Category Archives: Technology

It ain’t easy!

After a week of pain, I finally figured how to transfer my old vinyl records and cassette tapes to my iPod in stereo. If you are not interested in this topic you can safely skip this week’s column, but I wanted to memorialize what I learned because it was so darn hard to learn it!

You would think there would be simple instructions on the web about how to do this, and there are. The problem is that none of them actually worked for me. My venture started a few weeks ago when I switched to the iPhone and became enamored with the iPod feature.

After loading every music CD I could find into my computer (and then on to the iPod) I only had about 500 songs and huge gaps in my music library (See “The music of my life“). It was then that (on the suggestion of a reader) I purchased a USB turntable.

Of course, I did my due diligence and read a number of reviews before settling on a Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB Stereo Turntable for $81 plus $14 shipping at http://www.buy.com The price was right and I was persuaded by all the users who testified that they had great success with the product. Warnings 1 & 2: You get what you pay for and you can’t believe everything you read on the web!

With great excitement I tracked down the UPS driver in last Wednesday’s snow storm and brought my iBook and a few choice albums to my office to set up my system. 1o hours later I had failed to record anything close to high fidelity. The music sounded horrible!

After a night of pulling my hair out, I finally figured out that I already had everything I needed to transfer my albums with my old turntable and amplifier. All I had to do was plug a special wire from the amplifier’s out plugs directly into the line in on my iBook.

This solved the basic problem of the USB turntable that it didn’t provide a loud enough signal. I promptly packed the turntable back up and sent it back to buy.com. After deducting my shipping costs, and allowing for some strange math on buy.com’s part, the whole adventure set me back about $30.

I was almost there, except that I noticed that my recordings were not transferring separate stereo tracks. I would get sound in both the left and right speakers, but it would be the same. Again, this was contrary to all the users on the Internet who claimed to have no problem transferring stereo.

After another night of googling and experimenting, I finally found someone who told me the problem was that I was using an iBook. Apparently the line in on the iBook (as opposed to desktop Macs) is not capable of separating stereo without the assistance of a little device called an iMic made by Griffin Technology)

Although I could purchase one of those with the $60 refund I got from my turntable I didn’t have to because, again, I already had one! It seems about 5 years ago I had purchased one in an early attempt to transfer vinyl to digital but had given up because the learning curve was too steep.

Now I simply hooked it up in between my stereo and my iBook and “Voila!” I had stereo! Don’t ask me how it works because I don’t know or care, but it does. Now with the help of free Audacity software, I can transfer a record (in stereo!) eliminate the phonographic hisses, pops and cracks, divide and name the tracks of the albums, and load them into my iPod. Bliss!

It ain’t easy, but if you take 5 years you can learn to do anything! Now if I could only figure out how to convert my large wav format files to mp4 so I can put more songs on my iPod. Everybody says it’s simple …

Advertisements

Why i?

I’ve always considered myself a somewhat early adopter of new technologies, but not necessarily on the bleeding edge. That’s why I delayed until this week to finally switch to the iPhone. Now I wonder what took me so long!

I’ve been a devoted Applephile for 20 years since The Clarion was started on two Mac se ‘s in 1989. (That hot machine featured 4 megs of RAM and a 40 meg hard drive!) The Computer Age actually started for me a few years earlier with a pc, a Compaq 286 Deskpro that I bought in January of 1987 for over $6,000!

I was also an early enthusiast for the Internet and started building web sites for The Clarion and the Western New York Travel Guide long before computer penetration gave these ventures any economic reason for being. The jury is still out on that!

I think this mania for being first started with my Dad. We were the first family in the neighborhood to have a color television, a microwave oven and an Atari video game. Oh the hours wasted playing Pong!

If Dad couldn’t find it on the market, he would build it in his shop. Back then, a company called Heathkit would supply all the parts and instructions on how to build your own personal electronic devices. In the days before silicon, Dad taught us how use the vacuum tube tester.

