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Audacity and Sherlock Holmes July 31, 2014

Having performed the major edits on my Sherlock Holmes audio track via a series of splits and joins, it was time to refine the work. The month was now April and I had already invested upwards of six hours, succeeding only in recording three chapters of “A Scandal in Bohemia” and editing out a few of the more unacceptable mistakes from the first.

At this point, I had begun to hit my stride and was, at minimum, capable of recognizing the wave patterns which indicated that I had taken a breath mid-sentence. These, I removed with ease, giving the audio a flow which sounded distinctly more professional than the original recording. But producing a track of the quality I wanted to present to my fiancé would require a bit more work.

Up to this point, my skills with Audacity had been rather basic. I was able to record, split, and join tracks. (If you’d like to learn how to get started with Audacity and use these features, click here.) That, however, was about the extent of my knowledge. Next, I needed to determine the best way to eliminate the background noise produced by the 27 gallon aquarium in my “recording studio”. To learn the art, I turned to YouTube and a rather informative tutorial by Phil Chenevert which can be viewed by clicking here.

Pulling up all three tracks, I highlighted a section of the track containing only the background noise I wished to delete. Selecting “Noise Removal” from the “Effect” drop down menu, I pressed “Get Noise Profile.” Then, highlighting the entire recorded track, I repeated the procedure, this time adjusting the bars and previewing the result until I heard the silence I was seeking. I clicked “OK” and the hum of my filtration system disappeared.

The removal of this base-line sound also went a long way towards the removal of the limited “clipping” evident in my tracks. (“Clipping” is a term used to refer to audio waves which extend beyond the peak recording volume. Such waves can contribute to sound distortion and, in some cases, actually cause damage to audio equipment. Clipping can be controlled by monitoring the volume of your voice as you record and, most unintentional clips can be removed by clicking Audacity’s “Effect” menu and selecting “Clip Fix” from the dropdown.) Applying “Click Removal” (also available on the dropdown under the “Effect” menu) went a bit farther towards cleaning up the tracks and I now had the smooth sounding audio that I was after.

It was time to begin the final stage of editing: removing the tiny bits of vocal track which were hard to split and remove when in normal view. Magnifying the tracks gave me a better view of the waves (and the beginning and ending of each vocalization) as I played through the recording. I carefully selected the portions I intended to remove and was left with what was quite a fine string of audio, ready to be exported as MP3’s and burned onto a disk for my fiancé’s listening pleasure.

 

An Audio Book, A Scandal, and Sherlock Holmes July 24, 2014

My fiancé likes the sound of my voice and, despite being a fan of the BBC television show “Sherlock” has never actually read any of the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I, on the other hand, am the proud owner of a complete copy in the form of an early edition (1927) gifted to me by my mother. Having been actively engaged in the pursuit of inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts, it seemed like a match made in Heaven. In one brilliant stroke of genius, I determined that I would record myself reading these stories and give them to him for his birthday.

I had been podcasting for a while as a host on Aboard the Knight Bus (an irregularly released podcast centered on four women who united their midlife crises with a love of the “Harry Potter” books). We used Audacity to record and mix our voice tracks and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to expand my skills with the program. So I set to work.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that recording an audio book was not quite the same as hosting a podcast. There were, in fact, numerous differences beginning with the fact that not everything produced in written form was meant to be read aloud. Obtaining the proper meter for the text proved a challenge and I soon resorted to reading each passage before recording it. Even then, the “voice” of the characters didn’t seem quite right and it took several tries before it was possible to distinguish between the accent-less Holmes and the equally American sounding Watson. Add in the Bohemian prince Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein (try saying that in one breath!) and a few words which I was not accustomed to pronouncing and what I had was ten percent art, ninety percent mess.

The month was March and it wasn’t long before my original goal of recording and producing a set of five stories before my fiancé’s July birthday seemed a touch over ambitious. Deciphering the technique involved in vocalizing such a production had taken time… and I was yet to hit my stride when it came to producing the program.

