Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Another geek alert:

Last time I wrote about digitizing LPs. Here’s my newest techno toy: the Zoom H2 digital recorder. I used this on a recent trip to Virginia for the Wayne Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition.

My sister Jean, a musician and educator who lives near Wayne in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia had invited me and I decided to test the H2 as a field recorder. I was really impressed. I used it for a story I later did for WHQR. You can find the story, and some of my original files, here.

With an 8G card, the H2 can record about 12 hours of stereo in WAV format, which is far less lossy than mp3. Of course, for the web and for many purposes mp3s are just fine; I use a Mac program called Amadeus to convert WAV to mp3. More on Amadeus later.

The H2 actually uses 4 mikes in pairs to record sound. You can direct the sound recording to the front stereo (facing you as you look at the controls), rear stereo (facing away), 2-channel front and rear, and 4-channel surround.

I quickly realized that for audio production I got best results from the 4-channel. In this mode the H2 actually makes simultaneous recordings from the front 2-channel and rear 2-channel. You can choose whichever one you like, or both. The front version takes in a 90-degree stereo field, good for a small group of musicians, for example. The rear setting’s field is 120 degrees, better for a larger group.

For my music recordings, even though I recorded in 4-channel mode, I only used the rear track since I was recording a fairly large group and didn’t need anything from my direction. What really fascinated me, though, was the way it worked for my interview with Erynn Marshall of the Blue Ridge Music Center.

I held the mike about halfway between the 2 of us, so the front channel got my voice and the rear channel got hers. All around us was the ambient noise of people cleaning up after a concert by Doc Watson.

You can see what this looks like in this Amadeus wave file. Originally these were two separate files; I copied and pasted one into the other, after clicking “Add New Stereo Track.” So now there are 2 stereo tracks here. My voice is in the 2 upper channels, hers in the lower 2. You can easily see who speaks when.

What’s remarkable is that the makers of the H2 thought to flip the stereo image between front and back, so the surrounding ambience is correct even though they point 180 degrees opposite each other.

We’re still not at a satisfactory stereo image, though. So I click on the upper track (my voice) and click “Merge With Next Track”. Voila! one single track with nice stereo ambience, and both of our voices in the middle.

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True story: I bought 4 old long-playing albums at Goodwill and decided to digitize them. When I tried to find an LP cleaner at Radio Shack the clerk said, “What’s an LP?”

Some months ago I had bought a USB turntable for $50 at Costco. I had previously digitized cassettes, but never LPs. I was glad to find the Chad Mitchell Trio’s “Singin’ Our Mind” album again — most of those tracks are not available as files that I can find, and I have a nostalgic affection for the group. So lacking a cleaner (thanks, Radio Shack), I literally washed the LPs in warm soapy water, patted them dry and finished with a hair dryer.

The turntable setup was ridiculously easy and I downloaded the albums into Amadeus Pro for the Mac without trouble. As you might guess, all these albums had some small pops and clicks, and most of one side of the Mitchell album had a huge scratch. I used Amadeus’ Interpolate routine to go through and try to eliminate as many of the pops as I could. Here’s a screen shot of “Maladyozhenaya” in Amadeus before using Interpolate (click for a larger version):

Every one of those spikes is a major click. To use Interpolate, you have to go and locate each one of them; as you can imagine, a tedious process. Here’s a shot of what it looked like at about 80% complete:

Some were harder to fix than others. I had to fiddle with Amadeus’s display a bit to locate the 2 big clicks on the far left. The results aren’t perfect; there are places where I think I grabbed too wide a swath of audio and as a result Interpolate suppresses things a bit. But to my nostalgia-tinged ears, it’s much more listenable:

Clip of Maladyozhenaya before Interpolation

Clip of Maladyozhenaya after Interpolation

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Last fall I presented a “Life After PowerPoint” workshop for my pals at the GCASTD conference (Greater Cincinnati chapter of American Society for Training and Development). Since I typically see a lot of presentations, it was something very much enjoyed doing.

