The Growth of IT Conversations

Approaching our second anniversary, it’s interesting to look back at the growth of IT Conversations. Here are two charts of the past year’s activity. The first shows the number of registered users, now approaching 10,000. 15%-20% of downloads initiated through the web site are by registered, logged-in users. There’s no way to determine how many of the downloads initiated via RSS (now the vast majority of the traffic) are by registered users.

The next chart shows the traffic of audio file distribution, combining that delivered by Limelight Networks (the majority) and our own servers (for ShoutCast streaming only). On our peak day, we hit roughly 220GB, the equivalent of nearly 7TB per month.

Regarding the dip during December-February, my guess is that it’s due to the lull in the conference season. [More stats here]

Marantz PMD660 Revisited

After now putting the Marantz PMD660 through its paces for three weeks, it’s time to review and reconsider my earlier comments. In a nutshell, I’m disappointed. It’s not up to the usual Marantz level of quality and it’s overpriced.

Preamps are the biggest problem. They’re noisy. If you use a dynamic mic, you might be disappointed in the s/n ratio. The only way I figure they get the advertised 60dB s/n ratio is with a high-output condenser mic and a fairly strong source. They even specify the use of a condenser mic in the instructions. C’mon, guys. There’s no excuse for such a lousy preamp in a supposedly ‘pro’ piece of gear. I’ve got stuff from Radio Shack that sounds better.

Line-in Headroom is the second most-annoying problem. If you feed it anything higher than a pro-level +4dBu signal, it clips. This is a real problem since lots of other pro gear (like the ubiquitous Mackie mixers) are capable of putting out clean signals that are 12dB or even 20dB higher than +4dBu. Lots of house/PA personnel allow their outputs to go above +4dBu, so if you’re getting a feed from the board/mixer, you could be in trouble. And the clipping occurs before the line-input level control. If they’re going to have zero headroom on the line input, they should have a switchable 20dB attenuator as they do on their other ‘pro’ equipment. As for me, I always have a few in-line attenuators in my toolkit for circumstances like this.

CompactFlash, however, is very cool. I bought a 4GB SanDisk CF for $300, and it gives me a whopping 12+ hours of mono 44.1kHz PCM/WAV recording. 6+ hours in stereo.

Meters are well designed. One of the better features.

Input jacks are mixed. I was attracted by the XLR mic inputs, but why in the world they opted for a stereo-mini line input, I’ll never know. A 1/4″ TRS stereo in would have been appreciated.

Battery life is limited. I bought a set of NiMH rechargables, but I haven’t figured out under what circumstances (if any) they’re charged in the unit. I think I may have to charge them externally. In any case, battery life isn’t great, and since I’m recording long sessions (sometimes a full day) I always use AC power.

ALC is poor. You can easily hear it pumping. I’d say it’s unusable for serious recording. So use manual gain control and watch your levels. (The ALCs on all my Sony MiniDisc recorders are terrific. You can barely hear them working. Too bad the Sony user interface is so bad and that the only way to get the audio out of the MD is analog.)

Value is a serious problem. At $499 plus another $300 for a 4GB CF card, I’m out $800. My Marantz CDR300 direct-to-CD recorder costs less than that, and it’s a far better-made piece of equipment, event though it’s limited to 80 minutes of record time. Compared to what else is out there, I think this thing is overpriced by about $150.

Now that I’ve learned to work around its limitations, I still plan to use it instead of my Sony HD MiniDisc for recording conferences. I’ve also started using it for backups here in Studio 2 because it’s not limited to the 80 minutes of an audio CD.

If you’re looking for the best portable MP3 and PCM/WAV recorder, I doubt this is the best you’ll find. Let me know.

IT Conversations News: April 8, 2005

(Hear the MP3 version in beautiful stereo.)

News and Housekeeping

  • Open-Source Audio Production at IT Conversations. Our open-source production model I announced last week here at IT Conversations seems to be working. Not perfectly, mind you, but we’re learning by doing, and we’re managing to get over most of the confusion and other obstacles fairly well. We’ve published two shows by Team ITC so far, and I expect we’ll have 2-3 more each week, and ramp up our production from there.

