Friday, March 22, 2013

Recording and transcribing Skype calls on a PC (for writers)

Long post on recording skype audio on a PC. Links at end.

I have used Skype for interviews for the last three years. I use it for both straight interviews, and for ghostwriting gigs. (Ghostwriting *requires* that I record interviews. I need good recordings to listen to and transcribe, to be able to write a piece in someone else's voice.) 

Choosing proper audio recording tools is especially important (and difficult) for me, because I have serious hearing loss. Without high quality, reliable recording tools, I can't work.

The best tool I have found for recording Skype calls on the PC is a paid program called Callburner. 

(Mac is a different world. From what my friends tell me, the Mac has simple, elegant handling of audio.)

I have tried several of the free Skype recording tools, but none of them are reliable enough for professional use. One "free" tool erased my past recordings! Other free tools crashed frequently.

The Callburner  developer really understands the (fracked up) Windows and PC audio environment. He built Callburner to be both stable and useful.

There are three other components necessary for recording/transcribing.
1. Audio playback software.
Until very recently, I just used the PC version of iTunes. The latest release of iTunes changed the user interface (they simplified things!) after the change, I find it almost useless for transcriptions. In the past I have also used  other programs for audio including: Audacity (quirky, easy to forget user interface, but reliable and free) and Cakewalk (reliable, simple user interface).

2. A foot pedal that will work with your system.
Use it to start and stop the playback as you transcribe. (I haven't found a good footpedal setup for Skype-pc yet.)

3. A good headset with microphone.
Choose a good Logitech combo from the recommended units on the Skype site.

Another transcription option I've used is to just send an MP3 file to a professional online transcription service. This is fast and reliable, but I don't get the 'gestalt'' of the interview the way I do if transcribe it myself.




Headset and microphone

Bonus link:
This web based tool for transcribing looks like it might overcome need for foot-pedal (Disclaimer: I have not used this tool yet)

Update 5/14: I  used Transcribe for a long transcription job, and recommend it highly. It's easy to start and stop the playback from keyboard, and easy to insert timecode in the transcription.  You have to install the Chrome browser to use Transcribe. Free for the first week and after that it costs $20 for a year's subscription.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Avoiding El Bujiazo--the spark plug crime

Avoiding El Bujiazo, or 'Why to spend your first night in Lima at a hotel with its own airport shuttle and skilled, street-savvy drivers.'

After spending two weeks in the Amazon jungle, I was thinking only of a hot shower when we landed in Lima. The driver from our hotel met us inside the airport. He held a sign displaying the name of our group leader. Like the rest of the staff at our hotel, he was a professional, distinguished looking gentleman of fifty or so dressed in a suit. He greeted us warmly then escorted the group to a new shuttle van in the parking lot outside the Lima airport. After stacking the luggage in the back of the van, and getting everyone seated we left the airport for the hotel.

We were about five minutes away from the airport when the driver noticed that two of the women in our group held their hand bags in their lap. He got very excited and said, "On floor! Purse and backpack on floor!"  The women quickly stuffed their purses under their feet, and we drove the rest of the way to the hotel in silence. All the way there I wondered what upset this competent, distinguished man. What was he worried about? Why was everyone telling me "purses and backpacks on the floor or in the trunk!"

When I got home, I went online to find out why the driver got so excited. The crime is called El Bujiazo. A thief runs up to a car when it is stopped or moving slowly in traffic. He strikes a window sharply with a spark plug, shattering the safety glass. He reaches inside to grab a purse, then runs away and disappears into the city.

There are a dozen YouTube videos of the crime online. One popular short video was taken from inside the car as the window shatters.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The simple form that could save your life

I had a dream last night that I should fill out this form and keep a copy in my car. 
From Seth Godin's blog:

Medicine is a data processing business. Doctors measure, notice and inspect, and based on the data they collect, make decisions and take action.

Alas, despite years of promises, online data storage in medicine is a mess. Whenever I visit a new doctor, I have to start over, from the beginning, to the best of my recollection. And I hate forms, so I leave stuff out, or forget things, or my handwriting is a mess.

Perhaps we shouldn't wait for a universal solution.

This simple Word doc (Download file) (Google doc) will take you a few minutes to fill out. And, as you get older, you can keep it up to date. Every time you go to a doctor's office, print it out and bring it with you. Keep one where you can find it. Make sure your kids or parents have a copy as well. (And, while you're at it, forward a blank one or this post to people who will benefit from having one.)

No cloud security issues, no data format issues. An old-fashioned, paper-based sneakernet of your medical information. Over time, doctors will tell you what you should add or leave out for the next doctor, as you take charge of doing a better job of telling your doctor what your doctor needs to know.

[Thanks to Terry Heaton for the notion, to Dave Winer for the push and to Dr. Jonathan Sackner Bernstein for the edits]

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Guy Kawasaki advice on getting the most out of Amazon Central

From an Amazon Central email:

Greetings, Authors

Guy Kawasaki has some great advice on how and why to use Amazon Author Central in his latest book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish Your Book. We asked Guy what tips he has for getting the most out of Author Central:

“Think of your Amazon Author Page as your online identity as an author. Here’s how to use Author Central to create a great Author Page:

Provide a high-quality profile photo – Your photo should depict you as someone who is likable, trustworthy, and competent. Your face should dominate the photo–don’t include your kids, spouse, car, or cat. The picture should be in-focus, without red-eye, and with a light source in front of you.

Ensure your biography is complete and up to date – This is where you need to prove to people that you have the street cred to write a book. Think of this as your elevator pitch as if you’re applying for a job.

Use all your weapons – This means investing the time to include your blogs and social-media accounts. That said, if you’re no longer blogging or using a social-media account, then don’t include them. The goal here is show that you’re an engaged and engaging person.

