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31 posts from November 2012

PSY, MC Hammer, the American Music Awards - and The Amazing Power Of The Internet

Psy hammer 1Seriously? The American Music Awards closing out the evening with a song sung almost entirely in Korean?


Let's just reflect up on that for a moment. The American Music Awards... ending with a song sung...

... in Korean!

A song where the only words that the vast majority of the audience actually understood were "Heyyyyyy, sexy lady!" and "Gangnam Style". (Well, and the overlay of MC Hammer's "Too Legit To Quit" song last night.)

But the rest of the song was entirely in Korean.

How cool is that?

Forget for a moment what you may think about the actual "Gangnam Style" song from PSY and whether you love or absolutely hate the "horse dance" thing he does. Forget about whether you think the whole meme is overdone with everyone and their brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents and babies (and animals) doing remakes and paradoies of the song. Forget about whether you are so sick of it and hope you never hear about it again.

Forget about all of that.

Think of the moment. Think of the fact that a 40-year-old awards show... again, the American Music Awards... closed its event with a song by a Korean performer sung almost entirely in Korean.


And we see here again the amazing and awesome power of the Internet and how it has fundamentally changed the ways in which we communicate.

Without the Internet, PSY might have been extremely popular within Korea... but probably would have remained almost unknown outside the country.

Instead, because of the Internet his music has been seen and heard 100s of millions of times in basically every part of the world. And here he is is... on stage with MC Hammer closing out this award show.

I love it! Even as I am not personally a particular fan of the song (nor did I watch the awards show)... I delight in the fact that here in the US we celebrated that song.

Score another one for the power of the Internet to unite us all and enable us to experience the creativity that is in all countries and among all people... and in all languages.

Very cool to see!

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What Is The Future Of The Levelator? (The Podcaster's Ultimate Quick-Fix Audio Tool)

LevalatorWhat does the future hold for the awesome "Levelator®" tool, now that The Conversations Network is shutting down all of its websites at the end of 2012?

That's certainly the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard the word that Doug Kaye was declaring "Mission Accomplished" and shutting down the TCN websites and moving their content to other locations.

The "Levelator," in case you aren't aware, is a truly awesome piece of software for Windows, Mac OS X or Linux that can take an interview recorded with varying audio levels and turn it into something great for listening. As the bottom of the Levelator page says:

Do you believe in magic? You will after using The Levelator® to enhance your podcast. And you'll be amazed that it's free, now even for commercial use.

So what is The Levelator®? It's software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It's not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It's much more than those tools, and it's much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler's application window, and a few moments later you'll find a new version which just sounds better.

For those wanting the gory details, the site contains a detailed description of the "Levelator Loudness Algorithms" that explains how it does its magic. The FAQ, also, includes some helpful information.

Normally, when I'm recording podcasts in my home office with my podcasting rig, I'm able to control all the audio levels, even if I'm interviewing someone over Skype. So in those cases I don't need the power of the Levelator.

But... if I'm recording an interview with multiple people over Skype, I only have one feed for Skype into my mixer and so I can't control the varying audio levels for the different speakers.

Similarly, if I am recording a panel session typically speakers are sitting at different distances from their microphones and they naturally have different levels of their voices.

In either of those cases, the Levelator has been a HUGE help in making my recordings sound that much better.

It's also insanely easy to use - just drag a file onto the interface and drop it. That's it.

Now it's now always on target. A time or two I've actually liked the original better, but that's often because I've got noisy backgrounds or other issues. But probably 95% of the time it does a truly wonderful job making the audio sound better.

So what is its future?

I don't know.

Doug Kaye's post about the future of TCN says only that they intend to continue to make the existing content available. It's not clear from reading that what will happen to the Levelator. Will it be updated? Will someone continue to maintain the software? Will it be open-sourced so that the community could maintain it? Or will it just fade away?

The @levelator Twitter account did provide some hope in an October 3 tweet saying plans are still being discussed:

Levelator future

I do hope Doug and his team are able to find a way to keep the Levelator around. It truly is an awesome tool and it is and was a tremendously generous gift to the Internet community to make it available for free.

I look forward to learning its future... and meanwhile, I've made sure I've downloaded the most recent version so that I'll have my own copy around for a while.

Have you used the Levelator before? Has it helped you? What would you like to see the TCN team do with the Levelator?

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Embracing Simplicity In Blogging

What if a blog post is simply text? No fancy images. No links to additional articles... except maybe one or two that might provide the immediate context (and perhaps not). Can I truly write that way?

As I wrote about last week, one of the steps I will be trying this next while will be to do exactly that - write posts like this one that are just... simple. Perhaps even... (gasp!).... brief!

