve been using for a long time now and I think it’s just simply easy and I love easy. That’s me. I don’t know about you but that’s what I love. I just love things to be simple and easy. 

So you finally get to the point where you’re going to record your first episode. 

And you think? Well, Anchor says I can do it right here on my phone. And then you do and you record your first episode or you’re sitting at your laptop and Anchor also says that you can record your episode right here. And so you go through recording your episode.

You hit all your points that you want to hit on your first episode. You think it’s great and it probably is. Your content is awesome. You get it all wrapped up. You even use some of Anchor’s tools – adding some background music, a theme song or some transitions. and you get it published. 

The first thing you do is tell people about it, and you get people listening. Hopefully you get your friends listening, or a close friend or family member listening first ( but that’s another topic for another day) as to who you should. Let them listen to your episodes first. But anyway you let people listen or you invite other podcasters to check out your show and ask them to tell you what they think. 

Now, for the most part you are going to get some genuine feedback. You’re gonna hear things like, “Man, your show was great! I love your content!”

You may get these comments, but you may also hear that your sound could be better. You know, people will try to be nice to you which is awesome. They’ll tell you the show itself was great, “But it’s just your sound, you know – it’s off”,  and you may have noticed this yourself anyway because you probably already listened to a bunch of other podcasts, including some fellow Anchor podcasts. 

And you think to yourself, “Wow, they sound great. I’m going to do whatever it is they’re doing too.”  But then you notice that when you record, yours doesn’t sound as good as theirs does, and so then you try to look into why this is. 

 Let me give you the first truth that you have to understand about this. 

First and foremost, those podcasts that you’re listening to, whether hosted and distributed by Anchor or not, the reason why they sound so good is they are not recording on anchor. In fact, they’re not recording on their cell phones. And they’re most likely not recording per se on their laptop. 

The way you were doing it, where you just opened your laptop, went to the anchor website and started recording, they are not doing those things. And why is that? Well, that’s the heart of what I’m going to talk about with you today: equipment. Truth be told, you may have already realized while they’re using something different than you’re using. 

And why is that? Well, let’s start with your laptop. More specifically, let’s start with the microphone in your laptop. You have to remember this simple thing about that, first and foremost – the microphone on your laptop was not intended for long form recording like a podcast. That’s right. So when you go to buy a laptop, there’s a gamut of them. There’s HP, there’s Chromebooks, there’s Dell, and so on and so on. 

When those manufacturers are designing and building those laptops,they’re not thinking, “Oh and we’d better put a really good microphone in there because someone’s gonna be recording a podcast.” And no, not even Apple. So, if you’re thinking, “Well I’m going to go buy a Macbook because if I spend the money, and since everyone says the MacBooks are the best, I’m gonna get this great microphone to record my podcast.”  No, you’re not. Because again, even with Apple, they are not focusing on the microphone. Then why are there microphones in laptops?  Because those microphones are intended for things like short meetings or Zoom calls, Skype, and other things like that. Even long before those things existed microphones were put in laptops, only for short form recording or for conversations. 

They are not intended for podcasts. They’re not intended for musicians. No one was intending to use a laptop microphone for this sort of recording. 

Okay? You get that, and I don’t want to keep beating that point to death, but the same thing also applies to your phone.

You think, “Well, I recorded my podcast on my phone through the Anchor app, like a lot of other podcasters are doing right?”  No. The podcasts that you’re listening to that sound really, really goodare not recording their podcasts on their phones. Because again, the microphone in your phone was not intended for long form recording. 

When Apple is making the iPhone, or when Google is making the Pixel phone, or when LG or Samsung, or whoever or any of the Android phone models – when these companies are making these cell phones and they’re putting in microphones, they are not thinking about long-form recording. 

Guess what? The microphone in your phone is for phone calls. Remember, phone calls? Yeah, I know. I just wanted to throw that in there on purpose because it seems nowadays most people don’t even make phone calls. Heck, I know people who barely even know how to talk on the phone anymore. But again that’s another topic for another day,

The point here being that the microphone in your phone was not intended for long form recording. It is not intended for podcasting. 

