Posts Tagged ‘howto’

Note: This is the second post of a two-part series.  Part one explained the benefits of changing the tempo of your spoken-word audio (audiobooks and podcasts) to listen to more content in less time.  This post will explain how to use Audacity to change the tempo of your audio files.

Audacity is a free, open-source audio file editor, and yet is one of the most powerful tools out there for recording and editing audio.  The software itself has too many features and options for me to really go into in detail in a single post, so I'll focus only on one specific feature that relates to this series of posts – the "Change Tempo" feature.

All of the below assume you've already downloaded and installed Audacity.  Although there is a way to change the tempo of a single file in the version 1.2.6, this is unwieldy and requires a lot of user interaction.  For the method I describe below, you MUST have the latest Beta version (currently 1.3.6 as of this post).

Install LAME (if necessary)
Although you may have installed Audacity, you may not have installed the LAME codec, which comes separately from Audacity (due to licensing restrictions).  Audacity has instructions on how to install this codec here – once you've got this installed, you'll be able to export audio files to new .mp3 files.  Optionally, you may choose to set up your file characteristics for the .mp3 exports (see next section).

Set Up MP3 Export Options (optional)
Export options can only be configured when you are exporting a file.  Once you set them up, that configuration will remain until you change it, so it is worth setting up your export options the first time, and then you can leave them as-is from then on.

1) To be able to export a file, you first have to have a file loaded.  You can open a file from somewhere on your computer using the File->Open option, or just drag and drop to the window.  Choose a short file (less than 5 minutes) for your first configuration to save time.

2) Once the file is open, use the File->Export menu option to bring up the export dialog.  From the "Save As" drop-down menu, choose "MP3 Files" option.  Then click the "Options" button to get the configuration dialog.  This will let you choose details like bit-rate, stereo/mono, etc for your audio files.  Most spoken word audio does fine at 64 kbps, but you can bump that up to 128 kbps if you prefer.  Remember, the higher the bit-rate, the larger the resulting files will be.

3) Click OK, and export the file to a temporary location (like your desktop).  Once you've done this, the settings you've chosen will be used for all mp3 exports from then on, unless you go back and change it again.  You can now delete the file you exported to your desktop.

Set up Chains
Batching processing in Audacity is done by "Applying a chain".  A chain is simply a set of instructions (much like an Audacity-specific script) that you want Audacity to perform on the files you select.  In this case, the chain consists of the following actions:

1) Import a file into Audacity
2) Change the tempo by X%
3) Export to a new .mp3 file

When applying a chain in Audacity, importing the file is done by default.  The rest, however, need to be set up in a chain.  A chain only needs to be created once, and then can be used any number of times.

You can manually set up chains via the "Edit Chains" menu option under the File menu, or you can simply copy pre-written files into the Audacity data folder and the software will make them available for use automatically.  I've pre-created 10 tempo-change chain scripts for you and located them in this .zip file here.  Just download to your computer and extract to the Audacity data folder to make them available to use.  The folder, on Windows, is usually located at:

C:Documents and Settings[your windows profile name here]Application DataAudacityChains

These files are called "SpeedUp_10_Percent" through "SpeedUp_100_Percent" – each changes the tempo by a corresponding percentage.  To get an idea of scale:

10% increase means you listen in 91% of the time
40% increase means you listen in 70% of the time
50% increase means you listen in 66% (2/3) of the time
100% increase means you listen in 50% of the time

I personally like the 40% tempo increase – it makes it quick enough that I save time (about 1 hour for every 4 of original audio), but still slow enough that I can catch everything that is said.  However, your mileage will vary, and you'll want to experiment with different rates for different podcasts until you find the speeds you like.  Now that you have the chains available, you just need to apply a specific chain to some files in order to get your sped-up audio ready to listen to!

Apply Chains to Speed Up Audio

Now that you've got the chains all set up, you can do the processing on the audio files:

1) From the File menu, choose "Apply Chain" and select one of the "SpeedUp_X_Percent" chains.  Click the "Apply to files" button.  This will bring up a dialog box asking which files you want to speed up.

