Archives for August 2007


Recording iChat or Skype on the Macintosh

As a fair weather participant in PodcastMN — a Minnesota-based group of podcasters — I answered a question on the listserv today about Skype or iChat recording that I realized would make a good post others might find useful and yes, this is Mac-centric since I no longer use a PC except when needed via Parallels.

I’ve used both Skype and iChat extensively for interview or conferencing/project scenarios and have recorded them both (even using their respective video capabilities…but that’s another post topic). Two ways I’ve found to be optimal for audio recording:

1) The easy way is with Audio Hijack Pro (AHP) or Wiretap. I’ve had the best success with AHP so that is my recommendation. They have set up a no-brainer quick Skype or iChat recording function and have detailed a how-to on their web site (and you can also download a demo so you can try it out first).

There are other software solutions (like CallRecorder) but they’re limited and you won’t be able to grow with them as you get better. The kicker with AHP is that as you grow and become more sophisticated in what you want to accomplish, the software has deep and highly functional capabilities that you can spend hours playing with to get a more perfect sound and geek-out with routing audio signals!

2) Setting up a “mix minus” from your mixer or Firewire/USB box so that you can record the iChatters or Skypers on one channel and you on the other channel so you can fix any problems or normalize audio levels in post production. My preference is to record *both* an internal recording on my Mac with AHP *and* a backup recording out to my M-Audio Microtrack to make certain I’ve captured it and there are no hiccups. Saved my bacon twice when doing sessions for one of my clients earlier this year.

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CTD for August 28, 2007

You probably didn’t notice, but I’d taken a hiatus from podcasting since last March. Then this summer a business opportunity provided an imperative to no longer outsource our audio production so I went on a hunt for some new audio gear that would provide me with a world-class, broadcast quality sound.

I found it in the Shure SM7B, the Digidesign MBox2 Pro (includes Pro Tools) and the iZotope Ozone 3 set of plugins — but not after an angst ridden adventure with a bunch of different types of gear!

Download the podcast


Blogs and ‘real’ journalism

When I’m interested in a topic (or something breaking occurs), most often today it’s bloggers that break the news. Since I have both blogs and traditional media sources in my RSS reader, I can scan and skim over 1,000 articles per day and drill-down into information. It usually allows me to critically think about any given topic.

But where do I turn for well vetted, researched and hard news that I can trust? The traditional sites or blogs where I’m aware the blogger themselves are journalists (and yes, I critically think about their articles too!).

A friend of mine is the founder and chairman of Internet Broadcasting Systems and I’ve long admired how they connected on-the-ground reporting at TV news stations with online web site delivery and have some level of appreciation on what it takes to deliver world-class news. Joel Kramer, former publisher of the Minneapolis StarTribune whom I’ve talked with about what he’s about to reveal: a new high end news offering. As he states in this article about the blogosphere, “Some of the blogs are interesting, there’s a lot of it that’s not,” he said. “A lot of it is just pontificating, and I’m more interested in informed commentary as well as hard-hitting news gathering.

Obviously I embrace blogging and love the multi-perspective reality that blogs bring to online news and information. I also concur with Kramer that much of it is blather — but blogs aren’t going away. If anything they’re becoming more influential. Traditional news media are laying off staff like mad as they try to stay profitable, so I wonder how long we’ll be able to continue to rely on ‘real’ journalism?

But it gets even more interesting as a blogger when I consider what it would take for me to truly report on just one story I’m personally interested in knowing more about right now.

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Is *everyone* buying a Mac?

At all the major tech conferences I attend, all the alpha geeks and the fashionistas are walking around with Mac’s (hmmm….am I a geek or a bon vivant? I know what my kids would say!). I often find myself in the front of an audience and scanning the crowd of people with their laptops is interesting…but there is an accelerating number of glowing Apple logos at these places where influencers meet.

I’m getting together with a friend and colleague tomorrow for one key reason *and* because he too took delivery of a new Macbook Pro last week. This is a guy that has used Windows machines his entire life.

Even the dyed-in-the-wool PC guy, Chris Pirillo, has gone Mac.