But let’s say you figured that out.You’re like, “Yeah apparently that’s not what they’re doing.” Then you start seeing these podcasters either posting pictures of themselves in recording sessions. or they may even stream their recording sessions. 

And you notice they’re using these great microphones, and they’re using these great mixers. And you start thinking, “Well, maybe I should get something like that”, and you start looking into it, You notice podcasters using popular pieces of equipment like the Rodecaster Pro, or the GoLXR or GoLXR Mini, which actually mostly gamers use but podcasters use them as well. In fact, I used the GoXLR for a long time myself. Finally you decide to grab one of those for yourself, and then it hits you. You look into it and you get sticker shock because the fact of the matter is, these things are expensive. They’re not cheap and you’re just starting out, and you’re probably on a shoestring budget. If you even have a budget at all. 

And so, you begin feeling a little defeated at that point, so then you think, “Well, maybe I’ll go to eBay.” I want to caution you – do not go to eBay for these types of pieces of equipment. Because what you’re gonna find, especially in the case of something like a Rodecaster Pro, many people are listing them at retail cost. 

If you finally decide to buy one, you’re going to want to buy it new. Thus, if you’re going to buy a Rodecaster Pro, go to a retailer like Sweetwater, or purchase it directly from Rode. Do not buy them from eBay because if you buy it off someone on eBay, you’re most likely not going to get things like the warranty. But most of all, if you’re going to pay retail price for something like that, why buy it off of someone? 

But let’s say you’re not even anywhere close to affording that type of equipment, but you still want to get great sound. How do you go about doing that? 

Let’s start with microphones. You may have already researched microphones and you notice that the microphones that a lot of more established podcasters are using are a bit more expensive than you even considered. There are the popular Shure microphones, the Rode microphones, and whatnot. Yes – these microphones can be on the expensive side of things.

You find yourself thinking once again, “Gosh, I can’t even afford those.” You realize your computer has USB ports, so you look into buying a USB microphone. This was the first thing I did as well, and I even did a blog post about the USB microphones I liked from FiFine which is a great USB microphone for only $20.

FiFine USB Microphone

But what you’ll quickly discover is, once you get a USB microphone and you plug it into your computer it doesn’t work. But why is that? Well, because USB ports are not intended for audio. USB ports do not power microphones. They are for the transfer of data, between the computer and things like flash drives or external hard drives. Not for audio pickup. 

In fact, when I first started my podcast, that’s exactly what I used. I used Voicemeter and then I went on to Voicemeter Potato, (which I know sounds funny, but that’s what it’s called) and it worked out great. If you’re going to go the USB microphone route, it even has a built-in virtual  tape deck that looks like an actual cassette tape. You can actually do all of your recording there.

So what do you do? Well, you can find yourself an audio interface that will make this work. There are free solutions available. There are free options out there. You may hear of something called Voicemeter, which is actually a great audio interface for using USB microphones. 

But here’s the problem that you may run into there. Voicemeter  requires a bit of a technical learning curve that you may not be into. Keep in mind there are some great YouTube videos out there, from set up how-tos as well as tweaks and best practices. This may work for you. 

If you have that kind of time and patience, you’re going to relegate a laptop for recording your podcast, this may work out for you so you get yourself a USB microphone and set up Voicemeeter. Like I said, this was my setup for some time when I first started out – I carried a backpack with a laptop, and a few FiFine USB microphones. This may be your jam as well. But again if that’s not you, what do you do? 

So this brings me to my main point. You can absolutely get good sound quality for your podcast for a little over a hundred bucks )and even cheaper in some instances). But how do you do that? 

Well, first and foremost. grab yourself an audio mixer. The mixing panel I tend to suggest when asked for help is the Pyle PMXU43BT. First and foremost Pyle does not sponsor me. It would be great if they did, but they do not sponsor me. 

Pyle PMXU43T

I am receiving no money dollars from them, but this is the kind of thing you’re going to want to purchase. If you want to get that great sound quality without breaking your bank. If you’re on a tight budget or if you, like me when I started out, have no real budget. 

