Nowhere near Nyquist

This is a guest post by my Undersampled Radio co-host, Graham Ganssle.

You can find Gram on the webLinkedInTwitterGitHub

This post is a follow up to Tuesday's post about the podcast — you might want to read that first.

Undersampled Radio was born out of a dual interest in podcasting. Matt and I both wanted to give it a shot, but we didn’t know what to talk about. We still don’t. My philosophy on UR is that it’s forumesque; we have a channel on the Software Underground where we solicit ideas, draft guests, and brainstorm about what should be on the show. We take semi-formed thoughts and give them a good think with a guest who knows more than us. Live and uncensored.

Since with words I... have not.. a way... the live nature of the show gives it a silly, laid back attitude. We attempt to bring our guests out of interview mode by asking about their intellectual curiosities in addition to their professional interests. Though the podcast releases are lightly edited, the YouTube live-stream recordings are completely raw. For a good laugh at our expense you should certainly watch one or two.

Techie deets

Have a look at the command center. It’s where all the UR magic (okay, digital trickery) happens in pre- and post-production.

It's a mess but it works!

It's a mess but it works!

We’ve migrated away from the traditional hardware combination used by most podcasters. Rather than use the optimum mic/mixer/spaghetti-of-cables preferred by podcasting operations which actually generate revenue, we’ve opted to use less hardware and do a bit of digital conditioning on the back end. We conduct our interviews via YouTube live (aka Google Hangouts on Air) then on my Ubuntu machine I record the audio through stereo mix using PulseAudio and do the filtering and editing in Audacity.

Though we usually interview guests via Google Hangouts, we have had one interviewee in my office for an in-person chat. It was an incredible episode that was filled with the type of nonlinear thinking which can only be accomplished face to face. I mention this because I’m currently soliciting another New Orleans recording session (message me if you’re interested). You buy the plane ticket to come record in the studio. I buy the beer we’ll drink while recording.

as Matt  guessed  there actually are paddle boats rolling by while I record. Here’s the view from my recording studio; note the paddle boat on the left.

as Matt guessed there actually are paddle boats rolling by while I record. Here’s the view from my recording studio; note the paddle boat on the left.

Forward projections

We have several ideas about what to do next. One is a live competition of some sort, where Matt and I compete while a guest(s) judge our performance. We’re also keen to do a group chat session, in which all the members of the Software Underground will be invited to a raucous, unscripted chat about whatever’s on their minds. Unfortunately we dropped the ball on a live interview session at the SEG conference this year, but we’d still like to get together in some sciencey venue and grab randos walking by for lightning interviews.

In accord with the remainder of our professional lives, Matt and I both conduct the show in a manner which keeps us off balance. I have more fun, and learn more information more quickly, by operating in a space outside of my realm of knowledge. Ergo, we are open to your suggestions and your participation in Undersampled Radio. Come join us!


Places for ideas in Houston

Evan has told before of how productive he is at the HUB Halifax. And ever since I've been involved in The HUB South Shore, a co-working space in my small town, I've been keenly interested in communal and collaborative workspaces. I think they're a powerful model for independent scientists and entrepreneurs, perhaps even inside large companies too. 

Because of this, and because most hotels are such boring venues (there are always exceptions), we decided to host the hackathon this weekend at a co-working space, START Houston (right). A converted urban loft residence (well, a loft on the ground floor), it's got downtown character with an artistic edge. Evan and I gatecrashed a startup pitch coaching session while we were there — we heard 3-minute pitches from 4 Houston startups, including eOilBoom, an interesting crowdfunding platform for oil and gas concerns, and Philantro, a curated social layer for non-profits and philanthropists.

We need this level of ideation, business-model testing, and experimental entrepreneurship in subsurface science. How do we make this happen?

Co-working? Co-reseach!

Two weeks ago, I tweeted something about the hackathon, and Jacob at Brightwork Co-Research tweeted back at me:

Just another one of the wonderful serendipities of social media. That one connection is worth a lot to me, and is characteristic of the generous community of scientists on Twitter.

