Information for a Visual Age

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

My new bag: Timmy’s Tactical Attache

In Technology on August 10, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I just got the Timmy’s Tactical Attache from Prior to buying the bag, I searched the internet looking for reviews of the bag. I didn’t find much, and there weren’t many pictures on the Thinkgeek site, so I’m posting my own review here.

Overall, the bag is impressively well made. The matieral is a bit thin but the fit and finish are fairly good (with a few exceptions that I note below). The bag is on the smallish side. It’s perfect for me, but don’t think that you’ll be hauling around your collection of oversize atlases in this bag.

(Click any image to enlarge)

Timmy's front (click for larger image)

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Open Source Software I’m Using

In Technology on March 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I’m a big fan of open source software. The philosophy of it appeals to me — a community of like minded individuals who are dedicated to making the world a better place through the creation of software. The functionality appeals to me — often the tools are as good or better than their commercial equivalents. And the price really appeals to me — free!

As a sometimes coder, I can understand and appreciate the amount of time and dedication goes into writing software.

I should note that an excellent resource for finding open source software is the Open Source as Alternative site. You can search for commercial software — say “Photoshop” — then find open source alternatives. With reviews and ratings, the site helps you decide if there are viable open source alternatives for your problem.

So here are the open source software I use.

Can’t Live without Them

These are the open source programs I use without fail, every day or very regularly. To me, these are really the best of the best.

Audacity: Hands down. I use this audio editor every week to edit audio files from my church and at work. Great options and the beta version (as of this writing) adds some great features.In the world of open source software, this program is very well developed with a professional feel to it. Read the rest of this entry »

Skype to the rescue

In Technology on January 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm

The power went out in our building a few days ago. This would no’t have been a big deal but it was on the day of a big event that was going to be teleconferenced to some remote participants. When the power came back, our phone system was fried and not working. Panic ensued.

We discussed a number of different options. We could use a cell-phone conferencing feature, but we judged them to have inadequate sound quality to pick up the conversation in a large conference room. We could purchase a new phone and run a long telephone line to our fax line, the one direct outside line that was working (because it was bypassing our internal PBX system). But that was still judged to have too many risks (using a new phone during an event).

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Professional quality audio for $350

In Technology on December 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

A few months ago I put together a package of audio equipment for recording our live events at the office. The problem was that we were previously letting our great events go unrecorded, meaning those who couldn’t make it would miss out on our great programming. In addition, when the conference room really filled up, the audience sometimes had difficulty in hearing more soft-spoken presenters.  So we needed both sound recording and sound reinforcement. And we needed it on a budget, because we are a nonprofit with a modest budget.

Early Recordings

So here’s what we did. At first, we purchased an Olympus DS-30 digital voice recorder (~$100). The Olympus has a great microphone in it with a bunch of different recording settings. We chose the high quality (HQ) mono — we didn’t need stereo for what were going to be voice recordings. (I just learned that the Olympus can be programmed to turn on and start recording at preset times. Very handy, and I’ll show you why in a subsequent post.)

Eliminating Distractions with Directional Microphones

We used the recorder as-is very successfully for about a year. But the Olympus has an omnidirectional microphone, meaning it would pick up sound from anywhere in the room. That means lot’s of distracting noises were picked up — coughing, paper rustling, doors shutting, etc. So we upgraded to some directional microphones, which accept sound only from one direction. When they are pointed at a presenter, they pick up his or her voice well but they reject sound that comes from “off axis” (meaning sound from the side or behind a microphone).

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How the internet changes the Smithsonian (and your business too)

In Technology on June 2, 2009 at 11:28 am

By Joel Garreau of the Washington Post wrote an excellent piece in January entitled “Smithsonian Click-n-Drags Itself Forward” (reposted at New America Foundation).

Imagine you’re the Smithsonian Institution. You are “America’s attic,” comprising museums numbering in the teens,with literally millions of artifacts in each inventory. Now you want to put your entire collection online, so that everyone can can see it. How do you do it, while also adding descriptive information that makes each artifact relevant to non-experts?

Oh yeah, did I mention the Smithsonian has a lot of stuff? If you’re only counting photos, it has a whopping 13 million. As a quick calculation, if it takes just 5 minutes to tag and write explanatory text for each image (which is very optimistic –some will surely take much longer to research, verify, revise, etc.), the entire collection would 250 people working full time for over two years to complete.  No wonder the Smithsonian’s initial foray on Flickr only featured 1,300 photos.

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Books: Google's Next Monopoly?

In Technology on May 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm

An editorial in the Washington Post by Brewster Kahle, director of the Internet Archive, highlights the tricky position we now face as Google becomes more enmeshed in the workings of the internet. In particular, it appears a court settlement may allow Google to grab distribution rights for millions or even billions of books:

And under this settlement, authors who come forward to claim ownership in books scanned by Google would receive $60 per title. … But the settlement would also create a class that includes millions of people who will never come forward. For the majority of books — considered “orphan” works — no one will claim ownership.

Google would get an explicit, perpetual license to scan and sell access to these in-copyright but out-of-print orphans, which make up an estimated 50 to 70 percent of books published after 1923. No other provider of digital books would enjoy the same legal protection.

I love Google and use their search engine all the time. I think as a corporation it behaves fairly well. At the same time, I’m wary of putting too many of our technological eggs in one basket. As the author concludes:

We’ve wrestled with high-tech monopolies in the past — IBM, AT&T, Microsoft. The lesson was that such strongholds restrict innovation and competition.