Cut to the chase – Let your writing and reviews do the talking. Don’t describe yourself or your writing as “innovative,” “inspiring,” and “irresistible.” Bragging makes you look clueless. Let the stars do the talking. ”

Here’s Guy’s Author Page (, updated with photos and links to his blog and tweets.

Author Pages are viewed by millions of readers each month. Managing your Author Page is easy. Simply log into Author Central, go to the Profile tab, and update your information. If you haven’t done so already, you can claim your own easy-to-remember Author Page web address to share on your blog and social networks.

The Author Central Team

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A day in the life of a freelance journalist--2013

The following exchange is reblogged in entirety from journalist Nate Thayer's blog:
(Thayer has won just about every significant award in the business.)

Update 1: Jason Fry on when to work for free.
Update 2: The Atlantic's senior editor responds.

Nate Thayer
A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

Here is an exchange between the Global Editor of the Atlantic Magazine and myself this afternoon attempting to solicit my professional services for an article they sought to publish after reading my story “25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip comes after 25 years of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea”   here at

From the Atlantic Magazine:
On Mar 4, 2013 3:27 PM, “olga khazan” <> wrote:
Hi there — I’m the global editor for the Atlantic, and I’m trying to reach Nate Thayer to see if he’d be interested in repurposing his recent basketball diplomacy post on our site.
Could someone connect me with him, please?
Olga Khazan
 From the head of NK News, who originally published the piece this morning:
Hi that piece is copy right to NK News, so please engage us mutually.
Thanks, tad
From the Atlantic:
Sure. Thanks Nate and Tad…I was just wondering if you’d be interested in adapting a version of that for the Atlantic. Let me know if you’d be interested.
From me:
Hi Olga:
Give me a shout at 443 205 9162 in D.C. and I’d be delighted to see whether we can work something out.
Nate Thayer
From the Atlantic:
Sure, I’ll call you in a few minutes.
After a brief phone call where no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her:
Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball  diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.
Nate Thayer
From the Atlantic:
Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.
Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!
From me:
Thanks Olga:
I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps mispoken.
From the Atlantic:
Hi Nate — I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100. I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork. Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have, but that’s not right for everyone and it’s of course perfectly reasonable to decline.
Thank you and I’m sorry to have offended you.
From me:
Hi Olga: No offense taken and no worries. I am sure you are aware of the changing, deteriorating condition of our profession and the difficulty for serious journalists to make a living through their work resulting in the decline of the quality of news in general. Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition. The then editor, Michael Kelly, was killed while we were both in Iraq, and we both, as it were, moved on to different places. I don’t have a problem with exposure but I do with paying my bills.
I am sure you can do what is the common practice these days and just have one of your interns rewrite the story as it was published elsewhere, but hopefully stating that is how the information was acquired. If you ever are interested in  a quality story on North Korea and wiling to pay for it, please do give me a shout. I do enjoy reading what you put out, although I remain befuddled as to how that particular business model would be sustainable to either journalism and ultimately the owners and stockholders of the Atlantic.
I understand your dilemma and it really is nothing personal, I assure you, and I wish you the best of luck.
So now, for those of you remained unclear on the state of journalism in 2013, you no longer are…..

Update 1: Jason Fry on when to work for free--and not. 

For young and/or new writers, I’d suggest these are exceptions worth considering:
* The platform’s good enough that being associated with it helps build my CV
* The platform’s good enough that I can introduce myself to a larger audience and build a lasting relationship with readers
* I really like this editor and think he or she can improve my writing and will be a great addition to my list of contacts
But be ruthless in asking yourself if the trade-off’s really worth it. Is the platform really that prestigious? Is the give and take with readers really that attractive? Is the relationship with the editor really going to be that hands-on? Lots of platforms are open to all comers, meaning they have no prestige. Lots of editors don’t actually edit. And so on. In such cases, just do your own thing.
And finally, the goal is to get paid as soon as possible. These are short-term strategies.
(Let me save you an email: I get the irony that I just repurposed my own paid article for free.)
Now, should more-experienced writers work for free? Your default stance should be “no,” bordering on “hell no.” But there are exceptions.
I’m 43 and have been a professional writer for half my life. I keep track of work I’ve invoiced, how much I need to make a day, and the day on which that math indicates I’ll be broke. But yes, I do write some things for free, and I’d be willing to write some more things for free.
* My posts on Faith and Fear in Flushing are uncompensated. I write there because I love the Mets, because writing alongside Greg Prince keeps me on my game, and because it’s fun. It’s also true that FAFIF got my co-blogger a book deal and helped get me tons of paid work.
* These musings are unpaid, because what the heck. They’re an effort to pay it forward, a promotional vehicle, and a tool for therapy.
* I’ve contributed free work to anthologies for friends of mine and people I admire and want to be associated with.
* I’ve written for free because I saw a chance to champion the work of writers I like.
* I’ve written for free because I didn’t have access to the audience that a piece of mine needed.
That last exception is the one I consider most often. I’d like to write more about music, travel and genealogy, but I’m not well-connected with those audiences. Would I write for free on those topics if you gave me a good editor and a respected platform for reaching those readers? I might — but with the expectation that such work would soon lead to getting paid, either by that publication or by someone else.
That’s the key: If you’re going to write for free, make sure a) it’s in service of a larger strategy; b) it’s a short-term arrangement; c) you aren’t just kidding yourself; and d) you’re really not just kidding yourself. What the Atlantic asked Nate Thayer to do fails that test. I get why he’s mad — I was mad on his behalf. But it might make sense in some other situation.

Update 2: Alexis Madrigal responds
The Atlantic magazine's senior editor Alexis Madrigal (who) has been very active in discussing the response: