Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

December 31, 2004

Introducing my iTalk Microphone

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 10:05 pm

my iPod with iTalk attachmentI just got back from the local Apple Store with my new iTalk microphone. It’s a small adapter you plug into the top of your iPod, turning it into a recording device. As you can see from this quick podcast, the recording quality isn’t the best in the world; Apple has its iPods configured so it can’t record at a high bit rate so you could capture live music.

Fortunately, there’s a Sourceforge project working on the problem: they’ve created a version of Linux you can upload into your iPod and reset the bit rate so the recording quality increases tremendously. The only problem is that I have a new fourth-generation iPod, and they haven’t gotten the software to work on the new model yet.

For now, the iTalk device will be great for capturing interviews and random comments on the fly, but otherwise, I’ll probably stick to using my laptop for recording higher-quality podcasts… -andy

December 30, 2004

Tsunami News Digest Now Available, Seeks New Feeds

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 10:05 pm

I’ve just set up a tsunami news digest using the news aggregator Kinja.com. The page contains latest news feeds and first-person blogs related to the tsunami disaster from around the globe.

I’d like to see others add their own tsunami-related feeds to the site. If you have a news feed or blog that’s focusing on the tsunami, or are reading one that you’d like to add to the digest, please visit the website and log on with the following info:

login: tsunami-info
password: southasia

Once you’ve logged in, you can add a news source to the digest by pasting it into the “Add a Favorite” form field in the right column. Or, you can follow this shortcut.

I hope this digest is useful to those of you eager to follow tsunami relief efforts…. -andy

December 29, 2004

DDN, LearningTimes Launch Online Community for Tsunami Relief Efforts

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 10:13 pm

In response to this week’s devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean, I’ve created an online community workspace on disaster relief and emergency preparedness.

This virtual community can be used for posting online resources, documents, news, and articles about tsunami relief efforts. Users also may take advantage of the site’s Web bulletin board and post their own blog entries. For the time being the space will focus on tsunami-related relief efforts; in the long haul we hope the space can be used for discussing the role of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in emergency preparedness and disaster relief.

Additionally, LearningTimes has generously donated an e-conference tool to aid coordination and discussion of local relief efforts. This means users with a microphone and speakers connected to their computer will be able to talk to each other over the Internet, or host their own virtual meetings and webcasts. I’m hoping NGOs will use the e-conference tool to help coordinate their efforts, as well as for tsunami survivors to share their stories.

To introduce users to the website and the e-conferencing tool, we will host a live webcast twice on Thursday, December 30. The first webcast will take place at 7am ET (12:00 GMT) to accomodate users in Asia and Europe, while the second webcast will occur at 12pm ET (17:00 GMT) to accomodate North American participants. Both webcasts will be conducted in English, while recordings will be archived for future online listening and podcasting.

To participate in the live webcast, please visit our e-conferencing tool. Next, type in your name; the e-conferencing tool will then be downloaded to your computer and log you into the webcast. We recommend you do this at least 15 minutes prior to joining the virtual tour. You may also log on now if you would like to experiment with the e-conferencing tool, as it is being made available 24 hours a day.

This new DDN community is free and open to the public, but participants must first join the Digital Divide Network website in order to post content or chat on the bulletin board. If you’re not already a member of DDN, please create an account.

Once you’re registered and logged in to the website, please visit the community’s homepage and click on the button in the center column that says “Join this community.” This will give you posting privileges and allow you to participate in the bulletin board discussions.

