Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Recording YouTube (and other websites) in Audio as MP3

Improving on the advice given in Convert YouTube Video to MP3 Audio:

There's a much easier way, if you're using Windows. There's a bit of set-up, but then after that recording will be a breeze.

1. Enable Stereo Mix. This is disabled in Windows out of the box, but you can activate it. Here are instructions:

Right click on Vistas sound>control panel and select "show deactivated"

You should see the stereo mix device appear. You can activate it, by right click>activate.


Right click on the speaker icon in the system tray.

Select "Recording Devices"

In the resulting dialog, make sure you have the "Recording" tab selected and in the middle of the empty area, right click and select "Show Disabled Devices"

(If you need more, look up Windows Stereo Mix on Google and you'll find lots of advice).

2. Install and configure Audacity.

First, download and install Audacity from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

To save MP3 files, you will also need to download and install LAME. Instructions are here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/help/faq?s=install&item=lame-mp3

Start up audacity, record a little audio, then select File -> Export as MP3. The first time you do this Audacity will ask you were to find LAME.

Note that you configure your MP3 settings in Audacity's file formats. Select Edit -> Preferences -> File Formats. Select a high bit rate if you're recording music (I use 128), lower if recording audio (I use 32). High bit rates mean larger file sizes.

Finally, select Select Edit -> Preferences -> Audio I/O. Select 'Stereo Mix' from the options in the 'Recording' dropdown. Audacity will now record whatever comes out of your computer's speakers. Select 'stereo' if you want to record YouTube videos in Stereo.

Now you're all set. You only need to do this once (though if you want to record using a microsphone, you'll have to go back into Select Edit -> Preferences -> Audio I/O and select a microphone).

Start the video. Start recording in Audacity. You'll see the song being recorded in the Audacity window.

To save it as MP3 select File -> Export as MP3.

Note: if you are recording a  lot of songs at once (if you were, say, recording concerts from http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/concerts/ then you want to 'Export Multiple'.

First, record the entire concert.

Second, in Audacity, add a lable at the beginning of each song. Use the song title for the lable. (Select the location of the lable by clicking on the timeline, then click Project -> Add Lable at Selection and type your title in the box.

Then, third, select File -> Export multiple to export all the songs at once.

(Note that while the process I describe here is legal in Canada, it might not be legal where you live to record audio from the internet. It is not recommended that you share these recordings.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pew Survey About the Future of the Internet

I was actually asked to participate in a Pew Survey (of 'stakeholders'), which is surprising because Pew tends to focus on Americans. Here are my responses to the survey (why don't other people do this?). Survey Questions in italics. My selection with bold X

Will Google make us smart or stupid?

X    By 2020, people's use of the internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google).

By 2020, people's use of the internet has not enhanced human intelligence and it could even be lowering the IQs of most people who use it a lot. Nicholas Carr was right: Google makes us stupid.
 It's a mistake to treat intelligence as an undifferentiated whole. No doubt we will become worse at doing some things ('more stupid') requiring rote memory of information that is now available though Google. But with this capacity freed, we may (and probably will) be capable of more advanced integration and evaluation of information ('more intelligent').

Will we live in the cloud or on the desktop?

By 2020, most people won't do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications, like Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones. Aspiring application developers will sign up to develop for smart-phone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system.

X By 2020, most people will still do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs and applications run from smartphones will have some functionality, but the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring from) a PC operating system. Aspiring application designers will write mostly for PCs.

I have selected the non-cloud response not because I don't believe the cloud will be pervasive by 2020 - it will - but because some of the implications of the answer (and especially 'applications running on smartphones') will not be the primary instantiation. The idea of dividing the world of 2020 between smartphones and general-purpose PCs is absurd. We will be connecting to soud information and services with a variety of devices in our homes (from radios, televisions, appliances, etc) and on our persons (audio (Skype-like) chat, videophone, camera, etc). Moreoever, I think it is very unlikely that we will trust all, or even the builk, of our data to the cloud. By 2020 we will have been disappointed enough times by online information services losing data, claiming ownership of data, sharing data without permission, etc., that we will keep our own data in our on in-home data store - a personal web server - and IT will be available (via the cloud) to our personal devices. In other words, we will all have the ultimate general-purpose PC in our homes, and much (if not more) of our data processing will take place on THAT, via the cloud.

