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December 16, 2007

Podcasting Equipment Update

Podcasting Equipment  Update


Introduction  


Below I'm giving some links to some basic podcasting equipment which will enable anybody with a computer and the internet to get going. Since I  last posted something on podcasting some months ago I've managed to get the budget for a couple of Marantz PDM 660 semi professional audio recorders. They are semi professional because they record to compact flash cards which have a higher spped of data transfer rate than SD cards. The other main feature is that they have phantom power and XLR microphone inputs which should allow you to use them with unpowered condenser microphones. I have to say I have been very unsuccessfu l with this using the Rode NT2 mic and their Broadcaster mic.

On this basis I would recommend using microphones with their own battery power source as a safer bet. I haven't had a chance to research these properly, however, Sony used to have a good mini-jack input one with battery power apparently used by the BBC. This would be very useful with the new Marantz digital recorders I have just ordered. Which I am providing links to below. I have also spotted some useful looking gaming headsets from Sennheiser which look just the job and the students might have fun using those and Audacity. 


The Marantz PMD 620 Stereo Recorder


Marantz PMD 620


According to one online retailer: The main features of the Marantz PMD 620 include (I suspect that nobody has invented a 2 terrabyte SD card yet but dream on):

  • Powerful and feature-laden Portable Audio Recorder that accepts up to 2 TB (my emphasis)SD Flash memory cards
  • Records WAV audio in 44.1/48KHz at 16 or 24 bit resolutions
  • Records direct to MP3 at three different quality levels
  • Includes 2 internal condenser mics, a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) external mic input, and a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) line input
  • First Marantz recorder to use SD flash memory with support for cards up to 2 TB
  • One-touch record engagement with red highlight illumination
  • OLED display for low power consumption
  • Powered by 2 AA batteries
  • Configurable screen with 2 font sizes
  • Do basic non-destructive copy and paste style editing directly on the device
  • Transfer audio to your PC via USB 2.0
  • "Skip back" feature lets transcribers review audio recorded from 1 to 60 seconds previously
  • Level and Peak LEDs
  • Display can be set to show time remaining, elapsed time, or other important numbers


Transom.org do a thorough review:


I have recently discovered this very useful site whilst trawling for reviews of the Marantz PMD 620.

This is the Transom Home page .

Marantz 620 in the hand


Here is an image from the Transom Marantz review.  As always there are pros and cons, nevertheless I have gone for some. This review does make some useful things clear about microphones which may apply to the PMD 660 mentioned in the introduction. This review is a very thorough one and you are urged to read it if you are in the market for a digital handheld recorder.


An excellent feature of this review is that there are downloadable tests with some external microphones. The Marantz according to this review has the lowest level of background hiss Transom have tested for in the small handheld recorder range.  


Getting One For Xmas?


Getting this Marantz for Xmas is a tempting prospect. The advantage of it being a recorder with a headphone output means that there is a playback facility as well. With 1 GB SD cards now being very cheap it would be easy to take a few loaded with music around with you in MP3 or even Wav format. This beats even the iPod! 


Tripod mounting

Something which might come in useful is the ability to mount it to a tripod which could be useful in certain circumstances as the Transom review points out :

The 620 ships with a cradle with two connectors on the back: a belt clip and a standard photo tripod socket that allows the recorder to be mounted in a stable position. It's plastic and flimsy-feeling, but effective, and allows access to all important controls.


Marantz PMD 620 on Tripod



Audacity


I see that it's time to upgrade my version of Audacity  the free audio editing open source software. This software is an excellent package to start editing with and will fit especially well to the educational environment where low budgets are the norm. Students can also get a hands on feel for editing which combined with a USB headset - which many gamers will have anyway - can get you on the road to making your own content. There are versions available for Linux and Mac as well. Audacity screenshot of envelope tool


Find Audacity here 



Headsets


The last time I looked at headsets was several months ago when I ordered myself the USB Beyer MMX1. Since then I have noticed some models from Sennheiser which look as though they are more flexible. They have the facility to be used as a USB and with their own built in soundcard can be used with any computer even those without a sound card. The other thing is that they have an adapter so can be used with line input soundcards. I haven't tested them yet but in an educational environment where one might be swapping rooms and have an institution full of machines with different specifications this could be a powerful advantage.  


Sennheiser pc155 USB Stereo Headset Mac User Review from 2004 giving it a 5* review. This  appears to still be available one outlet had it for £61-95.

Below is a Sennheiser P166 Headset. The USB connection can clearly be seen. This can be disconnected and the headset can be plugged into normal souncards. With upmarket soundcards there may be better quality sound. 

Sennheiser pc 166 Headset


Below you can see how neatly the cable is dealt with:


Sennheiser pc 166 close up of cable arrangement


Apparently these headphones can be found for £60 - £90 so look hard before you buy. Trusted reviews is positive at prices below £70 in terms of value for money. Techgage too was also generally positive recommending the use of a good soundcard for better quality. 


Behind the Neck Multimedia Headsets 


Some users may prefer to wear their phones / mic combination behind the neck rather thanover the head. In which case the Sennheiser pc 145 multimedia set is a possible choice. For Mac users there is a version specifically designed for Mac.


Sennheiser PC 145 Behind neck set


Rapid technological developments


It can quickly be seen that the market place for equipment to create user generated content is rapidly improving all the time. Thye euipment is also becoming easier to use and cheaper. This is helping to fuel the revolution which is turning the media world if not upside down then putting the media moguls on the back foot.


We certainly are living in the midst of a mass media revolution  in which the 'mass' part has changed from being relatively inactive consumers to active producers of content which can often challenge or very effectively complement the professional organisations. This is genuine competition for the media companies and they are being forced to adapt!


March 15, 2007

Glossary for New Media Technologies: A–N

Introduction

This glossary was originally created for the AS New Media Technologies Unit.


Please note that this glossary is updated and expanded fairly regularly. It is intended that this will give you access to a wide range of terms that are conceptual as well as technical. You don’t have to learn all the terms just use the glossary as a point of reference to help you out if you get stuck. Hope you find it useful.


The development of Web 2.0 with the ability to gain feeds about new media technologies should make it easier to keep updated.


Students are strongly advised to add in feeds from sources such as the BBC Technology pages onto their own blogs in order to keep abreast of any changes.



The Glossary


Advertising. Any new mass media has enormous advertising potential as it can bring together audiences and advertisers in new and more effective ways. See paid for search and online advertising.


Analogue. Non digital form of recording and reproduction. Standard terrestrial TV is still fed from analogue transmissions however these are gradually being replaced by digital free-to-air services transmitted by the BBC. See linear editing.


ASDL. A broadband digital transmission technology which can send far more data down existing domestic phone lines than either conventional modems or ISDN. BT’s system offers half a megabyte per second. In Japan the latest in ASDL technology is offering Megabytes per second. This is more than adequate to use full-frame video streaming. Even faster FTTH technology is being pushed in Japan. Being cheaper to install it is now the major competitor to digital cable links provided by companies such as NTL. It requires special equipment at the exchange. ASDL is likely to be available to 90% of the population by mid-2005.

BT are also experimenting with mid-band.


Bandwidth. The amount of digitally encoded data which can be transmitted by particular systems.


Blogs. User generated material on specially created programmes that require no knowledge of coding and mark-up language. Now used for a variety of purposes from personal to political and company driven. A core part of Web 2 (2.0) if you like. Here is the Wikipedia entry


Blueray. See Format wars


Bluetooth. This is a wireless system which allows different products to communicate with each other using a common protocol. It is able to transmit large amounts of data. Portable computers can link to desktop computers or mobile phones via Bluetooth. You may well have a mobile phone with a Bluetooth wireless earpiece for example.


Broadband. The digital Holy Grail is having all homes linked to broadband networks which can handle huge amounts of digitally encoded data. It should be possible to be engaged in such things as video-conferencing and downloading films in real-time simultaneously in the same household. Likely to take several years to be fully developed and installed in a significant number of households. An important feature is the ability to have two of more computers from the same household linked to the internet. Currently it costs about £30 per month. Rumoured that the latest hard-disc recorders will add broadband internet access and be able to stream video and audio to TV, See also digital set-top boxes. Since writing this not so long ago the scenario has changed dramatically in the UK. This January 2007 story from the BBC shows "BT as having signed up 10 million broadband users".