2) Navigate to where your files are stored.  Select the files you want to speed up.  You can select more than one file to speed up in one batch in the same way you select multiple files through your operating system (e.g. hold down the control key for Windows, Command key for the Mac, etc).  The chain will be applied to each file in turn, so you'll end up with all the files sped up by the same amount when you're done.

3) When you click the "Open" button on the dialog, Audacity will begin processing the files, one at a time.  If you watch the progress bars, you will see Audacity import a file, speed it up, and then export the file, then repeat the process with the next file.  Each file that is exported is saved in a folder called "Cleaned" that is located in the same directory as the original file location.  It will have the same name and ID3 tag information as the original file.

NOTE: Audacity creates some very large temporary files while processing.  These files only get deleted after you close the program down.  This means you COULD run out of disk space if you try to apply a chain to too many files at once – I recommend applying the chain to about 2-3 hours worth of audio at a time (the number of files will vary depending on their length).  After that, close Audacity (say "no" to saving the temporary or project files when prompted) and re-open and repeat the Apply Chain process with a new batch of files.

That's pretty much all there is to it.  At this point, if you know the file is in good shape, you can delete the originals and load the new files into your audio player or library.  If you want to reprocess the file at another speed, be aware that Audacity will overwrite the file in the "cleaned" directory if you apply a chain to a file with the same name.  To avoid this problem, either rename the original file prior to reprocessing, or rename (or move) the file in the "cleaned" directory.

I usually set up files to process in the background while I'm doing other things.  For me, this is definitely a worthwhile effort.  I invest about 20 minutes time in the file manipulation over the course of an afternoon of Audacity processing, thereby saving about 6 hours worth of listening time for every 24 hours of podcasts and audiobooks I listen to.  If you can stomach speeding up the audio even more, you can get even bigger time savings.  Pretty soon you won't ever want to listen to spoken word audio at the normal rate, ever again!

[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #24.2/30]

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Since the dawn of time (or at least since we've had rear- and side-view mirrors on automobiles), our parents and our parents' parents have been instructing us on where to point our side-view mirrors.  And along with this instruction comes the dire warnings of the perilous danger of the Evil Blind SpotsTM that exist when you're behind the wheel.    

Judging by the number of folks I see out on the road who attempt to imitate that scene from The Exorcist when they're changing lanes, whoever taught you to drive also instructed you that the only sure-fire way to avoid slamming into a nearby car when changing lanes is to quickly peer around the driver's headrest like a myopic owl before crossing the dotted line.

What if I told you there was a better way to avoid that heart-stopping situation where you realize you've just plotted your car on a collision course with the car in your blind spot?  One that doesn't involve buying the SkyMall "bigger is better" mirror and definitely doesn't involve risking whiplash every time you want to change lanes?

You'd probably be as skeptical as I was, the first time I heard about the alternative I'm about to share with you.  But seeing is believing (pun intended), and if you try out this hack for a little bit, I'll bet you'll be visiting your chiropractor only half as often as you do right now.

The big secret is the placement of the side-view mirrors.  Typically, we all tend to point our side-view mirrors so we can see the back corners of our car.  But if you think about it, there's actually very little point in watching the back corner of your car.  Why should you?  It's not like it ever moves!  Why not point your mirrors somewhere that actually adds some value to your field of vision?  

By moving the side mirrors farther out, you can line up all three of your mirrors so they have minimal overlap, and you can see EVERYTHING behind you AND beside you!  Here's how you do it:

  • Step 1. Set up your rear-view mirror the way you normally would.  You need to be able to see out the rear window of your car.  So take down that bobblehead doll collection if it's impeding your view.

  • Step 2.  Sitting in the driver's seat, lean your head all the way to the left so it touches the driver's window.  From THAT position, set your driver's side-view mirror so you can see the back corner of the car.  You WON'T be able to see your back corner of your car when you sit back up straight.

  • Step 3. Lean the same distance towards the passenger's window as you did in Step 2 (but the other way).  Adjust your passenger-side mirror the same way.

Now here's what you'll see now that you've broken the taboo of taking your mirrors off the rear corners of your car:

  • When a car comes up behind you, you'll see it square-on in your rear-view mirror.  But as it passes you on the left, you'll see it move to the left side of your rear-view mirror, and as its headlight disappears from the rear-view mirror, it'll simultaneously show up in your left-side mirror.