We are just beginning to post content to the site, so by the time you read this email there should be several tsunami-related resources published already. Meanwhile, you are invited to join DDN, log in and post your own resources and content to share with colleagues around the world. -andy

For the Woman With the Green Eyes and the Children of Mahabalipuram

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 8:14 pm

The last several days have been extraordinarily difficult, watching the news coverage of the devestation across South Asia. It seems only yesterday that Susanne and I were in Mahabalipuram, India, along the coast of Tamil Nadu, marveling its amazing Shore Temple.

shore temple

Walking from the Temple, we met lots of children, eager to show off the latest stone carvings made by local artisans. Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day:

Mahabalipuram ChildrenIt was getting very breezy and the salt spray was strong, so we headed inland past the temple and down a street lined with small restaurants and stalls of stone cutters. Stone carving and masonry is still alive and well in Mahabalipuram, and each shop would show off its artisans’ work, from small soapstone paperweights to massive marble shrines of Hindu gods, which were sold to temples around the world. As you walked down the unpaved road, it was impossible to not notice the constant clicking of stonemason’s tools patiently pounding on rocks of all sizes. There were so many sculptors chipping granite, the staccato sounds of their work continuously swirled around you like some strange John Cage performance art piece. But such hard work would never get in the way of the hard sell – from within every shop, the carvers would yell out to you, “Mister, please, come and see my statues. Very good work….” Often they would have their children come out and try to bring you inside, but unlike in other cities, these kids would just as soon give up their charge and spend their time playing and running around rather than escorting dumb tourists like us back to father’s showroom….

As we strolled along the street, we stopped at a small cafe run by a beautiful young woman with striking green eyes and European facial features, but dark black hair and Tamil coloring. “The Pepsis were cheap and they were playing this odd westernish music that sounding like Prince performing lounge standards,” I wrote that day. “The woman who ran the cafe was striking, yet not particularly Indian. She must have a significant amount of Portuguese or French blood, for both cultures dominated parts of the south for many centuries.”

Mahabalipuram lies on the shore of the Indian Ocean, just south of Chennai (Madras). Watching the news the last several days, I couldn’t stop thinking of the Shore Temple, the children, the stonemasons — and more than anyone else, the Woman With the Green Eyes. According to an AP wire story about Mahabalipuram, at least 15 townspeople were killed, around 100 total in the surrounding villages. That charming strip of shops, cafes, and stonemason shops were washed completely away. Amazingly, all that is left standing is the 1,200-year-old Shore Temple, thanks to an engineering project initiated by Indira Gandhi.

Compared to so many other villages that lost everything, Mahabalipuram may have gotten off lucky; nonetheless, livelihoods have been ruined, families destroyed. I have no idea what happened to the children we met in Mahabalipuram, to the Woman With the Green Eyes. I suppose I will never know. I can only hope they survived. No matter their fate, I dedicate this blog to them.

I’ve made my contribution to the Red Cross — have you? -Andy

December 25, 2004

My First iPod!

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 10:15 pm
iPod and friends
My new iPod, posing with my laptop and Beethoven the golden retriever

I just found a wonderful surprise under Susanne’s parents’ Christmas tree — my very own iPod. I can’t believe Susanne got it for me. She’d hinted that she was getting something “a little expensive” and wasn’t sure what to do; I had feeling she meant and iPod, but I discouraged her from getting it. So I was totally shocked when I opened an enormous Williams Sonoma box and found the iPod hidden at the bottom.

She got me the 20 gig model, which can hold around 5,000 songs. I’m particularly excited because I want to use it for storing digital photos while I’m traveling, and for recording podcasts. As strange as it sounds, I actually posted my first podcast before owning an iPod, so having one will make podcasting even more productive — and more fun…. -andy

December 23, 2004

Making Podcasting Accessible to All

Filed under: Digital Divide,Podcasts — Andy Carvin @ 10:17 pm

Drumroll, please: I’ve just posted my first podcast. The topic of this five-minute audio is the growth of podcasting and the subsequent accessibility challenges faced by the hearing impaired. I’m hoping it’s the first in a series of podcasts from me on a variety of issues related to the Internet, the media and the digital divide, among other topics.

If you have a good Internet connection you can download the podcast; it’s just over five megabytes in size. Otherwise, a transcript of the podcast can be found below.