CD Rewritable. This is a CD which can be recorded and then recorded over rather like an audiocassette. Not all CD-Players can replay these however as the system works on different laser frequencies. See also Rewritable digital media.

CD-Rom. These are CDs which are Read Only Memory (ROM). These are used for selling computer programmes. The data on them cannot be changed.

Citizenship. This concept builds on earlier ideas of citizenship which focused upon economic, political and social concerns. Economic citizenship gave people the right to trade, political citizenship gave people the rights to vote and have representative electable governments with powers limited by law. Social citizenship gave people the right to health care, education and pensions. See also cultural citizenship.

CMS. see Content Management Software.

Content Management Software. Content management software helps users organise their download materials. iTunes is probably the best known of these. It can be used to subsribe to podcast services for example as well a place where music or video content may be purchased. You can click this link to go to the free iTunes downloads site. (This should not be deemed as an endoresment of Apple's CMS above any other ones.). News from the BBC 12th of Jan 07 says that iTunes has made a deal with the Sundance film festival to make films available for download.


Convergence. You must know this term for the OCR AS exam*. This is the current process whereby new media and communications technologies are changing not only our media equipment but changing the ways old media institutions have worked. It is also globalising and changing our systems of gaining knowledge. The process is still in transition with new developments rapidly emerging. In a few years these processes will have matured and will be less dynamic. The way that mobile phones are now turning into multi-player gaming machines or able to provide location based information and send back images by wireless technology is a good example of convergent technologies creating new markets. See iPhone for a good example of this.

Cultural Citizenship. Cultural citizenship is about access to systems of representation within the arts and media to ensure that all have the knowledge and capabilities to represent themselves.

Cybersquatters. These are companies or individuals individuals who have registered variations or misspellings of its key brands, such as “Xbox”. They can make a lot of money out of this and also get respectable brands bad reputations. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6449363.stm

Device for digitally storing still images. Whilst still unable to achieve the levels of image definition of conventional film higher capacity chips and storage systems are continuously eroding the quality difference. With the correct devices an image can be transmitted over the web instantaneously.

Desktop Recording Studio. The growth of podcasting has seen a growth of available desktop recording studios with some being USB powered and others having separate power supplies. Often small but flexible units they provide an interface with analogue microphones and computers. They can be combined with powerful software to create different effects and they can also have inputs from devices such as CD players and electronic instruments. empowering users to podcast onto the internet they are powerful tools in the collaborative and user generated world of Web 2.0. Below an early model the Lexicon Omega and the more recent Digidesign MBox2.

Lexicon Omega Interface












Digidesign MBox 2


Digital Distribution. It is necessary to differentiate between models of 'Business to Business' distribution and 'Business to Consumer' distribution. Digital forms of distribution can be advantageous to both small-scale ‘cottage’ industry sized companies and large media corporations. Digital videos can be distributed globally by specialist we-sites globally when users have high speed connections. They are only likely to find individuals often with little purchasing power. Large film companies can distribute to points of mass exhibition such as cinemas or outdoor arenas by high speed optic fibre cable or else via digital satellite links. With encrypted technologies it is now possible to release a film globally in cinemas if necessary in different versions for different markets on the same day. This will reduce piracy and maximise marketing opportunities whilst reducing significantly distribution costs. The ability to respond instantly to audience demand by downloading onto servers instead of relying on expensive and relatively slow multiple copy distribution will help increase profits and retain and develop audiences.


Digital divide. A very important social and cultural concept of the ‘information age’. This term refers to those who have access to a wide range of digital communications systems in terms of cost and knowledge and those who are excluded from this. It is becoming a serious problem of citizenship.

Digital set-top box. These boxes can receive digitally transmitted TV and Radio transmissions via satellite ( typically in Britain Sky), cable ( typically in Britain NTL and Telewest) and a standard TV aerial ( Freeview). Pace in conjunction with Sky + and others with hard disc-based digital recorders. Sky + has a 40 Gigabyte hard disc. A similar box is now being offered to Freeview viewers. It has a twin tuner and a 20 gigabyte hard disc. With a twin tuner it is possible to watch one programme or listen to radio whilst recording another.

Digital storage medium. Generic term for a wide range of storage media such as mini-disc, CD, CD-ROM, Hard disc, floppy-disc etc. These media may sometimes be designed by a company to only fit their products. Others will be generic. Some will be read only such as a CD or DVD game or film. Others are random access and as such can be totally or partially used many times.

Digital Versatile Disc / DVD. A disc which although the same size as a CD can hold many times the amount of data due to a combination of more sophisticated data compression systems, the ability to store and retrieve data from different levels of the disc. This means that moving images can be stored in a way which is more permanent than tape and maintains its quality over time, whereas tape particles lose their magnetism and lose details. Research is going on to more than double the storage capacity of the current DVD’s by using different laser technologies. The ‘versatility’ referred to in the name means that the equipment incorporates technical standards which means that digital information relating to images - static or moving sounds or text can be stored and retrieved.

DRM. (Meaning 1) Digital Rights Management. This is a major concern for companies and individuals dependent upon traditional copyright legislation to protect their intellectual rights. Within the the world of the web the Napster free downloding company became renowned for breaking these copyright rules in the USA. It was eventually forced to concede by the big record companies. 'Pirate downloading' is still seen as a major problem by many media comapnies. At the time of writing Viacom was taking Google to court with a $1 billion law suit relating to the copyrighted material availble on YouTube which was bought buy Google in 2006. The Wikipedia entry states:

Digital Rights Management (generally abbreviated to DRM) is an umbrella term that refers to any of several technologies used by publishers or copyright owners to control access to and usage of digital data or hardware, and to restrictions associated with a specific instance of a digital work or device. The term is often confused with copy protection and technical protection measures; these two terms refer to technologies that control or restrict the use and access of digital content on electronic devices with such technologies installed, acting as components of a DRM design. 

DRM.  (Meaning 2) DRM or Digital Radio Mondiale is the world's only, open standard digital radio system for short-wave, AM/medium-wave and long-wave. It has been endorsed by the ITU, IEC and ETSI. DRM is the only universal, open standard digital AM radio system with near-FM quality sound available to markets worldwide. Unlike digital systems that require a new frequency allocation, DRM uses existing AM broadcast frequency bands. The DRM signal is designed to fit in with the existing AM broadcast band plan. Below a Morphy richards DRM Radio.

DRM Radio






DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting for Handhelds). At 2007 CEBIT Nokia showed off its N92, which is due to launch later this year, which has a DVB-H tuner built in as well as access to an electronic programme guide so you can plan what you watch on your handset.


DVD-Audio. A music format which by having a higher sampling rate than conventional CDs can create more ‘natural sounding’ music.


DVD-HD. This is a new high definition format which Toshiba and its backers including Microsoft launched in 2006. It is one side of a format war with Sony who along with many consumer electronics heavyweights such as Philips and Panasonic have now launched Bluray. This is also supported by many Hollywood Studios.


DVD Recordable. A new breed of domestic machines has now appeared which can record TV or films in DVD format. Whilst currently still very expensive it is probable that they will replace the VCR in most households in 5 years time. They will be able to record digital radio signals as well. There is not currently a standardised format which makes things difficult for consumers.

Digital Video. Often called DV as an abbreviation. The ability to 'capture' moving images without the use of film on a digital storage format. The data can be edited ( post-production) digitally and streamed onto the web or put on a DVD or CD.


Dolby surround sound. This is a digital sound decoding system which provides the surround sound features now standard in cinemas. It is also a feature of domestic audio visual surround-sound systems and can disperse the sound around up to 7 ordinary loudspeakers and a sub-woofer to deal with very deep bass sounds known as a 7.1 system.


Download. The expression for taking things from the Internet and putting them onto your computer either temporarily or permanently.


