Friday, August 1, 2008

About Podcasting - Online Resources

The internet contains extensive information on podcasting. A selection of sites is provided:

For a number of years Dr Joanna Cobley presented podcasts as the Museum Dectective – the links to the podcasts were in a blog which also included a number of articles on podcasting including notes for a paper she presented at the Museums Australia conference in Canberra in May 2007. The Museum Detective website has now disappeared from the web but an article entitled Beyond the audio tour on the Te Ara website provides information about podcasting.

Podcast – Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcast

About.com – Podcasting – a useful site to subscribe to if interested in this topic http://podcasting.about.com/

How to create your own podcast – a step-by-step tutorial http://radio.about.com/od/podcastin1/a/aa030805a.htm

How to podcast tutorial
http://www.how-to-podcast-tutorial.com/index.htm

Create your own podcast:
http://www.cnet.com.au/software/music/0,239025669,240055727,00.htm
(CNET.com)

Another podcasting site is Only Podcasting – http://www.onlypodcasting.com/

Recording a live presentation for podcasting
http://kay.zombiecoder.com/index.php/archives/recording-a-live-presentation-for-podcasting

Podcasting: the devastating lows, the dizzying highs, the creeeeeeeamy middles
http://www.westciv.com/style_master/house/good_oil/podcasting/index.html
Article on using RSS by Maxine Sherrin

Audacity – One of the programs used for recording and editing audio files is the open source program – http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

Audacity tutorial
http://www.guidesandtutorials.com/audacity-tutorial.html

RSS
Type the phrase – What is RSS – or – RSS definition – into Google and you will locate a range of articles and topics on the subject. A small selection is provided below.

Article in Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_(file_format)

What is RSS? RSS explained
http://www.whatisrss.com/

What is RSS? A basic tutorial
http://rss.softwaregarden.com/aboutrss.html

Podcasting: the devastating lows, the dizzying highs, the creeeeeeeamy middles
http://www.westciv.com/style_master/house/good_oil/podcasting/index.html Article on using RSS by Maxine Sherrin

Compressing audio files

MP3 Tweak
http://mp3tweak.com/

MP3Resizer
http://www.skyshape.com/mp3resizer.html


RSS validation sites
Google search for – RSS validation – or – RSS code editor – may provide links to websites
Feedburner – http://feedburner.org/

Feed For All - http://www.feedforall.com/ - program for creating and editing RSS code [not free]

Feed Validator – http://feedvalidator.org/

Podcasting hosting sites
Search Google for the term – Podcast hosting
How to choose a podcast host - http://labnol.blogspot.com/2006/08/how-to-choose-podcast-host-compare.html

How to Podcast – Podcast hosting – http://www.how-to-podcast-tutorial.com/21-podcast-hosting.htm

Our media – a non profit community site allowing free storage of media files –
http://www.ourmedia.org/

Lybsyn – Liberated Syndication – [monthly charge] http://www.libsyn.com/

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Podcasting basics - terminology

Definitions of some of the terms used when discussing podcasting

Podcast – an audio program or audio file or video file available for download from the Internet via a RSS feed with MP3 audio enclosures.
Making an MP3 file available online without the RSS feed is not podcasting.

RSS – an abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. It is an XML format for syndicating web content. An RSS feed describes content such as a newsfeed, a blog post or a podcast and allows it to be collected by an aggregator. RSS 2.0 is currently the de facto feed format used for podcasting.

MP3 – an audio file encoded using the MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 (MP3) format. MP3 is the most common format for audio files on the Internet.

Newsfeed – a collection of news stories made available on the Internet in a standard format – usually RSS 2.0. Newsfeeds can be used to publish information about podcasts. Subscribers to podcast newsfeeds use the information provided to find new shows and download them.

Aggregator – software that collects and displays RSS feeds. Aggregators can also be called newsreaders. Some aggregators retrieve and display podcasts.

ATOM – a web feed format that offers an alternative to RSS.

Blog – a weblog

Enclosure – a technique for linking to multimedia files within a RSS 2.0 newsfeed

Stream – the ability to play an audio file over the Internet without waiting for the file to download

XML – eXtensible Markup Language – the scripting language used for RSS. XML allows the creation of custom vocabularies for describing data.

WAV – a standard for storing uncompressed sound files. The large size of WAV files makes it impractical to use these files on the Internet, especially for podcasts.

LAME – acronym for Lame ain’t an MP3 encoder. LAME is an open source program MP3 encoder used for turning WAV or AUD files into MP3s. LAME is required for saving files recorded or edited in Audacity into MP3s and can be downloaded from the Audacity website.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Web Contact Forms

Websites hosted by Vicnet can include a web form on their contact page for people to fill in to contact the society. In the section re free web hosting on the Vicnet site there is a section on forms and formmail - Web Design: Forms and formmail.pl.

To use this function copy the code provided on the page into the section of the html page where you want the web form to appear. In the 'which address should the feedback be sent to' section add the email address to be used.