A quick side note to that – If you ever go to, or listen to and podcast startup workshops, one of the first things they’re gonna tell you is that you should have a startup budget. Create a budget stick within it. I do believe this is smart, but when I first started out, I didn’t start with a budget because I kind of knew what I was gonna be doing jumping in, and because quite simply it’s just the kind of nerd. I am, I already had some of this stuff laying around, so I didn’t really jump in with a budget.

Not that I’m rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I knew what I needed and I knew I could afford it. And as I mentioned, I already had some things on hand. 

The best thing about this  Pyle mixer, first and foremost, is that you can get a brand new one for $72.39 on Amazon. Even better than that, you can go to eBay, where I’ve seen them as low at $48. Now, remember earlier I told you don’t go to eBay to buy something like a Rodecaster Pro?

The reason being is that’s an entirely different ball game. The likes of the Rodecaster Pro or the GoXLR are entirely different pieces of machinery. Simply put, they are not your typical run of the mill audio mixers.  Those are higher end pieces of electronic equipment, is the simplest way I can put, But when you are looking  for a mixer like the Pyle mixer I’m referring to here, by all means you can hit up eBay because you’re more than likely going to get one that functions without running the risk of being out of loads of money. 

Simply put, these mixers are your “basic mixers”. They’re not super fancy, but they get the job done and offer a good range of useful features.  There’s no electronic PC interface. They’re not that higher end piece of electronic equipment like the more expensive offerings mentioned previously. So, how do you go about recording your podcast? 

Well, here’s one of the beauties of this mixer and why I would tell you to get it when you’re first getting established. You’re gonna do all your recording on the mixer using a simple USB flash drive. You put the flash drive in the mixer and you hit record. You’re done. You’re good to go. 

This mixer uses 2 XLR microphones, so just in case you have a guest one day you’ll need another microphone. We’ll get more into XLR microphones at a later date, but I always suggest that you get XLR microphones. You’re gonna get better sound quality with XLR microphones.  Yes, there are some great microphones out there using the 3.5 millimeter jack, but the audio standard in most of the audio world is going to be an XLR microphone. You can look up all the tech specs as to why that is on your own time but I’m not gonna go into all of that here. And the great news is you can pick up a Rockville XLR on Amazon for just $24.95.

Rockville XLR Microphone

One great thing about this mixer is that it has built-in equalization, allowing you to make adjustments and tweaks to your overall sound giving you that great sound quality you’re striving for.  You can add or remove base, treble, and midrange, depending on how your voice sounds. 

There’s even effects. You can add echoes, reverbs and so on If you want to if you’d like to add such things to your podcast. 

Remember a little earlier on I said to you that when you first start your podcast, you’re going to want to let someone else listen to it first. like a friend or a family member. This is a good standard practice for all podcasts, regardless of what level you’re starting in. 

You’re going to want to have someone that you love and trust listen to it first, and for several reasons. Specifically, you’re going to want to ask them things like, “Am I clear on what I’m talking about? Does it make sense, and is it coherent? Do you think this is a show that, if you did know me, would you come back and keep listening?” You’re going to want to ask things like that because you’re going to want to ask someone close to you that you love and trust to get their honest opinion.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I just jumped in and to be honest my feelings didn’t get hurt. But if you look around the podcast community, especially if you look into the bigger, more established indie podcasts on up to  large network podcasts, they’re gonna want to tell you that yes, you’re going to want to get that honest feedback first before you continue forward. But hey – you do you. But I do agree with this approach overall and I suggest getting that honest feedback if you can. 

Another reason why you’re going to want to have someone listen first is that when you power up the mixer, you’re going to notice the sound is muffled and quiet. That’s because when you buy this mixer and first take it out of the box, you have to set it up to fit the sound of your voice.

As a matter of fact, when you first take it out the box, all of the EQ settings are set to 0. You’ll need to hook up your mic and headphones, and begin speaking until you hear the sound you’re looking for while making necessary EQ adjustments. Then, make a recording of yourself speaking. Try reading a passage from a book or a news article. Record yourself speaking as you plan to do on your podcast going forward. 

