Author: Christie Koehler

software engineer, geek, yoga practitioner, bike commuter, zen buddhist, queer, vegan, legion of tech board member, osbridge planner, engineer@ShopIgniter

[quote] The oppressor consciousness…

Note: Much longer than usual quote from Freire today. It’s more important than ever to understand the oppressor mindset that Freire illuminates for us in the discourse below. While I could have shared bits of the following discourse over a few posts, I felt it important to keep this part of the analysis whole.  

The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time—everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal.

In their unrestrained eagerness to possess, the oppressors develop a conviction that it is possible for them to transform everything into objects of their purchasing power; hence they’re strictly materialistic concept of existence. Money is a measure of all things, and profit the primary goal. For the oppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more—always more—even at the cost of the oppressed having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have and to be the class of the “haves.”

As beneficiaries of a situation of oppression, the oppressors cannot perceive that if having as a condition of being, it is necessary condition for all women and men. This is why their generosity is false. Humanity is a “thing,” and they possess it as an exclusive right, as inherited property. To the oppressor consciousness, humanization of the “others,” of the people, appears not as the pursuit of full humanity, but as subversion.

The oppressors do not perceive the monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have. For them, having more is an unalienable right, a right they acquired through their own “effort,” with their “courage to take risks.” If others do not have more, it is because they’re incompetent and lazy, and worst of all it is their unjustifiable in gratitude towards the “generous gestures” of the dominant class. Precisely because they are “ungrateful” and “envious,” the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched.

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Amazon, Goodreads)

An Analysis of the Fantasyland Learning Code of Professionalism (FCOP)

I have a good amount of experience regarding codes of conduct for open source communities. I am co-author of the Citizen Code of Conduct. I was part of the incident response team for Open Source Bridge and Stumptown Syndicate for several  years. I know what’s involved in responding to the code of conduct you adopt for your community.

Part of my experience includes reading a lot of other communities’ codes of conduct and providing feedback on what is likely to work well and what is not likely. Creating governance policies is not easy, and is more difficult so the less experience you have.

Recently the organizers of LambdaConf drafted and adopted a code of conduct, which they call the Fantasyland Institute of Learning Code of Professionalism (FCOP). This code is beyond mediocre. It’s downright dangerous. I do not recommend you adopt it in your community nor that you attend any event using this as its code of conduct.

To demonstrate why, I will give a detailed textual analysis of the FCOP.


STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

The Fantasyland Institute of Learning Code of Professionalism (FCOP) dictates the terms and conditions under which we allow you to participate in the community.

First off, the name “Fantasyland” gives me the creeps. I either think Disney-style amusement park, or the adults-only connotation of “Fantasyland” related to sex toys and porn. Neither of these have much to do with what I think of as professional programming spaces.

Also, “dictates” and “we allow you to participate” indicates a very top-down, hierarchical approach.

The purpose of FCOP is to facilitate inclusiveness and productivity (towards our professional goals) in our community despite operating in a pluralistic society.

Use of the word “despite” presupposes that community and diversity are necessarily at odds with each other. My way of looking things is that conflict in inevitable in any community, and that certain types of conflict arise when you have a very diverse community. Conflict is a normal part of social interaction. It’s how we learn and grow together. Conflict is not the same as abuse, though conflict not appropriately resolved can lead to abuse and abuses certainly create conflict as a way to exercise power and control.

To accomplish this goal, we restrict the community to civil people, and protect such people from discrimination, stereotyping, harassment, judgmental communication, and breaches of privacy.

What is meant by “civil” is defined later on, and I find the definition given a bit bizarre. Before I get to that, I want to examine the text with regard to the dictionary definition of civil. The one that adds the most meaning to this context is: “adequate in courtesy and politeness.”

To me it doesn’t make sense to prohibit people from being discourteous or impolite. To do so is to confuse niceness for kindness and to prioritize manners over genuine interaction. What is considered mannerly behavior is highly contextual and is based on class, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, and more.