If the society does not have an email account with Vicnet, it is necessary to contact Vicnet either by using their web form or by email requesting that the email address to be used is added to the Vicnet list of accepted email recipients.

Some internet security packages block the usage of forms for sending messages - Vicnet provides information suggesting how to overcome this problem. It may be useful to include a link to this information on your web page to help people encountering such problems.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More notes on email

About.com contains a section dealing with email - http://email.about.com/ - a useful resource for locating information
A recent post is a list of - 20 most important rules for email

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Forums

An early form of Internet communication was the Bulletin Board where Person A posted a message and Person B would post a response. To keep up to date with messages on the bulletin board it was necessary to regularly log on to the site to read the messages.

Forums provide the opportunity for members of an online group to post and reply to messages but the original message and responses are emailed to all members of the forum group. Forum messages and responses are also usually accessible on a site in the same way as the former bulletin boards or have an archive facility where all the posts on a topic can be viewed together.

A number of organisations provide forums as part of their websites where members exchange views on topics of interest to members. Members subscribe (fill in an online form normally providing name and email address and password) to join a forum. As members they can then read and can post messages.

My Connected Community (mc²) provides a collection of Internet base networking tools for the free use of community groups – a forum being one of the tools. Members of mc² groups automatically receive messages posted in the forum unless they elect not to receive messages.

The forum can be used to ask questions, provide information on a topic of interest to group members, publicise a book, offer items no longer needed for a new home, provide information about grants or awards etc. They provide a great resource for sharing information. Sometimes there will be a great response to a topic in the forum with a number of people from all parts of Victoria sharing their views on a topic. At other times there may be no response. This does not matter as forums function as information resources as well as a discussion opportunity. I often meet people who receive messages from the History Victoria Support Group mc² forum who tell me that they had taken information provided in one of the messages and discussed the topic at a committee meeting.

Using the features provided in My Connected Community is easy. You just need to be able to type in a box and press a button to send the message.

Other resources provided in mc² groups include a links page providing links to useful web sites, an events page where members can publicise the activities of their group, an images section and a section for sharing files of interest to group members. Any member of the mc² group can add material to the mc².

The RHSV website – www.historyvictoria.org.au – provides information on joining mc² plus a list of mc² groups relating to local history. Mc² groups you might consider joining include the History Victoria Support group mc² containing information relevant for members of historical societies, Computers and cataloguing mc² for those particularly interested in computer related projects and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria mc² for information relating to Victoria’s history – this is an excellent site to post information about forthcoming events for your group.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Notes on Email

From time to time I receive questions about using email or how to set up an email account.

Many historical societies now have email addresses. A major advantage of email is that an email can be sent at any time and the recipient reads and answers the email at their convenience. The original sender reads when they next log on to the computer. This is a great improvement on the telephone system where a message can be left on an answering machine and the recipient leaves a message on another answering machine to acknowledge receiving the original phone call.

Email can also use as a communication tool in real time. On more than one occasion I have replied to an email only to receive a follow up question a few minutes later. This can be a convenient (and inexpensive) way to communicate, especially if distance between the parties is a problem.

There are many different types of email accounts. Some can only be accessed only on the computer home computer.
However a number of html email accounts that can be accessed from any computer are now available including Hotmail (www.hotmail.com), Yahoo Mail (http://au.yahoo.com) or (http://mail.yahoo.com/) and Gmail (http://mail.google.com/). Although you provide details of an individual when you sign up, accounts can be established using the name or initials of the society as the user name, rather than the name of an individual. It is important to keep a copy of the user name and password in a safe place.

With email, remember there is email etiquette. It is always advisable to read through an email before using the Send button to dispatch the email. Because it is so easy to ‘dash off an email’ emails can convey a ‘tone’ which may not have been the intention of the sender. Most email programs have a facility for saving a draft of an email so it is possible to read it through again later and make changes if needed before sending.

Emails are correspondence. Copies of emails relating to the historical society should be included in the correspondence at society meetings.

Emails can also be used to send one email to a number of people as a batch email. Some email programs restrict the number of names in a batch so it may be necessary to read the Help section of the specific program for information on how to do this. This facility can be useful for sending a message to a group members or circulating a newsletter by email or for alerting members that the latest copy of the email is online.

Attachments – documents, images, spreadsheets – can also be sent by email. It is advisable to restrict the size of a file sent by email. Some email programs restrict the size of attachments. Large files take a long time to send and the person receiving the email may not have enough space in their In Box to receive the incoming email with the attachment.

Only send attachments that can be opened by the receiver. Some word processing programs use file extensions that are not recognized or cannot be opened on all computers. Documents ending in .doc are usually OK though some early versions of Microsoft Word cannot open Word documents saved in later versions. Microsoft Office 2007 saves Word documents with an extension that will not open in earlier version of Word unless a special program has been downloaded and installed from the Microsoft website. Files created in Word 2007 can be saved using the .doc extension so if sending email documents as attachments it may be advisable to save the file using the .doc extension. Files saved with .rtf extension should be able to be opened in any word processing program. Pdf documents can also be sent by email. The receiver, however, will need a program such as Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the document.

