Angie's Leap

My dive into blogging: music, technology, saving money

3 apps for music lovers

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TuneIn. One of the favorite things I love doing when I travel is seeking out new radio stations.  Discovering a station that kicks out the jams and keeps me engaged with entertaining local radio personalities is always a special treat. This is becoming even more difficult as radio becomes more homogenized.  Not hatin’ Tom Joyner or Steve Harvey, but I can hear you guys at home. Oddly enough, I feel more at home in a distant place when I can absorb the local sounds.

All this is leading up to my current love affair with the TuneIn app, which thanks to my college pal Dex, has reunited me with WHUR in Washington, D.C., or more specifically, “The ORIGINAL Quiet Storm.”  Howard University students and alumni know what I’m talking about. That late-night smooth R&B format imitated everywhere was pioneered at the Mecca,  and nobody does it better than Howard University Radio.

The app boasts more than 50,000 stations and 21 genres, from adult contemporary to world music. I browsed for stations by location and immediately started plugging in my favorites, but you use other criteria, as seen below:

TuneIn does require an Internet connection, so you might want to watch your data usage if you’re not on an unlimited data plan. Other cool features:

  • Pro version upgrade (99 cents) lets you record, pause and rewind what you’re listening to.

  • An alarm timer lets you wake up to your favorite station.

  • A “schedule” tab gives you the station’s programming for the day.

  • A “playlist” tab identifies the song you’re listening to and upcoming ones.

  • Integrates with Roku streaming players.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the capabilities of SoundCloud. Music lovers who like creating, exploring and sharing new sounds can while away hours (or longer) on this app. I use it to keep up with the creative doings of my DJ sister and beat-making son.  I can recommend both as a source of some serious party or workout music.

I also add podcasts of stuff I want to listen to later if there’s a SoundCloud share button on a Web page.  Want to hear mashups or remixes of the latest hits? Like I said, you can while away hours.

WhoSampled. I like all of these apps, but I feel as though the developers made this one just for me. As the site’s tagline proclaims, it’s all about “exploring the DNA of music.” Does it ever.  The site claims a database of more than 153,000 songs and 56,000 artists. If I hear a hook or lyric and I know it’s from another song, it will bug me to no end until I track down the DNA of that song. Now, thanks to WhoSampled, when you know you’ve heard that beat, lyric or melody somewhere you’ll be able to put your finger right on it. And when you need to school a youngster about the roots of two-thirds of today’s rap … well, you get the idea.

A photo gallery is worth a thousand words, so let me illustrate, via Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” I’ve already allowed the WhoSampled app to scan the music library of my iPad2, and it’s come up with 307 tracks and 200 artists.


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Convert DVDs to play on iPad for free

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A  friend recently asked me how to convert DVDs to digital formats so that her daughter could watch them on her iPad during a road trip. I remember when some DVDs would come with free digital copies. Now I see Walmart and others are charging for the service.

Following is a tutorial on how to install the open-source application HandBrake and get those digital copies free.

1. Use the link provided above to download the software. There are other links using HandBrake in their URLs, but they’re ads for other paid programs, and some of them may contain malware. This tutorial focuses on the Mac installation, but Windows is available as well.

2. Give your computer permission to download the app. This may mean temporarily turning your firewall off under System Preferences. When you’re done with the installation, remember to turn your firewall back on.

3. After unpackaging the software, you’ll get a screen like the one below. Now you just have to show the app the movie you want to encode. Click “Source” and find your DVD.

4. I select my DVD, “Cooley High,” from the source pane to the left of the window that appears after I click “Source.” :

Locate your DVD (source)

5. Next, click on the Video_TS file. Click “Open” in the lower right corner of the window after the Video_TS file is opened.

Open Video_TS folder

6. A bump in the road: My older DVD is 32-bit, while the current version of HandBrake is 64-bit.  I click on the button to the far right, download a software package, and in three minutes, I’m back in business.

7. I click “Start,” and the DVD encoding begins.

8. The flyout menu to the right shows my encoding options. I set them for my iPad. Settings are available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple TV and Android devices as well.

9. A cute alert that my digital copy is ready. The 1-hour, 47-minute, 27-second flick took 38 minutes to convert.

10.  “Cooley High” is ready to transfer to the iPad.

11. Whoomp! There it is…

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Read offline, pocket the savings

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Being able to read my saved Web pages offline has been invaluable, especially since I’ve suspended my iPad data plan. If my tablet’s 3G connection ever becomes reliable, perhaps I’ll reactivate, but for now I’m saving that $15 a month.  My Pocket app has really come through in the clutch when I’ve been stuck in boring places with nothing good to read and no Internet connection. Yes, my cell phone data connection is horrible, too.

Previously called Read It Later,  Pocket has been on my iPad for a while, but I never used it much since Safari’s Reading List popped up in my toolbar. What I didn’t learn till after I shut down my data plan was that the reading list isn’t available offline. Pocket is the perfect workaround.