My 18 year old daughter works at a local Apple Store and we talk often about how busy the place is all the time. Whenever I go there, it’s a constant and steady stream of purchasers. She’s indicated that this back-to-school season is “awesome” with sales even though no analyst would buy more stock due to THAT recommendation.

It’s funny…when I bought my Macbook Pro some time ago I purchased Parallels and an OEM version of Windows XP for $49 (and I threw away the $10 sound card I had to buy to get it) thinking that I’d need to continue to run Windows apps. You know what? In six months I’ve opened it up about 10 times. I play with my install of Ubuntu Linux more than I use Windows.

Why is this happening? The platform works; it’s elegant and quiet; based on unix; secure with no spyware or adware; great user interface; perfectly positioned for user generated content; compatible with Windows in many ways; in short, about anything people want to do today (other than Windows-centric proprietary applications) can be done with a Mac.


Blogging hiatus is over…

Just a quick note to explain why — after two and a half years of almost daily blogging — I have gone one week without a post. It’s pretty atypical for me and many readers have wanted to know why.

If you read me you know that I had a great first half and decided to take the summer off and cleared the decks accordingly. Never done this before but needed to for many personal reasons. As it turned out, the serendipity of me doing so was I could act as the primary caregiver for my 94 year old father-in-law (who moved into our home for a short while) and my 81 year old dad to get him through a medical procedure. I’m pleased I could serve them and be in the unique position to have time available *and* that they’re both doing phenomenally well.

This year’s end of summer rush toward finishing projects, our 8th Annual Dad & Son adventure with my boy, getting ready for school, buying new audio gear for use in our business objectives (and a return to podcasting!) as well as finalizing all the stuff for my dad and father-in-law has really pulled me away like never before.

I love blogging too much and get far more value out of it than the effort I put into it so it’s unlikely I’ll go this long again. Thanks for reading and for the queries as to “What’s up. You OK?”


Seagate FreeAgent: I love great products…

Over the weekend I purchased the new Seagate FreeAgent 750GB drive at Costco for $225 since my digital life is requiring more and more backup and I’m flat out of space on my drives.

I was a heartbeat away from buying the Western Digital 1TB drive for $349 (since it does RAID and I could ensure redundancy if one of the drive platters inside were to fail) but did something I haven’t done before: I used my iPhone to search for “noise” and then “Western Digital 1TB” and didn’t like what I found.

Several people were talking about how the fans in the 1TB drive — when the unit was under load — sounded like a jet engine starting up. Oh great….just what I need when my MacPro tower’s ambient decibel level (it has a low level hum and the fans turn on when under load and it bugs me) has forced me to turn it off when I podcast (I instead use my MacBook Pro for recording). Since I also own a 250GB Maxtor OneTouch drive (its successor is here) which adds to the constant noise AND sounds like a small jet taking off when spinning up, noise (or the lack thereof) is a big deal to me.

Since Costco had the Seagate, I also searched on it. Every post or forum comment I read praised how quiet the drive was and so I bought it. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be, is whisper quiet and is a truly great product (especially since it sports this nifty interchangeable USB or Firewire module easy to swap out) but the unit has one exception to my love: the fancy-schmancy software on it — that does fun stuff like change the yellow color to blue visually showing its capacity — had to be wiped clean since I use a Mac. No big deal and I don’t care about color changes.

My intention is to combine desktop backup with “cloud” based backup (I’m using S3 with JungleDisk since Amazon Web Services costs are so cheap at $.15 per GB). The stuff I’ll shove into the cloud are items I want to have in perpetuity (photos, some videos) as well as secure items I want to archive (as an Mac OS disk image (.dmg) with AES 128k encryption).

I’m already thinking I might like to buy a second one of these…


Do you rely on electricity? Roads & bridges? The Internet?

This weekend I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how fragile and dependent we all are on infrastructure and distribution. All of these thoughts have also had me remember being a kid during the 1970’s energy crisis (with lines at gas stations) and times when pending blizzards caused people to make a run on grocery stores stripping the shelves of certain foods, water and other staples.

We’re far too dependent on so much infrastructure and distribution systems that most of us either take for granted or simply expect will always be there.

