Tuesday, 13 November 2007

I'm doing more and more audio recording lately, and between a little dictation, some random music recording and more importantly the interview needs for the Internet IT talk show I co-host, I decided to go ahead and purchase my own portable digital recording system and microphones.

ZOOM_H4Note: I'm going to explain what I was looking for and a little bit about why, but before I do that let me cut to the chase and tell you that I bought a Zoom H4 Handy Recorder (lots of details at that link) and a couple Shure Beta 87A microphones with the appropriate cables. The feature set of the H4 turns out to be amazing, and I'm pretty excited about using it. I can also tell you that my early initial tests are quite encouraging quality-wise, but the real test will come over the next several weeks as I go to conferences and other places and get to put the gear through some real-world paces.

I had a number of priorities on my list when I started looking for a recorder. In a perfect world I'd get all of them. Wouldn't a perfect world be nice? Anyhow... The priorities were:

High-priority items

  • High-quality digital audio - Simply put, the fidelity of the recorded sound must be terrific, clean and without distortion, and I have to be able to count on the recording to be properly timed (not compressed or stretched when compared to other recordings from the same session).
  • Ability to use two or more external microphones with phantom power built into the recorder - Depending on the various mics I might throw at it, phantom power may or may not be needed.
  • Digital recording to commonly-used removable media, preferably SD cards - I already have a number of SD cards that I use for various purposes, and my laptop and other equipment all have SD slots, so it just makes sense.
  • Ability to leverage storage above 2GB - If I'm buying SD cards, I want to be able to buy high density, large capacity ones, and many devices are limited to 2GB.
  • Easy to get recorded files to the PC for editing.
  • Uncompressed audio capability and multiple bitrates to choose from.
  • Usability - It needs to make sense to use and I have to be able to set options and use it without earning a graduate degree in the ABC-brand device.
  • Small and portable in size - Ideally the microphones should be the largest part of what I have to carry around.
  • Removable batteries - The industry is rife with stories of devices that have built-in batteries that can't be serviced by the owner, which in my book is over the edge of ridiculous.
  • Runs on AC power as an option.
  • Firmware upgradable - Audio gear is also famous for being buggy, so I want to be able to download new firmware and apply it myself.
  • It has to be under $500.00 or else it's off the list.

Lower-priority items (good- or nice-to-have)

  • A built-in microphone for quick recording and portability would be nice for quick and dirty sessions and open environments (non-interview or -instrument or what have you), but it has to be of high-quality, or else it just doesn't do me any good.
  • Native MP3 recording as an option - if the quality is there, I want to have the option to record in this (compressed) mode since much of the time that's where it will end up, so in some cases it may help save some time and storage space to create native MP3s at a high bitrate.
  • Let me plug it straight into my PC or laptop via USB to move files, ala drag-and-drop.
  • As long as we have USB transfers, powering the device over USB 2.0 would be perfect for all those I'm-out-of-battery moments.
  • Instrument capabilities - I'd like to be able to plug my guitar in and record away, for example.
  • Guitar tuner built in - as long as it's plugged in, why not?
  • Multi-track mode - While we're at it, more than two channels to record on would be nice. I'll record the guitar and then add the vocals or another instrument later. Yeah I know, asking for a lot.
  • One button for really easy - even magical - menus and navigation. I'm thinking about interfaces like you find on the Zune, iPod or even iPhone (I can dream eh?), etc. here -- easy to use and quick to do stuff.
  • And a price under $300.00 would be even better, please (for the recorder only that is, the external mics are going to freakin' be a couple hundred bucks each, I know that).

So, how did I fare? At $243.0, the price was right, so that's a good start. The Zoom H4 meets almost all the requirements on my list (which is why I bought it), with a couple notable exceptions. The navigation and controls are not exactly simple (which is ironic since they call it their "handy recorder"), as you have to juggle a jog wheel with one hand and a directional button control with the other to establish your settings and navigate the menu. The screen is small, very small.

But, the latest upgrade of the H4 software (v2.0 which I had to download and apply to my new device as it was just recently released) makes some improvements to the readability of the screen, plus it does things like add support for the larger SD-HC cards up to 8GB (yay!) and a variety of other improvements as well as some cool new features. There have been five updates to the H4 software released over about the last year providing fixes and enhancements, which shows they're seriously improving as they go - a good sign.

My first experience recording with the H4 was a good one. We recorded two live shows for RunAs Radio at the Microsoft Dev Connections conference. I found a problem though when I tried to use my new microphones and cables. I had bought XLR-to-1/4 inch phono cables, not paying close enough attention to the jacks on the Zoom recorder, which can take either 1/4 inch or XLR on a combo socket. The problem is that the only way the recorder's phantom power works is if you plug in an XLR connection - There is no phantom power available when you plug in a 1/4-inch jack. So, I had to replace the cables I bought with the ones I need.

I've used the recorder in some test scenarios as well as in one formal, must-work recording session, and it performed very well. I've also just arrived in Barcelona, Spain for TechEd Europe, where I'll be recording a number of interviews. So, after this week I will be able to do a hands-on review. So far, so good, and I anticipate the same results after using the H4 as a production recorder.

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AudioBlogging | Tech
Tuesday, 13 November 2007 02:47:56 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 06 November 2007

People just don't think, research or plug in their brains a lot of the time before speaking typing.

Such was the case the other day over at Kim Cameron's Identity Weblog, which was defaced recently via a  vulnerability in the blog application software used to drive the site. Kim is a Microsoft employee and is their Identity Architect. So, he's in a public-facing security role at the company.

