The Final Countdown

Today we were told to include a Facebook “like” button and Twitter feed on our sites.   Thankfully we didn’t actually have to build new Facebook and Twitter profiles in order to do this, but could use anything that happened to take our fancy.    So, you can now see that there is a link to the Facebook page for Women’s Adventure Magazine and Twitter feed from Raven Books displayed on my blog.

Luckily WordPress makes it very simple to add both Twitter feed and a Facebook “like” as well as many other options, by having widgets which allow you to quickly and easily add the feeds you want to your sidebars.

To add the Facebook “like”, simply go to your WordPress dashboard, choose Appearance,   go to the right hand side of the page and choose where you want the “like” to appear (there are a number of options – sidebar, footer and so on).  Then drag and drop it to the place you want.  And you’re done.   The same option applies for anything else you want to add.   A word of warning though, Safari, Dolphin and Chrome all refused to allow me open the widget options so I ended up having to go to an actual PC to get this finished off.

So now it’s our last day of blogging and I’ve finally managed to get my Page, rather than my post, on Podcasting published.   I included an RSS feed by highlighting text I wanted to turn into a link, then clicking the Link option from the toolbar (the one that looks like a chain) then pasting the RSS option from Podomatic.  Easy yes, but I did have problems due to brower issues –  I couldn’t see whether the podcasts were actually subscribe-able or not.    The Apple Mac I was using decided it was going to display text only.   I had to ask a friend to test it on her smartphone to see if she could actually subscribe.    Luckily, she could see it via her Google Reader and everything was working as expected, but it does beg the question as to the usefulness of any programme that requires users to use a specific brower in order to function.

Meanwhile I can see from the RSS feeds I have subscribed to that a number of my fellow students have been busy re-working their original blogs to improve the quality of what was published.  I’ve only got an hour left before this is due so I won’t be doing the same.   My blog needs to be taken as it was originally created – a journey through digital media showing my progression over the duration of this course.   To my mind, there is a clear development shown in my blogs as I move from technical newbie to someone who is, if not extremely proficient, at least relatively comfortable with creating and publishing digital media.   I’ve learned a lot, I’ve enjoyed doing it and I’m actually very happy with my skill set now.  Who knows?  By the end of the year, I may even be able to pull together a YouTube video.  Wouldn’t that be great?

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Social media optimisation.

One of the requirements for our course was to develop blogs and a podcast which were optimised for social media.  As you’ve seen from my previous posts, I’m not the most techie person in  the world but I started checking out the blogs from my fellow students and saw that most of them offered readers the chance to share the blog or “like” it.  So I went to the WordPress settings to see how I could do the same.

For anyone who doesn’t know, you go to Settings, then Sharing.  From there, you get a number of options for social media links – Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr and Yahoo appear in large, followed by Google Plus, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Pinterest.    You can also include the option to print or email the blog, should you so choose.

So far, so straightforward.   You simply drag the links you want to the Enabled Services section and voila, you are ready to make your blog social-media-ready.  Except that you’re not.  You need to identify where you want these icons to appear and that’s where things are not as simple as you might think.

I had assumed that by selecting “Posts” and “Pages” that this would mean that the links for Facebook and Twitter which I had chosen would automatically appear on all my posts and pages.  They didn’t.  So I went back and tried again.  Still no joy.  I selected single options, then dual options, with no success.  Eventually, I decided to select all the options, rather than just “Posts” and “Pages” and hey presto, there were icons on each post.

So, what have I learned from all this?  If in doubt, retrace your steps and if it still doesn’t work, just enable everything until you get what you want appearing on screen.   The main thing to remember is you can’t break the computer by trying, so just keep at it till it does what you want.

Happy Halloween!

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Exactly how many programs does it take to publish a podcast?

Well, let’s see, since I started on this, I’ve used WordPress to write my blogs,

Audacity to record my podcasts,

Pixlr to create my images,

Podomatic to convert the file

and iTunes to upload the finished podcast.

Last week I used Soundcloud

to publish my first attempt at a podcast.  Anyone else exhausted by this?  I know I am.