Initially, my recordings were a series of disparate tracks: each necessitated by my stumbling tongue. Every time I faltered, I stopped the recording, clipped out the poorly vocalized portion, and began recording again on an additional track which I later joined with the original.
This, of course, was rather time consuming and it wasn’t long before I abandoned the “edit-as-you-go” method in favor of a single, long recording which could later be split and joined at appropriate times. Unfortunately, this, too, had its drawbacks. To begin with, the intonation with which I had produced individual segments was not always entirely consistent with the intonation of the paragraph with which I intended to unite it. The result was a slightly robotic and distinctly “edited” sound. It had become clear that rerecording would be required. And that this work of love was going to require far more patience than I ever could have imagined! (To be continued…)

 

Successful Scouting Missions July 17, 2014

As my interest in foraging grew, I began to explore new territory. My workplace and backyard were well known to me, but there were other locations nearby that looked equally promising. The current bushes by the river were loaded as were the juniper trees. And then, there was the canal a half-mile from my home where every season, the cattails grew tall and thick.

It was this canal which drew my attention early this spring and, just after the snow had melted, I wandered down for a scouting mission. This would be a precursor to later foraging adventures and was designed to give me the “lay of the land”. I was looking for several things as I walked (and advise that you do as well, if foraging is in your future):

1. Was the soil near the bank secure? As the season pressed on, the canal would fill with water and I wanted to be certain that I knew the best way to and from the cattails without risking getting soaked or, worse yet, drowned.

2. Were there obstacles in the path that might be hidden once the brush had grown up? Among these were blocks of crumbled cement, bent rebar, collapsed barbed wire, and a proliferation of ground squirrel holes.

3. Were there any particular dangers posed by the wildlife? There weren’t any tracks to indicate that larger wildlife took an interest in the area (though I knew this might change as the year wore on). There were ducks, ground squirrels, and a feral cat living in a hold across the ditch, but the area seemed reasonably free of anything territorial enough or large enough to take me on. (Though I made a note to avoid both the squirrels and the cat during future ventures.)

4. Were there any human dangers? With gangs on the rise in my local area, I admit that I was also on the lookout for tags indicating that some unscrupulous characters had claimed the area for their own. I also kept an eye open for less hazardous signs of human activity including “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” indicators.

5. Were there any chemical threats? There was one final issue of importance and this one couldn’t be settled in the course of a single mission: was anyone spraying the foraging area for weeds or insects? The very presence of the cattails seemed to indicate that at minimum, no herbicides targeting monocots were being applied, but this didn’t mean that the area and the food grown in it was entirely safe. I’d have to keep my eyes open throughout the season to ensure that the health of my foraging area did not become a threat to the health of my family.

The scouting mission complete, I was ready to move on with my plan. There would be cattail on the menu this summer… though I felt it wise not to mention its addition to my family until after they’d partaken of the meal.

 

Eat This: An Introduction to Foraging July 10, 2014

My introduction to foraging was an accident. The fruiting plants in the nursery were producing, but the customers weren’t there to purchase them. As I gazed at the bright red berries, I couldn’t avoid the sense that letting them stay there to rot was a shame. So I plucked them and popped them into my mouth.

The same was true for the little pear tree planted in the windbreak. Hidden between overgrown spruce trees, potted plants and a field of tall grass, it was hardly noticeable. The pears were not large, but the tiny tree was laden with them and I decided to take a chance. What I discovered was a delight which, for weeks to come, would form a key part of my lunch.
And that was when everything changed. As I sat there eating my free fruit, I began to wonder what other overlooked food might be available in the local area… and whether I could find enough to provide an entire meal. Might foraging be a way to bring down a grocery bill while retaining the nutritional value necessary for survival. It seemed likely. After all, people around the world have been “gathering” their food for millennia. And if they could do it, so could I.