Part of being in community is giving space for people to express themselves even if that means doing so angrily or impolitely or in another manner you might find distasteful. Expressing anger is not necessarily the same thing as acting violently.

Moreover, it is entirely possible for a person to act abusively all the while doing so politely. In fact, this is how many serial abusers get away with their behavior for so long.

But, like I said, the FCOP authors aren’t using the dictionary definition, or even really a conventional meaning of “civil.” Here’s how they define it:

Civil. We define civil individuals as individuals who, in our sole estimation, do not and will not engage in the following behaviors during active participation or inactive participation:

Crimes. Any criminal behavior in which there is a victim.

Community Sabotage. Any behavior (excluding non-violent communication) directed at sabotaging the community for political, religious, ideological, or moral reasons.

Professional Sabotage. Any behavior directed at sabotaging a member’s career for political, religious, ideological, or moral reasons; including attempting to no-platform a member or pressuring an employer to fire a member.

So, to FCOP authors, and LambdaConf organizers, being civil and participating meaningfully in community is defined solely by not engaging in criminal behavior for which there is a victim, or any behavior that counts as sabotage of the community or any of its members.

Pretty low bar, don’t you think?

If anything, it tells you what they value most: Not wanting any responsibility for making decisions about handling “criminal behavior” (whatever that means, they don’t specify), and not wanting to have to respond to any negative criticism at all, which they characterize as sabotage.

FCOP is explicitly not intended to impose any system of politics, religion, ideologies, morals, or values onto members.

Perhaps not, but it is certainly doing so implicitly as any standard of community norms and behavior does, whether it is written or not. FCOP authors seem to be trying to impose an apolitical worldview upon their community, which is not possible (because there is no such thing).

SHORT-FORM

We welcome all civil people to participate in the community. We do not allow discrimination, harassment, judgmental communication, or breaches of privacy. We do not exclude any civil people from our community unless they have been banned by us for a violation of these terms and conditions.

Again, the use and emphasis on civility tells me “you can get away with a lot if you sound polite.”

(My former evangelical co-worker who, in one email, tells me how much he respects me but then reiterates that my invalid marriage threatens the very fabric of his and also that I am godless would love this provision.)

But, of course, once you scroll down to the TERMS section you’ll realize that’s not even how FCOP authors mean civility. You’re civil as long as you don’t perpetrate crime upon another or sabotage the community.

Furthermore, this is how FCOP authors define discrimination (from the TERMS section):

Discrimination. We define discrimination as any favoritism shown or withheld to someone either on the basis of a stereotype or a non-community related group membership.

When discrimination is defined without an reference to power dynamics, it is usually a bad sign. I’ve seen this definition used countless times to dismiss or discourage any program or effort designed to get more folks from underrepresented groups involved in tech. Those who cry “reverse racism love this definition.

WELCOME STATEMENT

We welcome civil people of all genders, gender-expressions, sexual-orientations, gender-orientations, races, ethnic origins, skin colors, physical handicaps, mental handicaps, ages, sizes, political views, religious views, philosophies, beliefs, and attitudes.

Again with the use of “civil.” Also, I am pretty sure “handicap” is not the preferred term any more.

We pledge that we will not tolerate discrimination, harassment, judgmental communication, or breaches of privacy. We pledge to hold ourselves to these same standards and, in so doing, set a positive example for others to follow.

Most of this sounds okay. But what is “judgmental communication”? Can’t wait to learn what they mean by that! It smells bad to me already.

Saying “we pledge to hold ourselves to these same standards” is a weird way to indicate that these rules also applies to leadership. The whole code of conduct should apply to leadership as well as “regular” community members.

We greatly value integrity and pledge to establish the highest levels of trust in members.

Who is doing the establishing here, leadership or members?

BEHAVIOR

Oh, now we get to the good part. First, they create a distinction between “active” and “inactive” participation. We don’t learn how each of these types of participation is defined until the end of the FCOP in the TERMS section:

Active Participation. We define active participation to include the behavior of members while they are in the boundaries of the community.

Inactive Participation. We define inactive participation to include the behavior of members at all times and under all circumstances.