Will social relations get better?

In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a negative force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

X In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.
Because of economic and other factors, my family is spread out across North America. My network of friends spans the world. The internet and associated technologies makes it possible for me to connect with them and maintain longer-lasting relationships even though I have moved a lot and changed jobs a lot (as have they) over the years. How could this be anything but better?

Will the state of reading and writing be improved?
X By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.

By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing, and the intelligent rendering of knowledge.
The internet generation is being exposed to text and media in unprecedented quantities, and more, is not just consuming this media, but producing it as well. Practice tells. The improvement will be especially dramatic and apparent because new readers will be compared primarily with the previous generation, the television generation, which for the most part did not read at all. Unfortunately, this improvement will be apparent only to the newly literate generation; the older generation will continue to complain that young people cannot read, despite evidence to the contrary. Moreover, it will be apparent by 2020 that a multi-literate society has developed, one that can communicate with ease through a variety of media, including art and photography, animation, video, games and simulations, as well as text and code.

Will the willingness of Generation Y / Millennials to share information change as they age?

X By 2020, members of Generation Y (today's "digital natives") will continue to be ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities. Even as they mature, have families, and take on more significant responsibilities, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will carry forward.

By 2020, members of Generation Y (today's "digital natives") will have "grown out" of much of their use of social networks, multiplayer online games and other time-consuming, transparency-engendering online tools. As they age and find new interests and commitments, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will abate.
By 2020 it will become increasingly clear that while privacy is the refuge of criminals and politicians, protection of personal data does not increase safety, but merely propagates a false sense of security. Sharing will be widely seen as a defense against the sort of world that existed in the past, where only the rich and multinationals had access to personal data on a widespread scale, and used it exclusively to serve their own interests through marketing media campaigns, cherry-picking of insurance (especially driving and health insurance) clients, employment and wage offers, and more. As access to personal data becomes more widespread (mostly, at first, through the actions of hackers, but also though sharing on personal sites and social networks) it will become clear that security cannot depend on secrecy, but rather, that laws will need to be in force to prevent the misuse of data. Campaigns will propose that the denial (or overcharging) of insurance on the basis of pre-existing illnesses or genetic predisposition, for example, will be outlawed, or that hiring or firing practices based on a person's personal lifestyle will be prohibited. It will be clear by 2020 that everybody has, if you will, skeletons (or nude pics or infidelities) in the closet, and it will be seen as absurd to make morality judgments based on these. In an ideal world, denying a person life or livelihood on the basis of these will be seen as a form of extortion, and condemned by society at large.

Will our relationship to institutions change?

X By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, businesses, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions.

By 2020, governments, businesses, non-profits and other mainstream institutions will primarily retain familiar 20th century models for conduct of relationships with citizens and consumers online and offline.
This question presupposes that "governments, businesses, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions" will continue to exist, and will either be more responsive not. In fact, by 2020, the changing nature of these institutions will have become clear, and we will be well into the process of replacing industrial-age institutions with information-age ones. It won't even make sense to talk of these institutions as "efficient" or "responsive" - these are economists' terms presuppose a client-server model of governance. But by 2020, it will be clear that people are governing, managing, educating and supporting themselves, not waiting for some institution to be "effective" or "responsivbe" to these needs.

Will online anonymity still be prevalent?

By 2020, the identification ID systems used online are tighter and more formal - fingerprints or DNA-scans or retina scans. The use of these systems is the gateway to most of the internet-enabled activity that users are able to perform such as shopping, communicating, creating content, and browsing. Anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed.

X By 2020, internet users can do a lot of normal online activities anonymously even though the identification systems used on the internet have been applied to a wider range of activities. It is still relatively easy for internet users to create content, communicate, and browse without publicly disclosing who they are.