E-commerce B2C. ( business-to-consumer): IdTV and mobile are likely to be the devices which dominate this sector by volume rather than by commercial value. ( see also T-commerce )


Encryption. This makes it impossible to use media texts without having specialist software able to read the security encryption. This is to reduce software piracy and will enable large companies to retain more effective control over their products. Digitised products can be kept in high security systems and downloaded in encrypted form by cinemas for example. See digital distribution


Entertainment Phones. The world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer is producing a new product clled Ngage. Containing on-board memory cards it will be able to play high speed games. The phone will be expensive and currently the possibilities of multi-player gaming on-line are perceived of as very limited. It requires the development of the youth market who are least able to afford this level of sophistication.


Firewalls. This is security software which stops unwanted e.mails or hackers getting into your computer when it is online. As such it is much more sophisticated than straight-forward anti-virus software. It is becoming increasingly important to have this software installed as the internet grows in size and complexity.


Flash Memory. Flash memory is solid state memory. It exists on cards such as Secure Digital cards commonly used in digital cameras and also as USB Flash Drives It is fast, versatile and more resilient to damage by dropping than conventional hard drives. The technology is advancing quickly and for high small computers which firms like "Samsung envisage as 'Super-Blackberries' it will be the first choice over conventional hard drives. For those wishing to conduct electronic warfare the Swiss Army USB drive knife seems like a perfect solution. Doubtless they will be found on Chanel lipsticks soon!


Flash Memory Swiss Army Knife


New memory for 2007 is going to be HHD or Hybrid Hard Drives. Vista the new Microsoft operating system is supporting them and Apple is also in the game. See HDD for more info.


Format Wars. "HD-DVD / Blueray Hybrid."


Free-to-Air. Digitally transmitted TV and radio services which cost the viewer no more than the standard licence fee.


FTTH. Fibre to the home technologies currently being pushed as the next big thing in Japan. This would enable a home to be watching several films in different parts of the house.


Global Positioning System ( GPS ). The ability to find out where you are in the world through special equipment including expensive mobile phones. These link with a satellite to give a precise position. See also Location-based services. Latest gizmo ‘The Hoppy’. Aimed at tourists this device monitors GPS satellites and gives an commentary stored on mini CD using MP3 data compression technology. When triggered by the GPS signals. It can be connected to the car stereo giving information to the driver in real time.


Google. An example of an internet search engine. It became a member of the American stock market in 2004 and first started in 1998. Its founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were worth an estimated $10 billion each in August 2005.


GPS. See Global Positioning Systems.


HHD. 2007 will see the first Hybrid Hard Drives appear on production models of computers. This is likely to be particularly relevant to the "high end laptop market. However Sandisc has already announced a flash memory card which is claims is superior to HHD (see below). Whatever else the effect on small devices which demand high storage such as HD-video are likely to see these appearing.


Sandisk 32 Gb flash drive



Hard-disc recorder. A digital recording machine which records other digital sources on a hard disc similar to the ones found in computers. The advantage over a CD or DVD recorder is that material can be more easily edited before being recorded on another more permanent medium such as a recordable CD. (See also under Broadband).



HD-TV. High definition TVs came on sale in Britain in a big way in 2006 in the run up to the World Cup. whilst the quality is undoubtedly excellent when you see one with a live HD feed there is a problem in the UK of a lack of available programme material in HD. Rumour has it that many people are happily watching their HD TV not realising that the images are not being broadcast in HD. HD-DVDs also became available in 2006 led by Toshiba who have also brought out an HD-DVD Recordable. See also format wars. For a technical break down of the superior definition see "Wikipedia definition".


Hype Cycle. The Hype Cycle, used by Gartner to track the adoption of new technologies, has five distinct phases: “Technology Trigger,” “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” “Trough of Disillusionment,” “Slope of Enlightenment,” and “Plateau of Productivity.” "Link to debate between Gartner and Second Life reported by Reuters Jan 04 / 07 ."


Hypertext. The new aesthetic of the digital era. Originally perceived as the ability to move around a text through links making a medium non-linear and allowing a viewer to make some narrative decisions interactively. Dan Fleming (2000) suggests that there will be hyperlinking across media forms to produce metaforms.


IdTV. Interactive digital television. Currently at a simple level of development. Press red button to vote yes/no on an issue on the programme, or to get a brochure if it is an advert. 32 million households in Europe were expected to have this by end of 2003. This is likely to develop into a way of buying which means that media companies will gain transaction fees as well as advertising. In 2003 interactive games were the most successful market development in interactive TV. The rapid growth of the internet as an important vehicle for buying goods and services may well have made this technology semi-redundant since the time of writing and up-to-date sales figures havn't been seen. Certainly along with mainstream TV this seems to be a technological dinosaur.


Immersive environments. see Virtual Reality


Information filters. Media products which review various media outputs and industrial activities to synthesize and perhaps analyse these products and processes. These are necessary to cope with information overload.

Information gateways. A service, programme etc which provides access to media filtering and media metaforms.


Information inequality. Sometimes described as the ‘Digital Divide’. This expresses the concern that society will become polarised between the ‘digital haves’ and ‘have-nots’ forming another division in society. The lack of availability of information or else low quality information will directly impact upon citizenship.


Information Society. Many sociologists and media commentators are now suggesting that advanced western societies are increasingly becoming societies based upon the use of digitally stored information or data. This is increasingly affecting all our social cultural and scientific systems. Leadeing commentators on this such as Manual Castells have changed their ideas to calling contemporary society the Networked Society.


Interactive. This is an essential term to understand. Digital technologies are provide a wide range of interactivity which allow audiences to interact with the media product such as a TV show requiring some input or the ability to access certain stories stored on news programmes. Audiences can also provide feedback to media institutions large or small about their needs desires and criticisms of a media text in real time. This means that the man of the difficulties of creating and retaining an audience can be facilitated through these interactive monitoring systems. With mobile phone systems location based services can be accessed and information sent received such as booking a hotel or finding out what is on.


Interactive TV. The ability to feedback information into the TV system. This requires digital technology. Typically the flow of information from the receiver


Interface. Interfacing is the way in which people use technologies. A mouse or keyboard is the way we usually interface with computers. For games machines and consoles a range of joysticks were developed. The latest ways of interfacing are through digital imaging where a digital camera can image a subject and store this in the machine in ways that link to icons on the screen. The person can trigger these icons remotely via the camera link. This is the next technological step towards a more immersive environment. Both gamers and various sorts of artists such as dancers are beginning to exploit this technology which will become increasingly common. For one of the leading places to investigate human computer interfacing check out the MIT Media Lab. Wacky stuff including intelligent clothing.

Internet history of: See BBC History of the Internet


Internet Search Engine. To navigate the internet effectively it became necessary to invent new software to make a rapid search of the millions of domain names which mushroomed on after the start of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s. These include search engines such as Yahoo and MSN. The most successful to date is Google. The way in which the companies who run these make money is by selling advertising space. See Paid for search.


iPhone. January 2007 CES saw the awaited launch of Apple's iPhone. This is a fine example of convergent technology in which a phone is able to download both music and video. The screen is a widescreen. The phone is also controlled via a touch screen rather than conventional buttons. Steve Jobs is claiming to have reinvented the phone. Some find Apple less than tempting however...


The Financial Times editorial comment found time to poke fun at iPhone at the weekend (Jan 13th 2007).

iPhone Launch Jaunuary CES 2007




iPod. An MP3 style music player which has been produced by Apple and has rapidly become a design icon much as the Sony Walkman did in the 1980s. At the time of writing (Aug 2005) Nokia the mobile phone company has planned a phone camera which will also be able to store s much music as a mini-iPod which it considers will rapidly outsell iPods. These phones are now comonplace but iPod is still ahead of the game. See also iTunes / podcasting.

Below iPod Nanos:

iPod Nanos







IPTV. IPTV is the current holy grail for the giants of the new media industries which is "delivery of video content via the net". Ideally this should be accessible in all rooms being streamed from a computer. Various industry linkups are being made between Microsoft and BT for example. Apple too is very interested. Another company on the scene is Sony who wish to use their long awaited Play-Station 3 to provide Blueray streaming to well Sony TVs of course1.