  • Similar behavior occurs when a car passes you on the right.  At every point from directly behind you to just behind your driver-/passenger-side windows, you'll be able to have the car in view in one of your mirrors.

So what's the catch, you may ask?  There are a few drawbacks, but only one lasting one.

1. Your side view mirrors are no longer showing you the rear corners of your car.  This could throw you off BIG TIME if you are in the habit of using your mirrors to help guide you in backing up.  This drawback never goes away, so if you just CAN'T figure out how to back up without using your mirrors to help you, might be out of luck.

2. You MUST use your rear-view mirror now.  You have to rely on it to see what's behind you, as your side-view mirrors now show you what's going on in the lanes next to you.  If you don't have a rear-view mirror or can't rely on it, again you might be out of luck.

3. This new approach may take some adjustment to get the right setup with your mirrors the first time you try this out.  Rather than wait until you're in rush-hour traffic to fine-tune your mirror angles, try pulling up next to a line of parked cars (preferably with nobody waiting behind you) and slowly pull forward until the car next to you should be in a position to be seen in both mirrors.  Adjust the mirrors until you've got the view right, and then go practice in light traffic until you feel comfortable with the new approach.

4. Someone using your car may be completely bewildered at first.  Technically, they're always supposed to adjust the mirrors to suit them before they get on the road, but you may want to remind them before they back your car into a telephone pole when they try to rely on your mirrors for help.

It's also important to note that this does NOT absolve you of a need to look out the driver-/passenger-side windows when you're changing lanes.  But now you need only look directly left/right from the direction you're heading, rather than craning your head to look almost-behind-you to see if there's a car in your blind spot.

Happy motoring!  Send me a note if you try this out and let me know how it works for you.  I love it and will never go back to the "tried-and-true" approach of purposefully creating blind spots in my field of vision.

Illustrations and general concept shamelessly re-purposed from the much less verbose instructions on the Car Talk website.

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Papercraft CD Case

Posted: 2008-08-05 in General
Tags: , , , , ,

An oldie-but-goodie, here's an easy way to make your own paper CD case for that loose CD you've got sitting around.  I've used this a number of times when I've been at the office and just needed something quick-and-simple to keep a disc separated from the random crap that seems to float across my desk.  Might also be fun for gifts, as you can decorate 'em any way you want after you fold them…


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Have you ever started typing a post and did something silly that suddenly made you lose what you had written?  Maybe you hit the backspace key and your browser thought you wanted to go back a page, instead of back one letter.  Maybe you accidentally hit reload on the page, or accidentally closed your tab or window.  Or maybe your computer did something stupid, and crashed your browser.

Regardless of what caused it, you probably weren't too happy to lose what you had written.  Here are 5 quick tips for ways to avoid nuking your content accidentally, or how to recover what you have written after disaster strikes:

1. Don't Compose in a Web Browser
    Although painfully obvious, it has to be said – if you're drafting your post in something besides a web browser, you'll probably avoid 99% of all the problems you face with accidentally deleting your draft post content.  Most text editors nowadays have built-in auto-save features, so you can even set up your file to back up as often as you feel is necessary.  As an added benefit, you'll have a soft-copy of your post saved on your computer in the unlikely event that the publishing system hiccups and your post that you just submitted disappears into the aether.

2. Save as a draft intermittently (Vox-specific)
    If you don't want to go through the "hassle" of using a separate program to compose your posts, take advantage of your blogging system's features  – for example, in Vox you can save your post as a draft, and then go back and edit to add additional content.  If you lose something you type, you can always revert back to the version you had previously saved as your draft (hopefully without losing too much content in the process!)

3. Use the "Recover" features (Vox-specific)

    You may have noticed that as you begin typing your entry in the Vox compose screen, a small link pops up next to the spell-check button.  This Recover link usually allows you to get back what you had written, in the event you accidentally closed the window or your web browser happened to crash while you were composing a post.  When you return to the Compose window, you should see the "Recover" link directly above the post body. Click that link and it will recover your previous post for you.  Your mileage may vary with this solution, but it's usually better than nothing!

