Categories
Journalism Tech

Cool Tools: Hands-Free Phone-Interview Setup

headset-recording.jpg

Cool Tools: Hands-Free Phone-Interview Setup:

It’s a serious issue in contemporary journalism: how do you record phone interviews while using a headset?

The post points to the Olympus TP-7 telephone recorder and this more elaborate setup (pictured above).

Related Newley.com post: Some thoughts on audio recorders.

Categories
Tech Thailand

Economist: Mobile phones in South-East Asia: Talk is cheap

mobile_phones.jpg

Economist: Mobile phones in South-East Asia: Talk is cheap

Take a taxi in Bangkok and the driver’s mobile phone is sure to chirp. A long conversation ensues, usually by speakerphone, since few cabbies bother with headsets. It is not just that cabbies are chatty; it is also that talk is cheap. Once reserved for the rich, mobile phones are now ubiquitous in South-East Asia.

But what is good news for taxi drivers is less so for mobile operators. Price wars in nearly-saturated markets have mangled profit margins. One answer is to prod customers to use data services, such as e-mail, web-browsing and access to a variety of “applications”—all of which could, some analysts think, spur new growth.

Yet this new growth will not come easy…

(Via Jon Russell.)

Categories
Journalism Tech Thai politics Thailand

WSJ: “Thai Groups Denounce Web Censorship”

Today’s WSJ:

Thai Groups Denounce Web Censorship:

BANGKOK–Criticism over Thailand’s efforts to curb political debate online is mounting as the government restricts thousands of websites following deadly protest clashes earlier this year.

Thai authorities say they have blocked at least 40,000 Web pages this year, according to the government’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, which monitors the Internet. Free-speech activists say authorities are blocking at least 110,000 sites, based on government disclosures and spot checks online.”

The piece also includes this video featuring an interview with PM Abhisit Vejjajiva:

Related Newley.com post here.

Categories
Journalism Tech

Some thoughts on audio recorders

I’ve been meaning, for some time, to write a post about audio recorders. Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to play with use several recorders for casual and professional purposes. And I thought it would be helpful to compile a few tips and suggestions in one place. So here goes:

olympus_WS-321M.jpg

For interviews and non-broadcast use

For everyday recording I suggest a simple, relatively inexpensive Olympus unit, like the Olympus WS-500, similar to the unit pictured here. This device costs about $70 at Amazon.com. I have a slightly older version of this recorder. Some features:

  • These devices work well for interviews, as the recorders are easy to use, non-obtrusive, and lightweight.
  • They have copious amounts of internal memory, so you can record hours and hours at a time. The WS-500, for example, has 2GB of internal memory, which according to Olympus is enough for 545 hours of recording time.
  • The single AAA battery lasts for a very long time — I use my Olympus several times a month and have only had to change the battery a handful of times in three years. ((One more note on batteries: Many small audio recorders, as well as larger, more sophisticated ones, use AA or AAA batteries. Environmental concerns aside, disposable batteries are preferable to rechargeable ones because you can replace disposable batteries in the field. If you’re off in the wilderness, let’s say, and your rechargeable batteries run out of juice, far from an electrical outlet, you’re out of luck.))
  • For transcribing interviews, the internal speaker on units like these are fine for playback, though the device also has a jack for headphones. If you want to transfer the audio files to your computer for storage or editing, the unit has a convenient built-in USB port. For playback directly from the unit, a button allows you to listen to recordings at a slower or faster speed. This is especially helpful when transcribing interviews you’ve conducted with fast talkers. ((Also, a note about evolving technologies: In my experience, few people use mini disc recorders these days. It’s all digital, all the time. That said, I think there’s a place for older technologies. Take the simple, cheap cassette recorder. For documenting interviews, these work just fine. Cassette recorders are actually better than digital voice recorders in one way: You can look at cassette recorders and see that their wheels turning, so you know they’re functioning. Yes, digital recorders have lights that illuminate when they’re running, but sometimes — especially in hectic situations — these lights can lead to confusion. As in, is that the power light, or is the unit actually recording?))
  • Note that the Olympus units record in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. That means that if you’re on a Mac, you’ll need to use a special application to covert the WMA audio files to mp3s. I recommend the easy-to-use EasyWMA audio converter.

So how good does the audio sound? The quality you’ll get with a unit like this is fine for casual use, but the quality isn’t high enough for radio or Web broadcast. That said, you can plug an internal mic and grab some decent sound.

