See You on the Other Side

I have been putting this off for quite some time. My humble PC is in dire need of a rebuild. I have put it off and put it off until I can no longer ignore it. The frequent error messages and faults and bugs have risen to the point where I can no longer truly trust it.

The latest and greatest problem is that the damn thing will not shut down on the first request. All it does is shut down the running applications but it remains on at the desktop. Other than that I am getting exception errors and program faults, especially when they are shut down. Not sure why that is but then it is Windows and I don’t think that we are supposed to understand it.

This week is the perfect opportunity due tot he fact that we have not got a show this week. We also thought that with Easter, we deserved a week off and time to catch up with our families and friends… me, I’ll be working! But once the show returns the week after this one, we have a couple of exciting developments to tell everyone about as 2007 rolls on by.

Tonight I am on the prowl for those elusive files that you seem to always miss or forget that you needed and loose in the format… I hate that. But I have had some great tips and applications that are going to help me out. Such as MozBackup. This little utility will back up your profile in both Firefox and Thunderbird (plus the many other suites that are available). Plus everything with it including bookmarks, mail, contacts, history, extensions, cache and so on.

To tell the truth I am dreading it. Wish me luck and I will see you on the other side!

Oh… and if I am “missing” you will know why!

Omnidrive to Launch in a Few Hours

Omnidrive LogoJust noticed that the Australian Company Omnidrive is about to move out of private beta and go live. The service has attracted a lot of attention over the last couple of months and being an Aussie myself I am proud to give it a mention here.

Omnidrive is an on-line storage solution that offers a free 1Gig account with more storage available for a fee. 10Gig will cost you 40 bucks a year, not bad. Larger storage is available on application for what is described as a reasonable price. The latest on the company blog says:

“… give us a bit more time and we should have the sign up link there for you in a few hours, we will keep you posted on the blog here.”

Nothing so far, but the word is that at 0001hrs PST the site will go live.

The service offers a web interface as you would expect and also a client that will be available as a drive on your system. Correct, right along side “My Computer” (cool eh.). This sounds exciting. Seamless integration with your operating system. There is a client for Mac as well. The uploading and downloading of files works in the background and you can control the bandwidth so that your system resources are free to do what you need to do effectively.

All your data that is stored on Omnidrive is encrypted and safe. However, there is the ability to share your stored content in the space of two clicks of the mouse with anyone you choose.

There has been a lot of buzz recently about on-line storage solutions with the launch of services such as MediaFire, box.net, and Badongo. Omnidrive is the latest in a series of products that offer a similar service. There are a few things that set Omnidrive apart. However, this space looks like one that is going to be very hot over the next twelve months as the best of them float to the top. Expect to see some very competitive pricing and expanding services and feature sets. Competition is what will make the best of these services attractive and effective solutions. Watch this space.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch describes the service as:

“a product that I and millions of others really need… as good or better than anything else I’ve seen out of silicon valley recently. It has been in development for 12 months.”

High praise and I look forward to giving the service a spin myself. Perhaps you are looking for a superior online storage solution and might want to try it, looks like you could do a lot worse than Omnidrive. Plus the logo is cool.

Storage Mash-Up

How I Blog

Today it is a blogging challenge, I have not blogged a challenge before so this for me is new. Lorelle on WordPress is a prolific blogger for bloggers and those interested in Blogging. She has issued challenges before but this is the first that I have completed. Today Lorelle issued the challenge “How do you Blog?”. It is a question that I know the answer to but I did not ask the same questions that she has so I thought I would do so.

My motivation for blogging is that I enjoy it and I like having a platform for my opinions and thoughts. I don’t get overly concerned if I have not blogged for a while and I don’t force myself to blog, that just results in crap posts. So without looking for it I found the challenge and decided that it would be fun to do and I thought others might be interested in it. That is one of the motivations that move me to blog. I see something or read something and I get an urge to blog it.

