June 2013 Archives


Capture Quality Audio on Your Computer Using Audacity

Do you want to make and edit audio recordings on your computer and output the resulting files to MP3 format? If so, Audacity is the program for you.

Do you ever listen to broadcasts on you Windows PC, Mac OS X, or Linux machine and wish that you could make a recording of the sound that is being processed by your speakers or headphones? Do you want to use your computer microphone to record conversations or interviews? Do you want to create podcasts at home? Do you want to create MP3 files of the resulting audio?

Each of these tasks can be easily accomplished using a remarkable, free, open source, piece of software called Audacity.

You can obtain Audacity here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net (I am not associated with Audacity development in any way, I should hasten to add).

Here are some hints and tips on getting started with Audacity. Installation is straightforward, obtain the appropriate download for your platform and follow the instructions provided at the Audacity site. Once you have the program installed, fire up the interface. There are just a few controls to master for basic use.

Firstly, you will probably want to set the 'Project rate' for your particular project. This is controlled by a tab lower left in the interface. If you left click on this you will see a list of sampling frequencies which you can select between. If you are recording speech and do not need particularly high quality, select a lower frequency than the default which is 44100 Hz, and Audacity will produce smaller files as the recording is made.

Secondly, you will want to select the appropriate sound source for your application. This is achieved with a drop down list which is on the upper tool bar of the user interface, to the right of the various tools which are displayed. By default this will be set to Microphone, and if you are trying to record the output of your sound card, you will not get a working recording until you set this to Stereo Mix.

Whenever you start Audacity, take a quick look at these two settings. In my experience, which is on Windows XP, the program does not remember these items between invocations.

However, the good news is that you are now ready to make recordings. This is extremely straightforward. Arrange for sound to be coming through your sound card, start up Audacity (remember those initial settings, of course), and hit the circular, red, record button on the Audacity interface. You will be greeted with the creation of a black horizontal bar with a line indicating the sound being recorded by Audacity. If you have your sound source set correctly, and your sound card is working, this indicator will be showing you the familiar pattern of a sound recording in its fluctuations.

When you have finished making your recording, hit the stop button, this is an orange square on the interface. You will then be able to output the recording you have just made to a suitable file. Audacity, by default, offers WAV and OGG formats. If you want to use MP3, as many people will, then when you first invoke this format you will obtain information about an additional library that you will need to install. Once this is installed, MP3 file exports of your recorded sounds can be easily made.

If you want to export only a section of the recording, Audacity makes this trivial. Navigate in the interface to highlight the appropriate section. You will be able to play back chunks of sound by finding a section of the horizontal timeline, placing the cursor at a given location, and clicking the play button. When you know where your desired chunk of sound lies, you will be able to export that section to the appropriate format of file. Just use the File/Export Selection As ... command. The Audacity interface makes it straightforward to deal with chunks of sound from seconds to hours in length. Just remember to use the shift key to extend your selection if you are scrolling through large sections of the recording.

Audacity is wonderfully straightforward, as you can see from this simple introduction, and the authors of the program deserve great credit for creating an elegant user interface combined with robust sound processing functionality. Once you have tried the basic recording described here you can then go on to make use of the more powerful multi-track and editing capabilities that Audacity also supports. You will soon appreciate just how powerful Audacity is.

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link


Models of Reality for Children in the Internet Age

In the past people raised their children as small adults. Children were an insurance policy against the hassles of old age and infirmity, and childhood was not a productive period in the life of a newly acquired asset. So children were rapidly moved from the home to fields, factory, or apprenticeship, in order to support the rest of the family and their prematurely aging parents.

Happily, nowadays, childhood is a longer proposition. But the rate of change of the world has increased, so the necessary problem solving skills for survival have become more complex to master. Children have always employed toys as models in becoming acclimatized to the world around them. The models of horses and riders and dolls of a hundred and fifty years ago have now been supplanted by computer games and television shows which reflect the complexity of the real world. The Second-Life-ers and reality show enthusiasts are soaking up information which enables them to deal with complex and rapidly changing realities.

You might think that the travails of a let's-vote-them-off reality show are far from the concerns of reality. However, if you have a little work experience, you appreciate the need to maintain a degree of glad handing in the avoidance of pathological backstabbing, and you also appreciate the reality of changing objectives as missives from head office about mergers and acquisitions take their toll on the status quo. Why not learn by example the correct blend of popularity, conspiracy, and deceit, in the comparative safety of your own living room.

Testing your social strategies in the relative safety of the online world is also wise. No chance of dangerous physical contact and the complete avoidance of overridden discriminating functions through a hormone induced haze.

The distractions of childhood are generally fashioned to be useful. The horse and cart models helped their young owners understand how the world operated. Similarly the vote-them-off reality shows and computer games teach their teenage viewers today how to solve social and other problems. The problems are different to those that confronted young Victorians, but they are still vital to survival. Today's children need to know how to fit into a fickle social world where fashions change rapidly, and being unfashionable, or voted off, means that you lose all influence and standing within the group. Similarly, the logical problem solving necessary to understand how to make modern electronic equipment, or vehicles, perform correctly demands many years of experimentation and experience with a succession of console oriented computer games.

When games are correctly fashioned they are not only fun but educational. They help the child through a logical sequence of activities that enable success in the real world. If you can solve the puzzles inherent in typical computer games, you can work your way through the complexities of the tax system, for example.

However, play has had to be cunningly rigged through the ages to be different to work. This is simply a marketing necessity. People are not going to pay for activities which are indistinguishable from hard labor. Only a great marketer, like Tom Sawyer or Jimmy Wales, can market work with little disguise. However, a certain similarity is invariably perceived as beneficial. Hence, Monopoly can be arduous - almost as arduous as building up a Trump-like property empire, Second-Life is life consuming, and Grand Theft Auto every bit as demanding as a sentence for taking and driving away, yet we happily pay for these simulations of the real world.

The reality is that society and technology are rapidly changing. The young adults of the future know that they need to be adaptable and this need results in the toys and entertainments of our age. It may not seem that these toys and entertainments are bursting with educational value. However, they are being selected by children as the devices that they need to allow them to adapt to a complex world.

So, let your children know that computer games, and telephones with complex interfaces are perfect training material for the life ahead of them! If you are lucky you may see a slight increase in the number of books that they read.

Posted by ZFS | Permanent link