Category Archives: Reviews > Software

Tools for Audio Geeks: Spek, a Free Spectrum Analyzer

Tonight, I’d like to give a major shout-out to the creators of Spek, a free spectrum analyzer I discovered recently, which has been extremely useful in the course of processing my music collection.

Why use a spectrum analyzer at all? Glad you asked.

The main benefit is you can physically see how the encode turned out — peaks, frequency cutoffs, bit rates, and other details can be checked with this tool. It can be somewhat nebulous on the details if you used VBR, but I generally find that’s not much of an issue considering being able to see a track’s audio spectrum provides a better look at the file anyway.

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Reading 2.0 and the Ultimate E-Book Toolkit (Calibre)

As a child of the original ‘Internet generation,’ I’ve long felt blessed and grateful for the transformations that have come about in the wake of the personal computing revolution. It’s changed the way we communicate, the way we share information, the way we store our things, and the way we think.

There’s always been something very beautiful about the intimate enmeshment of physical essence and technology. The tighter that bond becomes, the more we become able to transcend our own natural limits. If not also in name and appearance by this time, I’d argue we are at least the first cyborgs in spirit, augmenting our living bodies with tireless electronics and high-powered microprocessors, holding a universe-within-a-universe between our quivering fingertips.

Back in the day, a lot of people used to talk about device convergence, a point at which all (or most) user needs could be met by the capabilities of a single multi-purpose platform. There were numerous experiments tried and failed over the years to find that idealized, comfortable sense of mass appeal, ranging from the launch of WebTV to installing hard disks into game consoles, but despite all of this, the true killer app came only when the computing industry finally set its sights on the ordinary mobile cellular phone and said, “Let’s make this better.”

Ka-boom.

And so the second revolution of our generation began.

Nowadays, it’s almost abnormal to meet anyone on the streets who isn’t carting around a three-by-seven-inch smartphone (or tablet) with power and endurance rivaling that of many netbooks and lower-end laptops. With boosts in portability and battery life, more storage, multi-core processing, widespread open-source development, and easy cloud integration, the possibilities are endless. Much like the change in our own destiny, augmentation of our phones has hit a point where it’s transformed them into something entirely different, and made them part of a greater force in the realm of cultural design and social function.

And while we use these devices for a multitude of everyday tasks, one of the more subtle ones that’s taken hold is reading for business and pleasure. It’s long been obvious, ever since cyberspace gained mass appeal, that one of the more hotly debated issues would remain the divide between reading from physical media versus reading from digital. The e-book trend is in an upward swing, a lot of readers have traded in their cumbersome dead-tree-format for something that slips more easily into a data card, and these changes have many more questioning the direction in which these changes might take us.

First off, I don’t care much for the politics, and I’m not here to preach. The views on electronic reading are as varied and numerous as there are people who read. Some like to keep their distance and feel that e-readers are inferior and a betrayal of a wholesome pastime. Others strike varying shades of balance between the use of digital and physical formats. Still others are at a point where they’ve either swung firmly toward carrying out an eventual migration to digital or have already arrived there.

Personally, I’m flexible when it comes to my books. I have a lot of paper, in spite of everything else in my life being almost entirely digital. I also have a lot of books in digital format. So, whenever I want to indulge in a story, I go with what’s convenient and feels good that day.

The take-home lesson here is, “you do you.” Work with what makes you happy. Work with what you feel works best for the circumstances. The ONLY thing you need to care about at the end of the day is that what you’re doing keeps you reading and keeps you feeling joy from your pastime.

Books are a priceless tool to hone the intellect and give wings to our imaginations. There’s a lot we could do that’s far worse than consuming them regularly (and eagerly) in digital form.

On that note, I’m going to share one more tool that might be of interest to anyone who’s dipping their toes into the e-reading pool. Calibre is an e-book system that’s totally free, has no ads or spyware, and pretty much does everything you could ever ask for in an e-book software package. I’ve been using mine to convert between EPUB and PDF formats; as long as a user understands basic typography, this program is a dream to work with. Calibre makes it ridiculously easy to create output files that are re-flowed and set for the screen size of one’s reader.

Also, huge kudos go to Morri for gifting me with the old Blackberry Playbook that became my mobile library. I love so much of what we share, interest-wise and otherwise … and this BB made for such an awesome DIY hack, and even more fun after the fact. I can slip this thing into a purse or coat pocket and just run out the door, and not have to worry about carting around 50 pounds of books. (I know I’ve already thanked you profusely IRL, but credit is due in cyberspace too!)

So long story short … if you’re an avid reader, check out Calibre, it’s one of the few applications I’ve encountered that’s probably worth your time.

Now … pick up a book and read, dammit!  :)

<3

Review: Opera Mobile 14

As a ten-plus year user of the Opera web browser, it really pains me to write this review, but at the same time it also gives me the chance to pass along some good recommendations to users and educate them on what I believe was a very poor management choice in terms of this browser’s recent user interface (UI) redesign.

Let’s start from the beginning.

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