While in town, we thought we'd drop in and see what Brightwork is about... and I've rarely been more excited. Jacob Shiach (left) showed us the embryonic space neighbouring Rice University, complete with a rapid prototyping space (think of hardware hacking soldering, 3D printers, and so on), and a wet lab for full-on biotechnical research. In under a year, Jacob plans to fill the space with researchers in bio, physics, math, technology, and any other scientific discipline that needs a lab outside of academia or industry. What can independent researchers do when they have all the tools of big research? What would you do with your own lab?

These places exist

To complete our tour, we headed over to Platform — a more conventional co-working space around the corner from Brightwork. The familiar buzz and productive vibe of co-working hits you immediately: here a livestream of TEDxHouston City2.0, there a new startup hashing out customer segments for their product. Imagine an office full of smart, energetic, friendly people who don't actually have to work together, no meetings, and no sign above the sink saying "Your mother doesn't work here!". Yeah, those places exist.

The HUB on the South Shore

One of the things we dream about is a vibrant start-up community in the energy sector. A sort of Silicon Valley, but in the Bow Valley, or the Woodlands, or wherever. And focused on the hard, important problems in our field. More young people bringing their ideas, energy and talent — and more experienced people taking a chance, investing, and mentoring. Wresting more of the innovation opportunity back from big E&P and service companies, and freeing the professionals trapped in them.

We also want to see some of this in Nova Scotia. Indeed, the future of the Nova Scotian economy depends on it. So Agile has invested in a new community catalyst on the South Shore, the region where I live. Along with two others, I have renovated an old school room (left) and started The HUB South Shore — a place where freelancers, entrepreneurs, and professionals can come to work, network, not work, and learn. Affiliated with the HUB Halifax that Evan frequents, it's part of a global coworking movement, and a far-reaching network of HUBs.

Most importantly, it's a place to be around other highly productive, creative individuals — all of whom have made bold choices in their careers. Their proximity gives us all greater courage.  

There are similar spaces in Calgary, Houston, Aberdeen, and Perth. They completely transform the experience of working alone, or in small groups like Agile. Instead of isolation, you gain instant access to other self-starters, potential colleagues, and new friends. Many of these spaces are de facto incubators, with ready access to tools, people, and even financial backing. They are places where things happen — without IT, HR, or Legal. Imagine!

If you're thinking about starting out on your own, or with a friend or three, look around for a co-working space. It might make the transition from employee to freelancer (or even employer) a little less daunting. 

And if you find yourself on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, come to the HUB and say hello!

Your best work(space)

Doing your best work requires placing yourself in the right environment. For me, I need to be in an uncluttered space, free from major distractions, yet close enough to interactions to avoid prolonged isolation. I also believe in surrounding yourself with the energetic and inspired people, if you can afford such a luxury.

The model workspace

My wife an I are re-doing our office at home. Currently mulling over design ideas, but websites and catalogs only take me so far. I find they fall short of giving me the actual look and feel of a future space. To cope, I have built a model using SketchUp, catering to my geeky need for spatial visualization. It took me 35 minutes to build the framework using SketchUp: the walls, doors and closets and windows. Now, it's taking us much longer to design and build the workspace inside it. I was under the impression that, just as in geoscience, we need models for making detailed descisions. But perhaps, this model is complicating or delaying us getting started. Or maybe we are just being picky. Refined tastes.

This is a completely to-scale drafting of my new office. It is missing some furniture, but the main workspace is shown on the left wall; a large, expansive desk to house (up to) two monitors, two chairs, and two laptops. The wide window sill will be fitted with bench cushions for reading. Since we want a built-in look, it makes sense construct a digital model to see how the components line up with other features in the space. 

More than one place to work 

So much of what we do in geoscience is centered around effectively displaying information, so it helps to feel fresh and inspired by the environment beyond the desktop. Where we work affects how we work. Matt and I have that luxury of defining our professional spaces, and we are flexible and portable enough to work in a number of settings. I like this.

There is a second place to go to when I want to get out of the confines of my condo. I spend about 30 hours a month at a co-working space downtown. The change in scenery is invigorating. I can breathe the same air as like-minded entrepreneurs, freelancers, and sprouters of companies. I can plug into large monitors, duck into a private room for a conference call, hold a meeting, or collaborate with others. Part of what makes an office is the technology, the furniture, the lighting, which is important. The other part of a workspace is your relationship and interaction to other people and places; a sense of community.

What does your best work space look like? Are you working there now?