Apples Internet TV vision











ISDN. This is a high-speed data-link for computer communications. In Britain BT kept the price too high and people used conventional modems. It runs at 128 Kilobits per second twice as fast as an ordinary modem and it is possible to use the phone at the same time. It is now being superseded by ASDL and broadband technologies. At time of writing in 2007 it is now dead in the water as Broadband has taken off.


LAN. This is a local area network in which two or more computers are connected together. In the past this has been done by installing special cards and cables to connect to computers together physically. This is likely to change very soon with the commercialisation of Wi-Fi.

Linear editing. Video-recorders are examples of this technology. Unable to immediately access any of the date unlike data on a hard drive. This kind of editing is very slow and there is a loss of quality involved. To reproduce the text on the internet, via digital satellite or on DVDs the text must be digitally re-mastered. See also non-linear editing.

Local area Network. See under LAN and Wi-Fi


Location-based Services. The ability to be able to locate a person’s mobile phone handset, by working out which cell it is nearest to. Information can be passed to the emergency services for example. The new mobile network ‘3’ uses GPS to provide more accurate positioning. This information can be updated as a person moves.


Long Tail The. At its heart the idea of the long tail is straightforward. Online distirutors are able to carry much larger stocks or else can order instantly from small suppliers who are prepared to keep their publications / music available for enthusiasts. It is now much easier for consumers to access these products instead of being limited to what any particualr high street shop chooses to carry on its shelves.

Below representation of the long tail in the media through an analysis of Rhapsody an online store.

The Long Tail in Media















Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. MMRPG’s for short. They are pervasive ( diffusing ) virtual environments populated by human-controlled digital people from around the globe. Players develop characters, work towards goals, solve puzzles. They are the visual marriage of text-based adventures and chat rooms. They are proving particularly attractive to women. Below image from the popular World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft









Media ‘metaforms'. This is (1) the growth of television programmes, print media, websites devoted to other media. Some consider these programmes as just a case of self-absorption and a loss of contact from ‘the real’ ( wars, disasters, politics and policy etc.) Others argue that this is a sign of a growing need for data to make sense of other data leading to new relationships between audience and ‘text’. The metaforms which comprised the ‘Blairwitch Project’ can be seen as an example of an aesthetic life of its own being created which is not secondary to an original product. There was a movie, book and websites which became ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ all of which were self-referential but also blurred the distinctions between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’.. See also hypertext. See metadata gateways. (2) Growth of cross-media marketing strategies see total marketing.


Metadata gateways. These are currently being developed perhaps most successfully on the web and are likely to transfer to other media forms with the increasing convergence of technologies.


Metaforms. See media metaforms.


Midband. This offers 128 kilobits per second internet connection which is three times faster than a standard connection. Calls can be made simultaneously but will halve the net connection speed. This speed is still only 25% of an ASDL connection. The system is likely to appeal to those in rural locations without access to cable or ASDL. This is rapidly being made redundant.


Mini-disc. A rewritable digital recording system which can comfortably work when mobile. It records at half the data rate of conventional CDs and therefore quality is compromised. The rapid rise of MP3 and iPods is rapidly making this redunant technology.


MPEG. A data compression system which allows the recording and transmission of images using relatively small amounts of memory.


MMRPG. See Massively Multiplayer Online role Playing Game.


MP3. A digital compression system for transmitting music over the internet with short download times. The rate of sampling is only about half as much as on conventional CDs therefore quality is compromised. It is claimed that psychoacoustically people effectively notice little or no difference.


Narrowband. This is a standard internet connection via a dial-up modem. Maximum speed of these is 56 Kilobits of data per second. In reality depending upon line conditions these modems connect at about 40 kilobits per second. This is fine for basic e.mail and text-based websites. Audio, video and software downloads require broadband connections. A disadvantage of narrowband is that the phone cannot be used at the same time.


Non-linear editing. This is using hard discs on computers or now dedicated hard-disc digital recorders to edit sound and images. It is non-linear because any part of the information can be easily accessed unlike videotape which has to be dealt with on liner editing suites. This form of editing is especially useful for Digital Video enabling small-scale film makers to create and place their products on the internet fast and cheaply. See also linear editing.






January 25, 2007

USB Microphones for Podcasters

Follow-up to More on Podcasting Equipment from Kinoeye

Sound on Sound on USB Microphones


The February 2007 issue of the British Sound on Sound magazine has an interesting and useful article on USB microphones which are primarily aimed at the podcasting community as it develops. (Here is their 'teaser' article it'll cost £1.00 to read the whole thing). As I predicted in an earlier entry it was likely to be an exopanding market in 2007 and so it would seem.

Basic principle of the USB Microphone

The USB style microphone is a combination of a microphone pre-amp to boost the sound output and an analogue to digital converter (A/D converter) to enable the computer to read the information in a digital format. All this extra circuitry is in addition to the microphone itself.

The A/D converters in these microphones apparently have a lower bit rate than conveters in preamp / interfaces. Because some of the available microphones do not have the posssibility of increasing the output or gain to these A/D converters these microphones will produce low signals unless the microphone is very near the sound source. Whilst individual podcasters propbably won't worry about this if you want to record two or more people in a round table discussion you may find that the microphone is not picking up the sound very clearly because of the loss of resolution.

Another potential disadvantage of this type of microphone is that much of the available audio software only recognises items which give both input and output signals. Normally microphones by their very nature are input devices. Microphones like the Rode_Podcaster_mentioned elsewhere on this site have a microphone input which can circumvent the problem.

There are other more technical issues which the  Sound on Sound article covers as well.

The Range of USB Microphones so far 

Sound on Sound report that the first USB microphone they looked at was the Samson CO1 U which they reviewed in June 2006. This article notes that it was "an unashamedly budget mic" and they also note that it was "rather noisy unless used close up". They note that Samson have released a USB version of their CO3 mic using a similar A/D converter to the CO1 U. They don't comment on the quality of this product. 

The Rode Podcaster

The Rode Podcaster has already been mentioned on this blog but this is the first serious review I have seen about it. It notes that the frequency range is optimised for speech. The article notes that it can handle a high maximum input "making it suitable for close-miked speech and vocals". The headphone input is in fact a mini jack. It will work out of the box with both Windows and Mac. There is additional software which is a free download which usfully provides metering, a mute button and recording level control. The reviwer found that the mic didn't work well with his voice. A point that highlights that there are always a large number of variables involved in finding the best equipment for any individual. Obviously on-line buying limits the opportunity to test items out first.  The normal retail price in the UK is around £150 however one advert is offering it for £124 so internet prices are beginning to become competitive as more products hit the marketplace.

MLX USB.006

The MLX USB. 006 is a low cost affiar but is "a true capacitor mic with a large-diaphragm cardioid capsule".  The is also a three position gain switch which helps  set the mic up for mid and close range work notes the reviewer who also notes that there was no technical specifation included. tonally the mic was "very warm in your face and radio DJ friendly". The ability to raise the gain made it just about possible to record two people in discussion but "it doesn't have the gain needed for recording group discussions , where the distances involved  are likely to be much greater." Current UK retail price £79.

SE Electronics USB2200A

At £222 UK retail price this mic was the most expensive featured in the review. The sound was big and flattering suitable for radio style voice-overs. The gain had two settings and there is also a pad which can reduce the impact of very loud sources. This model has the advantage of an analogue connection to a mic preamp unit which makes it more flexible than the other models mentioned. This comment on the internet notes that it played straight out of the box with the Linux operating sytem. Here is a link to a more technical announcement about the launch of this mic.

SE USB2200A

This link goes to a useful microphone blog which reports on the release of this SEUSB mic and has some useful archives.  Link here to IT Review on this product.

Conclusion

Given that this market has been going for much less than a year there is plenty of opportunity for more models to enter the markeplace soon. all these models look to be good value within their various price brackets and as they save the lone podcaster the necessity of buying mic preamps, interfaces and mixers all of them offer a good route into podcasting. Nevertheless if you think you may wish to record more than one voice at a time the USB route seems to be a less flexible option for the moment.  The Rode Podcaster and the SE USB2200A both offer headphone monitoring which makes a lot of sense and seem worthwhile saving up for. 