Ah, so FCOP authors distinguish between “active” and “inactive” participation as a way to clarify scope: within community activities and outside of it.

ACTIVE PARTICIPATION

During active participation, you must behave as described in this section.

Don’t Stereotype. Treat everyone as unique. Do not infer characteristics of a person based on their [perceived] membership in some group or category.

This might sound like a good thing to include in your code of conduct, but is likely to have unintended consequences.

First, not all stereotypes are negative or invalid. If someone introduces themselves as a born-again evangelical Christian, and they don’t explicitly tell me they support marriage equality, there is a very good chance they do not. Second, stereotyping is an important cognitive tool that helps us make sense of the world. It’s not possible to prohibit it because it’s something we all do.

What’s important is how we act on the information an assessed stereotype has given us. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with making initial judgements about others based on stereotype. This is how we survive in the world. Stereotypes become problematic when we do not update our understanding of someone based on new information, when stereotypes are used to perpetuate biases not based in reality, and when they are used to reinforce existing unjust power structures.

Don’t Communicate Judgmentally. You must not communicate the idea that any person, place, thing, idea, or action is superior or inferior to any other. Instead, talk about observations, analyses, models, and your own personal preferences.

I can’t think of any way it would be possible to have meaningful discussion while following this rule. As worded, it is a prohibition against discerning right from wrong, or even good from better, about anything, even in the most relative or contextual ways.

As written, you couldn’t give a technical recommendation in the form of “Given what you just told me about your situation, I think X would be the best solution.” Rather, you would have to phrase it as “In a similar situation, I have observed A solution have B result, and X solution have Y result,” or as “In that situation, my preference is for X solution.”

What is the value is in asking your community members to jump through such linguistics hoops?

Furthermore, stating something as a personal preference doesn’t preclude folks from implying (and thereby communicating) the idea that something is inferior or superior. Saying, “I prefer that society only recognize the marriages of heterosexual couples and that all sexual activity outside of legal marriage be punished” sends a pretty clear message about what you find superior and inferior.

Don’t Harass. Do not interact with anyone who does not consent. For verbal and written interaction you may assume consent for the first interaction, until the recipient communicates otherwise. For physical interaction, close physical proximity, and persistent gaze, you must assume non-consent until the person clearly and unambiguously communicates otherwise.

Harassment is not defined here, but later on under TERMS with this very narrow scope:

Harassment. We define harassment as an attempt to interact with someone who does not consent to the interaction.

Neither statement addresses the issue of repeated, verbal and written communication to which there is no response or the many other forms of harassment which might occur.

Don’t Pry. Do not go out of your way to read, watch, or listen to the private communications of other members (including trying to read their screens or listening to their private conversations). If you do read or overhear a private conversation, do not share it.

This feels weird to me as worded and I wonder why it’s in here. Is the intent here to be respectful or people’s privacy, or is to shield bad actors from scrutiny?

Don’t Obstruct. Do not attempt to disrupt communication between members, the activity of members, or the congregation of members.

I feel the same about this provision as I do “Don’t Pry.” Would intervening when another community members appears distressed be considered obstruction? What about speaking up during a talk if the speaker is presenting inappropriate material?

Assume the Best. Assume the best intention when others communicate with you. If you don’t understand what someone meant, or have questions about it, ask them directly rather than speculating or spreading rumors. If someone appears to be communicating judgmentally (“Coffee is good”), assume they did so only as a shorthand way of speaking, and ask them to clarify what objective metrics and personal predictions and preferences they are implying (“I like coffee”).

Not everyone acts with the “best intention” and operating with those folks like they do can be detrimental. It is your choice how much good or bad intention to assume about another person’s behavior. No one else has the right to dictate that for you. It’s a highly personal decision, based on many factors including your lived experience in the world and possibly your prior history with the person, community, or context in question.

If “assuming good intent” works for you personally, great. But it’s a tactic that doesn’t serve everyone equally. And when you require community members to assume good intent, you take away their personal agency. It is a tool of domination. Don’t do it.