For those of you who want to subscribe to my future podcasts using software like iPodderX, please use my blog’s RSS feed.
-ac


Hi everyone, Andy Carvin here…. Welcome to the first official podcast for my blog, Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth. I’ll be posting occasional podcasts on a variety of issues. I don’t plan on having a single theme to this podcast; it won’t strictly be about the digital divide or Internet culture or travel or the media. There really aren’t rules for this; I’m just going to play it by ear and see where the muses lead me.

Today, though, I’d like to talk about podcasting. No, I don’t mean for this to be yet another podcast about podcasts. Instead, I want to talk specifically about podcasting and accessibility.

This past week on the Digital Divide Network email list there was a great discussion about the advent of podcasting and its potential as a tool for giving a voice to disenfranchised communities.

A few days into the conversation, Grant Laird of the Texas Deaf Network posted a brief response to the thread. He said,”Don’t forget that podcasting probably doesn’t support transcripts for the deaf community.”

My first reaction was, “That’s a fair point…. I’m more than happy to post transcripts of my podcasts.” For me, at least, that makes a lot of sense. But will other podcasters feel the same way? Unfortunately, I think the answer is generally no, I think many would argue that the whole notion of posting podcast transcripts actually runs counter to the ethos of podcasting.

A case in point: last month, Web accessibility activist Matt May posted a rather provocative essay in which he lamented that many pioneering podcasters are actually going out their way not to transcribe their podcasts. As evidence to this, he cited a statement by Steve Gillmor at the recent BloggerCon conference saying that he’d never post transcripts — and actually got applause out of it.

Posting transcripts, it seems, would defeat the whole purpose of podcasting: pushing the envelop of personal multimedia publishing. I mean, why bother spend all of this time trying to be a bleeding-edge Internet radio pioneer when you’d have to type up everything you’ve just said, just so that people who don’t even know what an iPod is can read what you had to say in the first place?

But Matt May, who works for the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative, finds this position unacceptable. He writes:

What if a deaf user sees a topic that interests him or her, and wants to know what these subject-matter experts have to say about it? Should he or she go without simply because the moderator thinks it would disrupt the natural feel found in the panel’s voices?

Interestingly, not long after Matt posted his blog, Steve Gillmor posted a response:

I have to admit I was not thinking about accessibility in relation to the subject of transcripts. Of course it makes sense in that context, and I appreciate your perception that the Gillmor Gang material is worthy of that additional effort…. As the network grows and technologies for auto-transcriptions become affordable without the cost of training that holds back current technology, the accessibility problem will be overcome.

These comments by Matt and Grant and Steve are probably the first round of what may be a rather contentious battle between podcasters and accessibility activists. Just as we’ve seen fights over the accessibility of websites and streaming media, it’s no surprise that podcasting has opened a new theatre of operations in this battle. But fortunately podcasters like Steve Gillmor are now thinking about accessibility, and are open to addressing these concerns. Will others take notice? I imagine many won’t, but I’m sure the accessibility community won’t sit on their hands either.

So Matt’s absolutely right when he says that the deaf community shouldn’t be forced to “go without” simply because podcast producers have better things to do than cater to the disabled. I mean, so what if podcasting wasn’t invented to target the disabled community? Isn’t it absolutely reasonable to assume that many podcasts will contain insightful and entertaining commentary that would be just as interesting to a deaf person as it would be to anyone else?

Granted, transcripts in themselves will never convey all the nuances of the human voice and spoken interaction, but that’s hardly the point. Podcasting has enormous potential as a tool for independent media, civic journalism, education and other purposes, and it’s just a matter of time before we see millions of podcasts being produced, from the biggest media conglomerates all the way down to some kid in her bedroom with a story she wants to tell the world.

Of course, life will be a lot easier when voice recognition tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking get better at transcribing everyday banter rather than dictation. Someday we’ll get there, I’m sure, but don’t expect it overnight.

So is it too much to ask podcasters to offer a transcript of their audio? Even a detailed summary is better than nothing. Otherwise, podcasting will be yet another media juggernaut that will zoom by the lives of millions of people without giving any of them a chance to benefit from it as well.