As Kim points out, people came out of the woodwork in the comments on a very brief ZDNet article to slam Microsoft, it's applications, the fact that the site was hacked, etc. What they did not realize, even after it was pointed out to them a few times by others, is that the site runs on a BAMP architecture (similar to LAMP, but in this case it's BSD Unix, Apache, mySQL and PHP).

Kim's site runs 100% on non-Microsoft products. The vitriolic commenters on the ZDNet site slammed Microsoft technologies where none exist, and exuded the virtues of using - for example - Linux, Apache, mySQL and PHP -- the very platform that they did not take the time to discover (or even ask) had just been victimized.

You know what they say about assuming things? Yeah.

Security threats are real and exist on all platforms equally, not just IIS and Windows, not just in Windows applications. Bad programmers are bad programmers, and even when well-programmed, new threats arise all the time and need to be remediated once known. There's nothing about that fact that's Microsoft-specific, and to assume such is irresponsible.

I like and respect Kim, and the work he has done is excellent. His evangelism of the need for better forms of identification, authentication and credentialing has been invaluable, and his emphasis on the broad-spectrum community, not just Microsoft, is the right way to address the issues that cross all platforms and application types.

I have seen this non-thinking, just-fire-off-at-the-mouth, *nix-fixes-everything mentality backfire on people before, to great cost. Any system administrator who thinks running anything other than Windows solves their security problems or obviates the need to test, patch, review and maintain has his or her head stuck so far in the sand we have to strain to see their backside. Thinking and reasoning is what makes people special and unique. Take the time to know the facts, understand the circumstances, and reason based in reality.

Facts: Problems exist everywhere - Windows, Linux, OSX, PHP, ASP.NET, you name it. More often than being caused by an underlying platform issue, most security vulnerabilities and exploits are the result of programming errors, a lack of defensive programming style, and poor test coverage. I've managed enough software development with a specific focus on security of the applications to know you can create a completely locked down platform on any of the options available, whether Linux or Windows or other. But if you don't have a solid application, you're screwed. It's a lot like buying a great alarm system with laser detectors in the ceiling, trip wires on the roof, foot-think ceilings of concrete to prevent break-through, glass break sensors on explosive- and projectile-proof glass ... and leaving the front door standing open.

Kudos to Kim for keeping his cool personality in the face of all this and, as always, providing a measured and reasoned response. As he says, "There’s a lot of ideology to get past in teaching people about security." So true.

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IT Security | Tech
Tuesday, 06 November 2007 10:17:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Modesto, California - home to the annual Ninja Parade, was once again treated to an amazing display of Ninja skill this year.


Thank you, Onion News Network, and to Alex for passing this along. :)

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Humor | Random Stuff
Tuesday, 30 October 2007 09:12:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 28 October 2007

November will be a busy month of conference travel for me. On November 7th I'll fly briefly to Las Vegas for a quick panel gig at the DevConnections conference (I'll be there Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday), followed by a more extensive trip on Saturday the 10th to Barcelona, Spain. I'll be there for the entire IT Forum week of Microsoft's TechEd Europe conference. I've never been to Spain before, so I'm looking forward to the trip.

If you'll be at either of the shows, let me know and hopefully we can meet up and say hi. I'll be there in part to help run some floor events and to record more interesting interviews for our RunAs Radio shows.

I'm also going to stop off in the SF bay area on my way back from Spain to spend Thanksgiving with my dad and family there. By the time I get home it will have been two weeks on the road.

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RunAs Radio | Tech
Sunday, 28 October 2007 10:33:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 26 October 2007

There's been a slight lack of specific information about the actual Gmail IMAP rollout timeframes (the phrase being thrown around - "a few days" - is sufficiently vague, yet it tends to make one think of the number "three"), as well as a lack of information about Google Apps email service and IMAP on that system (as opposed to the generic Gmail platform). Some people already have IMAP enabled. I don't yet. I'm a little bummed, but I know how these massive rollouts for a system this size can be. They don't just happen automagically. So I exercise patience and use this time to drive myself nuts, heh.

Anyhow, I went looking for some specifics over at the Google Help site today, and found some new content in the Apps for Administrators specific help, as well as a linked description of how long it may be before I see it show up in my Apps email accounts:

We're working hard to roll out IMAP access to all our users, but it'll take about a week.

To use IMAP, you must have your interface language set to 'English (US)'. You'll know that IMAP is available in your account when the Forwarding and POP tab in your settings becomes Forwarding and POP/IMAP.

Until then, thanks for your patience!

There's a variety of other IMAP Setup related topics there as well. And you'll want to check out these third-party resources for some details in configuring things like iPhone and Thunderbird (or any client, really) so it works just the way you want it to:

So, within less than a week it sounds like, and I have the info I need to optimize my clients when it does happen. Nice - that helps. :)

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Mobile | Tech
Friday, 26 October 2007 13:53:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I got up this morning to the first frost of the season. It's cooled off quite a bit here the past week or so. I snapped a couple pictures. I like shadow-light images with a little contrast punch. You still cannot record images digitally quite the same nice way you can with film. But you can fake it if you try, and it costs a hell of a lot less per shot, that's for sure. Makes it way too easy to be lazy and trust in your luckiness though. I miss film. Heh.




Also, I have added a "Photography" category to the site, with its own RSS feed as well, since that's been a bit of a missing piece here.

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Photography | Random Stuff
Friday, 26 October 2007 10:46:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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