Two warnings: Never send an attachment that has not been scanned by virus protection software and never open an email, especially if there is an attachment, when you do not know the sender or are suspicious of the content.

Email is a powerful and useful communication tool. Use it wisely.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Putting the audio files online

Much of the day has been spent finalising the web pages for the podcasts. The general layout of the podcast introduction page and the page containing additional information and opportunities for accessing each item had been prepared some time ago but needed to be finalised and tested and recent audio files added.

The audio files can be played, using the media player on the page, or by clicking the Download Name of Podcast link. Right clicking on the link allows the user to save the file to a computer or portable digital player.

A page providing information about how to listen to and / or download the audio files is provided to help users who have not previously used audio files online.

The other page that had to be created was the xml page containing the RSS feed information. Podcasts can be accessed automatically when someone subscribes using the URL of the xml page and inserting it in RSS reader such as Bloglines or a podcasting program.

Getting the xml correct was a challenge as there are definite rules to follow. When the page is saved and then opened any errors are noted and the text on the page will not be displayed. Particular care has to be made that there is no white space - empty lines - in the code and that characters, such as ampersands, need to be coded - eg. instead of the symol (&), the symbol (&) followed by the combination letters (amp) and a (;) is used (no brackets of course in the actual code).

The coding chosen to be used for the RSS is the coding used by iTunes - details as to what is required can be found on the iTunes Specifications page. For the podcasts to be included in the iTunes store an account needs to be established and then a form completed to submit the podcasts.

After completing the pages I then tested the RSS using Bloglines and the Live Bookmarks feature in the Firefox browser. The RSS feed worked with the four items at present online appearing in the list of both sources. After much trial and error it was a good feeling to see it actually functioning properly.

Now that all the pages are set up any additions should be straight forward.

When the next audio file is added online, the section of coding for individual items will be copied and added to the existing code and then the information altered for the new item.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Web design for all computers

A major challenge when creating pages for the Internet, whether pages for a website or an online exhibition, is that people viewing the pages are going to be using different computers and different operating systems and different browsers. These variables will all affect how the finished page will appear on a computer screen. A page may look great on the computer where the page is designed but not as impressive on another computer screen.

Always check the pages in at least two browsers. The most commonly used browsers at present, in Australia, are Internet Explorer and Firefox. If the pages work in both of these browsers they should be OK. Sometimes specific coding that works in one browser may not apply in the other browser so alternative coding may be required to produce the desired effect.

Internet Explorer sometimes ignores coding that is not correctly entered - Firefox rarely does this - so if there are problems with a page in Firefox always check the coding carefully (particularly ending tags).

Different versions of browsers can also affect how a page looks on the screen. For example a page viewed in Internet Explorer 7 may appear differently to the same page viewed in Internet Explorer 6.

Different versions of browsers can also affect how a page looks on the screen. For example a page viewed in Windows XP may appear differently to the same page viewed in Windows 98.

The size of the computer screen will affect the way web pages are viewed. Some people have computers, often passed down from family members, with monitors with small screens while it is now possible to purchase computers with 22 inch screens.

Screen resolution also affects the appearance of web pages on a screen. A webpage designed in a screen with a resolution 1280 x 1024 pixels could look very different in a screen with the resolution 800 x 600 pixels.

To some extent it is a case of knowing your audience. Web pages for local history will often be viewed by people with older computers so it is best to design pages that will look reasonable on smaller screens.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

About.Computers

A useful website on a wide range of IT issues is About.com: Computers & Technology - http://www.about.com/compute/ . The site contains links to a selection of articles on a wide range of topics as well as product reviews.

There is also an online newsletter to which you can subscribe to receive regular articles. Online newsletter topics - About computers; Podcasting; Web design; Blogs.

I have been receiving the About computers newsletter for several years now and find it useful for an overview of what is available and an introduction to new developments.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pop up windows

A feature used in many websites is the provision of pop up windows. Pop up windows allow additional information to be appear in a separate window on the page.

This feature was experimented with on some of the pages when designing the MacRobertson's Round Australia Expedition online exhibition. Pop up windows can be useful for providing small amounts of additional information in a small window rather than linking to a full sized additional page on the topic however some browsers such as Internet Explorer on XP and versions of Mozilla Firefox can block the use of javascript or warn web page users that there is a pop up window each time the page is loaded. This becomes extemely annoying so it was decided not to use this feature on the site.

Pop up window example - provides an example of the use of a pop up window plus the code used to create it.