The Interstate 35W bridge collapse two weeks ago was the first stunning blow about the frailty of infrastructure and a wake-up call for all of us. I’ve been reading a tremendous amount about needed bridge and roadway repairs in the US and it seems as though every state (as well as the Federal government) is suddenly taking action.

Yesterday morning’s storm here in Minnesota knocked out our power at 3am Saturday and it’s expected to fixed by close-of-business on Tuesday!  It’s only affecting 45,000 people here now, so this is a local story. But what a pain in the butt it is to be without power and, thank goodness, my neighbors behind us have power so I’ve run a contractor grade extension cord so I can plug in my refrigerator and sump pump.

When there have been huge electrical outages there have been outcries (and I wrote about it here and you can read more about our crumbling power grid here). But since these outages have yet to be in the same horrific category as a catastrophic bridge collapse tragedy, not much is being done. I also remember Reddy Killowatt, the electric industry spokescartoon who encouraged us to use electricity. He’s retired now having outlived his usefulness in a time of energy conservation.

I’m sitting here in a restaurant this morning with free Wifi since my Internet access at home is out (no electricity…no working cable modem). Thankfully I have an office a short drive away with power so it’s not too horrible and I can still get work done, but my 12 year old son keeps asking me how he can get on the ‘net from home. There are some silver linings to having all the electrical stuff off, but I’m not too interested in living off the grid just yet.

Yesterday afternoon I almost purchased a portable generator. Instead, I’ll be buying a standby generator (which runs on natural gas) that I can plug into my home circuit system and prioritize my heat and air conditioning; sump pump (critical since my basement flooded last year when the power went out!); refrigerator; and a few other items so I’m not at the mercy of Xcel Energy or a kind neighbor. The cost will be roughly $5k installed and a whole house generator (instead of a limited number of items) is about $13k. What’s enlightening to me has been the exercise of adding up all the watts I pull in my house and realizing how tough (and expensive) it is to be self sufficient with energy!

The small outage of Internet hosting I referenced in my post is so laughingly small that it went almost unnoticed by the general public. But as more and more of us map our businesses, our social networks and our communications on the ‘net, the potential for horrific and catastrophic outages — though unlikely to take lives — may finally get people to wake up to our dependency on bridges, our distribution system, electricity, the Internet, and all the other systems and processes we now take for granted.


“Father of Supercomputers” Seymour Cray

Yesterday my son and I (on our 8th Annual Dad & Son Adventure) drove into Chippewa Falls, WI since I’d never seen the town and was curious as to why Seymour Cray (seen at left below), the “father of supercomputers” placed the R&D arm of Cray Research there.

My 12 year old is like most: his eyes roll up when I tell him we’re stopping by a museum. I’ve learned to set hard limits on time (“we’ll only spend X minutes there and then decide if we want to stay“) which works well so I can always get him to agree to at least take a peek.

Turns out the museum wasn’t open officially yesterday, but they let us wander around on our own and read the signs within the small exhibit area.

In many ways looking at the early Control Data computers was like seeing a set from the movie Dr. Strangelove. But what was really fascinating to me was the early wiring diagrams for 1950’s era computers that were drawn by two women at drafting tables from the design specifications Seymour Cray put together. That, coupled with the mass of wires embedded in the early Cray supercomputers, seems incredibly inefficient by today’s standards.

What impressed my son — especially when I pointed out that the RAM in his Nintendo DS stored as much data as one of those HUGE 26″ platters seen in the photo with a CD and floppy disks for comparison. The sign read, “This 26 inch platter weighs approximately six pounds and holds a total of 4 million bytes of information, 2 million bytes (2 megabytes) on each side. (Abbreviated 2MB.)

The colored 3.5 inch disks currently in use today hold 1.44 megabytes each, so only three disks would be needed to store the same amount of information as the 26 inch platter.

A current recordable compact disk (CD-R, below) holds 700 megabytes (700MB) and weighs approximately one ounce. This CD will hold the same amount of information as 175 platters, which would weigh 1,055 pounds. No wonder these disks earned the name “compact” and are so popular!