And who knows; maybe someone who uses speech-recognition software to communicate to the outside world needs to start their own podcast as well. Wouldn’t that send a powerful message?

Maybe we should all just email Stephen Hawking and see if he wants to be the first.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Until next time, thanks for listening to my Waste of Bandwidth….

(Note: open/closing music courtesy of Subatomic Glue, used under the rules of their Creative Commons license.)

Marnie Webb’s Top 10 List on Why NPOs Should Use RSS

Filed under: Digital Divide — Andy Carvin @ 8:18 pm

Marnie Webb of TechSoup has just posted a great blog entry on the Digital Divide Network entitled 10 Reasons Nonprofits Should Use RSS. She intends it as a public brainstorm for an article she’s contemplating. I hope she goes for it, because she’s got some great insights in the blog.

Here’s what she’s come up with so far. (And thanks for using the Creative Commons license so I could reprint this in full, Marnie!)

  1. It’s a ridiculously easy way to read the web. So, how many bookmarks do you have in your browser? How many of them have new information? Does it make you sick to your stomach to think of clicking through all of those to discover whether or not the website owners have added new, interesting content? Via RSS, you can subscribe to many websites and very easily find out whether there is new relevant content. My bookmarks no longer scare me. In fact, I rarely use them.
  2. It’s ridiculously easy to discover relevant information. For people without a desire to spelunk on the web, finding things and checking back has been a chore. Many folks approach Google like it’s a library card catalog. I want to find out about X and so I’ll search on Google and then trust in its algorithm and click through the links on the first, oh, two, let’s say, pages. RSS allows you to tap important, relevant, even mission-critical information by enabling the creation of feeds based on keywords (how this happens varies but there are a variety of tools — PubSub, technorati, feedster — that you can use and many aggregators integrate with those tools in way that allows you to create searches). So, let’s say you work for an organization that is following issues pertaining to same sex civil unions and/or marriages. You can set up some keyword searches and then subscribe to those searches. This can allow relevant information to come to you.
  3. It’s ridiculously easy to share the information you get. One of the nice things about RSS is that information comes to you in manageable chunks: a NYTimes headline with a sentence-long article summary; a complete weblog entry; a teaser for a longer weblog entry; the pointer to a newsgroup posting; an email announcement list; events. You can push that information out to communities who may interested — simply send it via email or put it on your own blog.
  4. It’s ridiculously easy to participate in conversations. Okay, RSS is just an enabler here. Why should you care what people are saying about the issues you’re interested in? Well, if it’s the New York Times or own local paper that interest can be self-evident (we certainly have framed NY Times articles gracing the entry way to our offices). But what about what people are saying on weblogs or on community sites like Tribe? Knowing what they are saying — and where they are saying it — gives you the opportunity to participate in the conversation. You make a comment on someone’s website or participate in a message board thread. This helps to further the conversation and distributes your content (you’ll sign your comment right? and include your organization’s web presence?) around the web. This makes the web a richer place but it also helps to generate attention to the issues you are working on.
  5. It’s ridiculously easy to control your own subscriptions. Here’s the truth: unsubscribing from some mailing lists, announcements, or other outreach is, how do you say, a chore. You have to click a link that, about half the time, merely confirms that you are a real, live body receiving email. You can’t remember how it is that you elected to receive the information and, most critical to me, it ends up mixed in with the ebb-and-flow of your inbox and, hence, gets in the way of getting work done. RSS gives you complete control. You can easily segment your feed (it’s hard to set up an email filter for something you don’t know you are receiving) from your regular email. You can even use a non-email client aggregator.
  6. It’s ridiculously easy to allow people to trade your good content like it’s a baseball card. It may sound like I’m being flip. I’m not; I swear. Hook yourself up with an RSS feed (to see an organization trying to talk through that read this thread on TechSoup, TechSoup newsfeed please!). It allows people to very easily trade your good relevant content and that’s exactly what you want right? It happens at almost no cost to you.
  7. It’s ridiculously easy for other people to lend you a bit of their web real estate. Okay, this one is a little harder. But RSS does offer up the possibility of allowing other organizations to display some of your content on their website. This is good. It gets your content out to a variety of audiences and it can greatly enhance relevant partnerships. The best part? They don’t actually have to talk to you for this to happen. Painless content partnerships. What more could anyone want?
  8. It’s ridiculously easy to avoid being a spammer. Opt-in, double opt-in. Allowing people to subscribe via RSS puts complete control into their hands and gets you completely off the spammer hook. Okay, so some email publishers (as Bill Pease says in this TechSoup thread, Is email dead?) hate that. It’s hard to track traffic and click thrus, and it puts control completely in the hands of the subscriber and not the publisher. I just don’t agree. If you are creating good content people will subscribe and they will stay subscribed. That means that, ultimately, the control is really in your hands. Compelling content works better than anything else. Oh yeah, not being a spammer isn’t just an ethical (and increasingly legal issue) not being a spammer also means that you message will get to your intended audience and not dumped into a spam filter.
  9. It’s ridiculously easy to contribute to web-wide conversations. Okay, if you’re using RSS to track what people are saying about important issues and what people are saying about you, so are other folks. By making your content available via RSS, you’re allowing other people to discover you. And they’ll be commenting on your site, linking to it, and (here’s the kicker) subscribing to your RSS feed and not just stumbling across you in their own keyword searches.
  10. It’s only just beginning. RSS is in relatively early stages. The tools are still pretty raw but it pays for nonprofits, in their efforts to gain mindshare for the change they are trying to make, it get in on the ground floor of these types of communication technologies. It’ll better position you to take advantage of them as they mature and additional uses become available.