For example, here’s a 21-second mp3 I recorded of traffic in Hanoi a couple of years back with my trusty Olympus:

hanoi_traffic.mp3

For Web or broadcast use

pcm_d50_2.gif

If you want to record audio for professional broadcast, you’ll have to spend a bit more money. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using — and really love — the Sony PCM D50.

This unit typically costs about $600. But the relatively high price tag is justified by its top-notch recordings. This model is particularly popular with radio journalists, as it’s a less expensive version of the Sony PCM D1
, which costs upward of $2000.

The PCM D50 has been out for a few years, and you can now find it on Amazon.com for $440.

Here are some of the PCM D50’s features:

  • The audio quality is excellent: 96 kHz/24-bit.
  • The unit has built-in dual condenser microphones that can be angled for various purposes.
  • The device is rugged, with an aluminum — not plastic — shell, and though I don’t recommend treating it roughly, it can withstand some serious jostling.
  • The PCM D50 has 4GB of internal memory, so there’s plenty of room for recording many hours of audio.
  • The unit has an easy to use recording level dial, so that you can ensure that what you’re recording isn’t too loud.
  • The unit has a divide track button, so that you can create a new track on the fly. That is, you don’t have to press stop, and then press record again. Just press divide track, and you’ll continue recording in a new track.
  • The PCM D50 takes four AA batteries and records in the uncompressed WAV format, which works on PCs and Macs.

You can find reviews of the PCM D-50 here [O’Reilly], and here [Transom.org], and here [BradLinder.net]. And here’s a video review of the PCM D50 and D1.

One thing: I suggest purchasing the optional windscreen, since the mics are so sensitive that they pick up wind noise very easily, even from simply walking across a room. This windscreen is a bit pricey, at over $40, so if you don’t want to spring for the official Sony version, you can always fashion your own out of an old sock (preferably a clean one) or some other sound-absorbing material.

How does the audio sound?

For a sample of the PCM D50 in action, you can check out an audio slide show I created called scenes from Calcutta. I also used the device to create a CNNGo.cm audio slide show about chef David Thompson.

In the last few months, a new Sony model has caught my eye: the Sony PCM M10. It’s currently under $400 at Amazon.com.

Two notable features: The unit can record in mp3 format (so format conversions aren’t necessary), and it has built-in speaker, which makes for easier playback. (In order to play back audio from the PCM D50, you have to listen with headphones.) Here’s a video review of the PCM M10 on Youtube.

Perhaps, in a future post, I’ll discuss external mics and audio editing software. But I’ll leave it at this for now.

Happy recording.

Categories
Tech

My Thoughts on the Mac Experience

Here’s a topic I’ve been meaning to address for some time.

Back in late February, I purchased, for the first time ever, a Macintosh computer. I needed a notebook machine, so I went with the 12″ iBook. I’ve affectionately dubbed her iRene.

In no particular order, here’re my thoughts as a lifetime PC user with minimum previous exposure to Apple computers.

–Ironically, one of the major factors that influenced my decision to purchase iRene was decidedly low-tech: Apple had a store in the area. And I needed to have a computer in my hands in less than 10 days, when I was leaving the country. I called Dell, and one of their sales guys told me, with palpalble disdain, that there’s no way they could get a machine to me by the time I needed it. I’d been to the Apple store before and liked what I saw, and the fact that I could walk out of the store with the computer of my choice appealed to me. (I picked the 12″ iBook because it’s the cheapest notebook computer Apple makes, and I knew I’d be using it mostly for word processing, Web surfing and light Web development, and minimal audio minipulations.)

–Right out of the box, you can tell that the folks at Apple take their product design seriously. And I believe that’s an element–creating something pretty and nice to look at and nice to put your hands on every day–that the big PC manufacturers overlook.

–I’d been intersted in buying a Mac for a number of years in part because Mac users tend to be evangelistic about their devotion to Apple’s products. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. And…

–…most Mac lovers say they like their Apples because they “just work.” And that’s true. iRene’s operating system, OSX, is incredibly stable; in seven months of heavy use, she’s only crashed once.

iLife, although all this “i” crap really is getting silly, is a concept that I’m really beginning to believe in. The idea is that all your digital media is integrated with Mac’s applications like iPhoto (an excellent image management tool) and iTunes (the really cool music manager that powers iPods). My various stuff–photos in the form of prints and image CDs, audio CDs, Word files on floppy disks, etc.–fits together quite nicely within iRene’s interstices, and I like that. It’s all at my fingertips now.

–Cost. No getting around that issue. Mac’s are more expensive than PCs. But so far, I’d say my extra couple of hundred of bucks have been well-spent.