These requirements on behavior apply to members only while they are actively participating in the community.

If it applies to members only, what rules, if any, apply to guests in community spaces?

The standing of members is unaffected by behavior that does not comply with these requirements if this behavior occurs in other communities.

This is one of the most dangerous provisions in the whole code.

It means that anyone with a past or present history of bad conduct in another community is completely exempt from consequences in this community. Did you abuse your position of authority in another community? No problem in this one, you’re welcome to have a position of authority here. Are you a serial harasser and abuser of women elsewhere? No problem here, we welcome you with open arms! Have you been sanctioned by other communities for homophobic, transphobic, racist remarks? We welcome you!

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. It is patently absurd to make it a rule that you will ignore any and all information about a person’s past behavior in making decisions about how to include them in  your community.

INACTIVE PARTICIPATION

During inactive participation, you must behave as described in this section.

Be Civil. Do not engage in criminal activity, and do not sabotage the community or member’s careers for political, religious, ideological, or moral reasons.

Does that mean it’s okay to sabotage them for other reasons?

It can be dicey to draw lines around criminal activity, especially with regard to non-violent crimes for which people of color, for example, are arrested and punished for at much greater rates than their white counter parts. It also excludes a whole section of our citizenry who have almost no economical opportunities except those that are underground. Or those who break unjust laws for good reasons.

The reference to “sabotage” here reads to me like a prohibition against doing anything that might possibly create negative consequences for the community or one of its members. That’s problematic because: a) it’s not something one has total control over, b) it implies you’re supposed to subjugate your own needs to avoid even the possibility of bringing unwanted attention to the community or one of its members.

Don’t Dox. Do not disseminate any private details about others learned within the community without express permission, including but not limited to real name, address, phone number, or photo identity.

Other codes of conduct define doxing and “posting” or “publishing”, which implies doing so publicly, in a place available to a wide, uninterested audience (“uninterested” here meaning: without a valid interest in the information).

That FCOP authors use “disseminate” implies to me that you’re not to share anything you’ve learned about community members outside of that community, even in a non-public, secure way to an interested audience.

Sharing information about people, in order to increase the safety of the community as a whole, is not the same thing as doxing.

Don’t Shame. You must not negatively communicate about a member’s behavior (which occurred inside the community, or which you learned about while inside the community) with anyone outside the community without express permission of the discussed members, where the discussed members themselves decide what is negative.

Also one of the most dangerous provisions of this code.

It prohibits you from telling anyone outside the community about any “negative” experience you had with another community member without their permission. Someone harasses you? Can’t tell anyone about it unless the person who harassed you says it’s okay.

Moreover, the person who engaged in the behavior defines what is “negative”  so you might very well break this rule without meaning to or even knowing you did.

These requirements on behavior apply to members at all times, even when they are not actively participating in the community.

Ah, okay, so what you do outside of the community doesn’t matter as long as you don’t do something that happens to bring negative attention to the community. Got it.

PRIVACY

Private Communication. During active participation, you may take phone calls, direct messages, emails, and other semi-private forms of communication. Although private communication is not bound by FCOP, we expect all communication that can be seen or overheard by other members will comply with the requirements of FCOP.

Why is this even in here? It adds nothing except an onerous requirement than anyone you’re conversing with follow the FCOP if there’s any possibility they can be overheard or seen.

Private Consumption. During active participation, you may consume material on your own personal devices and from your own channels of communication, and this material does not have to conform to FCOP, assuming the material is not easily discernible to others.

Watching porn or reading ESRs blog out in the open in a community space is fine as long as no one knows you’re doing it. Okay. Wait, is porn even actually prohibited by the FCOP?

VIOLATIONS

No Victimless Crime. If you are a victim but you do not feel victimized, you may choose to not report the violation. In this case, we will not treat the incident as a violation.

In other words, we only want to do work if someone makes a stink about it. And we’re very specific about who is allowed to make a stink about it.