Then. take that  recording that you just made on your flash drive and either have that trusted family member or friend  listen to it directly there or give them the flash drive and ask them to plug it into their computer to take a listen and tell you how you sound.  

Because another important thing I’ve learned over the years from audiologists and other sound professionals is that the way we hear ourselves when we speak isn’t actually how others hear us. This is why a lot of times people say they hate the sound of their voice whenever they hear themselves speak on recordings. There is nothing wrong with the sound of your voice. Trust me, You sound great, but if you start messing with equalization, you may tweak it to a point of where you think you sound and it may actually sound odd. Just remember the way you think you sound, the way you hear yourself, isn’t always the way everyone else hears you – the way you actually sound. So you’re going to want the person you have doing the listening test for to tell you if the EQ adjustments you’ve made sound true to the sound of your voice.

Now granted you may not get it 100% perfect and that’s fine. But actually, what you’re looking for is you want that person to give you that honest feedback. 

So now that you’ve got the mixer, you’ve got the microphone, you’ve got everything EQ’d out properly, you sound good – your friend or family member has told you that you sound good. Go ahead and record your next episode. Do the full recording. Once you’re done, unless you want to do this, I would suggest don’t just pop that flash drive in your computer and start uploading it up to anchor because the thing is that even though Anchor, offers editing tools, you may notice that it can be a bit cumbersome and a little more time-consuming than you’d like. What you’re going to want to do is use a free audio editing  tool that you probably may already be using, or you may have noticed that the vast majority of podcasters use this. 

I’m of course referring to Audacity, It is free, simple, and loaded with all kinds of tools. A lot of  tools you may not even understand but you don’t need to understand them all for it to be a very powerful and useful tool to have in your podcast arsenal. There are plenty of great tutorials to help you get started with the basics, and you may hopefully learn in time. 

In fact, later on at some point we’re gonna do a deep dive into audacity, exploring  some of the tips and tricks that I think are helpful to podcasters and absolutely help me all the time. But first and foremost, go ahead and plug that USB drive into your computer and get Audacity loaded up. 

When you open audacity, all you have to do is go to file and import and have it import the audio off of your USB drive into itself. This is where you’re going to edit your episode. This is where you’re gonna do all of those things (and more) you were trying to do on Anchor and may have gotten frustrated. 

Now again we’ll do a deeper dive into Audacity and all of the awesome editing tools that you can use that you may not even be aware of. But for the most part, let’s say there’s a whole segment that you don’t want in your podcast. With Audacity, you can simply highlight it and delete it.

Once you’re finished with all of your editing, you simply select “file” and export as mp3. You can name it and enter any details in the detail window that comes up and then you export it onto your computer as an mp3. Then, you’ll upload the exported file (or files if you have more than one to add to an episode) to Anchor. Again – we’ll do a deeper dive into all of this at a later date. The purpose of this article is to get you some affordable audio equipment to get the quality sounding podcast that you hope for. 

I hope this info helps. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to visit Voluntary Input and select “Contact”. We’d love to hear from you!

Honored & Proud

Master Sargent Elliot Dangerfield

On June 11th, 2021 I had the honor of witnessing the retirement ceremony for my nephew, Master Sargent Elliot Dangerfield. I am proud beyond words of all he has accomplished as a man of God, husband, father, and defender of our freedoms through 22 years of humble sacrifice.

The ceremony, held at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, was a truly inspiring experience.

National Museum of the Marine Corps

There were those who spoke of Elliot’s service time in the corps, as well as his time to speak in which he thanked family and friends. This all culminated with a flag being presented to him by fellow Marines. But for me, one of the greatest “lump in my throat” moments came when he was relieved of “The Watch”. If you have never experienced this, my hope is that someday you can – it’s really moving (either that, or I am just a big sap!)

I want to send out my deepest heartfelt thanks to Elliot for his time actively serving our country, and to let him know how proud I am of him. Also, a huge thanks goes to his wife Leticia, as well as their children, for supporting him through all these years. I love you all, and can’t wait to see the amazing things God has in store for you!