One of the participants contacted me recently and asked me to update it for a group of project managers who use PowerPoint a lot. Since I’m now in Wilmington, I’ll have to do it long-distance. My first webinar!

Anyhoo, in researching for the update, I ran across an interesting comparison between presentations given by Steve Jobs of Apple and Michael Dell of Dell Computers. Here’s a screen shot from a Jobs presentation:

and here’s one from Dell:

The blog where I found this notes that “Steve wants the audience to listen to him tell the story, rather than read the slides…Michael’s would work well if it were designed to be send to someone who would not have the benefit of hearing the story live, but next to Steve’s slides, they just seem cluttered.”

Yes, I’m a Mac guy. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s right.

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Mennonite farm from Wikimedia Commons. Mennonites are good guys, not spammers

I have a Google Alert watch for ‘WHQR’. I was curious when I saw this notice in my email:

What Are the Benefits of Donating My Car to WHQR?. Although the option has been around for a number of years, many charitable organizations, such as WHQR-FM …

The notice provides a link to an article on the site ‘eHow.com’. I’m not going to provide that link here, for reasons which I hope will become clear.

This struck me as odd: why would a 3rd party bother to write about donating cars to WHQR? The article itself is pretty generic and the information isn’t essentially wrong; we do receive, and value, donations of cars.

I Googled eHow.com and started seeing messages about “content farms” — a new term for me. eHow is apparently owned by Demand Media. Their business model is to churn out thousands of pages per day of mostly recycled press releases from all kinds of businesses and organizations.

The purpose is to get a lot of page views, move to the top of Google rankings, and make tons of money from ads. Google has moved to quarantine some of the more flagrant ones, but it’s hard to see how this can be stopped completely.

Some of the sites writing about this refer to it as spam. But some of them appear to be possibly a little spammy themselves. I am going to link to this one, which is useful but essentially recycles material from an earlier post at the same location.

Maybe everyone knows about this. I didn’t. Another example of crappy stuff beating out useful stuff on the web. Sigh.

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Test of iPod Touch

This is a test of the WordPress app for iPhone/iPod touch. I’m using it on the latter.

Still making a lot of mistakes on the keypad.

Next test — can I upload a graphic?

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Those who know me even a little bit will be shocked that I say this, but for the first time — and the second — I’ve been disappointed in Apple.

Gripe #1:

I bought a new computer, a small MacBook (white model). There’s a lot to like — it’s fast, it looks great, and I got a good academic price along with a free iPod Touch. I was even prepared to grit my teeth and accept that the Snow Leopard OS (10.6) might not run my favorite program, AppleWorks, but it still works.

I realize that for Apple this is a low-end model, but I was really disappointed that they skimped by leaving out a FireWire port. Normally the USB 2.0 ports can handle many tasks. But without FireWire, it told me to run Migration Assistant over an Ethernet cable to my older laptop running 10.4. This didn’t work; after 12 hours it had only ported over about 20% of the files.

In the past Migration Assistant on FireWire has only required an hour or so to completely and thoroughly transfer files and applications. Fortunately I had a backup hard drive with both types of port, so I used FireWire to transfer from the old machine, and USB 2.0 to update the new. But it took several hours to complete the extra steps.

Almost as bad as a Windows installation.

Gripe #2:

I needed QuickBooks for Mac. I wanted the CD and printed manual, so I went to my Apple store and picked up a copy from the software shelf. There was no register to ring up sales. I assume they took them out to make room for the crowds coming in top see iPads and iPhone 4s.

After wandering around trying to figure out how to actually, you know, buy something, I finally caught the eye of a sympathetic employee who explained that to make my purchase I would need to register and when my name came up an assistant could help me. He could not, because someone was ahead of me. And there was no way for another employee to know who or where I was. I waited 10 minutes while the other guy dithered around.

I finally said to myself, “This is nuts,” put the software back on the shelf and left. I went to the Intuit site and bought QuickBooks online. It was the worst consumer experience I’ve ever had with Apple.

Yikes. What the hell are they thinking?

