Question from Instagram: Roadcasting

I posted this to Instagram on Tuesday morning, as I awaited my train to New York City. I was heading in for a press event and then heading home after an early dinner with a friend. I’ve done previous trips like this one carrying what’s basically a small purse: a bag just big enough to hold an iPad Mini and a compact keyboard. But Tuesday is MacBreak Weekly show day, so I needed to lug around podcasting gear all day.

@loose_ship wants to know what I was carrying.

First off, I could have carried a lot less. All I need for MacBreak is a computer that can run Skype, a camera, and some kind of external mic. I participated  in the live coverage of Apple’s intro of the iPad Pro using just my phone and the mic built into my earbuds, but that was only because I’d chosen to spend that afternoon on Broadway waiting to get in to see Steven Colbert’s second “Late Night.”

More realistically, I could have just plugged a USB mic into my iPad Mini and called it a day. But choosing hardware for podcasting with video away from my studio navigates two variables:

  1. How good do I want the video and audio to be?
  2. What kind of risks are acceptable?

With a show like MacBreak, which records from a professional studio with two other hosts who’ll be recording from well-kitted-out home studios of their own, I’ll look like a dope if I try to cut corners. Also, though I’d lined up a quite office in midtown to record in, I wanted to board my train knowing that I’d solved any possible connection or quality issue before I’d even left the house.

Hence, the following armaments:

A real laptop. My MacBook Pro. I’m writing this blog post with a Lenovo Carbon laptop that I’ve been trying out for a few weeks, and I considered taking it instead. My MacBook is my primary desktop, and it was tethered to all kinds of screens and drives. But I’ve never run Skype on it or plugged a mic in. I doubt it would have been any kind of issue. But I quickly recognized that I could reduce “a slight chance” of failure to “zero chance” through just five minutes of inconvenience. So out came the MacBook.

A decent USB mic. My current weapon of choice is Blue’s “Raspberry” mic. It’s the right balance between “compact” and “great sound.” It runs off of USB (and it even works with an iPad) and folds into a nice, non-lumpy bundle. Another nice touch: its folding stand attaches through a standard tripod screw. I can attach it to any tripod I own.

An external camera. The ability to place the camera where you need it to be is a subtle thing that makes a livestream look professional. Using the FaceTime camera on my MacBook means either video aimed straight up my nose, or having to rummage around the room for a little trash can or something that I can perch my MacBook on top of…which itself would cost me access to the keyboard and the ability to navigate my notes during the show. If I throw my usual Logitech C920 into a drawstring bag, all problems go away. It’s doesn’t fold or flatten for travel, but it’s worth the bulk.

Tripods for both. I have a Joby Gorillapod for the mic and the camera is supported by some kind of 1970s telescoping travel tripod I bought at the MIT Flea Market eons ago. They’re annoyingly bulky but they bring peace of mind: I know there’ll be no need whatsoever to jury-rig a solution. My microphone is inches from my mouth and the camera is where it needs to be. Problems solved.

Power stuff. Obviously I’m not going to risk running the MacBook on battery. But I also need my power brick’s long, heavy-duty power cord, or an extension cord. Otherwise I’ll have to record from a six-foot radius of a wall outlet.

Networking stuff. When I’m not podcasting from my office, I’ll take whatever broadband I can get, so long as it’s STABLE and reasonably fast. Wifi is far from ideal, though, so I’m carrying a gigabit Ethernet dongle and at least six meters of CAT6 cable. As with the power cord, I don’t want my seating choices to be limited to a six-foot radius of a wall jack.

All of these things add up. And I haven’t mentioned the USB battery and other things I normally have in my bag whenever I leave the house.

It’s tempting to bring some sort of video light. I have a few battery-operated ones, ranging from the size of a large marshmallow to that of a small book. They don’t help out enough to justify their bulk. Even the smallest one would require another tabletop tripod.

The bag is a Tenba that isn’t being made any more. I chose the color so that I can say “The orange one” to the people who manage bag check rooms. It’s bigger than what I strictly needed for this trip, actually. But the extra space is a big time saver when I’m rummaging around looking for a cable…I don’t have to take things out to get to something else.

We all dream of owning the One True Bag To Rule Them All. I’m old enough to know that it’s a fantasy. I have maybe a half-dozen bags in routine service, and I choose the right one for each job (often after initially choosing the wrong one, and then repacking everything). This big Tenba bag is WAY too heavy to carry on my shoulder all day when it’s stuffed with hardware. I usually reserve it for all-day adventures where the weather keeps changing and I need to deposit and withdraw layers as needed.