Sharing the Beachcasts office and studio set up

I’ve had some ask how my office is set up, and what equipment I use for my various recordings. Since I do podcasts (RunGeekRadio), live streams (Beachcasts on Twitch), and video recording (Beachcasts on YouTube), I needed a versatile setup that facilitated all of these various activities. So, below I will share each aspect of my office/studio, and how I have it set up.

NOTE: I will return to this post from time to time and update it as I update equipment, so it will serve as a good resource to point folks at.

First, here is what takes up 6-feet wide by 5-feet deep. I often hear folks say they can’t do what I do because they don’t have space. Though, in reality, it is pretty compact.

Studio setup as of Oct. 18th, 2019
Studio Setup

I use 2 laptops, and one external monitor/TV.

Everything sits on an adjustable desk from Ikea. I really love this desk for its simplicity, along with being able to hide all the cords underneath because of the handy cord hammock under it. And it is motorized, making it a breeze to raise or lower. I typically set it to 26 inches high when sitting, and 43 inches when standing. Then I simply pull the standing mat forward, and I continue working in a very similar way whether sitting or standing.

Computers and Software

My primary laptop is a Dell 7000 series Inspiron with a 17-inch touch-screen. (No, I never move it. It’s basically a desktop rather than a laptop.) With an Intel i7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, and 1 TB SSD, it is able to handle most anything I throw at it even at 6 years old. I run Ubuntu 18.04 LTS as the OS, and yes, I am able to do anything I want to on it. Been using Ubuntu for 10 years, and always feel limited on Mac or Windows. This laptop sits on a SlateGo mobile laptop desk/pad, made of bamboo, which really helps keep it cool. I don’t think it is sold in this form factor any longer, which is sad.

I do all my audio recordings on this laptop using Audacity software.

With this laptop, I use a Maxkeyboard Nighthawk X8 mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX brown switches. I like the mechanical keyboard feel and feedback, and the brown switches give me just enough noise to enjoy the experience. There is a slight clicking, but not as clicky as the blue switches. I recently purchased some rubber rings to install on each key, so the bottoming out noise will not bother others when I’m on conference calls. I haven’t installed them yet.

I also use a Microsoft Arch mouse, but hate it because it is constantly falling asleep. I’ll be looking for something new soon, which is a shame because I otherwise like the mouse.

My external monitor at the moment, and for the past 6 years, is a Samsung 27 inch TV. However, I am looking at a new 32-inch curved screen Dell. So this may be changing soon. Santa is coming!

The monitor is mounted on a Humanscale M8 monitor arm, which is wonderful and strong. I get only minimal movement from it, even with such a large/heavy screen mounted on it. A new monitor will be much lighter and will be truly amazing.

The secondary laptop is a 13-inch Macbook Pro with Intel i5 CPU, 16 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD. This laptop is what does all the recording, editing, and streaming of video to Twitch and YouTube. At the time of this writing, I am using OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) to record or stream, and I am using DaVinci Resolve 16 for video editing as needed.

The Mac is mounted on a Roost laptop stand. This was recommended to me by a few friends in the programming space, and it has been amazing. However, you will want an external keyboard and mouse to go with it, as it is hard to type when a laptop is raised from the table. So, next I will talk about those.

The external keyboard is the Apple Magic Keyboard, which is wireless and connects via Bluetooth. The feel of typing on it is really nice, and has a mechanical “feel”. Kinda like the old-style Macbook Pro keys, before they ruined them with butterflies. It charges via USB connection to the laptop, and only needs charged every 3 months.

Instead of a mouse as an external for the Mac I use the Apple Magic Trackpad. It is larger than the trackpad on the Mac, and has all the same features, including Force Touch feedback to simulate a click. It is also Bluetooth and only needs charged every 3 months.

How does it all work?

Yes, I record and stream video from the Mac, though all of my coding and activity is happening on the Dell. For 9 months I struggled doing streams and recordings on a single system. However, I found that running the required software for recording (OBS) and development (IDE, Docker, etc.) to be too much for a single system, even as strong as my laptops are. Which leads to a vital piece of hardware needed to do this, a capture card. I recently purchased the Razer Ripsaw HD capture card. (Not to be confused with the original Razer Ripsaw, which was garbage.) The desk clamp shown in the picture is an extra thing I bought to simply hold it steady on the back of my desk, and has a handy arm (it’s actually a headphone holder) for any cables not being used.

Razer Ripsaw HD
Razer Ripsaw HD

Why the Ripsaw HD? Because it is totally plug-n-play, and doesn’t require any additional software to work. And it also has 4K passthrough from the source to the external monitor. In addition, it sends 1080p video to the 2nd laptop at 60 fps.