Of course,  a part of me is thinking that there is a massive entrepreneurial opportunity here for someone to provide a simple one-stop-shop style program which will let someone do all their social media editing and uploading without the need for multiple interfacing.   I wonder if we could do that for a group project…

What I’ve discovered this week is that when podcasting it’s probably easier to do a podcast that consists of your own thoughts/speech, than it is to read someone else’s work.  That’s because when you use someone else’s work, you have to worry about copyright etc.

When I started thinking about my podcast, I was leaning towards using some of JRR Tolkien’s poetry, to go with my portfolio imagery.  Unfortunately The Lord of the Rings is still a copyrighted work, as are most of Roald Dahl’s works and although Lewis Carroll writes wonderfully, it’s hard to compete with Johnny Depp’s rendition of Jabberwocky.   Hence my final choice of “Twas the night before Christmas”.  Thank you Project Gutenberg  www.gutenberg.org/    for the text!

I understand that an author should be able to keep control of their work and, should I ever be fortune enough to be paid for anything I write, I would certainly not expect to have anyone use my work to make money for themselves.  However, it is a bit frustrating that some of the fabulous pieces of literature out there are not available for public use yet.   On the bright side, it does mean that we are encouraged to go and pick up texts we might otherwise not use.

In the meantime, I’m getting my Audible collection up to scratch to see what kind of techniques the sound-editors are using there to make the audiobooks come alive.   If anyone has suggestions for additional programs that might help improve my podcasting, please feel free to share your thoughts.

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Podcast

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A proper podcast…

Well, having spent a while playing around with Audacity I’ve grown accustomed to my voice in an empty room and I’ve watched Niall’s instructional videos as to what I’m supposed to do next.  I’ve also finally managed to select something to read.  I think…   I did start with V’s speech from “V for Vendetta” but even with the editing which Audacity has, I couldn’t make it sound anyway near as impressive as this:

At this point in the course, we are supposed to develop a podcast, save it into iTunes, add an RSS feed and then make it publicly available for people to listen to.    Did I mention that my digital media skills are still in their infancy?

I selected “‘Twas the before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore.  At a little over three minutes, it seemed long enough to allow me to read material easily but with plenty of space for editing, if the occasion required it.

I selected an instrumental track to overlay with the spoken word track to give it that festive mood.  It seemed like it should be a fairly simple thing to do.  However, one of the first things you learn with editing is that nothing is as it seems.  My spoken track was recorded in mono but the instrumental track was stereo.  Luckily Audacity has a function to convert stereo to mono which helps when overlaying tracks.   When you export the final edit to MP3 it all converts to mono anyway, so I guess I shouldn’t have worried too much.

I had to cut in various spoken phrases throughout the poem.  In order to do this, I used the zoom function to increase the visual display relating to the segment I wanted to edit, as this gives more precision in inserting and removing tracks.  I have left one mistake in the track deliberately to demonstrate the need for editing – listen and find!

It was also necessary to use the amplify function to increase the volume on the spoken track or in some cases to reduce the volume on the instrumental track.  The Repeat and Fade Out functions at the end of the poem, so that the music would taper off were also useful and although it did require multiple edits until I got it just as I wanted, I think the final result was worth it.

Now that that’s done, I’m off to sort out uploading to iTunes.  Another coffee is called for I think…

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Is anybody out there?

I have now spent a good bit of time playing around with my Audacity software.  Admittedly talking to my computer seemed only a step above talking to myself.  And there was a lot of time spent re-recording as everytime I moved it seemed to scratch against the microphone or result in whispery echoes.

But then I discovered that I could cut and paste in pieces of music from other audio files and things became a lot more interesting.

One of the key features of Audacity is that you see a visual representation of the sounds which are made.  This makes it (relatively) easy to actually identify the segments you want.  There are options to  insert a piece of silence or to focus on a key piece of sound that you want to cut.  You can split recordings and take out key pieces.   You can make sounds  fade in or fade out, like my inserted applause.

You can see from my first trial below that I’ve tried interspersing spoken word with some musical cuts.  I’ve also included a sampling from a professional recording of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde.  In the words of many a blogging fan, “the content is not mine, I don’t own it, I make no claim on it”.   I am using these sounds here for illustrative purposes only.

