Tech Nation on IT Conversations

I’m thrilled to announce that IT Conversations is now the home of the Podcast edition of Tech Nation with Moira Gunn. Tech Nation is a weekly Public Radio program focusing on the impact of technology in our lives.

Beginning today, IT Conversations will bring you Tech Nation every week, suitable for streaming, download or as a podcast.

We begin officially with all-new Tech Nation programs next week, but as a preview of the great shows to come, here are Moira’s interviews with Jim Rygiel, visual effects supervisor for The Lord of the Rings films, and sci-fi novelist William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and his latest, Pattern Recognition.

Donations for Tsunami Victims

Does anyone know of a simple way to add a “Donate” button to your blog that would accept contributions for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and send them directly to a good relief organization? I’d like to find a snippet of HTML I can add to my site for that purpose, and if I find one, I hope that other bloggers and podcasters will also post such a link. It should go to some trustworthy organization like the International Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Speaking of which, I’d like to see PayPal and Amazon (who profit quite handsomely from Donate buttons all over the web) put prominent Donate buttons on their own sites, and I think they should process the contributions at no charge. Surely the goodwill they generate would justify their costs and increase the awareness of their services.

For now, I’ve disabled my own donation page and hope that anyone thinking of sending me money for IT Conversations will instead send that much or more to help these people in need.

New Podcast/RSS Feeds

I’ve just updated the page of Podcasts and RSS feeds for IT Conversations. Because there are now more than 300 shows in the archives and new shows will be coming out about one per day, you may want to subscribe to separate feeds rather than to the global ‘everything’ feed. A few of the topic-based feeds are new and haven’t yet been populated. I need to go through the database and update the metadata.

Over the next few days I’ll be improving the Title elements in the RSS feeds, so they’ll make more sense when viewed in your aggregator or podcatcher. And starting on 1/1/05 I hope to have more helpful filenames and ID3 tags.

Submitting Audio to IT Conversations

In the past few weeks I’ve received a number of submissions of recordings for IT Conversations. Unfortunately, I’ve had to reject many of them, mostly for technical reasons. So I’ve just posted these guidelines for anyone considering such a submission. I think others may find them useful as well. Soon to follow will be a more detailed list of tips for recording.

Ourmedia and Podcasting

Along with JD Lasica, Marc Canter and others I’ve been working on a semi-confidential project known as Ourmedia. The official web site,, remains password protected for now, but from the older work-in-progress site you can get the general idea: “an open-source initiative devoted to creating, sharing and storing works of personal media.” It’s non-profit and all volunteer. I’ve been working on the audio components.

JD just posted some notes from our discussion today about offering free hosting for podcasts. It’s a new idea, even by Ourmedia standards, and we’d like to get your feedback either here (as a comment) or on the project wiki. Expect to hear more over the next few weeks. Ourmedia is a very exciting endeavor.

What’s the Cost of Bandwidth?

How much does it cost a podcaster or anyone else to deliver a one-hour program to a single listener? I’d never bothered to do the math, but it came up in a telephone discussion I had earlier today. You can’t go by “unlimited” hosting plans because they’re not really unlimited. They’re throttled by the capacity of the box and the link to the ‘Net. So I picked a discounted high-volume dedicated-server hosting account: 1,000GB for $100/month. (A 1.3 GHz Celeron Linux server with 512MB RAM and 60GB drive from EV1Servers.)

That’s $0.10 per gigabyte, or about $0.003 for a 30MB file, roughly one hour of 64kbps MP3 audio. Add in some cost of system administration (but not production), and you’re looking at between $0.005 and $0.01 to deliver a one-hour file to each listener. 10,000 listeners? $50-$100.