Reporting Process. Active participation violations must be reported to us within 15 days by victims, and may not be reported by third-parties. Inactive Participation violations may be reported at any time, and by anyone, even non-_members_.

Two weeks and a day. That’s all you get to rest, recover, and reflect upon anything that happened about which you might want to report. Take longer than that to process? You’re SOL. Get distracted by a work deadline, vacation, or come down with the conference crud? Sorry Charlie, you’re SOL.

I can’t think of any good reason for this provision other than reduce the amount of work for those tasked with responding to reports.

Want to report something you witnessed on behalf of another conference attendee? Nope, not allowed. Even if they’ve asked you for help.

Oh, except “inactive participation” violations can be reported at anytime, by anyone, including non-members.

 

Unofficial Resolution. For minor offenses and in cases where they prefer doing so, we encourage victims to speak to violators, using the language of non-violent communication (NVC). If you would like to do this with the help of an independent mediator, contact us and we will arrange for one.

This tells me organizers want to do as little work as possible, putting as much of it on those who are subject to transgressions. This is not how you empower those in your community, especially those who are marginalized.

Official Resolution. If you want an official intervention, we will appoint a judge. The judge will speak individually to all parties, including witnesses, before deciding on a course of action, which will involve rejecting the reported violation, or accepting it and imposing a penalty on the violator.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t judges usually determine when a “person, place, thing, idea, or action is superior or inferior to any other”? Isn’t that disallowed by this FCOP?

The writers of the FCOP are so unimaginative and ill-equipped to be leading community, they can envision only two ways to respond to a report: outright rejection of it or a punitive measure. In my several years experience responding to code of conduct issues, the needed response has almost always been somewhere in-between those two extremes.

Penalties. Violators may be warned, asked to apologize, forced into training, counseling or mediation, or ejected and banned from the community, at the sole discretion of the judge.

That being warned, or asked to apologized, is framed as a penalty tells me a lot about how the FCOP writers think about stewarding community. Getting feedback on your behavior along with a request to modify it is not a penalty in and of itself. Nor is it handing out a penalty if you’re the one giving that feedback. It is part of being a social being. We all engage in inappropriate or unskillful behavior at one time or other and get feedback from others about it. Yes, sometimes this hurts and we feel shame, but this isn’t the end of the world. Learn from it and move on to do better next time.

You can’t force community members into training, counseling, or mediation. You can ask that they go as a condition of continued participation in the community, but that’s about it.

It’s not a good idea to have one person solely responsible for addressing code of conduct reports, as this implies.

Social Rehabilitation. No one can be banished for life, only for a determined number of years, not to exceed 5 years. Formerly banned parties can be reintegrated into the community through a rehabilitation process determined by us.

I would generally applaud a nod to rehabilitation, but I at this point I have zero trust in the authors of the FCOP. And including an arbitrary prohibition against lifetime banishment and a maximum of 5 years makes little sense to me. It implies banishment expires after 5 years, regardless of the circumstance.

Confidentiality. Reporting a violation is a confidential process. We will not publish information on any reported incident or the parties involved in the incident. Note that criminal behavior of any kind will not be kept confidential.

Again, I wonder how they determine criminality, at what point they make that decision and what they do with information they don’t consider confidential. This does not inspire trust as worded.

DISPUTES

In the event there is a dispute about the meaning of any term or clause in FCOP, we alone will clarify the intent.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how the community at large interprets what we’ve written in the FCOP. We’re free at anytime to clarify what we actually meant by what we wrote and use that instead.

[quote] Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to reject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest of human completion.

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Amazon, Goodreads)

[quote] Violence is initiated by those who oppress

Any situation in which “A” objectively exploits “B” or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocations to become more fully human. With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed.

Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others and persons—not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized. It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the “rejects of life.” It is not the tyrannized who initiate despotism, but the tyrants. It is not the despised who initiate hatred, but those who despise. It is not those whose humanity is denied them who negate humankind, but those who deny that humanity (thus negating their own as well).

— Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Amazon, Goodreads)

Making a Podcast, Step 2: Gather your recording equipment

Note: This post is third in a series where I share what I’ve learned starting and producing the Recompiler podcast. If you haven’t already, start with the introduction. This post follows Step 1: Identify a Topic, Point of View, and Structure.


Step 2: Gather your recording equipment: Computer, microphone, audio interface, headphones for monitoring.

There are numerous ways to record and produce podcasts. Not unlike photography, you can put together a digital recording rig for very little or you can spent thousands  or tens of thousands of dollars on expensive, high-end gear. I recommend that for your first podcast endeavor, you get the best quality gear you can comfortably afford. If you end up doing a lot of podcasting, and find a way to fund it, you’ll surely want to upgrade your equipment. And by then, you’ll have more experience to guide you.

Below I give an overview of what you’ll need and explain what I picked for the Recompiler. For a more detailed guide, check out Transom’s excellent Podcasting Basics, Part 1: Voice Recording Gear.

Computer or portable recorder too?

First, you’ll need to decide how you’ll be recording your audio: via a computer or a portable recorder. If you’ll mostly be doing field interviews or otherwise traveling a lot, a portable recorder might make sense. The downside is that you’ll still need a way to edit and publish your podcast and that requires a computer. For the Recompiler, I first thought I’d be doing a lot of field recording so I picked up a Sony PCM-M10 ($200 at the time). While I use it for other things, I haven’t ended up using it much for the podcast. Instead, I record at my desk directly into my refurbished MacMini. The good news is that you don’t need a high-end machine to record and edit podcast audio. There’s a good chance that a computer you already have available to you will be sufficient. And, audio recording and editing software is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.

Microphone and audio interface

Being an audio medium, you’ll need to have a way to record audio. Most all modern computers have microphones built in. You can certainly start with whatever you have available to you. If you can’t afford to buy anything new, and you are ready to get started, don’t let the lack of an upgraded microphone stop you. A smart phone is also another good getting started option, especially if you have an iPhone. Most portable digital audio recorders have microphones built in as well.

However, if you do have a couple hundred bucks to spend, I recommend getting a better external microphone along with an audio interface.

External microphones generally connect via USB or XLR. Some have both. If the microphone has USB, you connect it directly to your computer with a USB cable like you would an external hard drive or non-wifi printer. If the microphone has XLR, you need an audio interface between the microphone and the computer. The microphone connects to the audio interface via an XLR cable, and the audio interface connects to the computer with a USB cable. The XLR setup is overall more complicated and more expensive, but generally provides better quality.

There are several USB microphones aimed at first-time podcasters. When I recorded In Beta, I used a refurbished Blue Yeti. I did not get the best of results. 5×5 nearly always complained about my audio quality. And, in general, I’ve had trouble with USB-based microphones, where I often have a ground-loop hum, which everyone but me can hear. As with all things, YMMV. Some folk swear by the Yeti, and other USB products from Blue. Rode also makes a USB microphone, but it’s more expensive than Blue’s offerings.

Having given up on USB microphones by the time we were planning the Recompiler, I looked for an affordable XLR solution. I settled on the Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B, a hand-held high-dynamic microphone with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface. My choice of microphone was based on: price (was in my budget), ability to use it in the field as well as in the “studio”, and that it would work with my chosen audio interface without extra equipment. I don’t recall how I settled on the Focusrite. I think it was a combination of a recommendation via Twitter, price, and brand (Focusrite seemed well-known and dependable). I’m happy with both choices. The Scarlett 2i2 worked right away without fuss and I get decent sound from the RE50N/D-B in a variety of environments.

If you’re just getting started, I definitely recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 ($150 new) if you want to be able to record a guest or other audio source in studio, or the Scarlett Solo ($100 new) if you just need to record from one audio source. Look on eBay for used equipment to save money.

As far as microphone, there are too many options and preferences for me to feel comfortable giving a specific recommendation. If you’re just starting out, I recommend reading through reviews on transom.org and then getting the best microphone you can comfortably afford, knowing that it won’t be the last mic you buy if you stick with podcasting.