This, of course, merited a trip to the local book store where I picked up a copy of “Edible Wild Plants” by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman. The volume was a treasure trove of information about over 200 North American plants. It included information about how best to prepare and serve each along with warnings about varieties which had been known to cause allergic reactions and even which plants might be confused with poisonous cousins.
Over the next few weeks, I discovered rose hips, sumac berries, wild currents, and the fruit of the hawthorn tree. I shared these delights willingly with my coworkers who quickly came to anticipate my sudden appearance from behind a hedge or inside a grove with fruit in hand and a command to “eat this”. (It is a tribute to my trustworthiness that nearly every one of my coworkers complied with my orders and, in turn, discovered a variety of pleasant alternatives to grocery store fare.)

I confess that I wasn’t bold enough to try everything that was in season. Dandelion is, after all, a weed (though it wasn’t for many centuries) and cattails are… well, fuzzy. Still, it was enough to be going forward on and it wasn’t long before I was providing quite a few snacks and an occasional meal consisting solely of foraged foods. This, however, would not be enough to satisfy my curiosity and my odd interest in a lost art. It was time to expand my horizons. (To be continued…)

 

The Digital Age and What Finally Got Me to Join It July 4, 2014

Filed under: Books,Digital — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I lay back on the couch and closed my eyes. It was midafternoon and, despite having a couple magazines to read and a few writing projects to complete, I was too tired to focus. On an ordinary day, this would have meant setting everything aside for a nap. But not today. Instead, I’d plugged my ear buds into my iPad and pressed the icon which read “Tap for an audio version of this story”.

It was a fair compromise between what I wanted to be doing and what I knew I should be doing and it was made possible by a technology which I’ve passionately resisted for years. Digital books and magazines were, in my opinion, a form of modern heresy. After all, reading was not about convenience, but about the blissful union of information and tactile sensation. It was about the weight of a book in my hands, the feel of the paper as I turned the pages. I yearned for the musty aroma of well-worn volumes and the gritty residue left on freshly-cut paper. None of these could be provided by anything “digital”. And this meant that anything digital was distinctly inferior.

It was my fiancé who forced me to take my first steps into the brave new world of electronic media. He had noticed me drooling over a multi-volume set for which I had the money, but not the space. The obvious solution to my problem was to give me the books in a form which took virtually no space at all. And, since they were a birthday gift, I could hardly argue.
It wasn’t long before I’d discovered at least one merit to this new format: the volumes could be cross referenced. This was, in my opinion, the only redeeming quality of these books which, according to my laptop’s hard drive, consisted only of 1’s and 0’s. Still, it was sufficient to interest me in the purchase of several more volumes which utilized the same software program. Digital books, I decided, were acceptable. But only for research.

This concession, of course, did nothing to reduce my stalwart resistance to the medium. I watched as brick and mortar book stores were driven out of business and lamented the loss of these landmarks of learning. I mourned as my friends raved over their Kindles, Nooks, and a variety of low-end reading devices. And I was prepared to hold a wake when all of my favorite magazines began to offer “digital only” subscriptions for nearly the same price as the print editions. Why, oh why, would anyone want to buy anything in digital for the same price as the easily preserved print edition?

It wasn’t until one of my magazines offered a free digital edition as a companion to my print edition that I began to understand the answer to this question. The magazine was “TIME” and that’s exactly what I dedicated (quite accidentally) to exploring the strange new world which it opened to me. The digital edition contained more content (a plus), but this alone would be insufficient to entice me. Instead, it was the unique interactivity which drew me in. I watched as social media updates enhanced the articles. I viewed video materials which expanded upon the traditional immobilized content. I zoomed in and out of maps, photographs, and NASA satellite images. And I listened as my iPad read articles to me while I engaged in the relaxing activities necessary to ensure my wakefulness through the rest of a busy day.

Suddenly, it all made sense. Digital was not the death of learning or the tactile experiences I associated with reading: it was an expansion of them. It was an opportunity to learn and explore without ever leaving the comfort of my living room. And it was good.

 

 
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