Trade Secrets Revealed

Dave and Adam are starting to explain their new venture. Here’s my interpretation and speculation from listening to their recent podcast, based on Dave’s bullet list:

  • Content tools. Expect heavy use of OPML, particularly using Frontier, a software package created by Dave’s former company, Userland Software that’s either now open source or soon will be.
  • Readers and aggregators, iPods and iPod-alikes. They hope to prevent compatibility problems and to improve the state of UIs. They want to advise manufacturers of podcatchers and perhaps even develop their own based on some OEM device.
  • Content. “We’ve got the #1 podcast,” Dave claimed. He also referred to creating “a new music indstry” including “partnerships with RIAA companies.” Do they plan to compete with Apple’s iTunes Store and others? Dave also talked about “a building full of production people” so perhaps they’re also planning to create a large amount of original non-music content.
  • Bandwidth. Sounds like they plan to enter the content-delivery business, too, with “people to manage the bandwidth.”

Whatever their specific plans, it sounds like a major undertaking. We’ll all be anxiously waiting to hear more about Adam and Dave’s (hopefully) Excellent Venture.

Competition Down Under

TechnologyTalks is an Internet business servicing the Information Technology sector in Australia and New Zealand. Our product is centralised IT events registration, along with post-event downloadable audio and visual materials in a choice of formats for those unable to attend. The full range of IT events relevant to the region will be covered – conferences, seminars, motivational topics – from which we will produce high quality digital recordings and transcripts.

I’m flattered that they (or anyone) would see IT Conversations as competition:

In the final weeks of our business plan we found one website that offers a product similar to what we plan to offer. ITConversations offers audio and transcripts of “interviews and important events” for the IT Industry, they produce these for O’Reilly’s Conferences and for a variety of other non-conference IT groups and they principally focus on the US market/Internet businesses. They have a well planned site, their content is free because much of it is open-source or readily available material and some cool value adds. Whilst this group do a great job [Boioioing!!] and we have learned something from them we do not see them as a direct competitor because our sole market is conferences and seminars (whilst they are broader in scope yet advertise only one group’s conferences).

Update: Apolon Ivankovic dug deeper than I did and may have uncovered that there’s nothing behind this. Curiouser and cusriouser.

Those MP3 Recorders

(This also applies to anyone submitting recordings to IT Conversations.)

Solid-state portable audio recorders are relatively new in the consumer market, and many people are now using them to record podcasts and conference presentations. While these devices are undoubtedly convenient and can store a lot of audio in MP3 format, they’ve introduced a new problem.

Like JPEG, MP3 is a lossy compression scheme, and the effect of repeated encode/decode operations creates some nasty sounding artifacts. Furthermore MP3 is designed as a final encoding technique: The only decode operation should be playback and rendering as sound. You should never encode audio as MP3 unless and until it’s in its final form.

A problem arises when you want to edit an MP3 recording, even just to trim off a few seconds at the head or tail of the file. If you use any computer-based software like Audacity or SoundForge to edit, the MP3 will first be decoded to an internal uncompressed format whe you open the file, but this will not recover the audio lost in that first encoding operation. When you’re done editing, you’ll have to re-encode, and the sound quality will be significantly worse than what your started with.

If you have one of these portable recorders and want to be able to edit your files, or if you plan to submit your audio to IT Conversations, here are some guidelines:

1. If possible record and save in uncompressed in WAV format. I use 24 bits and 48,000 samples per second in the studio, but you can use 16/48,000, 16/44,100 or even 16/22,050 and get pretty good results if you keep your levels up.

2. If you must record or send a compressed file, encode using a much higher bit rate than the final audio. For example, IT Conversations MP3s are encoded at 64kbps. If you send me an MP3 that you’ve recorded and/or encoded at 128kbps, the improvement in quality will be substantial. In particular, the artifacts that you get when you encode at 64kbps then decode/re-encode at the same rate will be far less annoying if I start with your 128kbps version. If you encode at 192kbps or higher, the artifacts will essentially be gone.

If you can only send me a 64kbps MP3, the final 64kbps will sound about the same as a 32kbps original, and there’s a good chance I won’t be able to use it.