Obviously my blog resides on WordPress, which I really like. WordPress is feature rich and while limited in some ways the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. When blogging on WordPress I use the WYSIWYG interface. I find that it suits my purpose and I don’t need much else. I have looked at some blogging clients and while enticing I don’t think they offer more than the WordPress Interface. But when I blog on the podcast blog I use a program called Qumana. A great application that allows quick posts. The big advantage to Qumana is the way that it intuitively handles links. You can drag and drop them into the post. If you are creating link by copying and pasting, when you open the window to paste it – it has already pasted it. Nice. One disadvantage to Qumana is that it does not do pictures well. I can’t get it to format them in a way that the web-page likes. So that means the text is not wrapped around the picture the way that I want it to be. I manually adjust it pain in the butt, minor gripe though. Well worth checking out if you want to post hard and fast.

I just use my home computer for blogging. Don’t use any fancy wizardry like cell phones or even a laptop. I don’t even own a laptop! I have a hard wired connection to the Internet at home. No wireless here, for me that would mean extra hassel for no reason.

I source stories from my own life experience. Often those posts are part of me working things out in my own head. But I tend to do it in a rather non obvious way and rarely use public blogging as an outlet. I like to keep my offline and online life separate for the most part. Although I have a few close friends on-line that know whats happening in my life generally. My blog mainly focuses on technology, the Internet, news and current trends. Sometimes I will blog about something amusing that I find and want to share as well, but it is usually tech based and geeky.

I love RSS. It is in my opinion one of the richest sources of information, customisation and conveniences of the modern Internet. I am the first to admit that despite these great advantages for users; for new users it can be difficult to understand and utilize. For that reason I am always trying to motivate people to take advantage of the technology and I am always willing to assist my friends and family if they show an interest. So I spend most of my on-line time reading and interacting with RSS feeds.

Not long after I discovered podcasting I found myself a very good RSS reader, I use FeedDemon. Even though the trend is towards web based applications I have stayed with FeedDemon. Top application in my opinion. So it is here that the source of a story might hit me. I don’t usually replicate a story, rather put my own spin on it and I think that is what blogging is all about. I don’t write to be read either. If no one reads this I don’t care, it would be nice though.

I am heavily involved in podcasting and the community around it. So you will see here posts on topics revolving around podcasting and my podcast The Global Geek Podcast. I won’t just blog to promote the podcast but talk about issues related to it. Like the audio production and editing. Also the dramas that are behind the scenes. This to me is great if you like the podcast as you get a feel for the other side of the production.

In our WordPress stats I get the search terms that people use to find Rooster’s Rail. I have used these as a basis to answer a question that a reader has posed in their search term. Especially if this is one that comes up a lot. I have also posted a top 10 search terms post which was fun. This is very rewarding for me because I am addressing peoples problems without them knowing that is what I have done. I think that is cool. In that is another thing that I blog about; I tell people the mistakes that I have made so that they don’t make them! Or help them resolve a problem that I have had in the past.

As far as my post construction, I have never used video. I am not keen to either. It seems like the opposite to what a blog is all about. If I wanted to do that then I would hit YouTube or something similar. Unless I found a video that I could write about, but even then it would have to be rather compelling. I would prefer to link to it rather than embed it. I do tend to use company logos a bit and sometimes a great picture that I took, but not so often with the pictures. I do use screen-shots to illustrate a point or highlight a website, I think you need that sometimes.

I have two blogs and they are very different and the motivation for writing to both is just as different. Here I write for me and on the podcast blog I write for my listeners. Not sure if that makes for very different blogs; but I think it does.

I hope that I have fulfilled the challenge, do you think I have? One criticism I have of myself is that I tend to write long posts. I find that I have yet another thing to add or opinion to have. I wonder if I would have more readers if my posts were shorter. But I could never say that I didn’t say everything I wanted to. Thanks for the challenge Lorelle.

What Bit Rate for Podcasts?

I really, honestly do not know the answer to this question. What is the best bit rate to encode a podcast at? Also does that answer depend upon the fact that you are a listener or a podcaster or hosting service?