    I think we can now take on another audio-engineering volunteer, so if you’re interested, take a look at the wiki page. Two things we’ve learned so far are (1) you’d better be very comfortable with your audio tools, and (2) you should have a good idea of the difference between peak and RMS normalization. If you know what I’m talking about and are interested, let me know. Yes, we can take on more producer/editors, too, but at the moment some of the current writers are waiting for audio folks to work with.

  • Tips for the Team. Remember, 100% of your donations to the IT Conversations Tip Jar goes to the members of Team ITC who are now producing an ever-increasing portion of IT Conversations in their spare time. So please donate to Team ITC to keep the audio flowing.
  • With the Podcast Brothers. I was interviewed by Tim Bourquin on The Podcast Brothers podcast, and I explained the new directions in which IT Conversations is heading. Tim and his brother, Emile, discussed these recent developments on the show after the interview. (MP3)

New Programs This Week

(in increasing order of listener rating)

  • Jim Buckmaster & Craig Newmark – Nerd Values (rated 2.5 by our listeners). Nerd Values: Doing well by doing good, or the benefits of sticking with Web 0.0 principles in a Web 2.0 world. Jim is the president and CEO and Craig is the founder of Craig’s List. From the Web 2.0 Conference.
  • Media is a Platform – Web 2.0 (2.9). Under Web 1.0, eyeballs were king and old media was dead. But we’re learning that things are a bit more complicated, and media is evolving into new forms and formats. How can powerful brands like the New York Times thrive in an age where content is understood to be free? What happens when the web is capable of distributing massive video files effortlessly and without significant economic impact? What are the new publishing models emerging on the web, and how can media be used as a platform to leverage them.
  • Suzi Leather on Tech Nation (3.1). On Tech Nation, Moira speaks with Suzi Leather, the head of Great Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Find out how this nation which permits stem cell research, actually exerts far more government controls than the US.
  • Bill Gurley – The Breakout Business of MMORPG (3.5). Bill Gurley, General Partner, Benchmark Capital, says that massively multi-player online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) are an "insanely profitable business." Hear about a game in China that has 9 million active users, and how players are so fanatical in Korea, that the police have had to investigate the theft of in-world characters. Bill says MMORPGs are a business opportunity far beyond EverQuest. From the Web 2.0 Conference.
  • Oded Shenkar on Tech Nation (3.9). On Tech Nation, Moira Gunn speaks with professor Oded Shenkar about the rise of China, the lessons of history — as well as what’s happening today — to find out just why he calls this "The Chinese Century."
  • Clay Shirky – Ontology is Overrated (4.2). We launch the IT Conversations coverage of the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference with another brilliant presentation by Clay Shirky. Ontology, far from being an ideal high-order tool, is a 300-year-old hack, now nearing the end of its useful life. The problem ontology solves is not how to organize ideas but how to organize things.
  • Will Wright – Sculpting Possibility Space (4.3). From the creator of The Sims and Sim City at Accelerating Change 2004: Games and simulations allow us to experience hypothetical situations in fun and intuitive ways. From the designers’ perspective we need to architect these "possibility landscapes" which players will later explore. Will discusses some of the informal methods, concepts and tools that he uses to approach this design task.

Doug’s Favorites from the Archives

  • Philip Greenspun – Software Engineering. Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing, was an inspiration to many programmers writing server-side code on Unix/Linux platforms. In this interview Philip describes the evolution of his attitudes towards software engineering and his latest book, Software Engineering for Internet Applications, for a course at MIT where "the goal of the course is that the student finishes knowing how to build Amazon.com by him or herself." Don’t miss the story of how the venture capitalists to whom Philip relinquished control of this $20 million profitable company, Ars Digita, ran it into the ground. There are lessons there for any budding (or experienced) entrepreneur.