4. Use a Greasemonkey script to prevent unwanted page-changes

    The "Protect Textarea" greasemonkey script (found here and featured here on lifehacker) monitors the textareas on a web page and alerts you if you try navigating away from the page before submitting the changes in the textarea.  Although it will not work for you all the time, and may be more hassle than it is worth for some people, you'll be pretty happy the first time you accidentally click a link that was going to take you away from your post or blog comment and this popup intervenes.

5. Open compose screen in a new window/tab

    A very simple way to combat the infamous "backspace blunder" is to make sure there is no page to go back to while you are composing a post.  If you choose to compose a post in a new tab or window, the backspace key will never move you away from your compose screen, because there's no page in your browser's history to return to!  On modern browsers, a middle-click of your mouse button on a link will open the link in a new tab or window (depending on your browser's default settings).  Alternately, right click on a link and select "Open in a new tab" to do this the old-fashioned way.  Combine this with tip #2 above for extra security.


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Last month, I decided to try my hand at being a handyman and install a ceiling fan in place of a fluorescent light fixture located in my kitchen.  In the end, I finally got the ceiling fan up and running, with only minor injuries and time wasted.  Now that I'm a so-called "expert" at installing ceiling fans, I thought I'd share my recently-gained wisdom with the world, so everyone else knows exactly how (not) to install a ceiling fan.

This set of instructions assumes you already have your ceiling fan and any downrod extensions you plan to have for the fan, as well as all tools needed. 

Allocate one extra trip to the hardware store per item you do not have, as you will most likely forget to buy them all at one time and need to go back again and again for each thing you do not have.

Step 1:  Read ALL the installation directions. 

  • This is vitally important.  Even if you think you know all the steps, read them anyway.  The worst that will happen is you'll have wasted 5 minutes of your time.  At best, you'll save yourself from doing something stupid (more on this later).

Step 2: Determine whether you need to install a new ceiling box to hold your fan. 

  • If you have a ceiling fan in place already, you probably don't need to do anything.  Skip to step 4, unless you like to hurt yourself.
  • If you have a light in the place where you're installing your fan, you're probably going to have to take the old light down to find out if you need to do anything.  If you're like me, this will involve much cursing, dropping of screws and screwdrivers, and will result in a trip to the hardware store to buy a new junction box and mounting kit for a ceiling fan. [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #1]

Step 3: Install the new ceiling fan box (if required).

  • Turn off power to the old light via the appropriate circuit breaker.  Make note of which breaker this is – you'll need to know  for later.  Remove the old light.
  • This step may involve cutting drywall to create a hole the size of your new box.  This can be done by using a sheetrock saw.  [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #2]  Please note that the sheetrock saw is sharp on the tip to puncture the drywall and serrated on the edge to cut through the drywall.  DO NOT continue to saw through the drywall after you have cut your finger on the sheetrock saw.  At least, not until you have bandaged yourself up.  Blood is hard to get off of the ceiling, so this is a very important step to follow. [INJURY #1]

  • Use the screws enclosed with the ceiling fan box to securely attach the box to the ceiling joist. 
    • Realize about halfway through that the pilot holes you drilled weren't deep enough. 
    • Strip the screws with your electric drill as you realize this.
    • Spend 5 minutes manually unscrewing them with a pair of pliers, then drill the pilot holes deeper. 
    • Scrounge for more screws long enough to do the job, and use these in place of the ones you stripped.
    • As you realize halfway through screwing in these new screws that your drill's battery is dying, plug in the cordless drill's battery to recharge. 
    • Swap out with the spare battery, only to find that it is completely dead.  Curse loudly in your best impression of a sailor.
      • Start to curse silently when you realize your toddler has been learning some new vocabulary from your overuse of certain expletives.
    • Finish screwing the screws into the joist manually using a screwdriver and a pair of pliers to give you extra torque leverage.  Don't strain any muscles in your arm trying to force the screws if you can help it. [INJURY #1.5]

Take a break and have a beer+ – your ceiling box is installed.  You're about 1/8th of the way to having a new ceiling fan in place!

Step 4: Install the ceiling plate into the fan box. 