By 2020 online anonymity will be largely a thing of the past, but not because people have been forced into disclosing their identity by pervasive authentication technologies. Indeed, there will be a strong and substantial reaction against being required to prove who we are in order to read a book, watch a movie or buy a cup of coffee (much less should criticisms at the government). pportunities, technologies, and legal license will continue to protect anonymity. However, many people will in most circumstances elect to assert their identity in order to protect their own interests. Online banking, personal websites and social networks, etc., require that a person protect his or her identity. Where authentication is voluntary, and clearly in the client's interests, and non-pervasive, people will gladly accept the constraints. Just as they accept the constraint of using keys to lock the car and house door but have the prerogative to, if they wish, leave either unlocked.

Will the Semantic Web have an impact?

By 2020, the Semantic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee and his allies will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to the average internet users.

X By 2020, the Semantic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee will not be as fully effective as its creators hoped and average users will not have noticed much of a difference.
The semantic web depends on cooperation by commercial vendors, and what we have seen most often is not cooperation but rather selfish and non-sharing behaviour. Look at Apple, for example, which has its own proprietary stack for the iPhone. Or Facebook, which consumes data, but only in very rare cases shares it. Where the semantic web will be most effective will be in informal, non-commercial and underground activities - but in this environment the rigid formality that characterizes the semantic web cannot be enforced. Instead, we will get a roughly interoperative polyglot, as characterized, for example, by RSS. From time to time these will surface and become widespread, breaking the commercial companies' proprietary monopoly. But it will be an ongoing struggle, and semantic web applications will struggle to become mainstream.

Are the next takeoff technologies evident now?

The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 are pretty evident today and will not take many of today's savviest innovators by surprise.

X The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 will often come "out of the blue" and not have been anticipated by many of today's savviest innovators.
The answer to this question, of course, depends on the definition of (a) what you think these new technologies might be (no points if you have no idea) and (b) who you think the "savviest innovaters" are (no points if you think it's just you). I choose to see personal web-server technology (Opera Unite, Firefox POW, etc) as a breakthrough technology, so people can put their own data into the cloud without paying Flickr or whomever. It is this sort of 'persoanl technology' I believe will characterize (what we now call) web 3.0 (and not 3D, or semantic web, etc.). So my dilemma is that, while these technologies are pretty evident today, it is not clear that the people I suspect Pew counts as "the savviest innovaters" are looking at them. So I pick "out of the blue" even though (I think) I can see them coming from a mile away.

Will the internet still be dominated by the end-to-end principle?

In the years between now and 2020, the internet will mostly remain a technology based on the end-to-end principle that was envisioned by the internet's founders. Most disagreements over the way information flows online will be resolved in favor of a minimum number of restrictions over the information available online and the methods by which people access it.

X In the years between now and 2020, the internet will mostly become a technology where intermediary institutions that control the architecture and significant amounts of content will be successful in gaining the right to manage information and the method by which people access and share it.
This is not the happy prediction, and I really hope I'm wrong, but there has been so much hype and media and outright pushing of things like (proprietary) eBook readers and (proprietary) iPhone applications, and the like, that people may come to accept that it is normal for vendors to dictate what applications are allowed to run on your machine and what content you are allowed to produce or consume. The future of the internet, as some pundits have commented, is very much in jeopardy from these closed and proprietary networks, especially those offered by the Telcos. This prediction runs directly counter to some of my other predictions (nobody said consistency was required). And I really really hope it's wrong, and that alternative networks (power-line networks? mesh personal networks? P2P wireless?) offer viable alternatives to closed proprietary networks.

In which region of the world do you live and work?
(See http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/maplib/worldregions.htm for a list of nations by region if you are not certain of your specific region.)

Asia and South Asia
Latin America
X Northern America

During what year did you first start using the internet?

What is your primary area of internet interest?

Advocate/Voice of the People/Activist User
Entrepreneur/Business Leader
X Research Scientist
Technology Developer/Administrator
Other (please specify)

What is the name of the organization where you work? 

National Research Council Canada

What type of organization is your primary workplace?
Select all that apply.

A company whose main focus is on information technology
A company whose focus is not mainly on information technology but extensively uses it
A college or university
A publication or media company
X A government agency
X A research organization
A consulting business
A non-profit organization
Other (please specify)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On the NB Power Sale

I am in broad agreement with the argument presented in this article.

The crux is the following: NB has no internal energy resources except wind, a limited amount of hydro, and a very limited amount of gas. If we're lucky, we'll discover uranium and have the argument about whther to mine it.