Marnie is looking for comments on the top 10 list, so visit her blog and let her know what you think. -andy

December 21, 2004

Slate Slated for Washington Post Purchase

Filed under: Media & Politics — Andy Carvin @ 10:20 pm

This morning, the Washington Post Company announced it’s buying Slate Magazine from Microsoft. Slate, founded almost nine years ago by Michael Kinsley, was one of the first news magazines to be created for the Internet. As part of the deal, the Post will retain most of Slate’s editorial staff, including editor Jacob Weisberg.

“Microsoft has been a great place for us for the last 8-1/2 years,” Weisberg said, but “it was a tough place to develop our business because it wasn’t a media company and doesn’t want to be a media company. They’re really big and we’re really small. The joke was always that we’re almost a rounding error, but a rounding error probably exaggerated our status.”

Slate, for its part, wasted no time in reaffirming its editorial independence by publishing an article criticizing a recent Washington Post investigation on the number of expectant mothers who die violent deaths…. -andy

December 20, 2004

Redefining the French Horn

Filed under: Sundries and Such — Andy Carvin @ 10:21 pm

For those of you who doubt the important role that French musicians have played in the history of classical music, I offer you this retort, courtesy of the Icelandic website hugi.is. The French horn is forever transformed…. -andy

Beginning to Look A Lot Like Moscow

Filed under: Personal News — Andy Carvin @ 8:22 pm

Susanne and Andy

It’s only 15 degrees fahrenheit outside, so I decided it was appropriate to break out the faux-fur hat I bought in Russia a couple of years ago. Walking to the Longwood T-stop along the forested Riverway I felt like I was strolling through Moscow’s Ismailovo Park in the dead of winter. I even had a plastic bag in hand.

By the time we got on the T, several people on the train were staring at me, including Susanne. She was biting her lip, trying not to laugh.

“Are you sure you’re not embarrassed being seen with me in this hat?” I asked her.

“I married you knowing that you owned that hat,” she replied, smirking.

Hopefully it won’t get this cold too often, so I can go back to wearing my knit cap, in my poor imitation of a Portugeuse fisherman… -andy

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