  • This involves more pilot holes.  This time, make sure to drill them deep enough into the joist the first time around.  You may have to wait for your drill battery to charge.  Have a beer in the meantime.+

Step 5: Assemble the fan for standard mounting.

  • Insert the downrod through the canopy and canopy trim ring.  Feed the wires from the fan through the downrod.

    • Figure out off of the parts list which items are the canopy and canopy trim ring.  Don't confuse with the low profile washer plate, which looks like it should fit but actually doesn't.
    • Spend 10 minutes trying to get super-flexible wires through a 2 foot long downrod.  End up tying a flexible measuring tape to the wires, threading the tape through the downrod, and then pulling the wires through.
  • Screw the downrod into the fan body.  Tighten until it doesn't screw in anymore.

Step 6: (Optional) Determine that the 2 foot long downrod is too long for your ceiling.

  • Hold the ceiling fan body up to the ceiling plate and realize that anyone over 6 feet is going to have to duck whenever they walk through the room.
  • Attempt to unscrew the downrod from the fan body, only to find out that, according to the instructions, "the adapter has a special coating on the threads.  Once assembled, do not remove the downrod".
  • Curse over the importance of reading ALL the instructions BEFORE following the steps.  (See Step 1, above).
  • Use a pipe wrench to unscrew the downrod, fervently hoping that the hardware store won't notice the scratches on the threads and will allow you to do a swap for a shorter downrod. [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #3]

Note: If you performed Step 6, repeat Step 5 with the new, shorter downrod.  Pray that you didn't ruin the special coating on the threads and that your ceiling fan won't come crashing down on your wife or child when they least expect it.

Step 7: Hang the ceiling fan from the ceiling and connect up to the wiring.

  • Since you're dealing with electrical wiring, make sure the circuit breaker powering the wires you'll be hooking the fan up to are turned off.  Optionally, turn off other circuit breakers in your attempt to find the right one, resetting your computer, DVR, and/or clocks in the process.
  • Clip the wires to the appropriate lengths and strip off enough insulation to be able to join the wires together with a wire nut.  Be aware that the wiring in the house is a pretty heavy gauge wire, which means it will be VERY SHARP on the ends after you clip it.  Be careful not to let the sharp pointy tips of these wires stab you while you're working with them or you might have to stop to get another band-aid.  [INJURY #2]
  • Once all the wire nuts are in place and properly secured (you did use electrical tape to make sure those wire nuts won't come loose, didn't you?), hang the downrod from the ceiling plate and do all the stuff you need to do to get the canopy and trim ring looking nice.  Yay, we're over halfway there!

Step 8: Install the ceiling fan blades.

  • This has to be the easiest step of the whole process.  Just install blade grommets if your fan has grommets.  Attach the blade to the blade iron using blade assembly screws.  Remove blade mounting screws and rubber bumpers from the motor, and mount blade to the motor using the blade mounting screws.  See?  Simple as pie.  (Actually a lot more intuitive than the directions make this step out to be.)

Step 9: Install the light fixture assembly (if required).

  • Install the "upper switch housing" to the fan body.
    • Figure out which remaining part is the "upper switch housing".
    • Feel your heart leap when you realize the "upper switch housing" is not in the pile of parts and pieces you took out of the box.  Scramble through the trash in the box until you sigh with relief when you find the "upper switch housing" buried underneath a mound of styrofoam pieces in the box.
    • Spend 10 minutes cursing as you try to install the upper switch housing onto the fan body.  Exclaim loudly (even though nobody is present at the time) that "They didn't make these damn screws long enough to install this piece of &@#$@#."
    • Realize you've spent the last 10 minutes trying to install the upper switch housing upside down.  Thank the heavens above that nobody was around to witness you doing this.
    • Flip the upper switch housing over and install in 30 seconds.
  • Plug the light kit into the proper plug.
  • Install the "lower switch housing" into the "upper switch housing".  Grumble to yourself as you belatedly realize that by the very nature of its name, an "upper switch housing" implies there is a "lower switch housing", and you could have saved about 10 minutes if you had tried to fit the two together before trying to install the upper portion upside down.

Step 10: Install the light bulbs, pull-chains, and glass bowl.