I do the post production work for the Global Geek Podcast. Before moving to TPN I always encoded the podcast at 44khz and 96kbps. That works out at about 35 – 40MB per show (depending on length between 40 minutes to an hour). We have what I think is great audio quality, but am I spoiling ourselves and our listeners and potentially excluding others?

We have never had a complaint about the file size of the show. No-one has ever said it was too big. People have commented on the quality and said it is great and we have worked hard to get it that way. But I now question if that is over kill. So I tried to figure out what bit rate is the most common. I did a very small survey of the podcasts I have on the computer. I only have nine on it at the moment – most of them are on the MP3 Player (where they should be).

Anyway I got the following breakdown:

Total of 9 Podcasts:

  • 2 encoded at 96kbps
  • 4 encoded at 64kbps
  • 3 encoded at 48kbps

A conclusive survey that does not make. But maybe I am aiming too high. What quality do listeners expect of a podcast? Do they want a small file and lower quality so that they get the content without the bandwidth. Or do they want great quality and a larger file size? With the size of MP3 players now the storage is not an issue I don’t think. But I know in Australia the cost of bandwidth might be. The cost of faster connections is expensive and so many users are on a maximum of 256/64 or 512/128. So does a larger file size deter them from listening to our show? Could we have a bigger audience if we made it smaller and if that is the case what size is acceptable?

With the uptake of broadband technology there is a step towards encoding at a larger bit rate but what should it be? Perhaps 64kbps is a good place. I listen to quite a few podcasts that are recorded at 64kbps and they sound good. A one hour podcast encoded at 64kbps is about 28MB (voice only). Is this a big difference to 96kbps? Well it is between 10 and 15 MB. Will that mean the difference between more listeners and a balance between keeping your existing ones because of what they expect? Will you loose listeners by lowering the bit rate dramatically and will it matter because of the number you pick up. To me it does anyway, I care that we keep the listeners we have.

The other big consideration here is the hosting cost. I know that I had to go to the plan one up from the basic plan in order to have the podcast encoded at such a high bit rate. So that privilege cost me $10US/month instead of $5US/month. That was a cost that I thought was worth it. Also what if your podcast is being hosted by a network, what file size is reasonable for them to host? Is it acceptable that you have a higher bit rate than the other shows that are hosted there and is it necessary? Personally, I would like to find a happy medium between file size, bit rate and quality. I want the best quality at a reasonable file size. I don’t want my hosting provider to get pissed off that the show is too large. In addition to that fact; the network wants as many people to listen to as many shows as possible. If it is possible that people are “turned off” by a large file size, then that is not for the benefit of the network and I would not do it. In that instance the file size should be smaller at the sacrifice of quality for the benefit of the network and I need to accept that.

As a listener I do not care what size a file is. I have a fast Internet connection and it really does not bother me. I like high quality podcasts but I listen to some that are not of a high quality as far as bit rate because the content is good. So is good quality a cover for shit content? If it is; it is not sustainable long term. So as a listener of podcasts I don’t search for podcasts based on audio quality or file size, and maybe I have just answered my question in part.

Having made these points I will say that some basic editing will improve quality out of sight. I have turned off podcasts because they have not bothered to do this basic editing. They were unlistenable and total shit and they should have thought the same! I wonder if some podcasters even listen to it after they have recorded it. So what do I mean by “basic editing?”

Basic editing in my opinion is:

  • Setting levels before you start, especially if you are recording Skype using a software application. This means setting your levels with enough “headroom” to get loud during a podcast so that you don’t “clip” the recording. And not so soft that you have to amplify it dramatically to get something to work with.
  • Don’t edit the podcast as an MP3, MP3 is a “lossy” format and gets worse and worse in quality every time you re-encode it or open it and save it.
  • Run a compressor on the audio to “smooth” the audio. That is take out the high’s and bring up the lows.
  • Run the compressor a few more times.
  • Normalise” the audio, basically set the zero level. Makes the podcast the same volume and means that the listener isn’t constantly turning their volume up and down.
  • You may need to “amplify” the whole audio after using the compressor and normalising the audio. You don’t want the listener running out of volume because it is too soft!
  • Any added or imported audio needs the above steps.

