Confide for the desktop

Confide is a messaging app with which you can “Communicate digitally with the same level of privacy and security as the spoken word. With encrypted messages that self-destruct.” I installed the app on my phone a few day ago after seeing a story about how it has become popular inside the Beltway.

The folks at Confide sent me an email letting me know they have a desktop version, which I installed on my Mac this morning. In the screenshot below, image #1 is what you see when you get a message. #2 is what you see when you move your cursor over the text.

Security? I don’t think so. I’ll just do a screenshot of the clear text. (click) Image #3 is what showed up on my desktop. Hmmm. The only way I could capture the text was to use my iPhone to snap a photo of my monitor. Pretty clever.

WordPress Media Library

The screencast below is about one of the under-the-hood features of WordPress. So it’s going to be of zero interest to anyone who doesn’t have (or has had) a blog or website using WordPress as the content management system.

WP is great for searching. I have 5,000 posts going back 15 years but if I can remember a word or phrase, WP will find all references in a matter of seconds. If you include media (photo, video, audio) with your post, WP puts it in the Media Library. I had more than 1,600 pieces of media in my library but I couldn’t search because I hadn’t taken the time to give the media a useful name or any other metadata. This 6 minute screencast shows how I cleaned that up and why.

As I’ve experimented with various online tools for managing media (iCloud, Google Photos, Flickr), I’ve found myself drawn back to my WordPress blog. Let me hasten to point out almost nobody visits my blog. That’s been true since the beginning. It’s always been more journal/archive.

But when I put images online, I try do so in some context. If I have 50 photos of my mother as a young woman, I’d rather include those (as a slideshow or gallery) as part of blog post that might include links to other posts and images. You get the idea.

For me, the stories behind the images (if I know them) are as important as the images themselves. A blog works well for this. And because it is self-hosted, I don’t have to worry that Yahoo! or Google or Facebook might one day kill it.

Prototype usability testing

So I get this invite to take part in usability testing of a new prototype (is that redundant?). It’s for a big company. One of the biggest. I can’t tell you much more because I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and they seemed pretty serious about it.

A young woman (early 20s?) ran the session (a video conference) and there were 4 or 5 others who I assume were observing but did not speak. The session lasted about half an hour.

She had me log in to a development site with (what I assume was) an early version of the new tool they’re working on. She asked me to play around with the tool and talk aloud as I did so. She would occasionally ask me a question. Near the end of the session she asked if I would use a tool like this, to which I immediately replied, “No” and explained why.

I don’t use Facebook so I’m only speculating here, but I had a strong sense they were trying to add FB-like features. “Like” buttons; the little “heart” icon; etc. I said, as gently as I could, it seemed they were trying to solve a problem that did not exist. This company is big enough they must have an army of developers working on stuff like this all the time. And that’s good, up to the point they adding features nobody wants or needs.

I don’t know when — if ever — I’ll be able to tell you more about this. Maybe if the thing ever goes public. For my effort they’re going to give me a $50 gift certificate, but the real value was forcing me to think about social media and how use it (or don’t use it).

Social. Media.

The ‘media’ part is pretty straight forward. We see news, photos, video, audio. The ‘social’ part seems to be about connecting with people (“engagement”). In my experience, that is happening at an increasingly superficial level. Thumbs up, thumbs down, heart, +1. I’ve started wondering, why bother? Yes, I’m retired and have lots of time to write a long-winded post or comment (TLDR!). But, really, what does a ‘thumbs up’ or +1 add?

It must be enough, though, because here I am. If I spot the new prototype in the wild, I’ll let you know.

Bots are a new medium

Kevin Kelly points us to an interesting piece on bots by John Borthwick. Turns out bots are a bigger thing than I realized, and they’re gonna get a lot bigger.

“Most researchers estimate that during the election cycle, bots made up approximately a quarter of all the online chatter on a particular issue or meme. […] As people understand that accounts aren’t necessarily human, they will start to trust platforms and networks less.”

Mr. Borthwick make reference to Dexter which is (I think) a service that will help you develop a bot for your business (or whatever). You can see my chat session with their demo below. And if you’re feeling a little lonely…

Chat bots are going to become a thing in 2017, as Clem the CEO of Hugging Face, an awesomely interesting chat bot company says, “everyone, one day will have an AI friend”.