Other accessories

Unless you’re doing field interviews exclusively, you’ll need to get something to hold your microphone. This can be a tabletop or floor stand, or a desk-mounted arm. You might also want to include a pop filter and/or a shock mount. The Transom article I first mentioned earlier gives a good overview of options for these.

For the Recompiler, I use the RODE PSA1 ($100) as a microphone mount and the simple foam microphone cover that came with the RE50N/D-B. I haven’t needed a shock mount because, I think, the RE50N/D-B is designed as a hand-held mic and doesn’t pick up a lot of vibration. I’m also careful not to bump it, the mic boom, or my desk while I’m recording.

Headphones

Don’t forget to get and use a decent pair of headphones while you’re recording and editing your podcast audio.

For the Recompiler, I picked up a pair of Sennheiser HD 202 II ($25) which are dedicated to audio recording and editing. In fact, they never leave my desk. That way I’m never scrambling to find them when it’s time to work. The Sennheisers I have aren’t amazingly awesome, but they were inexpensive and get the job done.

Whatever you pick, aim for headphones designed for studio monitoring, that are over-the-ear, do not have active noise cancellation, and do not have a built-in mic. If you do end up using headphones with a built-in mic, double-check that you are not recording audio from that mic. There’s nothing more disappointing that recording a whole segment or show only to realize you used your crappiest microphone.

If you have it in your budget, you might consider the Sony MDRV6 ($99).

Questions or comments?

Please get in touch or leave a comment below if you have questions, comments, or just want encouragement!

Next post…

Stay tuned for the next post in this series!

Making a Podcast, Step 1: Identify a Topic, Point of View, and Structure

Note: This post is second in a series where I share what I’ve learned starting and producing the Recompiler podcast. If you haven’t already, start with the introduction


Your first step in making a new podcast is to identify a topic, point of view, and structure for your podcast.

This sounds simple, but it’s helpful to think about at the beginning, to record your answers in writing, and to refer back to them often and your podcast matures.

For the Recompiler, the general topic (technology) and point of view (feminist; beginner-friendly) was already defined via Audrey’s clear vision for the written version:

The Recompiler is a feminist hacker magazine, launched in 2015. Our goal is to help people learn about technology in a fun, playful way, and highlight a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. We’re especially interested in infrastructure: the technical and social systems we depend on. We want to share what it’s like to learn and work with technology, and teach each other to build better systems and tools.

As far as structure, early on, we decided that episodes would feature a mix of Audrey and me talking about tech news and other timely topics, along with interviews of Recompiler contributors and other “subject-matter experts.” I put “subject-matter experts” in quotes because I intentionally look for folks from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, many of which might not be considered “experts” by mainstream tech.

We also decided that the Recompiler would have a casual, unscripted structure. We don’t currently broadcast live (although we might in the future). I do minimal editing, focusing mostly on making episodes listenable, rather than having a particular narrative arc. The order of what you hear is most likely the order in which we recorded, with inaudible or otherwise disruptive segments removed.

We aim for episodes to be about an hour long. Episodes always include two people: myself and Audrey, or myself and the person I’ve interviewed. Our target publishing frequency has changed as I’ve become more comfortable with the production process. First our goal was monthly, then twice a month, and now weekly. We don’t always meet this goal, but we’re getting better at it.

How did we make these decisions about structure? Mostly based on my constraints, both in terms of skill and time (both limited), as well as my personal preferences in terms of what I enjoy in podcasts.

To summarize, in thinking about your new podcast, you’ll need to decide:

  • general topics to focus on
  • point of view
  • structure
    • casual or scripted
    • number of hosts and guests per episode
    • target length in minutes
    • whether or not to broadcast live
    • frequency of publishing

The decisions you make regarding structure will determine the resources you need to produce a completed episode. For example, a heavily scripted show will require more audio engineering skill and editing time.

Questions or comments?

Please get in touch or leave a comment below if you have questions, comments, or just want encouragement!

Next post…

The next post in this series is: Making a Podcast, Step 2: Gather your recording equipment.