Some points to consider if planning to use pop up windows:
  • Javascript is usually used to create the pop up window and to provide control over the size and design of the window although a basic effect can be created with html

  • On the page containing the pop up window the script information can be added to the head section between script tags

  • In the body of the page, additional code is added to the link code to enable the pop up window to appear

  • Punctuation is important

  • If pop up windows are to be used on a number of pages an external javascript page can be created and saved for example as popup.js - reference to the javascript page (src="popup.js") is made in the script tag section in the header

  • Because not all browsers cope with pop up windows, html code is normally included in the javascript to produce a direct html link to the page containing the information if the pop up window is not going to work

  • It is useful, in the pop up window, to include information about closing the window either as text or by using additional javascript to produce a close button

There are a number of pop up window tutorials available online. Below is a selection:

Popup windows - the basics
(includes explanation of each section of code)

How to make a pop-up window

The perfect pop-up

Popup windows

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tool Tips or Screen Tips

In many websites when the curser hovers over a link a small box displays a message. This message is called a toop tip or a screen tip.

The image map on the title page of the Round Australia Expedition online exhibition uses tool tips to indicate the location of the links to the eight sections of the expedition description.

The tool tip is created using the title attribute within the image tag.

An example would be title="map showing route of the expedition".
The alt attribute (alternative text) in some browsers will also provide a box displaying a message. This occurs in Internet Explorer but not in Mozilla Firefox. Alternative text is designed to be used to describe an image when the image is not displayed on the web page.

map showing route of the expedition An example of the use of alternative text.

If the aim is to display tool tips on a web page it is recommended that both the title attribute and the alt attribute are used.

The following article - The Title Attribute - provides further information http://webdesign.about.com/od/htmltags/a/aa101005.htm

Monday, April 21, 2008

Image maps

In the Round Australia Expedition online exhibition a map of Australia showing the expedition route is used as an image map to provide links to the eight stages of the expedition.

An image map allows links from selected sections of an image to be made to different destinations.

Photoshop was used to determine the co-ordinates of the different sections wich were to be included in the html code. There are also specific image mapping programs available to determine co-ordinates.

As there are problems providing code in the blog, as the blog wants to turn the code into an image etc, it will be necessary to go to the actual web page to view the code and locate instructions for use of the code.

Go to the Round Australia Expedition online exhibition and locate the page containing the image map - http://210.15.209.254/RAE/RAEtitle.html

Place the curser on the webpage, avoiding the actual image that forms the image map, and click the right mouse button.



If the browser used is Internet Explorer click View Source to view the code that makes up the html page.

If the browser used is Mozilla Filrefox click View Page Source to view the code that makes up the html page.

Scroll down the page until you find the text - Begin image map - and further down the page the text - End image map.

The code for the image map is located between these two tags.

Information about the use of each section of the code is also provided.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Online exhibitions continued

Story-boarding this online exhibition was relatively straight forward. The main section is the story of the expedition which is divided into eight stages - Melbourne to Adelaide, Adelaide to Perth, Perth to Broome etc. A number of pages cover each stage and much of the story is told using images from the albums. In the early stages of the trip only a few photographs were taken but further into the trip a number of images were taken of sites of interest. In this case a link to a separate page provides more detailed information about the town or event.

The introduction section provides background information about the expedition and also information about material used for the online exhibition.

The daily reports section provides access to the actual reports made by the expedition party regarding the journey and can be read in stages or searches can be made for specific information using the Advanced Search option of the database in which the pages of the daily reports are stored.

Further sections of the website will include information about MacPherson Robertson and also about his confectionary business using a selection of images from the boxes of glass negatives in the MacPherson Robertson archive.

The further information section will include a bibliography and websites relating to MacPherson Robertson.

The design of the online exhibition was kept relatively simple using tables. The background colour is the same for all pages but the colour of the borders is changed for each section of the expedition. A cascading style sheet is used to control the uniformity of print style and size throughout the site. A small version of the MacRobertson map is located in the top left hand corner of each page and serves as the link back to the home page.

On the home page there are two options for navigating the following pages - a map of the expedition containing links to the beginning of each stage and hyper text links to each stage beneath the map.

The information about the expedition is progressively being added to the web pages and database following the timeline of the original journey 80 years ago. The first stage was added on 12 April, the second stage on 18 April etc. The additional stage links become 'live' as each new stage is added.

For this project choosing the material to use and to leave out was a major consideration. Especially in the initial stages time was spent carrying out additional research for the project especially checking background information about people met during the journey and events described.

When it came to putting the material together a number of options were tried. Initially the story was summarised with images but increasingly the text of the daily reports was used to tell the story using the words of the participants. That is when the decision was made to make the complete text of the journey available in a database and use the images and a summary of the text to tell the story in the main section of the online exhibition.

Checking the content is an ongoing process, especially checking that the hyperlinks link to the correct pages. The pages have been read and reread to try and eliminate typing and other errors. Misspelling the word expedition in the main heading and then cutting and pasting the error for multiple pages was an initial embarasing error. At least it is easier to make minor alterations in an online exhibition than in a traditional exhibition.

A major challenge when designing anything for the web is that those viewing the pages use different browsers and often change the settings on their computers resulting in different sized print on the screen. The pages were checked in Internet Explorer and in Mozilla Firefox browsers and a number of alterations were required before the pages would work as required in both browsers. It is rather disconcerting to view pages that work well on one computer screen not looking as designed on another screen (even using the same browser) because the screen settings have been changed from the default.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Online exhibitions

Online exhibitions are a useful way of telling a story. They can be an adjunct to an exhibition held in a physical space or can be a separate entity.