Since I was born in the late 1950’s, all of this evolution has occurred in my lifetime. I remember a guy across the street from me who was going to “get in to the computer business with this company called Control Data” which seemed pretty exotic in the late 1960’s. I still have some measure of sadness-from-afar at the demise of Control Data and how the computing business ended and Minnesota became a relative backwater in technology.

It’s important for kids to truly understand the evolution of computing as well as all the other things upon which we build our collective future. In the same way that people like Seymour Cray are not studied in schools, I think about inventors like Dean Kamen who have done amazing things too and are not lauded at all — but my guy knows about Kamen since we talk about his successes and his failures.

So how did our museum peek go? The proof was when we hopped in the car afterwards and I asked my son what he thought: “It was cool Dad…I liked it and those old computers were amazing.”


iWeb: Was today the second step?

Last December I wrote Prediction: Apple Will Own Mass Market Web Applications and I think at least some of it came true today with the release of the latest iWeb and the ability to input and use widgets.

When I get back to Minneapolis I’ll stop by the Apple store and pick up iLife and iWork. This will give me an opportunity to get an intuitive sense of how easy it will be to drag-n-drop widgets from, say, Widgetbox into iWeb and deliver something with which I can test and play.

Just watched Steve’s presentation and it was interesting to hear him talk about the new iPhoto and its “Rich Web 2.0 experience.” Clearly this is an overt recognition of the category of Web 2.0 and why not give power to normal users to build their own Web 2.0-like apps?

No serious developer I know believes something a mass market, Web application product like this is possible. Too many factors like latency, performance, using it offline, connecting it to the desktop and other needs are brought up as just a few of the reasons why non-developer types couldn’t possibly build ’em.

You know what? I heard the same sorts of objections for years from people in printing and publishing as software like Pagemaker and then Quark arrived on the scene and that “desktop publishing” was a joke, only real graphic layout artists could build publications, and they loved it when mistakes were made (like an explosion of fonts used on a single page) but today I can’t think of ONE publication that ISN’T laid out with Quark or InDesign.

UPDATE (via Read/Write Web): Just found this video of Dr. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and Apple board member, describing “Web 3.0” which proves the point better. According to Richard MacManus, “He said that while Web 2.0 was based on Ajax, Web 3.0 will be “applications that are pieced together” – with the characteristics that the apps are relatively small, the data is in the cloud, the apps can run on any device (PC or mobile), the apps are very fast and very customizable, and are distributed virally (social networks, email, etc).”


Scarcity of Water in the Great Lakes

Posting this week is light as I’m on my 8th Annual Dad & Son Adventure with my 12 year old son. We are in Door County, WI (in between Green Bay and the main body of Lake Michigan) and will be hugging the south shore of Lake Superior on our return.

The picture you see in this post is the tip of the Door peninsula jutting out in to Lake Michigan. Since the water level is three feet lower than normal all the white rocks you see are normally covered with water and up several feet up the rock cliff. The stress of the drought on the trees we hiked through and the lake itself is quite obvious and very disconcerting.

Parasailing, jet skiing, swimming and hiking are some of the activities we’ve been engaged in this week so we’ve been in close contact with the lake and I’ve been seeing first hand the impact this water drop is having.

With my beloved Lake Superior down two feet — along with all the buzz about global warming — makes it easy to leap to the conclusion this water drop is due to that clear trend of human powered warming. But is that the reason? Others believe it could be part of normal hydrological cycles.

I’ve long suspected that as we pump water out of the acquifers underneath major sections of the United States, water will flow or drip in to fill them. Will that come from the system that may be fed by the great lakes thus causing them to drop quickly? Smarter people than I are looking at this exact question and no one knows yet.

Relying on scientific evidence of long term effects is the only way to measure all the macro effects. But I go to formerly wild places that I went to decades ago as a kid and I can see so many changes. Algae that has caused the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to designate lakes I used to swim in as “swimming not supported.” Fields of wildflowers with butterflies now covered with condos. Trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that look like the stressed-from-pollution trees I saw on the tollways and in the parks when I lived in Chicago.

Maybe this stuff is part of normal cycles or global warming related, but anyone with any observational skills and half-a-brain must realize humans are making one helluva impact on this planet.