 

Encoding presets in HandBrake

Back in the early days of online video, it was (for me) a three-step process. Shoot the video; edit the video; encode the video for uploading to (eventually) YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc. And for a long time, encoding was a Dark Art. Lots and lots of hidden settings that — if properly optimized — resulted in a file that didn’t take 8 hours to upload and still look pretty good when streamed. I think most of that voodoo now happens behind the scenes and we mortals don’t have to think about it.

My net connection is via DSL and while it’s okay (8mbs) coming down, it’s damned slow going up, so even a short video can take a while to upload. To address the problem, I run my videos through a program called HandBrake. HandBrake is a tool for converting video from nearly any format to a selection of modern, widely supported codecs. It converts videos from nearly any format; it’s free and Open Source; and it’s Multi-Platform (Windows, Mac and Linux). And it’s free.

The program has been around for 13 years and I first used it to rip songs from CDs. Don’t have much call for that anymore but along the way I discovered it was really good at encoding video for streaming online. I won’t get into features here except to say the latest version has a bunch of handy presets. Experts can tweak and optimize to their heart’s desire.

I know, I know… this is getting long. I’ll hurry.

Yesterday I recorded a bit of a song I’m trying to learn and wanted to see what kind of video I could get recording directly to my iPhone using the built-in mic. Not all that great. And it was too big to email to my buddy Professor Peter, so I started playing with some of the new encoding presets in HandBrake. They had a few that appeared to be optimized for Gmail.

The original .mov file was about 224MB. The HB preset I usually use took that down to 69MB (1080p30). And the Gmail preset down to 15MB (720p30). I’m thinking, “That’s gonna look and sound like shit.” But when I compared the three, not to bad. Try to ignore the ‘vintage’ filter I mistakenly used (iMovie on my phone). Each of the samples is only 30 seconds.

Google PhotoScan

When Peter Smith suggested this app I said “thanks” but was thinking, ‘Not gonna come close to the image I get with my flatbed scanner.’ But I gave it a try and… pretty damned close. Rather amazing. I’ll probably keep using my scanner for some of the really old stuff because I can control the resolution and use Pixelmator to ‘repair’ the image as needed. But most folks won’t fuck with all of that. With this app you could breeze through a shoebox full of old photos in no time. One final thought: this video is very well done.

Timeline 3D


“Make timeline charts of world history, family trees, fictional stories or business deadlines.” I’m a sucker for timelines and I purchased this Mac app a few years ago to create a timeline for the company I worked for. Don’t think I ever got around to that but started playing with it recently. 5 minutes.

Deepgram finds speech with A.I.

“Searching through recordings is really difficult. In terms of workflow, usually the raw audio is transcribed into text, which is then fed into a search tool. If you transcribe using human transcription, it’s too time consuming and expensive. If you try to do it with automatic speech-to-text then search accuracy is the problem. […] Deepgram is an artificial intelligence tool that makes searching for keywords in speeches, private conversations and phone calls faster, cheaper and easier than the old way of doing things. Deepgram indexes audio files in more than half the time of a human transcriber, and costs only 75¢ per hour of audio.”

Amazing. Try it for yourself and see if it doesn’t blow your panties off.

AirPods

I spent some money on headphones back in the 70s. When I started at KBOA in ’72 all they had were these WWII-era Bakelite hockey pucks with a piece of vibrating tin inside.
headphones2

When I saw my first pair of Sennheiser open-air headphones (in a magazine) I ordered a pair and paid for them myself. And, yes, I took them into the studio for my shift and took them with me when done. They were pretty expensive (for the time) and a bit fragile. But I sounded soooo good in those headphones. More accurately, I could hear what I really sounded like and that was important.

Steve Mays KBOA control room

Fast forward several light years to the first iPods and the famous white earbuds that all serious music buffs hated. I loved them. They sounded fine to me and they fit my ears just fine. I’ve been using them ever since, pretty much every day.

In a few weeks Apple will start selling AirPods ($150) and I’ll buy a pair on Day One. And I might not be the only one. From Business Insider:

12% of U.S. consumers surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch say they intend to purchase AirPods, apparently on the strength of Apple’s marketing, given that few people have actually seen and tried them out. This is a very bullish sign for Apple, says BAML. “12% of the US installed base could lead to up to an incremental $3bn in revenue,” writes the analysts.

“Apple’s marketing” is one explanation. Another might be that people like me have been using Apple earbuds for fifteen years and like them.