Like any exhibition there are a number of tasks to be undertaken:

  • Planning
  • Resources available

  • Research

  • Story board

  • Designing the pages

  • Putting it all together

  • Checking the end product

MacRobertson's Round Australia Expedition 1928 is an online exhibition recently added to the Royal Historical Society of Victoria website. This project has evolved over the past two years. It has been developed to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the expedition, consisting of two trucks, an oldsmobile and 12 men, which left Melbourne in April 1928 for a five month journey around Australia.

The RHSV collection includes an archive of photographs, papers and memorabilia relating to the business and other interests of MacPherson Robertson. The collection includes albums of photographs taken during the expedition as well as typed notes and newspaper articles providing information about the five month journey.



Using the information from these resources the story of the expedition, the challenges faced by the expedition party and their view of the often remote parts of Australia visited is portrayed in this online exhibition.

Photographs from the albums were scanned. Normally images for Internet projects are resaved as 72 dpi jpg images but as the original images were small, for this project they were resaved as150 dpi jpg images for Internet use. A thumbnail program - Easy Thumbnails - was used to ensure all the images were no wider or longer than 350 pixels.

The story of the expedition was told from two sources - a carbon copy of daily notes on the progress of the expedition prepared for MacPherson Robertson and newspaper cuttings reporting on the expedition published throughout Australia.

As the typed notes were blury and we only had an old elementary entry OCR program transcriptions were made of the notes and the entries for each day were entered into a database (DB/TextWorks). Report forms were created so that the records could be read chronologically. When there was an image that related to the daily record it was included.


The RHSV is able to publish DB/TextWorks databases online but if there was not that facility it would have been possible to save sections of the records as html files to include in the online exhibition.

Information from the notes and the newspaper articles were used to provide a summary of the expedition and together with the images tell the story of the journey in html pages.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Locating podsafe music

For the heritage walk project I needed a short piece of music for the introduction and ending of the audio file. this resulted in many hours being spent looking for possibilities. There is lots of music available online but finding appropriate pieces of music that can used legally is a little more difficult and time consuming. A lot of the music available that could be used is directed at an audience that would probably not listen to a heritage walk.

A search on Google for Podsafe Music was the starting point.

Wikipedia contains a useful introductory article about Podsafe music.

An article that discusses the problems in locating podsafe music is by Keith Robertson How to find podsafe music. He provides a list of sites that provide Creative Commons licensed music. Robertson is looking for full tracks to play on regular podcast programs while I just require a few bars to use. One of the sites he listed was CCMixter, - "a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want" - CCMixter website. On the Samples page a number of sites are listed including Magnatune samples which contains a section of loops available for remixing. The music is arranged by genre so I looked for something jazz oriented.

Another website that contains music mp3 files available for downloading for no charge is Download.com. The audio files are often sample songs to showcase a performer or group and the full album can then be purchased. Being able to download music free of charge and then reusing it are two different issues. Often from such sites material can be used for non commercial use provided due acknowledgement is given. It is necessary to check the fine print which may not necessarily provide a clear explanation.

Much of the music online made available for podcasts is provided to be played in full to promote the recordings and the artists. What I require is a loop.

Back to Google (searched for - podcasts introduction music loops) where I found a number of possible websites including Flash Kit which includes a section containing loops that can be used in multimedia projects. The loops are predominantly labelled as shareware (there may be a charge) or freeware. The information on the use of freeware loops downloaded from the Flash Kit website states - " If you download a freeware loop, you may use it in your presentations as you see fit. As a courtesy it's nice to thank the creator of the loop, and include a link to them."

In the Search Sound Loops box I typed - Jazz freeeware - and from the list randomly chose a 15 second loop entitled Cool Jazz presented by Jie Ma. Description of the piece - "A smooth jazz type loop. A simple bass line, drums and synth strings. On top of that a beautiful jazz melody played on piano". I downloaded the loop to edit into the audio files for the walk.

It took may hours of trial and error searching to locate something that I could use - discovering what was available, determining what I really needed, investigating the legal aspects and using the correct terms to locate possible items was all part of the learning curve involved with this podcasting project.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blogs

Blogs or web logs are a good way to record information as it happens - in many cases they can be described as a web diary. Because blogs are so easy to set up they are increasingly used on the Internet by people recording their views on a variety of subjects, recording information about a holiday etc.

This blog is created using Blogger - http://www.blogger.com/ .

I am using the Information technology and local history blog to record information about a number of different IT projects. It is not a manual but the information on a variety of technology related topics posted at different times will hopefully provide help people undertaking similar projects or provide ideas for projects.

Each post (block of information or message) is given a label which helps readers of the blog locate information on a specific topic. The list of labels can be found in the panel on the left border of the page. Clicking on a label will take you to the posts that been allocated that label.