January 13, 2007

New Media Glossary Continued: O–Z

Follow-up to Glossary for New Media Technologies: A–N from Kinoeye

Online advertising. See separate entry.

Paid for Search. Internet search engines have rapidly become one of the most successful and effective ways in which new media has been able to act as a vehicle for advertisers. The main way that the search engines make money is by selling links to the advertisers websites which are displayed alongside the research results. Almost everybody who uses the internet (the number increases dramatically every year) needs to use a search engine. This means that there is effectively a captive market exposed to advertising. This is compared with other ingenious systems such as pop-up advertising which can be filtered out by the use of firewall software.

Podcasting. Podcasting is rapidly becoming the new buzz thing at the time of writing. Podcasting allows anybody with digital audio recording technology to download programmes onto a computer and from there onto the internet. These podcasts can be downloaded onto iPods / MP3 players and represent a new way of finding audiences particularly for smaller organisations, however now there has been some success companies such as the BBC are looking at the potential. It has become an important part of Web 2.0. Watch this space!! Below the recent launch of the rode Podcaster microphone with USB connection and input for headphones has set the agenda for 2007. Expect to see more versions of this appear in 2007 from competitors.

The Rode Podcaster in Action

PSP or Playstation Portable. Launched in the UK on September 1st 2005. It is billed as the new ‘must have’ gadget which some are suggesting that will finally see the much vaunted term convergence start to happen.

Sony Playstation Portable

Rewritable digital media. The ability to record use and then record something else over the top as with the old analogue cassette and video-cassettes for example. Digital audio-cassettes followed by mini-discs were the first of these onto the domestic and semi-professional market-place and were expensive. The market driven by the PC means that most computers now come with rewritable-CD for backing-up information. It is now becoming increasingly common to get rewritable-DVD both as stand-alone machines and built into computers. These are likely to replace the domestic video-recorder in the next few years.

RSS. RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’. RSS feeds are just a special kind of web page, designed to be read by computers rather than people. It might help to think of them as the free, internet version of the old-fashioned ticker-tape news wire machines. Not all websites currently provide RSS, but it is growing rapidly in popularity and many others, including the BBC, Guardian, New York Times and CNN provide it. Below is the icon for an RSS feed. Here is part of the Wikipedia definition. Users of RSS content use programs called feed ‘readers’ or ‘aggregators’: the user ‘subscribes’ to a feed by supplying to their reader a link to the feed; the reader can then check the user’s subscribed feeds to see if any of those feeds have new content since the last time it checked, and if so, retrieve that content and present it to the user.

RSS Icon for web feeds

Second Life. Virtual worlds are becoming a big thing. They are working on different models of development. The World of Warcraft is dungeons and dragons for the web however Second Life is a far more creative and dynamic model which is generating real interest in the world of business as well as individual adventurers. To get a better feel of what Second Life is about please use the tag in this blog’s side-bar which will give you a lot of pages which have relevant links. Please also see the entry which is summarising the Net interview with Philip Rosedale the founder of Second Life. Certainly some are beginning to see Second Life as the new ‘killer’ application for the broaqdband era for it is the availability of cheap broadband that is a core technology in allowing the model to operate. Broadband is to Second Life what roads are to a city.Potentially Second Life could become a huge business. Below see their recruitment poster:

Recruitment Banner for Second Life Virtual Environments

Set-top box. See digital set-top box

Sling-box. Launched in 2006 this technology enables people to access their TV systems via a broadband connection and thier home computer enabling them to watch local live TV from anywhere in the world. House owners can access their security cameras and at least one owner discovered people breaking into his home when he was on holiday and he was able to alert the police!

Slingbox TV

Social Networking. Here is a recent BBC definition Websites such as MySpace give users a chunk of webspace they can personalise with images, video and blog entries.To this they add a messaging system that lets members keep in touch with friends on the same network. In the past few years these sites have become hugely popular among young people and some, such as MySpace, are by some measures challenging Yahoo and Google for the title of most popular site on the net. The link also reports on the popularity amongst US teenagers.

Solid State Digital Recorders. The growth of podcasting has brought a much market to the relatively unknown solid state digital recording market. For podcasters, musicians and radio reporters these devices make recording live much easier and more reliable than DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and the Minidisc. It is expected that these older technologies will quickly die out.

Edirol R0-9

Tascam HDP 2

Splog. This word is a combination of spam and blog. A splog exists in order to get ad impresssions or provide links to other sites. “Usually these sites contain giiberish or an unruly combination of content stolen from other sites.” (Grapone & Couzin. Search Engine Optimisation, 2nd Ed, 2008)

Tagging. This is becoming an increasingly common way of navigating around sites. This entry has a range of tags at the bottom and you probably got her by using the tag for glossaries in the sidebar. This BBC technology story gives you more details. Below is a quote from Mr Weinberger from this story:

“Tagging allows social groups to form around similarities of interests and points of view. If you’re using the same tags as I do, we probably share some deep commonalities,” he told Pew Internet.

This story also debates the advantages and disadvantages of tagging as an important way of logging data effectively so that it can be easily searched for.

T-commerce. The growing marketplace for commercial transactions via the idTV. Lottery tickets, games, sports-betting, pay-per-view, travel tickets and more. Will require new forms of micro-payments as the subscriber may not be the person doing the buying.

Third Generation / 3G. Third generation mobile phones enabling customers to view video-footage. The mobile phone will then become a multi-media device. First company in the UK to deliver the service will be 3. Date of launch currently unknown likely to be early March 2003. Owned by Hutchinson a Hong-Kong based conglomerate which launched Orange. What the multi-media content is the key to success. Currently 100 content providers have signed deals with 3 including the FA Premier League and news companies ITN and Reuters. The video footage will not be real-time because of technological constraints.

THX. Sound system for surround-sound cinema and home cinema systems licensed by Lucas Laboratories. There are very exacting specifications of sound reproduction required before a licence is granted.

Total marketing. The elaboration of metaforms for the sake of greater profits. First seen in children’s popular culture with toy lines being developed into TV programmes or the other way around. Later developed into the usual sort of ‘spin-offs’.

USB. Universal Serial Bus. The development of the USB port for computers meant that PCs finally caught up with Macs as items such as printers, cameras and cameras could ‘plug and play’. in other words just be connected to a USB port. Now microphones, audio interfaces and special headphones are coming out with USB connections to feed the voracious Web 2.0 user generated content market.

User Generated Content. Old media and new media are interacting. Users are able to and frequently do send news companies instant news via texts, camera phones etc. The issue becomes how to rank these stories.
Here is a Reuters story on ‘User Generated Content’ from Jan 03 / 07 .

Viral Advertising / viral marketing. An extract from the Wikipedia entry. Viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness, through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can often be word-of-mouth delivered and enhanced online; it can harness the network effect of the Internet and can be very useful in reaching a large number of people rapidly. Here’s what Alex West who Alex West, who launched the first-ever Viral Awards says:

What agencies are saying now is you need to buy consumers’ time, and to do that you need to entertain them and give them something back.

Certainly this new advertising method is set to change the way advertising works. See Channel 4 article here.

Virtual Reality or VR. The search for fully immersive computer generated environments which could be interactive games, or ‘game narratives’. See also the fascinating development under Second Life which is going beyond any of these.

Voice over Internet Protocol. This is a service introduced by British Telecom /BT in January 2004. It enables users to use broadband connections to make phone calls to phones from computers and the other way around. This is an advance over previous systems in which users have only been able to make Internet phone calls between computers. In May 2004 a less sophisticated version of the system will be sold to the mass market domestic consumer. BT hope this will help persuade more consumers to upgrade to broadband systems. At time of writing Google have just announced a new internet based telephone service which is likely to be highly successful.

Vlog a video based blog. see vodcasting below for a good link. Also see blogs for more on Web 2.0 publishing.

VODcasting. This is podcasting but based upon the idea of Video on Demand hence the VOD. This article from Missouri University provides a useful explanation in full.