In this case, I am using the Blogsy editor on my iPad. For tonight, I am not going to go out and find just the perfect image that illustrates simplicity. I will leave it as a block of text.

Can I eliminate all the trappings of what I consider to be "what should be done" in a blog post? Can I instead embrace the simplicity and just let my words flow?

Stay tuned... this will be an ongoing test... :-)

Using iRecorder on the iPhone For Quick Podcasts - With WiFi Transfer

Ever needed to record a quick audio recording on your iPhone and then rapidly transfer it to a computer? There are many recording applications out there for the iPhone, but one I've found helpful is the aptly named "iRecorder".

On Friday I read an email from Shel Holtz that he and Neville had to record this coming week's FIR episode on Sunday morning and they needed our reports by then.

Knowing that today was going to be crazy and also knowing I had a number of tasks to do yesterday that kept me away from my office where my podcast rig is located, I whipped out my iPhone and used iRecorder to record my report. The interface itself is super-simple to use - just one button to push to start recording.


The reason why I like iRecorder, though, is that it has an extremely simple WiFi interface for transferring the recording. I just tap the down-arrow icon in the upper left corner and... ta da... it gives me a URL to hit in my browser:

Irecorder wifi

A quick trip to that URL in my browser shows me all the audio files I can download:

IRecorder browser

A click on the link and the audio file is down on my computer. Now all I did was bring the audio into Audacity, do a minor bit of trimming and then export it to MP3 to send to Shel and Neville.

Simple. Easy. Fast.

Now, I don't feel the audio quality is as good as what I get on my podcasting rig, but that's understandable... this was an iPhone being used as a field recorder. It was a bit too "hot" for me with some clipping going on. But it enabled me to get a report quickly together and submitted when I didn't expect to have time to do so.

It's a cool little tool... and you can find it in the iPhone AppStore.

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Facebook FINALLY Adds Sharing To iOS/Android Apps And Mobile Web

Facebook5 2One of the strangest things about using Facebook on a mobile device, either through Facebook's mobile website or directly through the mobile phone apps has been this - there has been no way to "share" links!

It has seemed a very odd piece to leave out, given that much of what goes on within Facebook is the sharing of links and other information.

This week, though, Facebook finally got around to fixing that. First, they updated their mobile website (, as noted on Mashable and other news sites.

Second, they rolled out a new version of the iOS and Android Facebook apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

Facebook noted all this in a brief news article on their site.

As a user of the iOS apps, I'm pleased to see this, and look forward to now being more easily able to share links and other posts in my Facebook NewsFeed. It's nice to see the "Share" link in my iPhone's feed:

Facebook share

Have you upgraded already? If not, look in your AppStore (on iOS) and get ready to finally start sharing...

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Barriers To Blogging - #4 - Getting The Tools Out Of The Way

AddnewpostAre the tools you use one of the barriers to your blogging? Is it easy for you to jump in and write a post? Or does the system you use make it complex or slow?

In a response to my last post in this series over on Google+, Jeff Porter left this comment:

I don’t wish pre-empt your next post, but the biggest barrier for me is the blogging system itself, in my case WordPress. Combine with writing (and coding) the perfect post, and that pretty much explains why my blog can sit idle for a month or more.

Seriously considering switching to a simpler system that allows me to save Markdown files in Dropbox and auto-publish from there.

To be honest, I was not originally going to include this topic in my list of barriers to blogging, because for me I've pretty much solved this. I have a fast system... at least on my laptop and desktop - blogging on my mobile devices is a different matter.

But Jeff's comment was a good reminder that this IS a big barrier for many people, and still is for me on the mobile platform.  

As I noted in my post about writing the perfect blog post, if you want to have all the various elements in a post such as images or links, you need a writing interface that makes all of this simple and easy.  Even for just blowing in text, you need an interface that makes it quick and easy to do.

Once I was helping with a site that had such a klunky interface that it did take seemingly forever to get to the point where you could write.  Once you finished an article or page the process of then publishing it was equally painful.

So much latency and inefficiency in the publishing process that, yes, it dramatically slowed down building out the site. 

I personally find the WordPress user interface fairly easy to use, but I do admit it has become increasingly laden with options as WordPress has evolved over time from a simple blogging platform into a full-blown content management system (CMS). This is perhaps the reason there was such a huge interest in the "concept" of a "lite version" of Wordpress called Ghost that would simplify WordPress and return it to its blogging routes.  Now who knows whether Ghost will actually be created, but there certainly is interest in the idea.

The point is, though, that the tools should just get out of the way and let you write.