Increasingly people are using RSS readers to keep track of new postings in a blog. There are many ways of doing this. One RSS reader is Bloglines - http://www.bloglines.com/ . Log on to Bloglines and paste the url for the blog (for this blog the url to paste is http://itlochist.blogspot.com/ ) in the blog or url feed box and then click the subscribe button. The feeds (links to new posts) from selected websites collected by Bloglines can be accessed on any computer with Internet access by logging into Bloglines.

Recent editions of the browser, Firefox, show a small square orange symbol in the right hand corner of the url search box. Clicking this symbol allows you to subscribe to a blog directly using an RSS reader such as Bloglines. Alternatively, if you regularly use the same computer you can add the link to the blog using the Live Bookmark option so it appears in a toolbar on your browser. Latest editions of Internet Explorer also have this feature.

The advantage of using an RSS reader or link to a site such as a blog is that you can be alerted whenever new information is posted in the blog without the need of having to regularly check the blog itself.

At the end of each post in this blog you will find a section where comments can be made about the information in the post. Readers will however need to be logged into Blogger to post a comment.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Creating a slide show using Flickr

Flickr is a free photo sharing website - http://www.flickr.com/ - where any photographer can post their images.

For the heritage walk project I wanted to include a slide show of some of the sites in the walk so I wandered around the city, trying to avoid traffic and pedestrians, to take photos with a digital camera. It is amazing how many construction sites and signs there are in the city when you want to photograph a building. I am not a photographer but the images should give the viewer, especially those not going on the actual walk, a pictorial view of the walk.

I already had a Flickr account (Click the Create Your Account button, then follow the directions, on the Flickr website to create your own account) so I loaded the images into a new album on the Flickr site.

There are many ways that images on Flickr can be used including creating slide shows of your own images or other images on Flickr. I used the slide show generator on the website Big Huge Labs http://bighugelabs.com/flickr/slideshow.php.
The generator provides you with a string of text to include in your website to generate the slide show.

The result for the slide show for the first part of the heritage walk is -
Link to slide show:
Slide show can be viewed at View slideshow

OR

Button for slide show - View slideshow

One of these links will be inserted into the Podcast page on the website together with the link to the Podcast file.

Editing the heritage walk podcast

Editing the audio files for the heritage walk podcast provided additional challenges. This project commenced in September and was the first project where I used Audacity so it was initially a steep learning curve. However, once I determined that the best way to learn was actually to practise on an audio file, make mistakes, experiment with different features of the program etc I realised that editing audio files could really be fun and there is always the Undo option to use if things do not go to plan. Of course the first thing to do is to make a copy of the original file so if a disaster occurs you can always start again.

Basic editing of audio files follows the same principles as editing a word document but instead of selecting a word or a section of text you select a section of the audio file (a series of wavy lines representing sounds) and then cut, copy, paste, duplicate, delete etc. When editing you listen to the sound and watch the lines, stop the program where an edit is required, edit the program and move on. Sections of the file can be removed completely or moved to another location in the file or into a separate file. Where there is an unwanted pause between sections of the recording - usually indicated by a straight line, part or all of the pause can be removed.

For this project I wanted to add a sound to indicate the end of a section of the walk so that a person using the podcast on a walk could pause the digital player until they arrived at the next place described in the recording. We located the sound of a chime which I then duplicated with a pause between each chime and copied and pasted the chime section wherever it was required.

I also wanted some music to use as part of the introduction to the heritage walk podcast so I investigated a number of sites on the Internet where music is freely available, chose a few bars of one piece and then manipulated it in Audacity to fade in and out to use at the beginning and end of the podcast. Ideally I would like to record a few bars of an original piece to use but that may come later.

When editing the project I decided that the initial walk as planned was too long and fell into two distinct areas so divided the project into two walks. The first part just needs an introduction recorded and added and then it will be ready to go on line. The second section still requires editing.

This project has taken much longer than first anticipated but it has been a good learning experience, particularly in transferring a project from one form of media to another. For instance when the chimes were inserted to indicate a break, clear directions to reach the next site needed to be given before the chimes. As there could be considerable distance between sites, the address of the site was repeated at the beginning of the new segment. The project is still being fine tuned but will be ready to go online when the podcast page is launched on the RHSV website, later this year.

Preparing a heritage walk as a podcast

Placing the RHSV lectures online was one project. Podcasts are increasingly used to provide information about exhibitions and also for creating self-guided walks.

During 2007 volunteers at the RHSV prepared an exhibition, History begins at home, which is still currently on display at the RHSV building, 239 A'Beckett Street, Melbourne. The exhibition looked at the buildings and sites surrounding the former Army Medical Drill Hall, part of which now houses the RHSV.

John was asked to prepare a heritage walk for the area and it was decided that one form that the walk could take would be to create a podcast of the walk. Putting the audio files online would allow people to download the audio files to their computer and either listen to the files at home or add them to a portable digital player such as an ipod and listen to the description of the sites while going on the walk.