Believe it or not the above takes the least amount of time in my editing but makes the biggest difference. I do go a step further and edit the actual audio and take out the umms and errs and we always stuff things up and say well we will edit that out. The time is also in the transitions and the mixing of the imported audio, making it all work together (the best that I can). So maybe you can see why as a podcaster I want it to sound as good as I can, I put a lot of effort into both the pre and post production. But is that at the neglect of other issues? Is this basic and advanced editing enough to make it a “quality” podcast?

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Tell me if you are a listener or a podcaster. Podcasters, tell me what you encode your podcast at and why. Listeners please answer my questions for me. As I said at the start of this post I really do not know what the right answer is, that’s why I have posed lots of questions. It would be great to get some answers, although I am not sure there is one.

Do Developers Favour the Microsoft Operating System?

Apple LogoThe other day my brother became the proud owner of a brand new Mac-Book Pro. He very excitedly messaged me and we had a bit of a chat and I asked if he had installed Skype yet. This lead to an interesting discussion.

James believes that Skype support for platforms other than Windows is poor. He stated that Skype probably had loads more developers for Windows development and few for other operating systems including Mac and Linux. This was in reference to the Video feature of Skype not being supported in Mac and certainly not in Linux. Linux have only just had an update (version 1.3 beta) released, the last iteration came out at the end of last year. While us folks with WindowsWindows Logo systems have been enjoying Skype with video support for a while now and we have had a number of updates as well as version 2.5 coming out recently. So I can see his point somewhat.

James also went onto make a number of other points in regards to this issue. Such as the Linux community asking for ALSA support in the Linux version, which I might add has been addressed in the latest beta version of Skype. It was also suggested that developers failed to recognise other operating systems for fear of upsetting Microsoft. The case in point being that the development currently being predominantly in the Windows arena and the fact that Windows programs tend to be very operating system dependant. This then increases the exclusivity of Microsoft, strengthening their market share and market dominance. In turn this threatens the neutrality of the Internet as a platform and communication medium. He also felt that this unfairly skewed people’s ability to choose the operating system they want to. Regardless of what might be superior.

I thought about this whole issue and came to the conclusion that it it is basic economics and market forces here. If you had 1000 Windows users and 100 Mac users then it makes economic sense to develop for the users of Windows. That is the biggest area for profit making. The economies of scale are drastically reduced. So you get a product out there for your biggest user base and start making profit. It is that same profit that enables companies like Skype to be able to deliver a product to a minority of users on other platforms.

James believes however that there should be parity and equality in features and releases between versions for different systems. He feels that the current state of affairs is such that it is the equivalent of selling the same car in say Australia and the US and one has airbags and the other does not and the reason the company gives is that we drive on the left side of the road. I guess this is in reference to the features not being present across the versions of Skype. To that I can see his point as I said earlier. But perhaps this is a way that they have used to market their product and attract users from the largest group based on operating system. I really do not know.

Another analagy that James used was that Windows users are being offered a BMW and the rest are being offered a clapped out Hyundai! Well I can see his point again. However, maket forces are very strong and I suggest that this is what we are seeing. I don’t know what he would say if the shoe had been on the other foot. Anyway it looks like the video solution for Mac will be here soon enough, but as James said they have been saying that for a long time.

Skype LogoI have used Skype in my post to reflect something that may be true across all types of applications, but only because our conversation was about Skype. But are we seeing a trend that will continue and how will it play out in the long term? Mac is certainly gaining in user base recently and perhaps we might see more specific support and development for it. In addition to that I think that there is a great divide between Mac and Windows users. Personally, I see advantages to both systems. I have never rubbished Mac and I have never said that Windows and Microsoft have the best operating system. As far as disparity between applications is concerned I think that it is a valid argument to a point but hard economics is difficult to fight against in the corporate world of profit and loss.