Proceed With Caution

I don’t tend to talk about this stuff, but I just wanted to touch on this. There are a lot of jokes lately about a certain someone abruptly abandoning his blog. Some jokes have even been celebratory in nature. I just want to remind everyone that silence is often the deadliest sound. Ask any parent.

Now That I Have All This Free Time…

During the current crisis that has brought most of the world to a stand still, many have found themselves with extra free time due to Stay Home Orders issued by many states.

If this applies to you, my hope is that you are in a work from home situation, or that you are currently placed on furlough at most and that your place of employment will have your position waiting for you once we get through this difficult time.

Whatever your situation, you may find yourself compelled to tackle some things you haven’t quite been able to find the time to do. Most people seem driven to tackle some home improvement projects, or to take up some physical activity (possibly out of guilt for abandoning their ill-fated New Year’s Resolution as most tend to do).

Nothing wrong with either of those “to-do’s”, but might I suggest that you use this time to do a personal tech security audit? Without question, protecting your personal information nowadays has always been important. But during the current epidemic we find ourselves in it may be more important now than ever. Unfortunately, the less desirable among us has seized this time as an opportunity, so there has been an uptick in scams and breaches. The good news is there are a few simple tools and techniques you can use to help keep your digital information secure.

Use A Password Manager

As any cyber security expert will tell you, the use of passwords is the weakest link in everything. In fact, in a perfect world, we would abandon the use of passwords altogether. The fact of the matter is, people are horrible at creating secure passwords. We all are. Yes, you are as well. Regardless of how clever you may think you are, the fact is your brain will ultimately settle into a recognizable pattern when attempting to think up new passwords. The real problems arise when once your pattern is cracked, infiltrators can then use that pattern to figure out the passwords for your other secured accounts. Although a more broad adoption of biometrics would be a much better solution, the fact is we are still stuck with passwords.

As such, it is important to use a Password Manager. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of LogMeIn’s Last Pass. I use it for my most important accounts – such as my bank account. In fact, I have no idea what my bank account password is. Instead, like I do with other accounts that I want to keep most secure, I let Last Pass generate a truly random and secure password (the most I can tell you about my bank password is it’s 36 characters long).

Screenshot 2020-04-02 at 8.58.20 PM

Last Pass gives you the option to control the length and complexity of the passwords you have it generate, and it stores them all in your personal vault. Install the app on your cell phone, and it will control all of those logins for you when needed. And speaking of biometrics, the app confirms it’s really you by using your device’s existing technology – whether that’s face recognition or a fingerprint scannger. With Last Pass, the only password you’ll need to remember is the password to your Last Pass account. It’s very important that you setup the secure password recovery options, because even the folks at Last Pass cannot see or reset this password for you.

Stop Using Your Credit Card

Now more than ever, more and more of us are ordering online. Thus it should come as no surprise that many have fallen victim to credit card theft – especially as some have become desperate for certain household necessities that they choose to place orders from less-than-reputable websites. Sure, there are still solutions like PayPal and Venmo, which are secure in their own right, but ultimately they are still a one payment source solution.

Thankfully there is an easy solution – during desperate times and during normal times. The service I like to use is Privacy.

Screenshot 2020-04-02 at 9.31.29 PM

Privacy lets you generate multiple, unique virtual credit cards – each with their own numbers, CSV codes, and expiration dates. Ordering from a site that you’re not so sure about? Use Privacy to generate a single use card that can only be used for that particular purchase. Any attempts to use the card afterwards is denied – and Privacy alerts you as such! In fact, Privacy alerts you of all purchases you make and keeps a monthly ledger of all your purchases. In fact, each card you setup can be locked to the vendor you chose. For example, I use Privacy for all of my recurring subscriptions such as Netflix and for all of my Amazon purchases and my Prime subscription. If I ever chose to skip a month for Netflix, I can simply pause the card assigned to it. Simply put, all digital transactions I conduct online are done with Privacy cards. From ordering take out to support restaurants, to paying monthly bills, I never use my bank issued card.