All projects require a great deal of time in planning and research. John collected information about possible buildings and sites of interest to include in the walk and then prepared a draft map for the walk. He then tested the walk and spent time revising both the walk information and the route the walk was to take before the first recording was made.

This was our first experiment with such a project so we had a number of false starts as we learned to use equipment, work out the best and quietest part of the building to make the recording, establish that one of the chairs squeaked if the person sitting on it moved etc. There were also techniques to learn when recording, especially the speed at which to speak, and the ability to sound confident when recording the text.

The recording was made using a JNC digital recorder with a lapel microphone. A later recording of part of the walk was made using a microphone connected directly to the computer using Audacity.

The first recording made, I then tested the walk. Although I knew the content I had not previously undertaken the walk so I undertook the exercise as someone who knew little or nothing about the route. It soon became obvious that we needed to revise the project and include clearer directions on how to get from point A to Point B. The project had originally been designed as a pamphlet and although directions had been included in the version for the recording, in some places they would not have been clear to a person undertaking the walk. In any project - article or book, exhibition, website etc, the author / designer can become too close to the work so it is useful to have the work reviewed by another person providing another perspective to ensure that nothing has been omitted or might be clearer if expressed in a different way.

The text for the walk was revised and rerecorded and retested a number of times with input from a number of people. I was then ready to edit the audio files to use as a podcast.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Editing the audio files

I was not able to attend the actual talk being recorded but from all accounts there were no problems with the actual recording. The speaker arrived early so it was possible to pre-test that everything was working. Fortunately the microphones that we had left set up at the dress rehearsal on the Friday were at the right height for the speaker and therefore did not need adjusting - so luck was on our side there. We were also very fortunate to have a speaker who was aware that this was an experiment and did not mind being confronted with recording equipment. He was also an experienced speaker.

Both the recordings made provided clear audio files. The recording made using the digital recorder and the lapel microphone, as well as recording the voice of the speaker clearly, also picked up the voices of the people introducing and thanking the speaker reasonably clearly. The voices of people asking questions during question time were also audible even though some of these people were sitting near the back of the room. The recording made via the microphone connected directly to the computer clearly picked up voices speaking directly into it. No attempt was made to record question time using this set up.

At the RHSV I did a quick spot check of both audio files and then transferred the audio files to a USB flash drive to transfer to my computer at home.

The recording of the lecture recorded directly to the computer using the Audacity program had been saved as Audacity Project Files. This creates two sets of files both containing the name under which the project was saved - a data folder containing the audio file broken down into segments and the full .aup file. When transferring the Audacity files from one computer to another, both sets of files need to be transferred. I had transferred only the folder with the segments so I could only work with 12 second segments of the tape. As an experiment I imported a number of these files into Audacity and combined them into one file but was not prepared to do that for a 48 minute recording. Still I proved to myself it could be done and in future I will remember to save both the files when transferring Audacity files. When next at the RHSV I collected the other file and was then able to work with the complete file.

The recording of the lecture recorded on the digital recorder was saved as a MP3 file. When I tried to import this file into Audacity on my lap top at home I was not able to open the file as it was 67MB. I used the program, MP3Tweak - http://mp3tweak.com, to compress the file and was then able to open it in Audacity.

Originally we had not intended to include questions but as they had recorded so clearly I decided to use them as a separate file. Although the voices of the questioners were reasonably clear I was able to enhance the voice of each speaker to make it louder.

I did not edit the actual lecture as the recording was clear and the aim of the exercise was to reproduce a recording of a talk given on a particular night. If there had been large pauses or problems during the talk I could have removed them quite easily. I did however edit the introduction to the talk - only using the sections relating directly to the speaker and the topic.

After going through both recordings of the talk I was able to produce two files. The first contained a short introduction followed by the talk - 48 minutes. The second file contained question time and the vote of thanks to the speaker - 20 minutes.

The recording of the lecture itself used was the audio files made via the microphone directly to the computer but the recording made from the digital recorder via the lapel microphone could also have been used. The latter method provided the audio files for the questions.

Each audio file was exported from Audacity as an MP3 file and then compressed using MP3Tweak. The first file was 11.2MB and the second file 5.2MB.

A number of sites on the Internet provide information about using Audacity. Audacity Tutorial is a good place to start and there is also Audacity Wiki which provides information about the software.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Recording the talk

February 12 was the date of the first 'live podcast'. As the Tuesday lectures are held on days when I work for another organisation we had a dress rehearsal on the Friday.

The first step was to set up the new microphone on its stand and position it close to the podium. With the amplified microphone there as well it looked a little like the set up for a press conference. The adaptor was connected to the end of the microphone cable and plugged into the microphone port (with a microphone emblem) on the front of a lap top computer positioned on a table at the front of the room.

The audio files were to be recorded on the computer using the program, Audacity, a free audio editing and recording program - http://sourceforge.net/projects/audacity/ - available from SourceForge.

It was time to experiment. We had already checked with the speaker that he would not be using Power Point so we would be able to use the microphone at the podium to record the talk.