  • Open your pack of lightbulbs only to realize that while the boxes containing the ceiling fans in the store all seemed to indicate that the fan took regular light bulbs, you happened to grab the ONE BOX of a slightly different model that takes B10 candelabra bulbs.
    • Curse quietly as you search through your junk drawers and light bulbs and realize you have no B10 candelabra bulbs.
    • Decide to finish installing the rest of the fan before running out to the hardware store again, on the off chance that you need to pick up something else along with candelabra bulbs (this may be the smartest thing you've done yet this day).
  • Install the glass bowl, cover plate and finial.
  • Remove the glass bowl, cover plate and finial, install the pull chains, and then reinstall the glass bowl, cover plate, and finial with the pull chains threaded through the finial.
  • Realize that the pull chains are going to be about a foot shy of being reachable by anyone under 7 feet tall.  Put down pull-chain extenders on the list to buy along with B10 candelabra bulbs. [HARDWARE STORE TRIP #4]

Step 11:
Bask in the glow of a job well done.

  • You should, by this time, have a ceiling fan that operates.  You could spend some time making sure the blades  and fan body don't wobble, touch up any remaining holes in the drywall near the fan, clean up the mess you've probably made, and then show off the ceiling fan to friends and family.  Or you could settle back on the couch with a beer and smile at the fact that you made it through the installation without having to take a trip to the emergency room.  Even if the emergency room IS closer to your house than that #$@#%@ hardware store.

Total Trips to the Hardware Store: 4
Total Injuries: 2 and a half
Total time spent during installation: About 2.5 hours
Total time spent (including trips to the hardware store): About 8 hours
Total curse words said (out loud): About a billion
Total curse words said (internally): About twice that

Amount of time you'll spend before again deluding yourself into thinking that a ceiling fan installation somewhere else in the house is "a piece of cake – I'll put that up in an hour or two": About 1 year.

+DISCLAIMER: I actually did not drink during the installation of my ceiling fan and am not seriously recommending you do so, either.  But you'll probably wish you had, by the end.

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Based on the response I received from a recent comment I left on Crankypants' blob, I realized not everyone knows that you can successfully add more than one widget to your sidebar.  It's really easy to do, and I figured I'd throw up a quick post to help guide you.  Don't worry, even if you don't know any HTML you can follow this guide to have a way to put up 2, 3, even 4 widgets (depending on how big they are) in your sidebar.

Here's the key – Your sidebar is basically a box sized to fit about one widget.  If you add a second widget (by adding the code for it below your first in the widget edit box), you may find it gets cut off, or worse yet, doesn't appear at all.  The problem is the widget is outside the dimensions of the default box.  The solution?  Change the size of your box.

In order to make your sidebar taller, so you can fit more widgets in, you want to define a box big enough for all your widgets.  Before your first widget, paste the following line:

<div style="height: 900px;">

and then after your last widget, paste the following line:


What this does is create a box 900 pixels tall in the sidebar – this is bigger than your original sidebar, and will allow you to fit in multiple widgets inside it, one after another (e.g. in my sidebar, I have a Creative Commons link, a widget, and then a KVOX music widget).  You can change the "900" to any number you choose to fine-tune for your choice of widgets.  If you're still cutting off a widget, make it bigger.  You can also make it smaller if you don't require so much space.

Things to consider:

  • You may think having 4 widgets is cool (and yes, they probably are), but remember that every time someone loads your page, they will be loading your widgets.  The longer it takes to load the widgets, the longer it takes to load the page.  You're also requiring someone's browser to use more RAM to display your page, which means you could slow their system down if you go overboard.
  • This will NOT increase the width of your sidebar, which is limited to 140 pixels.  Using widgets wider than this will either cut them off on one side or keep them from working properly (or both).
  • If you have a short post, increasing your sidebar's length may affect the length of your page for your post.  This may mean you have blank space in between the end of your entry and the bottom of the page.  This is the reason you don't want to make your sidebar 2000 pixels long when you only have 2 widgets in there.

Good luck adding your widgets!  If you come across a cool one, post a link to your vox homepage (where we can find your widget displayed) in the comments below, so everyone else can ooh and aah at your widget prowess!

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