Where Audacity does fall down though is in actually linking the sound content out to my blog.    I thought it would be possible to simply copy and paste the MP3 link in.  Possibly that was just my innocence.  A long (frustrated) time later, I asked for help and Katie (God bless her!) pointed me towards SoundCloud.   Check out Katie’s blog at http://digitising.wordpress.com/

I think the key thing I’m learning from all of this is that even though social media allows individuals to create, collaboration and interaction with others is key in using and learning about all the open-source and free-ware tools which are available.

Next week I’ll be working on a full podcast.  I’ll have to practice long speeches without crutch words (those would be the “umms”, “ems” and other words which people use when talking and waiting for the next words to flow).   I’ll also be trying to use some more of the fun features on Audacity.   Till then,  have fun sound-editing!

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The cheek! (Actually it’s the Audacity…)

This week, we’ve been experimenting with Audacity, which for anyone who doesn’t know (like me) is a free open-source software package which allows you to record your voice, create podcasts etc.    Available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/  for anyone reading this who may be interested…

So, back to basics for the unitiated.   The Encyclopedia Britannica (online edition) defines a podcast as ” a “radio-style” program, usually in the MP3 digital format, disseminated over theInternet, that includes a system for subscribing to it on a World Wide Web page in such a manner that future programs are automatically downloaded. Subscribers typically transfer downloaded files to their portable media players, such as Apple Inc.’s iPod and the Microsoft Corporation’s Zune, for later playback. The name podcast derives from a combination of iPod and broadcast.”   (All these links are courtesy of Britannica, I didn’t insert any of them.  They came with the copy and paste!!)

Mother Teresa used to say “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish he didn’t trust me so much” and I know how she feels.   I know I can do this, I just wish I had more time to develop a deeper understanding before I hit the ground running (so to speak) and begin blaring my voice out over the airwaves.

The initial foray into Audacity has been good.   I followed the instructions in the lecture slides so I was able to download it onto my PC.   And my flatmate and his friends have left the house so I can finally have enough quiet to make recording my own voice possible.    Here I go!

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Creating a portfolio

Our project for this week was to create a portfolio of images demonstrating what we have learned so far in class.  Given that we’ve moved rapidly from building our own blog, through using functions on our digital cameras I never even considered, to photo-editing using software programs never before encountered, it’s putting it mildly to say this was a big ask.  Nonetheless, I began the daunting task of selecting some appropriate pictures.

As I’ve always been fond of water in urban spaces, most of the photographs I had taken gravitated towards that anyway, so it seemed logical to make that my theme.  From the blatant creations of metal and water, with no acknowledgement towards Mother Nature, to the landscaped public spaces of Dublin parks, to the channelled but untamed River Dodder, water is absolutely everywhere in our urban spaces.  (Yes, the Dodder is untamed.  Ask anyone who had the misfortune to experience the flooding of its banks last year…)

The task was daunting because over the course of the last few weeks, trying to build this portfolio, I’ve managed to acquire somewhere in the region of 350-odd photographs which makes it kind of like torture trying to review them.   After all, 28 versions of the same shot, albeit with different light settings, aperture settings and depth of field, can only be truly appreciated by someone with very different interests to me.  Personally I just wanted the one that made me go “wow, I really like how looking at that one makes me feel”.

Seasoned photographers probably don’t mind all the funny looks they get from people as they spend 2o minutes lining up their shot and getting the settings just right.   Unfortunately as a newbie photographer trying to make sure my photographs not only looked good but also matched up to what I was learning in class, I was painfully conscious every time I moved a foot to the left or right, or knelt down tilting the camera just so, or spent 2 minutes scrolling through the menu on my camera to make sure it had the right ISO setting or to get the right angle for the shot.   Having a gang of lads on their lunch-break making snarky comments during a photo session in Herbert park didn’t help.   Nonetheless, I persevered, making sure that the shots I got had just the right amount of light, or included the curve in the line of focus that I was looking for.  25 shots until the water hits the feet of the sculpture just right on frame?  I’d be lying if I said it was a doddle, but as the weather stayed nice and it was relatively warm, I could have had a worse time of it.