VoIP. see Voice over Internet Protocol

VR. See Virtual Reality and entry on Second Life

Weblogs. See Blogs.

Web 2.0

Wi-fi.


Selling the One Laptop Per Child

Follow-up to One Laptop Per Child from Kinoeye

BBC News update on the Negroponte One Lap-top per Child initiative at the CES technology exhibition.

Laptops for Development


January 12, 2007

Legal Beavers Podcast too!

Writing about web page /danaciocan/entry/podcasting_/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

It looks as though there’s the beginnings of a Warwick podcasting network starting up as people start to play with bits of euipment. At least everybody’s on a learning curve and pooled experience will be supportive. Check this post and the developing discourse for more.


January 03, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

Negroponte’s Brainchild

My BBC new technologies feed has just alerted me to the promising progress of this project which could dramatically change the lives of people in the underdeveloped countries. This is the One Laptop per Child Project directed by digital guru Nicholas Negroponte.

We had some great debates about this project last year in AS Media Studies New Media Technologies project on our forum. At least one student was very sceptical suggesting that perhaps water projects would be more useful.

Basic needs is a hard one to argue against yet the world can easily afford both. Stop supplying arms to tinpot dictators. Make sure foreign aid is for the benefit of the recipient countries rather than a grand capital project which largely benefits the large corporation which builds it. Appropriate technology is the expression you are after. International governmental will could allow clean drinking water for all global citizens.

Needing New Technology

This shouldn’t detract from Negroponte’s project. The quickest way to get the whole world wired up and letting people in Africa and Bengal or the Favela of Brazil gain the benefit of free knowledge from the likes of Wikipedia could move the world on from the ludicrous polarisations underpinned by Texan oil companies and their favourites inthe White House. you can’t argue against cheap laptops for all. Perhaps the Bill gates foundation could throw some money at it as well.

EMail the Bill Gates Foundation

This gives you information about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s global development programme.

Wing them an e.mail and ask them to send a few thousand of these wind up computers out to Africa and be a good blogocitizen.


Web 2: Cultural Diversity, Adverts & The Long Tail

Currently there seems to be a debate going on about making money through blogs and websites for small organisations.

Media Studies students will recognise very general issues which occur whatever the kind of media you are using. This post suggests that many people think that it is possible for a small scale blog which is targetting a very niche audience is going to make some money through services such as Adsense which are offered by Google. (The post is from Anderson’s diary about his concept of the Long Tail).

The following quotation has been taken from another blog which is bemoaning the fact that the tiny amount of money generated from her site falls below the minimum amount that Google is prepared to administer:

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Chris Anderson’s long tail, the proposition that cultural boutiques can make a living from audiences on the Internet. One disgruntled publisher complains she’s owed less than the minimum Google can be bothered to pay her. And, as fast as she makes money, Google lifts the threshold. [She writes:] “When I started with Adsense in late 2004/ early 2005 the minimum was $25. Just when was about to hit the $25 minimum, they raised it to $50. Now that I have $45 in my account, the minimum is $100. Granted, I have a site with very low traffic, but how many website owners are getting screwed by Google? If the long-tail theory holds out, there could be millions of dollars of unpaid Google ads. (My emphasis).

I must say I don’t have much sympathy. Of course Google had a low starting point they were trying to encourage creativity which would ultimately generate successful people and Google a fair bit of money. I believe Adsense pays about a dollar a time if somebody clicks an advert on your blog. If you are expecting to magically make money from a tiny niche market you will be disappointed. People can still get a free blog from Google and Google Analytics provides an extremly sophisticated service which many commercial concerns can use to improve marketing or to try and make pages more popular. All these services cost money yet they are free.

I use Google Analytics on this blog. I’m interested in who is attracted to this blog and what it is that attracts them. For example I had 16 hits the other week from Chellaston in Derbyshire. I have also had hits from cities in Chile and in Australia as well as from China, Vietnam and Taiwan and a lot from the USA. I’m both surprised and pleased because much of this blog is targeted to quite tight audiences.

What is Google Analytics?

On November 13, 2005, Google announced Google Analytics, a free Web analytics service targeted at the long tail of small and medium-size businesses that lack a Web analytics solution. While “free” is a powerful word, the Urchin product on which Google Analytics is built is less than a Web analytics powerhouse. The offering will succeed at the lower end of the market, but won’t completely ruin the party for high-end vendors.

The above analysis comes from a business technology company Forrester Research who describe themselves as:
Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) is an independent technology and market research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice about technology’s impact on business and consumers.

Their analysis of Google Analytics in full will cost you $50-00 if you are silly enough. They may wish to eat these rather expensive words by the look of the client base Google seems to be gaining. (Anyway no links to rip off artists like that!).

The point about Google analytics is that anybody is allowed to use to help them get some income from their site. As that isn’t this sites primary aim then I can use the tools for other purposes such as seeing whether my students are accessing the site. Criticise Google for giving us all a version of big brother if you like but they want you to make money and they seem to be doing all they can to encourage this by letting you study the audience you do have.

Creativity and Diversity

Of course I am interested in the possibilities of individuals or small companies making a living from working in this way! As far as I’m concerned blogs are a fascinating form of media. If people can make them interesting enough then an audience will appear. Audiences are fickle at the best of times as Ien Ang’s classic media book Desparately Seeking the Audience shows. (Please note the publisher is remaining nameless. I could put a link through and if they pay me I will, otherwise you will have to find it yourself. In other words there are lots of opportunities to offer a service to interested parties).

There is no reason why the web should be any different to any other sort of media in this respect. Cheapness of access is nevertheless democratising. Finally we might get to the point where audience and content interact to provide a genuinely new media paradigm.

Being able to publish in a range of different forms when you are ready to is genuinely liberating. Previously media companies were having to programme full schedules now the: what you want, when you want it how you want it culture that new media is developing means that good quality programmes, sites, etc. can be made available for years if need be.

Audiences will eventually decide whether these are worth bothering with. If nobody recommends them then they will die a natural death or adapt. (bit of cyber-Darwinian theory :-). But the woman who is complaining has been given free publishing opportunities, unheard of in the past. Given that it costs Google something to run I don’t think there are reasonable grounds for complaint. Let’s face the now $100.00 payout is miniscule for an advanced Western country. If you want money find an audience or else be happy that you can egoistically be speaking to a few afficionados worldwide.

However, an alternative is that if you are a small-time publisher who is unlikely to ever get those few dollars from Google, why not all club togther and donate to the one lap top per child project. For $100.00 or around £60-00 you can get a child in an underdeveloped country a good computer. Indirectly this is increasing your market so do the world a favour and get that money out of Google’s accounts if it bothers you.

Publishing opportunities

Thanks to Google for allowing lots of people to play with these new technologies and affording some the opportunity to create new cultural voices for nothing. If you are publishing poetry you usually pay the printer for the priviledge, and you feel proud if you get your money back. Most poetry publishers do it because they feel a creative urge often it will only be read by people with similar interests and that’s fine.

In the world of Jazz Derek Bailey and Evan Parker both excellent and highly experimental musicians were making music more for other musicians than for a wider public. Miles Davis made a good living and was popular and so does Jan Garbarek, on the whole their music is less experimental. Often not to many people’s tastes but to enough to enable them to go on making their style of music.

Whatever kind of media you are working in you can either make your art / service with a wider audience in mind or you can target a very narrow audience. At the end of the day it is the audience which drives cultural diversity, not advertising, nor the artist. Without audiences cultural creators are nothing. If people are so egoistic that they only want to make a cultural creation for their own benefit that’s fine, just don’t whinge when you don’t make money from it.

This doesn’t detract from the original argument put forward by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine:

In the tyranny of physical space, an audience too thinly spread is the same as no audience at all.

On the above link you can find his original concept of The Long Tail.

Is Diversity Necessarily Good Quality?

A point worth making about the issue of cultural diversity is that just being diverse doesn’t necessarily equate to being good in terms of the quality of what is produced. What it does mean from the perspective of cultural citizenship is that many people are finding a voice in ways that were previously impossible. Hopefully the better ones will be able to make a living
without compromising their ideas for the sake of commercialism. Sometimes all people want to do is to communicate thier ideas, and there has never been a better opportunity than now.