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I received several questions following my presentation on Blogging today at the Cincinnati Job Search Focus Group. Here’s some more information:

What presentation software did you use?

Neat, huh? That was created at the Prezi.com site. This is a web-based software application that is definitely not PowerPoint. Where PP is linear and ultimately text-based (with some graphics and bells and whistles), Prezi.com aims to be intuitive and graphically-based. It is usually created on-line, and can be run either on-line (not recommended in critical situations in case connectivity is lost), or as a downloadable Flash animation, which is what I used.

Because I work part-time for Miami University, I was able to get a free educational account with 500 Mb of server space, and I’ve hardly used any of it. Other free accounts are possible. There is a paid version which allows you to do content creation on a local machine, but I haven’t tried that.

Prezi would have you believe that you can get going in just a few minutes, but that hasn’t been my experience. I spent a LOT of time creating this, far more than a Keynote or PowerPoint would have taken. With time I’m sure I can work faster, but I’m not there yet. I doubt if I will use it for run-of-the-mill presentations.

There are definitely some drawbacks. The backgrounds and font styles are limited to those that Prezi offers, and there are not many. Some things that are easy in PowerPoint really can’t be done well in Prezi. They’d probably say that such things, such as lists, shouldn’t be done at all.

I learned about Prezi from Dean Carine Feyten of the Miami U. School of Education, Health & Society, where I’m doing some work. Check it out.

Is the presentation available on-line?

Yes, but not for download. Go to http://prezi.com/o4l-3l2hlplu. In case of utter failure at JSFG, I also created a backup version in PowerPoint that has much of the same material, so you could compare the differences if you really have time on your hands.

What are the URLs for the websites you showed?

Here they are:

See more of my presentations (including earlier versions of this one) on my Presentations Page.

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I have Daniel Johnson Jr. to thank for getting me started with TalkShoe. This is like a combination of live chat, podcast, webinar and conference call. When Daniel, John Hingsbergen and I were planning the recent Society of Professional Journalists podcasting seminar, we used it to confer and record our calls.

It’s pretty easy to use. Once registered (free), you set up a call and others call in a a pre-arranged time. You can make the result public or private. It’s not entirely intuitive and the tutorials are rather skimpy. I tried to figure out how to use their documentation and ended up calling Daniel, who told me the answer in seconds.

I’m currently using it on a research project of interviews and writing. It was pretty simple to set up a call and invite my guest. Key points that Daniel set me straight on were how to log in as administrator of the call (use your PIN), and how to start and stop recordings — *2*1 in each case.

Once the call has processed (at the end of the pre-requested time, not at the end of the call) I downloaded the mp3 file to my computer, where I’m going to start editing very soon. With an external mike/headset for my Blackberry, the audio is not broadcast quality of course, but it’s not bad. It’s easy to see uses for this in generating live programs and podcasts, as well as other audio you want to repurpose.

I’m still learning, but so far, thumbs up.

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I’m looking forward to Saturday and a podcasting workshop sponsored by the Cincinnati chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. They asked me to put this together a few weeks ago. Fortunately I was able to enlist the formidable talents of my old WMUB comrade John Hingsbergen and Cincinnati New Media Cincinnati guru Daniel Johnson, Jr.

No podcasting experience is necessary. In this hands-on workshop participants will:

  • Create a podcast
  • Learn how to plan, record, edit, publish and market your podcast

It’s Saturday, 10am – 4pm. There are a few slots left, but — you gotta register here.

Thanks to the NKU College of Informatics for hosting this.

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Still another (let’s hope final) update: the revised PowerPoint of this presentation is now online.

I’m presenting Part Two of a blogging workshop Thursday, May 13th, 10 am at Cincinnati’s Return to Work Center. It’s based in large part on my experiences with this blog and another I maintain and sometimes contribute to. It’s aimed at newbies and those contemplating starting a blog. The focus of part one was on starting a blog; this one will look at what should go in it.

Thanks to Lisa Slutsky and the helpful gang at the Return to Work Center for asking me back.

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