No One Is Watching You

This particular trick is still circulating, and angers me personally because I have family members who have fallen victim to it.

While surfing the web or simply composing an email, you receive a “security” pop up or notification indicating that system monitors have detected problems with you computer and they need you to act now. Clicking on the so-called warning basically opens the door to your computer. The first thing the “security professional” likes to do is show you a screen shot of your desktop, or access your webcam if you have one connected as a way to “prove” to you that they are truly who they say they are. Simply put, they are not. Microsoft, Apple, Google, or no other company is actively watching you or monitoring your system for problems, nor will they contact you in this manner. Nor will they ever call you. Ultimately what happens is the victim is instructed to pay a fee to “fix” the problems found. Unfortunately this is nothing short of a con and theft. If you ever see such a message, don’t click on it. It it won’t go away, simply go to your system’s Start menu and select “Shut Down”. Wait a few minutes then power back up. This will typically end this annoyance.

Don’t Click That Link

Lastly, please be sure to be EXTRA careful with email. As has become the norm during times of peril, email phishing scams are increasing almost daily. You may have already received emails from vendors and merchants you trust informing you as such – they will never send you emails requesting your personal information. Most importantly, they will not send an email with a link for you to click (which is the scam itself) to take you to a website to provide such information. Thankfully, many email spam filters tend to catch the bulk of these types of scams, but sometimes a few will slip through. A good rule of thumb to live by is simply to remember that if you didn’t initiate any changes to an account (such as a password reset request), treat all “we need you to update your information” requests as spam. Use the correct contact information from the service that supposedly sent it, and confirm if they actually sent the email. Most likely, they did not. Delete the email immediately. Better yet, depending on the email provider you use, block and report the sender as spam.

At all times, it is important to protect yourself in this digital age. Unfortunately during the worst of times criminals tend to ramp up their attacks and attempts to steal your hard earned money. Hopefully the tools I’ve provided here can help you keep your information secure.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.


2020 Cord Cutting State Of The Union


My fellow Earthlings,

It has been a little over 7 years since we ditched cable, and it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of Cord Cutting. It has gone from a back-room whispered, almost hush-hush dirty little secret to a mainstream topic of conversation and a valid choice to consider. In September of 2019, PC Mag reported that the majority of US households – a whopping 74% – have a streaming service.

Over the years, there have been some attacks against Cord Cutting – many of those attacks coming from cable service providers themselves. The leading criticism being that you can’t actually save money, and may actually end up paying more than just holding onto your cable or satellite service. I won’t go into all of the details and the math here, but this is fundamentally false with a few exceptions – the biggest being consumers who feel driven to sign up for multiple streaming services.

It also brings me back full circle to I point I have repeated over and over again, and will continue to repeat. That is, saving money isn’t as much of a driving factor as is choice and quality of programming available. The fact is, perhaps the greatest outcome of the growing popularity of Cord Cutting has been what I like to refer to as The Split Off Effect, in which networks have decided to create their own streaming channels with their own content and original programming. Perhaps the highest profile example of this has been the successful launch of Disney+ as well as the highly anticipated launch of NBCUniversal’s peacock.

We have literally gone from “how in the world will I make this work?” to the point of having a dizzying amount of choices! Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. We are no longer pigeon holed into having to accept bloated, over-priced cable bundles with little to no choice in what programming we receive, to an almost overwhelming amount of cable free choices.

So how do you make sense of it all? How do you choose from the hundreds, even thousands, of streaming channels / services you may see in the channel store of your device of choice? A great place to start is Consumers Advocate’s in-depth reviews of some of the more prominent, well known content providers as well as others many may not be familiar with. The team of researchers there have taken the time to analyze each service based on criteria such as Plans & Trial Periods, Supported Devices, and so on. You may want to do yourself a favor and bookmark this site, as the team keeps it updated (last update as of this writing was February 15, 2020). Also, don’t forget to visit my Bare Bones Cord Cutting article, in which I highlight what I still consider to be some of the best FREE options available.

As always, please feel free to reach out with any comments or suggestions and stay tuned for more reviews and picks as the world of Cord Cutting continues to grow!