My own solution for speed is to not use any of the web-based editors and instead use a dedicated, standalone blog editor on my laptop or desktop.  This allows me to have an app that I can just flip into and start writing.  Over time I have built up my own set of keystrokes, macros and other commands that speed up my writing.  I know by heart the keystroke to drop in a link, and to edit a link and to add various formatting I frequently use.  I can just drag and drop an image in and it works.  I can be writing several different posts in different windows.  I can have local drafts in progress.

The other great aspect for me is that I have one user interface across the different blogs I write on.  For instance, this Disruptive Conversations and my Disruptive Telephony sites are hosted on TypePad.  Voice of VOIPSA and my, as well as my books, are hosted on WordPress.  The Internet Society Deploy360 Programme's blog is on WordPress.  I have some older sites floating around on other platforms.

I don't have to care about their user interfaces - I just use my editor and write my posts.

Simple. Easy. Fast.

Most of the time... there is a caveat that I often need to write my post in the blog editor and send it to the blog site as a draft because I need to actually publish it using the web interface.  For instance, when the blog site auto-publishes the post to Twitter and Facebook, I want to be able to change the text of the tweet to include hashtags.  I need to do that through the WordPress UI.  So there is this extra step I need to go through.

For me on the Mac, the offline blog editor I choose to use is MarsEdit, and it rocks for a whole number of reasons I should probably write about in a post sometime.  Over on Windows, I used to use and love Windows Live Writer, and I still hear good things about it.  There are other good apps out there, too, but these are the ones I have used and can recommend.

Still, all of this may be too complex for some folks.  A developer friend of mine just posted that he is ending his use of WordPress and just writing his articles in text files with a light form of markup and publishing them via a git repository.  He'll lose out on many of the functions of WordPress like the social sharing, commenting, etc. ... but he just wants a simple system that lets him write.  John Porter in his Google+ comment mentioned looking at other simple systems as well.

I am still looking for the best solution for me on mobile platforms.  The WordPress app on the iPad/iPhone app is okay, but that only helps me for the WordPress sites. I've not been a fan of the TypePad app for iOS.  I've been experimenting with Blogsy on the iPad and that seems pretty decent.

The key for me is how to make it fast to write.  On the mobile side, I'm still looking.

You need to figure out what works for you.  How can you get the tools out of the way and get to a point where you can just write?

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The Apple Maps Fiasco Finally Hits Me - Tiffin St, Not Giffin St

Until last night I had been blissfully unaffected by the whole Apple Maps fiasco. I upgraded both my iPhone and iPad to iOS 6.0 and have generally had no problems whatsoever. I've gotten to where I needed to go when using "Maps" and in fact I like the better driving directions.

And then last night I read an article in our local paper about a building to be demolished and wondered where that was in Keene, as I'd not heard of "Tiffin Street". So I popped the street name into Maps on my iPhone and was suprised...

Photo Nov 13 7 14 23 PM

I tried a couple of times at different zoom levels and settings but Apple Maps would not show me a "Tiffin St" anywhere in Keene.

So I flipped over to Google Maps, still on my iPhone, and of course there it was:


And indeed I went by the street on my lunchtime run today and can confirm to Apple with my own eyes that Tiffin Street does indeed exist in Keene!


Hopefully Apple will continue to improve their data, because this is really quite silly!

P.S. I guess the good news is that I now know where "Giffin St" is in Keene... but that's not what I wanted! :-)

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Barriers To Blogging - #3 - The Tyranny of the Empty Page

empty pageCertainly one of the barriers to blogging is simply this:
You have to START writing an article/post.

You can have ideas floating around endlessly inside your head. You can talk about ideas with people. Write the ideas down on scraps of paper, or in a Moleskine-type notebook, or in an online tool like Evernote. You can collect all the ideas you want.

But until you start the article, those ideas are simply that. Ideas. Fragments. Unformed. Incomplete.

It is that act of beginning that can be the hardest.

Writing the first sentence. Starting the process of taking those half-baked ideas and forging out of them a whole. Taking the fragments and figuring out which fit together well, which need to be simply discarded and which should be put aside for another day.

But it starts with a sentence. With a word, really.

Turning a blank window into one with content.

Even perhaps before that with an action. Opening up your blog editor (my weapon of choice, MarsEdit, is pictured on the right) or logging into WordPress and clicking "New Post". Or opening up your mobile app... or website admin panel... or whatever tool or window you use to actually write your posts.

Starting the process of creating a post.

And then from there... committing yourself by entering the first words.

Most of the time once I have the window open this is easy for me. Sometimes it is in fact trivial. Text springs from my brain, sometimes even fully-formed and my hands become almost as a channel for flowing in the words and thoughts that are exploding out of my brain.