I knew I was falling behind in the tech race, however, when my second child came home for Christmas with an iPhone. If I didn’t act soon, I risked being a minority in my own family! Great as the technology is, however, I still had concerns:

1. Coverage. When you strip away all the bells and whistles, the iPhone still has to be a reliable phone. The blogs are full of users complaining about the inferiority of ATT’s system to Verizon. As much as I wanted the portable e-mail and Internet service, I am not willing to carry (or pay for) two phones. I’m still leery of that, but so far coverage has not been a problem. I had good coverage at a farm auction yesterday in Hall, NY, although the phone didn’t seem to like the bitter air temperatures. If coverage problems do surface, I will update this post with a comment.

2. Hi tech burnout. I’m already pretty obsessive about checking my e-mail both at home and at the office. Do I really need to be checking it in the intervals in between? That is a concern, but I justified it by thinking that it would be a great service to the members of the tennis club. When spring play starts up I will be very busy arranging matches, finding subs and booking courts. Being able to do all that on the run will be easier on me and better for the members.

3. Penalties: I was still 6 months away from the end of my current Verizon contract, which means I will be hit with a $100 early termination penalty. That hurts, but ATT made it easier by giving both me and one of my daughters a $25 referral fee. That tipped the scales.

BTW If this article convinces you to take the plunge, please consider naming me as your referrer. I could use another $25!

The Clarion Call sells out!

Long-time readers of the Clarion Call Blogs will have noticed a more commercial look to our home page recently. It started with the addition of a small number of local advertisers who I approached in December.

Thankfully some of them said yes and I was able to add a little cash flow to what had been, for its first 8 months, entirely a labor of love (or hate!) I am grateful to my local advertisers and I hope those of you who are regular readers of the blog will show your appreciation by being regular customers of those businesses –and don’t forget to tell them that you saw their ad online!

Not satisfied with that, however, in the great capitalist tradition of our country, I recently signed up to run text and display ads provided by Google. I also converted all my web site’s search engines over to Google one’s as well.

The way the Google program works is that I earn a very small amount every time a reader clicks on one of those Google ads. (As near as I can figure, it’s something less than 20 cents depending on the type of ad you click on.) Nevertheless if you have lots of readers and lots of clicks, you can eventually expect to make enough money to buy your morning coffee. (Hey, every little bit helps these days!)

As part of my agreement with Google, I am not supposed to encourage people to click on those ads just to make me money, and I certainly wouldn’t want to violate that agreement. On the other hand, I hope readers will pay careful attention to the ads, and if you see something that truly interests you, feel free to click through!

If you use the Google search engine (and who doesn’t?) perhaps you would like to bookmark our version of it. Just clink on the link above and then bookmark the page. Then if you happen to click through on an ad on the search results page, we’ll make a few cents. Thanks!

The interesting thing about the program is that, Google, in its infinite wisdom, targets what ads you will see based on the content of the page you are reading or the search term you used. I’ve noticed that some local ads have already shown up on the home page, as well as a text ad for people looking for plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Lowe’s. Now they’re getting the right idea!

Of course, we are also getting a lot of ads for Clarion Hotels and Clarion software and electronic equipment, but I guess that can’t be helped! I’m going to try experimenting with adding some meta-tags to the pages to see if that brings more focused results.

If you don’t like all the commercial clutter, I also added a donation box. This is a service provided by Amazon.com that allows appreciative readers to make anonymous donations to the site. All you have to do is click on the little donation box (or the link below) and Amazon takes it from there.

Amazon reports that 25 million Americans already have an Amazon account, and if you do, you may see your first name come up in the greeting on the the box. I admit this is a little spooky, but it just means that Amazon knows who you are, even if I don’t!

As I point out in the copy on the donation page, the suggested contribution is $10 per year. That is less than 1/3 the cost of subscribing to a local newspaper, and the Clarion Blogs can cover breaking stories in a much more timely (not to mention unbiased) fashion. Isn’t it worth it?

Who knows? If I get enough donations I may be able to dispense with the advertising altogether–but don’t count on it!

The incredible shrinking newspaper

Continue reading

Halftime report

Although today is Christmas, it is also a Tuesday, and so I feel compelled to write a column, something I have done practically every Tuesday for the past 18 years. Traffic to the Clarion Call Blogs has slowed to a crawl in the lead-up to the Holiday, but 54 people have responded to the Lowe’s poll posted last Thursday, and so I thought it was time to share the early returns in this halftime report.