Recording in Audacity is not difficult. Open Audacity on the computer. In the Audacity toolbar there are six (6) circle buttons which control recording functions. The third button with the red dot is the Record button. Press the button to start recording. The button next to it with two blue parallel lines is the Pause button used to pause and then restart the recording and the next button with the yellow square is the Stop button used to end the recording. When recording starts a series of lines - peaks and troughs appears on the screen.

Making sure that the microphone was on and everything was connected time was spent experimenting with positioning the microphone so that a clear recording could be made. We were also concerned to avoid any feedback or interference from the micro used for amplification.

Once the recording is made it needs to be saved. As we were later going to do some editing we saved the audio file as an Audacity Project File. The file could have been exported as a WAV file or a MP3 file (another file (LAME MP3 encoder) needs to be downloaded from the SourceForge site to do this - http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&item=lame-mp3).

We also experimented with the digital recorder. Once the battery was in the recorder we were asked to select a folder in which the file would be stored. When the lead to the lapel microphone was plugged into the microphone port we needed to confirm that it was to be used. The buttons on the side of player are similar to the buttons on the Audacity program. The Record button was used to start recording (this also functions as the Pause button) and there is a Stop button to end of the recording. We experimented with the lapel microphone in different positions and also had people in different parts of the room to hear if their voices would be picked up by the microphone. The audio file on the digital recorder is saved as a MP3 file.

At the weekend I prepared basic notes on recording using Audacity and emailed them to Ged. Ged copied relevant pages from the manual for the digital recorder in case they were needed. It was then fingers crossed that all would work well on the night.

Podcasting Adventure commences

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria received a grant to provide access to podcasts of RHSV lectures and other events via the RHSV website.

After initial research to locate information as to how other organisations were doing this and the equipment used it was time to purchase some equipment and experiment. I own a JNC digital recorder and had used it for recording interviews. I had also downloaded the program, Audacity, which I was learning to use to edit audio files so I had a small amount of experience.

For this project I wanted equipment that would provide a range of options for recording in varying circumstances.

The lectures are normally held in the former Officers' Mess - a wood panelled room with large windows looking across William Street to the Flagstaff Gardens. From time to time the noise of passing traffic can be quite loud but fortunately the majority of meetings are held in the evening when there is less traffic. The potential noise of traffic however has to be a consideration.

The meeting room seats up to 80 people so I wanted a system that would capture the voice of the speaker but not necessarily the range of other noises associated with a room full of people.

There is a podium where speakers can rest their notes and are encouraged to speak into the microphone fixed to the podium so that everyone in the room can hear them. The microphone is linked to an amplification system - not sure how old it is but it was installed many years ago.

Speakers however do not necessarily stay in one place so there is also a microphone connected to the amplification system that can be worn around the speaker's neck, if the speaker wants to use a Power Point presentation or other aid, instead of using the fixed microphone.

Any equipment purchased had to be easy to use, especially as different people might be setting it up depending when the equipment was required.

Talks and other functions are sometimes held in other parts of the former Drill Hall downstairs so we wanted a system that could be used elsewhere in the building. We also wanted a system that could be used to record talks etc at other locations, if required.

Fortunately the first speaker for the year, Andrew Lemon, was prepared to be the 'guinea pig' for recording our first 'live' audio files and didn't mind that we were still experimenting with equipment.

It was decided to trial two systems for capturing the audio files.

The first option was to be able to record a speaker from a portable recorder.
A Sony IC recorder was purchased (ICDUX70). We needed a unit that would record mp3 files and would connect directly to the computer via USB. This recorder uses one AAA battery and will use a rechargeable battery which is recharged via the computer. We also wanted a unit where the controls are easy to use. Although the unit has a built in microphone and comes with headphones we purchased a separate lapel microphone to connect to the recorder.

The second option was to record a speaker using a fixed microphone connected directly to a computer.
A trip to Allans Music Store in Bourke Street introduced me to a range of microphones. I explained to the salesman what I wanted to do and he suggested a microphone - a Shure PG48 - that could be connected to a computer provided that I also purchased the appropriate adaptor. I also purchased a stand for the microphone.

A third option was to to record a speaker using the amplified microphone via a cable from the amplifier to the computer.
As the amplifier at the RHSV is an older model we could not locate a suitable output port to do this.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Podcasting

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria received a grant to enable the society to add podcasts to the RHSV website. The first entries in this blog will record experiences and experiments to achieve this aim.

The ability to include audio files in websites has been a feature of the Internet for many years - the RHSV included such a link in the section on the Victorian Folklore Fund several years ago.

With the increasing popularity of portable digital players, particularly ipods, organisations are increasingly making available audio files of talks and other recorded information. Podcasting has become the term for this and includes adding a rss feed, where audio files are regularly added to a site, to enable users to add the feed to their rss reader and have access to the material added to the site.

The next postings in this blog will follow the path taken to select the equipment used to record a lecture, editing the digital recording using Audacity software and making the audio file available online.