The current generating capacity using coal and oil is (a) environmentally unsustainable, and (b) increasingly expensive. In short, we cannot rely on it.

Wind is a viable alternative. However, wind power capacity costs on average at least a million dollars per megawatt. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy07osti/41435.pdf It's a fantastic investment, and we should make it, over time, but the cost to generate 4000 megawatts is 4 billion dollars, which we cannot afford carrying existing NB Power debt and provincial debt.

I agree that there are concerns about the proposed deal. That's why it is important to remember that it is an MOU, not a signed contract, and that during this period of consultation before the final signature it is important to highlight areas for improvement.

LePreau is LePreau and we are going to encounter huge costs no matter which way we go on that.

NB power rates are roughly twice Quebec rates. The five year freeze should equalize that a bit, but then the inflation clause kicks in. There should be a condition linking NB rates to Quebec rates, so that power costs cannot be used to create a competitive advantage. Ideally, we should push for parity (absent transmission costs).

Additionally, we need to be clear about our capacity to build and manage parallel infrastructure. This includes the wind, which we will build, and the thermal, which we will eventually decommission, but also transmission lines, which we could build for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

But these are minor factors, and should not be seen as over-riding reasons to reject the agreement. They are conditions that can be negotiated. There will be a cost to them, but we may be willing to bear that cost in order to ensure energy independence.

Delaying the agreement also has a cost. There is an expected price increase, the latest in the series of steep and annual increases from NB Power as it tries to dig itself out of debt and fiasco (orimulsion, LePreau).

And there is the ongoing cost - more than $400 million annually to service the NB Power debt, increases in the costs of raw materials, the ongoing need to refurbish ageing infrastructure, the continual loss of industry to cheaper energy markets like Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

The status quo means, simply, that we will continue to overpay for power, and that there will be no industrial development in NB, and that the industry we have will become less and less competitive as costs rise. It's not acceptable.

The opposition is saying that we should hold a provincial vote on the matter. That is why they advocate for a delay on the issue.

But what they really seem to hope for, I think, is a repetition of the highway toll case, where a single issue topples the government. We should not link NB Power with an election, for two reasons:

1. We may be replacing what is a reasonably competent government with one which, up to this issue, failed to demonstrate the capacity to even be an effective opposition, much less a government.

2. On the issue of selling NB Power there is actually no distinction between the two major parties. The Conservatives also wanted to sell NB Power, and made structural changes to enable this sale, but were unable to find a buyer. The odds are excellent that, even if they were to win power on this issue, they would turn around and sell NP Power, and possibly for terms substantially weaker than the present deal.

In contrast, I would support a provincial referendum on the sale, as it is a huge issue, and believe we could hold one before the march deadline. For me, a referendum is a win-win.

First, because if the sale is approved, then we have a substantial improvement in our energy security and stability in our energy costs.

Second, because if the sale is rejected, then the government can stake out an alternative course for managing the utility as a provincial entity, and the election can be fought on the basis of that, or other issues.

Most of all, it prevents what I would consider the worst case scenario: outright privatization as a stand-alone entity, at much worst terms than to Quebec. This is what Nova Scotia got, and the results have been disastrous.

Despite Nova Scotia's energy resources, the price of electricity is actually higher in Halifax than in Moncton. http://tinyurl.com/ycypmv6 Moreover, the NS infrastructure is in tatters; every storm there are long outages.

To summarize, then, we need to look at the NB Power deal, not just from the perspective of the terms of the deal, but also considering what happens if the deal is not signed.

- if the deal is not signed, then we have no way to generate clean power other than an outlay of $4 billion to generate wind capacity (probably the plan before the sale, and would have been bridged via market-rate purchases of power from Hydro Quebec - the 'million dollar a day' situation we are in now).

- worse, if the deal is not signed, or if the government falls as a result of the deal before it is signed, then we face a worst-case scenario of outright privatization of the utility, which would leave us with rapidly increasing costs and no clean energy sources

- otherwise, it's status quo: an increasing NB Power debt, rapidly increasing energy costs, uncertain supply, and expenses of a million a day until LePreau is finished.

None of these is better than the sale, and should not be accepted.