My only criticism is that it’s a pain installing Pocket’s “bookmarklet” into iPad’s Safari browser. As you’ll see in the screen shots below, Safari’s bookmark dropdown menu covers up Pocket’s installation directions. This might not be an issue with other iPad browsers, but Safari is the one I use most often.  I’ve included a screen shot of the unobscured directions. By contrast, installing the bookmark into your laptop or desktop browser is a snap.

Once installed in your browsers, the app shines. Click on the “Save to Pocket” icon on your iPad, laptop or desktop and start saving your pages. Pocket boasts integration with more than 300 user-created apps, including two of my favorites, Flipboard and Twitter.  One important note: You can’t view your Favorites list offline. Keep stuff you want to read offline in the Home queue.

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School’s out!

Yesterday, I finished up my last Web design/development course at Computer Training Source in Chicago. I walked away grateful, relieved and happy to be putting my skills to work.  My journey through the program was not what I expected, but I’d recommend it to any “downsized” worker who qualifies. I put “downsized” in quotes because that’s one of the terms I’ve learned is preferable to saying you were laid off. Oh yeah, my program included marketing pointers, too. ( I was listening, Maureen).

Seriously, as copy desks are wiped out in newspapers across the country, marketing has become more important than ever.  I’m told that potential employers equate “laid off” with poor performance, but they understand “downsizing” happens to the best of us.

My tuition at CTS was funded through the federal Workforce Investment Act, and I jumped through plenty of hoops to get into the program. At one WIA orientation, a woman explained that Uncle Sam didn’t have dollars to waste. Folks would get it into their heads that they wanted to go back to school after viewing one of those vocational school commercials from a couch at home, she said. They’d go to school, maybe because they were bored. And many of them would end up right back on that couch in front of the TV. Hence, the rigorous WIA program screening process. That’s fine with me. I’m not trying to be an overeducated couch potato.

One of the steps in securing a government voucher for training is interviewing potential schools. I looked at three. I love the traditional college learning environment, but knew that wouldn’t work when I found a job. I wouldn’t expect a new boss to fit my work schedule around school, and I was determined to finish school. At CTS, I was able to rearrange my classes around a contract job I found shortly after school began.

I went to school two to three days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There were morning and afternoon breaks and a one-hour lunch. Most classes were two-to-four-day sessions ranging from beginning to advanced levels. Learning via the CTS method is 30 percent classroom; 70 percent practice. In a university environment, I’d say I learned 70 percent in the classroom; 30 percent on my own. I was a little unprepared for this reality. I tried to take in as much as I could at once: watching the classroom screen, my computer monitor, following the text, listening, taking notes. Some instructors didn’t mind audio recordings; some did.

Instructor presentations are done via projectors displaying the Windows operating system. On the Mac (students have the option to choose either OS), commands and the screen view are slightly different. Inevitably, I would miss something. This got a bit frustrating, until an instructor gave me this: Think of class as a demo class, like a cooking class. You’re not trying to make the dish with the chef; you’re getting the idea now and cooking it up later. Thanks, Bob.

A few of my takeaways, after 240 classroom hours:

  • Learning a content management system is easy. If you’re  on Facebook, you’ve learned one already; WordPress is another. I worked on a cloud-based one at my old newspaper.  Many of the job ads for editors require experience on a CMS.

  • I don’t want to be a Web developer. I’m a techie, but not that much of a techie. Of course, understanding what MySQL, Javascript and PHP are all about is helpful. I learn best by visualizing how all parts of a system function together. Querying databases isn’t my thing. But I get it.

  • Web design is fun. Web building, not so much.  HTML is the framework for building sites. But using CSS is where things get interesting. CSS is the decoration. I like decorating.  For me, building sites from scratch is like building a house from the ground up. I’d rather pick the furnishings. Programs such as Dreamweaver let you customize to your heart’s content.

  • I ain’t afraid of no code. None of this technical stuff is difficult to learn. It’s the repetition that makes it stick.

All in all, I’d say Uncle Sam didn’t waste his money on me. I have a much deeper understanding of the Internet revolution that’s turned the way we communicate with each other upside down, and I’m a better editor for the training.

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My ringtones are back . . . Yesss!

I’ve mentioned before that I love music, and one of the little ways I enjoy it is by making my own ringtones.  This is no big deal for iPhone users, who now can make ringtones in a snap, but back in the Dark Ages we BlackBerry users didn’t have a place to shop for ringtones, let alone an easy means to make our own.

So I was stuck with canned sounds, while it seemed everybody else had cool ringtones. Until I discovered Audacity, free open-source software for recording and editing sounds.

For non-techie types, making tones on Audacity is a bit much, especially since there are probably easier tools to work with now. But back when I started doing this, the ends more than justified the means. I used the songs I wanted from my music collection, got the snippets I wanted from them, and I didn’t have to pay a dime.