How does the Ripsaw HD work? By using this capture card it enables me to capture the screen from the Dell, and use it in the OBS recording. To do this it sits in the middle of everything. Basically, the HDMI coming out of the Dell is plugged into the capture card, and then another HDMI goes from the capture card to the external monitor. This enables the Dell to use the monitor without any issues, up to 4K video. Meanwhile, there is another USB-c output on the Ripsaw HD that plugs into the USB or USB-c on the 2nd laptop, and can be used as a viewing video source. Then it is a simple matter to add it as a source in an OBS scene.

Audio/Video Stuff

Also for a video cam, I use the Logitech C920 webcam. At 1080p and 30 fps, it does a great job for under $70. I have 2 of them, and sometimes incorporate the 2nd as an additional view in b-roll footage. They are also handy when I travel, with an extra little hard case I picked up. It is a very versatile webcam. (I’ve added a Nexmo lens cover that can be opened/closed because I bought this up before they came out with the C920S that comes with a privacy cap.)

Logitech C920 webcam
Logitech C920 webcam

I’ve thought of upgrading to the Logitech Brio, but honestly, don’t see the need to spend an additional $200. Maybe someday, but for now the C920 does the job.

As for audio, I have 2 different configurations. For podcasting, and YouTube videos, I use the Rode Podcaster as my primary microphone. The sound is amazing, and hard to beat. I have it mounted on a Rode PSA1 studio boom arm, with a Rode PSM1 shock mount to prevent desk movement vibrations and sounds. It also has a Rode WS2 pop filter to help keep the audio crisp and free of pops from my talking.

Rode Podcaster
Rode Podcaster

It connects via USB to the Dell, and has an external headphone jack on the top that allows me to hear myself, and any system sounds, while I’m recording. As a dynamic mic, it is very directional and requires me to speak directly into it. This avoids any other background noises, like keyboard typing or air conditioning hums.

Additional audio is provided by a Rode Wireless Go setup. I’ve been using it for live streaming, so I’m not required to be close to the larger Podcaster mic. I also picked up the new Rode Lavalier Go to enable me to clip it on my t-shirt for ease of use, and then clip the Wireless Go on my belt. I picked up an added SC7 cable for connection to a mobile device or Mac.

Wireless Go
Wireless Go with SC7 cable
Lavalier Go
Lavalier Go

Lighting

As the last bit of equipment, this would not be complete without talking about lighting. In addition to overhead lights, and natural light coming from the large window beside my desk, I’ve added some face lights that help eliminate shadows, and enable the webcam to do a much better job. They were created with a few parts. First, there are 2 inexpensive tripods to use as holders. Each one holds a square Tolifo LED panel light that has adjustable brightness. (here are the power adapters to go with them)

Tolifo LED light
Tolifo LED light

However, I found that even at lower levels the light was a little harsh and needed some diffusion. That is when I picked up the added panels and arms to hold them. This made all the difference in the quality of light, and means I do not have blaring light forced into my eyeballs. Yay, I can actually see the displays! It is very soft, and provides a great spread.

Extras

Some may have noticed the additional Bluetooth speaker on the desk. This is the JBL Charge 3, which is connected to a Google Chromecast Audio and plays music most of the time each day. It has great sound, but I don’t think either of these things are produced any longer.

Closing

I hope you found this enlightening/helpful. Let me know if there are any other aspects of the setup you’d like more details on. And watch for a future post on how I set up OBS.

Clone Hard Drive to External USB Drive via CLI

Thumb and USB drives

No matter what OS you’re cloning, using “dd” via command line will still work.  I personally tested while cloning a 1TB Ubuntu hard drive to a fancy new 1TB SSD.

Backstory: I purchased a new Dell 7737 laptop with a 1TB hybrid drive, which turned out to be slower than watching paint dry compared to the old SSD I’d been using for a few years.  Otherwise it is a kickass laptop.  So I purchased a 1TB SSD after finding they are roughly 50 cents per GB these days…very affordable.

First I put the new SSD into USB caddy I had laying around for backup purposes.

Next I created a bootable USB stick with an Ubuntu ISO image following the instructions at:

Windows = http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/create-a-usb-stick-on-windows
Ubuntu = http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/create-a-usb-stick-on-ubuntu
MAC = http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/create-a-usb-stick-on-mac-osx

With the USB stick created I booted the system to Ubuntu using the USB LiveCD disk image.  It may require a BIOS change to enable the PC/Laptop to boot from USB device.  Doing this will not make any changes to your current hard drive as long as “Install Ubuntu” is not chosen.

Once booted up I was able to use Gparted, which is a standard app on the LiveCD, to create a new partition table on the new drive in the external USB caddy.

I then used fdisk via command line to find all disks and gain their identifiers needed.

fdisk -l

With the new partition and the identifier of the USB drive I was now ready to initiate the copy.  I used the following command to do that:

dd if=/dev/sdc of=/dev/sdb mb=8M && sync

NOTE: ‘if’ = read from and ‘of’ = write to.