Of course, there’s more to photography, as we have learned over the past few weeks, than just getting the shot.  The next step was editing them.

You can see in the portfolio I included one picture which I used Pixlr to alter dramatically.  Using the “magic” tool, together with some alteration of light, tweaking the RGB factors and enhancing the contrast, I came up with this:

By contrast the editing on other photos was far more subtle.   The ability to crop a photo was a fantastic benefit.  The photo of the swan at the pond in UCD didn’t look quite so impressive when the fountains spray was a distant blur as you can see from my blog in “Digital Photography – a not so epic beginning”.  By cropping the photo and using the grid to pull in the swan, it allowed me to capture the spray clearly and still retain the feeling of space.  I’m learning!

On other shots editing came down to being as simple as cutting out bits of rubbish which had been caught in a shot or taking the centre of a landscape shot and making it the whole photo so that the eye follows the curve of the path up towards the steps leading away.

The rest of the photos are in my portfolio and I hope that they have given an indication that I’m progressing in terms of skill.  I’ve certainly enjoyed learning all about the photo editing side of things.   Let the journey continue!

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All the fun of Pixlr.

“Photoshop’s easy” everyone keeps telling me.  “Just mess around and you’ll be fine”.   Unless of course you are trying to download it using Citrix from UCD’s Software for U package in which case you’d better be on some serious high speed broadband or you will find yourself in limbo long after everyone else has completed their portfolios and gone down the pub for a pint!

Having established that Photoshop was not my friend on this occasion, I moved over to Pixlr which was fairly instant, being an online photo editor, and relatively straightforward too.

My initial  focus was simply to mess around with the photo editing tools and see what they could do.  But then things started to get interesting.  I discovered that Pixlr would let me replicate the things my camera couldn’t do.  I could demonstrate how depth of field impacts on subjects being in and out of focus.

Depth of field

And as, one of the ideals of digital photography is triangulation, I was able to copy and paste an extra swan into my photo to show the triangulation concept.   Very dodgy editing I know, but it was a first attempt, so allow me leeway here.

When is three swans better than two?  When it’s a digital photography assignment.

I got better at it.

Which swan has been photo-shopped in?

Then I got to the fun stuff…

Trippy seagull

Now it’s time to create a portfolio of  images showing what I’ve learned in the class and demonstrating a theme.   So, the editing begins…

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Digital Photography – a not so epic beginning.

So, we arrived into class last week and had (for some of us) our first introduction to the world of digital photography.  It seemed straightforward.  Until I discovered that my poor little compact camera ranks somewhere at the bottom of the digital photography pile…   Aperture settings?  Shutter speed?   Depth of focus?  And here I thought photography was just a case of point and click.   A “Dummies Guide” will be winging its way to me shortly…

But photos are required for this assignment, so, it was down to the pond at UCD to snap some photos of the fountains and see if using ISO 1600 really did make any difference to a landscape shot.   Fiddling around with the manual, and the manual controls, I located the continuous shooting function and proceeded to run off multiple copies of various images. Whittling them down was the hard part.

As you can see from my slideshow, it really does make a difference to the detail when you change the ISO settings.  I shot at ISO 1600:

Photo of UCD fountain, shot in ISO1600

ISO1600 shot of UCD fountain

then again at ISO800:

ISO800 shot of UCD fountain

ISO800 shot of UCD fountain

and lastly at ISO100:

ISO100 shot of UCD fountain

ISO100 shot of UCD fountain

and the detail which you can see of the water is significantly different depending on the setting used.

I then played around with the zoom function a bit, and the colour settings and got this:

I also discovered that uploading photos in WordPress is a bit tricky because it collates all the photos you upload, so trying to run a slideshow with only three of the images you want, rather than everything you took, gets messy.   But, there’s plenty of time to learn the foibles of the system.  It’s only week three.

Clearly I also have a lot to learn about the more artistic parts of digital photography too.  Concepts of triangulation, grouping and words such as Lomo and Bokeh are all new to me and I need to do a lot more research to wrap my head around the stylistics, but I am looking forward to the challenge.

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