The advantage of web publishing as we move inexorably towards a networked society creating what I prefer to think of as a global city it affords opportunities for many. The metaphor of city is more appropriate than Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village”. The physical city of Modernity liberated people from the claustrophobic control of the Local landowner and the Church. It is getting increasingly hard to disagree with Anderson’s argument that the networked society is freeing many from the ‘tyranny of physical space’ which was previously the prerogative of government or powerful media tycoons.

It appears as though Web 2 is finally begining to deliver on the original promise of the internet. There will always be crass commercialism and so-called ‘celebrity’ culture with sad people talking about ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ the home of has-beens and cheap publicity seekers. encouragingly vast new cultural spaces are beginning to open in a genuinely “popular way”. When I say popular I mean generated and growing from people’s own ideas rather than people being spoonfed with crass programmes like Big Brother keeping the ex public schoolboy ‘inventor’ happy in his mansion in Hampstead.

The Long Tail Market

The Long Tail in Media

So what then is this ‘long-tail market’ that people are doubting. Here is Anderson’s summary contained on his Long Tail diary

In Long Tail markets, hits lose their monopoly on culture as they share the stage with million of niche products. Minority taste rules.There are three basic types of participants in Long Tail markets: consumers, aggregators and producers (note that it’s possible to be all three; these aren’t mutually incompatible). The main effects on each are: * Consumers. Effect: Largely cultural. People have more choice, so individual taste increasingly satisfied even if the effect is an increasingly fragmented culture. * Aggregators. Effect: Largely economic. It’s never been easier to assemble vast variety and create tools for organizing it, from search to recommendations. Increased variety plus increased demand for variety equals opportunity. Also note that just as one size doesn’t fit all for products, nor does it for aggregators. I think the winner-take-all examples of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and Google are a first-inning phenomena. Specialized niche aggregators (think: vertical search, such as the real estate service Zillow) are on the rise. * Producers. Effect: Largely non-economic. I responded to a good Nick Carr post on this last year with the following: “For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won’t sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band’s MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants.

Well this blog seems to be largely agreeing with my audience analysis above and interestingly makes a lot of the the notion of a blended world of culture with material life interacting with virtual a core value. It is audiences that make the culture in the final analysis!


December 30, 2006

More on Podcasting Equipment

Ordering Podcasting Equipment

Well, post-Xmas online sales have stimulated me into taking the plunge and ordering some podcasting equipment. I should emphasise here that this is not a recommended route for all but a possible route for some. Clearly individual / departmental circumstances are contingent.

If you are going to only be an individual podcaster making your own podcast talks then one good route is getting the Rode Podcaster USB microphone which plugs straight into your computer and download Audacity as start-up software.

If you think that you might want to do something more sophisticated such as interviewing people or recording discussions then a different route is probably more suitable.

Quality Microphones

Trawling the better blogs and reviews of equipment it seems clear that the more you pay for a microphone the better the sound quality. A good microphone isn’t going to go out of date in the same way that computers and software do so the best you can afford is the accepted route. On this principle I took the plunge last night and ordered an AKG C 3000 B. This seems to be a well rated general microphone and is currently (29th December 2006) heavily discounted at Dolphin Music.

AKG C 3000 B General Microphone

The good price decided me that I would take the path of finding an interface which allows you to plug in more than one microphone, add some other sound if you want it and give you some flexibility in what type of microphones to use at any given time. Having a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection to the computer from this interface device means that you can record straight onto your hard drive.

Phantom Power: What it is and why you need it

I still don’t know why it is called this, and in fact going to a couple of blogs talking about this it seemed to be yet another technological hurdle. In plain English some microphones (usually the better ones) need a power source. Some will use batteries and others rely on these microphone pre-amplifiers which allows you to control the signals coming from the microphone. If you are choosing this route to a small recording system make sure that the equipment you buy can provide this phantom power to microphones. If it can’t I’d suggest forgetting it!

Most of the digital recorders such as the Marantz mentioned elsewhere in this blog allow for this although they have their own microphones built in.
The advantage of the separate interface pre-amp is that it is more flexible with other sound sources and if you buy one of the better ones it will have circuitry and components included which improve the sound quality. If you have good microphones they will get the best out of them.

Disadvantages

Whilst this approach is portable you can’t go rushing around the streets interviewing people and it requires a more formal setting. This route depends upon what kind of recording situations you expect to be in.

Choosing the Microphone interface Unit

Having decided upon the USB route for a recording chain and plunging for a decent microphone the next problem was choosing a suitable interface / preamp. This was harder because I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for to start with. Not only have I trawled blogs, trudged through various online stores and accessed a range of reviews I even found myself in the local newsagents looking at the Sound on Sound magazines which I thought was aimed at a target audience of male freaks all wanting to be rock stars. Fortunately Smiths was empty and nobody I knew saw me. Reason for buying this for £5-00: There was a review of the very latest microphone / computer interface gizmo on the market – serendipity or what?

EMU-0404 Recording Interface

Certainly the Sound on Sound review was very favourable. The equipment seemed to do everything I needed and came with a good bundle of audio software (useful for those who wish to go beyond Audacity). I was close to racing off to the checkout and pressing submit, but I did a last trawl of internet reviews and comments and some of the forums which have sprung up on specific bits of equipment. One person who seemed to know what they were talking about had considerable trouble having read the same Sound on Sound review and been convinced to upgrade from a technologically less sophisticated but very relaible make.

This was enough to put me off at the last moment. I had already been considering a model in the above mentioned Dolphin sale called the Lexicon Lambda. This comes from a more up-market audio firm than Creative Sounds who make the EM-U. I had initially been put off by a very unfavourable comment which rapidly disappeared from the Dolphin website. I trawled the web and paid 99p for a couple of reviews as PDFs (I will pass these on to Robert O’Toole as I don’t know how to get a PDF into a blog, then those who are interested can take a look).

The main concern mentioned by reviewers was that this model was a bit weak on the software package. However I came close to buying it when I remembered seeing something about one of their early forays into USB interfaces coming up with a very good sound.

The Lexicon Omega

Lexicon Omega Interface

I checked out the model which was called the Omega. The Sound on Sound review
was very warm towards the model. Please note that this model dates from 2004. Originally around £330 pounds this was clearly a well specified model when it came out.

Three things you will need on these bits of equipment are:

  • 2 XLR Microphone inputs with the ability to switch to ‘phantom power’
  • Separate headphone controls. (The headphone on the Omega is said to be excellent). This is important for hearing what the microphones are picking up as well as for mixing sounds).
  • A USB output to your computer.

Something else to consider is how you would like to power the unit. Some can be powered via the USB port on a computer whilst others are like a laptop with a separate cable and transformer. The Omega for example is powered conventionally whilst the Lambda uses USB power.

Regarding the Omega there are several references to how good the microphone pre-amps are on this model. This was finally what sold it to me. You can check the firm’s original information sheet here. Note it strongly emphasises the high qualiy of the microphone pre-amps. This is what all podcasters need. As such, it seemed to represent a bargain. I will report back later on the inevitable installation problems.

It does lots of things I will probably never need. The computer conection is only a USB 1.1. This is slow by today’s standards and presumably a low cholesterol model (Omege-3: get it?) is on the way with USB etc. If you wish to record a band this model is probably not for you!. Currently it is available on special order for about £170.00. This was well above my original budget but I was planning to spend something on a ‘lite’ edition of some software so it more or less balanced out. The Omega does have some light versions of industry software bundled and some of Lexicon’s reverberation software which can give the feel of particular rooms. Apparently the firm is very well know for this so it could be a bit of fun pretending I’m in Coventry Cathedral or wherever.