It takes a very long time for this to finish up, especially with larger drives, but the end result was a working drive with my data on it.

After completion I simply switched out the SSD from the caddy with the internal HD in the laptop and all worked well.

Good luck!

Ubuntu can mount ISO files, and IMG files after converting them to ISO

Today I needed to create an OEM Microsoft Office 2007 CD and found that I could download the disks directly from the Microsoft site. However, the files that I downloaded were in IMG format. At first I was puzzled, but quickly (via Google) found out that they were essentially ISO files. However, I did not quickly find anything in Ubuntu that would burn an IMG to disk.
Diligent searching finally revealed that while there were not really ways to burn an IMG to disk, or mount an IMG file directly, there is a tool called ccd2iso that converts the IMG to ISO format.

First I had to install the ccd2iso package via Synaptic package manager, or I could have used ‘sudo apt install ccd2iso’.

After installing this I could simply run the following command from terminal:

ccd2iso myfile.img myfile.iso

The same methods can be used for other image type files:
mdf2iso -> myfile.mdf
nrg2iso -> myfile.nrg

Now I have a regular iso file that can be used to serve our purposes by burning to disk or mounting:

sudo mount -o loop myfile.iso mountname
 
or
 
sudo mount -o loop -t iso9660 myfile.iso mountname

The .nrg files can also be mounted in this manner without converting to ISO by using:

sudo mount -o loop,offset=307200 myfile.nrg mountname

NOTE: if this doesn’t work and you get an error like: “Unrecognized sector mode (0) at sector 0!” it may be due to the limitations of the ccd2iso. In my case the MS Office disk had multiple sessions, and I could not convert it to ISO.

Another post I found on Ubuntuforums said to try the following:

growisofs -dvd-compat -Z /dev/dvdrw=dvd.img

Where /dev/dvdrw is your dvd/cd burner.

FOLLOWUP:
The IMG file I had from Microsoft was a multi-session disk so I was not able to use the steps above. However, when I simply changed the file extension to ‘.iso’ it worked fine. There seems to be very little difference between IMG and ISO.

Hard disk usage from command line on Linux

From the command line I have found many great tools for system management, but really needed to dig into ways of tracking hard disk usage on Linux without the aid of GUI tools. Google to the rescue! I found a few places with great tips and hints on how to do this, but one article on Linux.com came in very handy. Here were my findings:

The df utility displays the disk space usage on all mounted filesystems. The -T option prints the filesystem type as well. By default, df measures the size in 1K blocks, which could be a little difficult for a desktop user to decipher. Use the -h option to get more understandable output:

$ df -h -T
Filesystem    Type    Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/hda6     ext3     20G  9.3G  9.1G  51% /
/dev/hda7 reiserfs     13G  2.1G   11G  17% /mnt/suse
/dev/sda1     vfat    241M  152M   90M  63% /media/usbdisk

You can use the du command to determine which files or directories need to be deleted — or at least trimmed. A simple du will print usage for the present working directory and its subdirectories, along with the size of each directory.

If you want the size of an particular directory, specify it with du directoryname. For instance, du -h /home/bodhi/podcasts will print the size of the podcasts directory in a more readable format than the kilobytes used by default. The -c option prints the grand total size of the directory at the end. The -a option also displays the file names along with directories and can be of use when you want to see a list of files in a particular directory. The -s option will display a summary, without showing all of the subdirectories.

Running du -ch | grep total prints just one line with the total size of the directory. If there’s a particular type of file that you would like to be excluded while calculating a directory’s usage, specify it with the --exclude=type option. Here we’ll check the disk usage of the current directory, and display all file names with their disk usage, and then sort them numerically using the sort utility:

$ du -ah | sort -n
4.2M    ./eweek.10.28.05.mp3
4.5M    ./LQ-Podcast-101105.mp3
4.8M    ./LQ-Podcast-110905.mp3
19M     ./LQRadio-Episode3.mp3
20M     ./LQRadio-Searls.mp3
36M     ./LQRadio-HiserAndAdelstein.mp3
197M    .

Ubuntu Hardy Heron sound broken

Recently I was having a consistent problem with the sound on my Dell Inspiron 1720, which is running on Ubuntu Hardy Heron. It would consistently stop working all together, and I had a terrible time finding the cause of the problem. If I viewed a flash video on the web, the sound would die afterwards. If I listened to streaming Internet radio, the sound would die. If I received an emial or IM the sound would die.

Finally it dawned on me, and I am not sure why or how. But a few weeks prior I had been toying with a Bluetooth stereo headset and had turned on the Audio service in the Bluetooth manager on the services tab.

Problem fixed: I simply turned off the Audio service in the Bluetooth manager, and all is working normally again. However, if I ever need the Audio service I suppose it will break my sound.