Other times it is not so easy. I struggle with how to begin the post... or sometimes I'm already thinking - and struggling with - how to end the post. Sometimes a story arc is immediately clear to me and the post almost writes itself. Sometimes no narrative arc is clear... and very often posts do evolve on their own even as I write them.

And sometimes... sometimes... that blank window stares back at me... mocking my inability at that moment to turn ideas into prose... taunting me with its emptiness. Perhaps I'll have a title... but what comes next isn't clear.

That's rare for me, but it does happen. Usually I put the idea aside for a while... or alternatively, and this may sound bizarre, I crank some heavy metal/hard rock music and let my brain wander for a bit.[1]

The key is simply to... start.

Start somewhere... anywhere... write sentences... write paragraphs... you can always edit away later.

But you need to... start!

[1] Bizarrely, but perhaps it hearkens back to my growing up in the 70s and 80s, I've found that the Scorpions do wonders to help me move through writer's block. :-)

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Barriers To Blogging - #2 - Wanting To Publish The Perfect Post

BlogpostBeyond the distractions of the Internet, another barrier I find to hitting "Publish" (or even to getting text together) is a desire to have a "perfect" blog post. Well, perhaps "perfect" isn't right... but "close to perfect". I want a blog post to have:

  1. compelling writing that people will find interesting, educational, helpful, useful, etc.
  2. a catchy title that people will notice in the overwhelming mass of content and links coming through their various feeds
  3. a strong beginning ("the hook") and ending of the text
  4. at least one photo that somehow either illustrates the point or complements the text in some way
  5. links to other articles I have written on related topics that might help provide additional context and information

In truth, it is the latter two points that tie me up the most. Often I have the ideas and can put together the article text. Whether it is compelling or not is something you all will have to judge, but I think that often I can put a good piece together. Titles, too, are fairly easy to come up with. Given that I've been writing online since 2000 and using Twitter since 2006, my brain is pretty wired to think in terms of short phrases that can be tweeted out. The strong beginning and ending are aspects I'm always working on but don't deter me from writing.

Including Images

It's the other two points that get me. As I start working on a post, I wonder what image I will use with it. I like to have at least one photo for several reasons:

  • an image breaks up a wall of text
  • an image can help you tell your story or illustrate a key point
  • your posts look much nicer in sites that aggregate content (including my own aggregator) as those sites typically grab an image to use as a thumbnail
  • when your posts go out in social networks like Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, they will all grab an image and show that. No image in the post, no image in the social network.
  • people interact more with posts that include images (I think because they NOTICE those posts more easily)
  • I just like the look of posts that include images!

But finding just the right image can take time. It also adds time to the process of creating the post. If I'm on my laptop, I have it down to a pretty fast process - once I find the image. I use the old version of Skitch Pro, and it works extremely well to let me rapidly re-size my image and drop it into MarsEdit, the tool I use for most of my writing. (And it is precisely because my system works so well that I was so outraged when Evernote ruined Skitch with their "upgrade".)

If I am mobile, though, it's harder. Sure, there are tools that let me write on my iPad or iPhone and include images. But then this goes back to me being a bit of a perfectionist about how my posts look. I want to easily resize the images and put them where I want them. And I want to resize the image file so that it is smaller, not just resize the image dimensions in HTML. I've not found a tool that makes it quite as fast. Blogsy on the iPad is getting close to what I want.

But having said all this, it is the desire for an image that sometimes holds me up. Sometimes it is thinking about the image... sometimes it is the process of getting an image.

Including Links

Similarly, I like including links to other posts I write. See what I did in those paragraphs above?

Most of that desire to add links is a function of wanting to provide more context and background to the points I am making in a given post. If someone is intrigued by a point and wants to learn more, I want to help them along. In any given post, I want it to have a focus and so I don't want to include every single related point. An article would simple get too long. So instead I want to link out to pieces where people can learn more if they want to.

It's my natural teacher side, wanting to help provide the foundation for those who may be learning about something for the first time.

And yes, I could run any of the zillion plugins or other services that provide lists of related links at the bottom of a post... and I have considered that on several sites. But I also want the links within the text.

There's also the SEO-minded side of myself that says if someone has found my post through search or social networks, I would like them to check out some of the other pieces I've written. So purely for that factor I want to include links to my other content.

But, like adding images, adding links takes time. You have to find the link and then insert it into your current article. Now, this has gotten easier over the years. The WordPress web interface provides a nice way to search for the content in your blog. MarsEdit makes it easy to copy the URL for any post you've written in recent times on your blog.