49 of the respondents so-far are residents of Geneseo, which represents more than 2 per cent of the people who voted in this year’s town elections. Most pollsters would kill for such a sample, but I am hoping for a second wave of respondents before the polls close on Sunday. So, if you haven’t already taken the poll, please do, and please encourage your friends to as well. (No matter what their political beliefs!)

Obviously, the more respondents we get, the more accurate the results should be, assuming that people are honest in their answers and only take the poll once. Of course, it is unlikely we will totally overcome the bias that comes from the poll being posted on the clarioncall web site. So far, about 57 per cent of respondents are either totally against the Lowe’s or leaning against it. Judging from the election, that result is pretty much the opposite of the way people voted.

Another clear tip-off that the sample is biased is that I am leading in the Supervisor’s race with 15 votes versus 12 each for Bob and Will. Only one person admitted voting for Wes which is out of whack with his 25 per cent showing in the actual election. Are Wes’s supporters underrepresented on the Internet in general, or just on the clarioncall site? Probably both!

Interestingly, 10 people declined to say who they voted for. Could it be they doubted that the poll was really anonymous? They are perhaps wise to be skeptical about any claim of privacy on the Internet (see my previous column), however, if there is a way to figure out how people answered these questions, I am not smart enough to do it, and I really don’t want to know!

Now for the internals! The interesting thing about any poll is not the overall results but the correlation between answers to different questions. For instance, in the sample thus far, residents of the village were opposed to or leaning against Lowe’s by a 2-1 margin, while town residents were evenly split on the issue.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a person’s position on Lowe’s was a key indicator of whether they thought Planning Board member John Zmich should be re-appointed. Of the 32 people against/leaning against Lowe’s, 30 of them wanted to see John re-appointed, with none wanting him replaced and only 2 not sure.

In contrast, of the 23 who stated they were in favor of or leaning towards Lowe’s, 13 wanted John dumped with only two wanting him reappointed. Interestingly though, there was less certainty in this group, with 6 people, or 26%, not sure on the question and two not answering.

There seemed to be more of a consensus, however, on the type of person who should be appointed to replace John if he is not re-appointed. 54% of all respondents wanted a candidate with no known position on Lowe’s, with only 7 people (or 17%) demanding a pro-Lowe’s replacement.

Turning to politics, it is also noteworthy that 1/3 of those responding said that positions on Lowe’s were not the most important factor in choosing a candidate in the fall election. Proving that, two voters who were leaning against Lowe’s voted for Will, while Bob and I each got the vote of someone leaning in favor of Lowe’s.

There is much more data to be mined here, but for now you will have to be satisfied with this and the raw numbers reported here. However, as a special Christmas present I’ll list all those who got votes sp far to take John’s place on the planning board: Sharryn Duffy, Craig Macauley, Liz Porter, Lizz Savard, Soren Thomas, Jeremy Grace and Corrin Strong (And no, I didn’t vote for myself!)

Stay tuned for the complete final poll report to be published on the Clarion News Blog next Monday!

Almost Full Disclosure

332 people were sent an e-mail newsletter from me last Saturday afternoon promoting the clarioncall.com blogs. As of this writing on Tuesday evening, 185 of those (or about 55.7%) opened that e-mail. Of those who did, so far 119 (or 64.7%) actually clicked on at least one of the links to look at a blog.

I know all this (and a lot more) because of the very detailed reporting that my e-mail service, Constant Contact, provides. I also learned more than I really wanted to know about some of my readers!

I know, for instance, which readers had nothing much going on Saturday afternoon and opened the e-mail in the first hour. I also know who stays up late and reads their e-mails after midnight and I know who the early risers are.

Of course, if you didn’t open the e-mail I don’t know what to think. Perhaps you are not an e-mail junkie and will get around to checking your e-mail eventually or perhaps you are just busy this time of year. I suppose there might even be a few people out there who just don’t care about what I might have to say!