Summary

Overall there are several reasonbly priced routes into creating a podcasting recording base which can be developed if desired:

  • Desktop computer / Laptop with a USB Headset. (Check out Beyer & AKG, for very cheap Logitech) + Audacity software
  • Desktop / Laptop with USB Microphone + Audacity software
  • Desktop / Laptop with a USB interface for 2 Mikes etc. Audacity or hopefully bundled software
  • Fully Portable digital recorder + computer + Audacity software

It is best to try and work out what your needs are in advance. Certainly a minimum of quality is needed. You do need to take some trouble over this. Here is a link to the University of Warwick History Department who have gone to the trouble to do a cost / benefit analysis on audio equipment. recording.

Hopefully I can now get back to covering cinema for a bit, which is where this all started from. Hopefully there will be some podcasts in due course :-).


December 28, 2006

New Media: Relationship of Podcasting to Radio in an Educational Environment

Courses on Radio Production and Their Application to Podcasting

Preface

Here I am going through the process of working through issues of educational innovation and identifying some of the problems involved which are both technical and institutional. Here I have kept the focus on podcasting as the example educational technology to link in with the following educational areas:

  1. Firstly, practical work I intend to introduce in terms of making my own talks
  2. Secondly teaching these technologies to colleagues / students
  3. Issues of managing change
  4. Institutional resistances and problems
  5. How HE institutions which already practice radio production could contribute to developing educational podcasting

Introduction

For educationalists podcasting is going to become increasingly important as one of the available tools of communications / media management for education. This issue has recently been highlighted by Robert O’Toole.

1. communcations managers are concerned with raising the level of communcations skills and the quality of media processes throughout the organisation;
2. these communications skills are also fundamental academic skills;
3. e-learning (following the new agenda for research based learning) is concerned with encouraging skills and quality processes using technology within the student’s research-learning process, communications form a significant element within these skills.

Podcasting & Radio

In many ways podcasting is an extension of radio. Radio is the oldest form of electronic mass media and as has been indicated elsewhere on this site it is very important in countries which have been less developed.

With the rapid emergence of broadband internet access and the increasingly lower financial hurdles to reproduction equipment a combination of streamed internet ‘radio’ and podcasting looks set to fill the role which was occupied by pirate radio stations in a legitimate way.

The great advantage of podcasting is that individual programmes can be delivered direct to blogs or else to a free subscription service such as i-Tunes. This allows the audience to access the content where and when they want it.

As in other areas of media fully professional programmes from mainstream broadcasters such as the BBC will be delivering podcasts which will sit alongside podcasts from small groups, individual enthusiasts, educationalists etc.

Education and Podcasting

Increasingly people will need to become more familiar with these technologies as the ability to produce podcasts with a reasonable level of technical competence is becoming part of everyday communications strategies.

Currently the shift to new media technologies and their application within education is being pushed from the top down. It is one thing to invent grandiose strategies for implementation and quite another to persuade practitioners of the need and use for these technologies when there are already many institutional pressures in place.

It has recently beeen identified that even within Media Studies at HE radio is very much a Cinderella subject.

Those keen on introducing podcasting which is an excellent way of communicating with students -how many are permanently glued to an MP3 – are currently operating in something of a vacuum in terms of how best to format and deliver the content. This is apart from any technological issues which may need to be dealt with and having institutional funds available to purchases this.

Institutional Resistances

Tick-box culture leads to minimalism. The introduction of IT into learning is often considered as just another government mantra which is entirely disconnected for many teachers and lecturers. There is often considerable resistance in a passive sense to innovation which is regarded as change for changes sake and which can involve a lot of work with rewards which are unclear. There is also considerable concern amongst practitioners about the commodification and instrumentalism entering education. Post cognitivist psychologist John Pickering expresses these sentiments here.

Podcasting is just one of a plethora of new technologies which added together seem overbearing in their enormity. I feel the need to be familiar with a large number of quite complex software programmes such as Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, A DTP package, PowerPoint, an audio package say Audition, Premiere Pro for video and video strreaming. I could also do with being familiar with audio equipment, digital video, digital cameras all of which are changing at an incredible speed.

On top of this I should be familiar with VLE environments and how to make the most out of them in a pedagogical way. All the content needs to be rewritten rewritten or even reinvented. Look at the emerging culture of Second Life for example.

The reality is that people learn as much as they can in a very eclectic way. Any strategy involving E.Learning technologies requires a clear institutional investment in ensuring that their educationalists are trained up properly in these technologies. Further more it is important that their training is achieved in relation to the courses they are delivering. Thus there is likely top be a long period of transition for most practitioners which needs to be taken into account.

Where it is possible, the transition to E-Learning needs to be organised on a team basis with clear tasks being given preferably flowing from people’s prior knowledge base and enthusisms. It also needs to be recognised that developments are ongoing things which can’t just be delivered in a one or two day training course. I am certain that a considerable amount of money is wasted within education delivering short ‘training’ courses on some piece of software or another. This is a tickbox attitude which can emanate from mnanagement structures themselves: “X members of staff have received training in Y software. 90% of aattendees said they learned something”. This approach has little to do with implementation, increasing familiarity with the available tools and embedding the technology within the teaching / learning environment effectively.

Here it must be emphasised that the very nature of Web 2 technologies changes the parameters of the educational environment itself, which adds another level of complexity to the equation. Overall considerable amounts of thought need to be invested in devising effective transistional training and development programmes for educators which will undoubtedly be expensive but cheaper in the long run than the odd ‘training day’.

Problems of Innovation: Educational Technologies Guidelines?

For those who are keen to incorporate change and to enthuse colleagues there need to be more practical guides written by academics who run practical production courses which should be available in a multimedia environment on the web. A range of special courses for education professionals could also be set up on ‘Technological Innovations and their Pedagogical Development_’. Educational practitioners could attend courses every week to learn the technologies and discuss their implementation within their own setting. The courses would be assessed on the introduction and implementation of E-technologies in the practitioners environment. these accredited certificates would be available for individual technologies. for the purposes of this blog “Podcasting within Education” for example.

This suggests that HE institutions need to be aware of the potential professional development market within education. Arguably one of the roles of the Higher Education Academy would be to encourage this approach by funding devlopment partnerships between HE & other institutions to provide this accreditation.

Effectively what is happening is a campaign to reconstruct the British educational environment. It sorely needs the active participation of the foot-soldiers. It these people who will put things into practice and develop a new cultural milieu. At the same time the budgets must be available in the institutions for the enthusiasts to be able to innovate. This is an argument for ring-fenced budgets to go to educational institutions for this purpose.

Here is a link to TELFRI which is an organisation concerned with the issue of transferability of educational technologies. I haven’t as yet had a chance to delve in depth into the contents but its on the ‘to do’ list.

The FE / Sixth Form Environment: The Discouraging of Change?

My comments are particularly addressed to problems of change and innovation within the educational foodchain below HE. The ‘A’ level environment consists of teachers taking low risk teaching strategies and things which work and are proven to work to get their students through. Innovation necessarily implies risk.

The intensely competitive environment where teachers do intense textual analysis on what is demanded by the examinations boards functions as a closure and unless process based reward is introduced into the public examinations system there is always going to be a serious problem as risk and innovation are inherently linked.

The current obsession with metrics means that even slight variations in student results are picked up. Unsurprisingly this encourages an attitude of “If it ain’t the broke don’t fix it”. Given that performance related pay systems are also in place the risk is a very real one. Despite the continual bombardment of creativity and change the system itself discourages change on the ground. If management structures order change and targets then people can blame the management if their figures change. We can talk about embedding the new practices or consolidating them.

I would suggest that performance related pay systems need to be linked to a range of different parameters and benchmarks rather than pure results in public exams to encourage the willingness and enthusiasm necessary to promote change from the bottom up. This would encourage the risk-takers and remove some of the conservative values amongst grass roots educators.

Media Production Courses for Radio

Below I have included a link to HE institutions which deliver radio training both theoretical and production based. Accessing their websites may well yield guidelines to practical production of programmes which can be applied to the creation of educational podcasts.

The importance of checking out available courses for practical radio / podcast production is moving up the agenda. Useful media links which I have accessed via the Higher Education Academy

Links to Higher Education Media Projects

Radio Studies Final Report

For students and teachers in schools and FEs here is a link to HE courses which specialise in aspects of radio production

Successful Non-Commercial Radio Projects

Radio Warwick The student radio station


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