But still... it takes time.

And that time can mean that I don't hit "Publish" because I'm still waiting to add in links.

"Good Enough"

As we know, though, courtesy of Voltaire:

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

In the pursuit of perfection we lose out on the publishing of what might be a perfectly "good" article. It may be "good enough" to get our point across, to stimulate discussion and/or to engage with our audiences.

To this end, I'm thinking that I will take two actions in the time ahead:

1. Try to embrace simplicity in blogging. You may see more "text-only" posts that do NOT have images or links. I may just publish ideas and thoughts... as I have them... from whatever platform I am on... wherever... whenever. Trying not to get hung up on adding all the trappings to the post, but more focusing on getting the text online.

2. Start to treat a blog post as a "work-in-progress". When I write and hit "Publish", I think of it as "shipping a finished product". The post it done. Finished. Out. Sure, I will go back in and update a post if I find out that something was wrong or if something needed more clarification. Sometimes I will edit a post and include points raised in a comment - or links to newer articles I've written that update the post.

But generally, once a post is up, it is "done".

What if, instead, the post was published in more of a draft form? Or to be more precise, what if the text were published first... and then an image and links, etc. were added later? (Quite similar to the way that many of the news sites operate like TechCrunch, GigaOm, Mashable, TheNextWeb, etc. - publish quickly, then update later.)

It's something I'm thinking about. I struggle a bit because I know that you only get people's attention for a moment... and when a post first goes out and through social networks, you have THAT moment to catch people's attention... and I don't want to lose it. But perhaps there, too, I change a bit... publish a post and do NOT auto-post it, but do that later... or do it again later after more content is added.

In the end, my goal is to get more of these stories that I want to write published. Some I may do in my regular longer style (like this post). Where I can, though, I may see what I can do to just get the post out.

What do you think? Do you struggle with this, too?

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Barriers to Blogging - #1 - Distraction By Facebook, Twitter, News, Internet

What are the barriers to blogging? How could I write more than what I am already writing? What is preventing all the stories in my mind from being published? How can I make my workflow more efficient or better in some ways?

Those have been some of the questions on my mind lately, particularly as I decided to try the NaBloPoMo experiment of publishing daily articles on this blog for the month of November... but also, quite honestly, for the writing I do for my work.

I know many folks have told me that they are impressed by the fact that I write so much on a regular basis. But the truth is...

... I want to write even more.

You see, my head is exploding with stories waiting to be told. It is the curse of a writer... there are so many articles I want to write, so many tutorials I want to create, so many opinion pieces I want to publish, so many books/ebooks I want to author.

And so as I've thought about what are the issues blocking me, I decided to write a bit here about those issues.

BeingagoodwriterWithout a doubt, my single biggest barrier to creating online articles is...

... getting distracted by the Internet!

Well, to be more precise, by services on the Internet.

"Oh, let me just take a scan down my Facebook NewsFeed"... or let me just dip into my Twitter feed... or Google+... or "let me see what's new on TechMeme that I might want to write about"... or Hacker News... or MediaGazer... or (lately with the election) I wonder what's happening with politics over on Memeorandum or Huffington Post ... or the latest tech news at GigaOm or TechCrunch or Mashable or... or... or...

Pretty soon whatever time I had to write an article is gone as I become sucked into the vortex of whatever site or social network I visited.

Some time back on Facebook, my friend Donna Papacosta posted an image of a button that said:


I printed that button out and taped it - right at eye level - to the bar in the middle of the windows in front of the desk in my home office. There it sits each day to remind me.

This is a challenge. It is far too easy to get distracted by services and sites out on the Internet.

What I've wound up doing on days when I need to crank out some text is to shut down everything I can. Shut down Facebook windows. Shut down Tweetdeck. Shut down all the browser windows I don't need. Put my cell phone on mute. Do all of that to just...

... focus.

But, of course, for many of my articles, I need to pull up information on the Internet for the articles... which means that the temptation can be there to plunge back into the distractions. (Particularly now that Google+ notifications show up whenever you do a search. :-) )

And so I fight it.

I've also taken to going into my office and working on articles before taking a look at any of those sites. Aiming to publish at least one or more articles and then giving myself a moment to check those sites (and email).

And each day I have that button staring back at me reminding me...

Do you find this to be your biggest barrier to writing? What do you do?

P.S. I haven't yet found a definitive source of that quote. The farthest back I can trace it is to an October 2006 blog post that mentions the email signature of someone named Cyrus Farivar, who currently uses the quote as a subtitle on his blog. Perhaps he is the original author - I don't know. If anyone can find a source of the quote earlier than that, I'd be curious to know about it.

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