Even though I no longer have my BlackBerry (still like it better than the iPhone, but that’s another story), I still enjoy making my own tones and adding them to whatever no-contract phone I’m carrying at the moment.  Now that my son makes beats, I tote them around on my phone and turn them into tones, too.

I’ve established that a sister will go to some lengths to have her music how she wants it, when she wants it.  So let’s just say I was a little annoyed when out of the blue I started hearing “Verizon Airwaves” instead of Bobby Caldwell when my mom called, perplexed at hearing those same “Airwaves” instead of  Usher when my daughter rang,  and downright angry when my son’s hot beat was replaced with “Airwaves” for all incoming calls.  A disaster, I tell ya.

An investigation revealed that the tones were on my memory card, but the phone just wasn’t reading them. A little Googling  showed me that I could format my card (basically, restore it to factory specs), but that would  also mean erasing all my data. Since my contacts are automatically backed up through an app, and I have copies of my pictures and tones on my computer, I thought this might be the answer.

Then I read that Windows users could format their cards via computer, and I Googled to find out how Mac users could do the same.  That’s when I discovered another wonderful use for Mac’s Disk Utility application.  Here’s what I did: 1) Took the micro SD memory card out of the phone;  2)  Inserted the memory card into a micro SD adapter and inserted the adapter into my Targus card reader/writer; 3)  Inserted the card reader into my laptop’s USB slot; 4) Started up Disk Utility , selected the card reader disk and clicked “Repair Disk”

Et voila!  When I put the memory card back in the phone, the tones were recognized, “Airwaves” were banished, and all was right with my world.

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Net savings on phone bill

Going through my email this morning, I came across a promotion to refer friends to my home phone service, Ooma. Well friends, consider yourselves referred.

In a nutshell, you spend $160 to $200 up front in exchange for what’s currently a $6 monthly phone bill (pour moi). It’s a VoIP  service, allowing you to make phone calls over the Internet. So you cut the landline cord, but not the Internet one.

I’ve been using VoIP for years now, thanks to a recommendation from a former newspaper colleague (Thanks, Craig). I started off with Vonage, but ditched it after my bill started climbing with an alphabet soup full of government and other surcharges. I came to Vonage after complaining about a $24.99 phone bill that was up to $65 with various taxes and surcharges. I think it’s almost inevitable that sooner or later some taxing body is going to start feasting on your phone bill, so you may as well get in some savings while you can. My Ooma bill was only about $3 when I started the service a couple of years ago (Thanks, Keith). When I signed up, there was a menu on Ooma’s website that let me see what my state’s taxes and other surcharges would be.

“Why bother with a second phone bill at all?” you may ask. I just like having a back-up number. And the cost is definitely cheaper than a traditional landline. I have to say I almost consider traditional phone service a rip-off now, though I do have friends that insist they need a landline (for that fax machine?). Seriously, you can now hook up your home security system to a VoIP service.

Yes, you will lose service if your Internet goes down. With Vonage, I just had my calls forwarded to my cell. Not sure if Ooma offers this service, but it does push an upgrade package that likely offers call forwarding.

Not trying to sound like those Westwood College ads, but what are you waiting for?

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By now, many people are becoming used to Twitter as a source of breaking news, whether it’s a report about the death of Osama bin Laden or details about the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt. But it’s still fascinating to come across new examples of how the real-time information network can be used to report on a breaking news story, whether by professional journalists or those committing what Andy Carvin of NPR has called “random acts of journalism.” In one recent case, a member of Reddit pulled together a news report about a shooting in Toronto, including the tweets of those who attended and later became victims of the incident — another sign of how social media is changing both the way we consume and the way we produce journalism.

According to a number of news reports, the shooting took place late Monday night in a suburb of Toronto…

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Mountain Lion: Not the cat’s meow

Thought I would be posting about the wonders of Mountain Lion’s voice dictation by now, but nooooooo. It’s installed, thanks to some hand-holding from the kind folks at Apple, who assured me I’ll get 90 days of phone support with my OS upgrade (after first telling me that my Apple Care warranty had expired). But no sooner than I’d managed to get the sound working on my iMac, I ran into more headaches.

Like how to get this Mountain Lion party started. I’ve bought into the hype; I’m ready to roll. Where’s the equivalent of the “Read Me First” file you get after software installation? So off to YouTube I went to get a video demonstration. Only to learn that I couldn’t watch because my Flash player was outdated. Blowing off those annoying update prompts finally came back to bite me.

After a couple run-throughs of the video, it was obvious something was amiss with the voice dictation feature. I was in sync with the video till we got to the part where my words were supposed to magically fill my document at the sound of my voice.

UPDATE: It’s working!!!

Decided to give it one last try before posting, and it actually spit out some words. Not the words I dictated, but progress nonetheless. When I saw the microphone appear next to my cursor, I had a feeling it would work.

Folks, I am beat. More on Mountain Lion tomorrow. Think it’s safe to say, for tonight at least, that the update has some bugs to work out.