Constant Contact says that some e-mail reading programs have a feature that disables the reporting so there may actually be more than 185 people who have opened the e-mail. It is certainly also possible that my e-mail was blocked by a spam filter somewhere along the way.
All of this knowledge is a little scary, but in my defense, I can say that I had no idea I would be getting all this information when I signed up to use the service. I provide this full disclosure so that those of you who received the newsletter can think twice about whether you want to open the next one, from me, or anyone else!

If you go straight to the blogs without opening an e-mail or clicking on a newsletter link, I have no way of knowing who you are. (Unless of course you post a comment, in which case I can trace your digital footprint and hunt you down like a dog!)

If you want to be removed from the list, Constant Contact makes it easy to opt out, which 8 people (or about 2.3%) already have. On the other hand, if you did not get a newsletter and would like to, you can sign up on the clarioncall.com home page. Just click on the big yellow button that says “join our e-mail list.” Remember, if you change your mind, you can alway opt out at any time!

BTW My response was way above average according to Constant Contact. Their figures show that only 38 per cent of e-mails from small businesses are ever opened and only 8.9 per cent of those readers actually click on a link.

I suppose this means that my target audience was very interested in the message. That’s not surprising since my list was mainly comprised of people that I have had some contact with before, either in politics, community organizations or through my previous life in the newspaper business.

So now that I know about the potential invasion of privacy that this technology can deliver, will I do it again? Of course! And for one very good reason: it works!

On Sunday, which is normally a slow day online, I set a new record for traffic to this column with over 150 people visiting! Overall, no doubt mainly because of the buzz created by the newsletter, last week’s column was read by almost 400 people which is also a near-record. But it is not the quantity of the readers so much as the quality.

This column was read last week by a virtual Who’s Who of political leaders and heavy hitters in Geneseo and Livingston County, but you’ll have to take my word for that. I would never disclose that list!

Closing the Gray Gap

As I travel about I frequently run into people who mention how much they miss the newspaper. This is gratifying to hear and I usually try to steer them in the direction of this web site and blog. If the person is significantly older then my 56 years (as most newspaper readers are), however, I find that they are not in the habit of visiting the Internet.

This surprised me at first, until I did a little research on the subject, and discovered that this phenomena is quite well known and even has a name. It’s the Gray Gap. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it turns out that net-savvyness is inversely proportional to age.

Recent surveys (Pew Internet Project, 2006) indicate that while 72 per cent of Americans overall use the Internet, that number falls to 28 per cent for people age 70 or over. This is in contrast to 89 per cent of those age 18-28. If you are reading this, the chances are you are under 60, as the penetration drops to 54 per cent for those 60-69.

This is further compounded by the fact that, even though Geneseo is a lively college town, we also have a strong legacy as a rural area. Overall 42% of rural residents do not use computers, compared to 31% of urban residents and 34% of suburban residents.

Most alarming, however, is that of those who currently don’t go on the Internet, more than half (57%) say they don’t ever expect to. While it is understandable that many older Americans never had the opportunity to learn the new technologies, the reasons given for avoiding the Internet are revealing.

The most frequent reason cited by non-users for avoiding the Web (given by 54%) is that it is perceived as “too dangerous.” This point was driven home to me recently at a meeting of the Livingston County Highway Safety Board, on which I serve as Recording Secretary.

The board has set up a Technology Committee to bring modern technology, such as satellite mapping, into our meetings. At the May meeting, Livingston County Highway Superintendent Don Higgins hooked a computer with an Internet connection up to a projector. As we were searching for a particular web site, we clicked on a likely link only to have the image of an attractive young lady in a bikini pop up on the screen.

It was nothing more risque than you would see on the average Victoria’s Secret TV commercial, and yet it confirmed one older member’s beliefs about the Internet. “You make one wrong click and they come and take you away,” he said.

This would be funny, if it wasn’t a little sad. The Internet is the most wonderful knowledge and communication machine ever invented and yet a significant part of our population is not enjoying the benefits. I  hope each of you who are computer savvy enough to read this blog will adopt a gray person and help them discover the wonders of the net. Let’s have no senior left behind!

If you are gray and computer literate I hope you will let me know you’ve read this the next time you see me. Or better yet, post a comment!