Sunday, April 19, 2009

Machine voice used for Zamzar text to MP3 conversion surprisingly good

Today's Computer Guy's Tech Tips mentioned an online text to MP3 conversion service named Zamzar and, since I'm a multimedia kind of gal, I had to try it out. I took three paragraphs of a blog post (203 words), saved it in Notepad as a .txt file and converted it. The result was a 311 kb .mp3 file that I opened in iTunes. As I listened to the .mp3 file I was pleasantly surprised to hear a voice that changed pitch and cadence with enough variation to be considered quite usable for things like closed captioning or even podcasting. It even did a good job of interpretation of proper names too.

Zamzar was obviously using a conversion tool with capabilities of the more advanced current text- to-speech software. Like many free services, free gets you the basics including conversion of a file up to 100 Mb. For $7/mo the file size maximum increases to 200 Mb. They also toss in 5 Gb of file storage. For $16/mo, the file size maximum increases to 400 Mb and storage to 20 Gb. For $49/mo you can convert a file up to 1 Gb in size and they give you 100 Gb of storage. Your file conversion priority in their processing queue also increases with each successive level of service.

Keen off base with declaration Web 2.0 is dead

I read an excerpt from a presentation delivered by so-called tech guru Andrew Keen who declared, "Web 2.0 is dead". - More:

Sensational statements like Web 2.0 is dead are just Tweet fodder in my opinion. Keen makes some good points about needing to introduce intimacy into web social environments but Keen would have you believe that we need to go (back) to platforms that moderate content for "professional" levels of contribution for money. Although this may play into the viewpoint of some institutions that disdain the quality of user-generated content, it fails to recognize the true value of unmoderated contributions. What makes Web 2.0 apps so liberating is that they remove the gatekeepers and let everyone have their say and share their experiences. Each individual is unique and brings a unique perspective to every discussion and brain storming session. If only self-styled "experts" are allowed to contribute, innovation and discovery will ultimately be stifled.

Just in my own relatively short life span (50+ years) I can point to revelations in cultural and scientific knowledge that were brought forward by contributors who were disdained by "experts" in the field.

Ray Kurzweil keeps prophesying that human and machine will eventually merge in the not too distant future. If we cannot retain our individuality we will become simply a subscript in a program written by somebody else.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Meshwerks vs. Toyota extends "lack of original creativity" concept to exclude copyright of wiremesh renderings

Yesterday I mentioned on the ning Museum3.0 discussion board that US courts have ruled that a digital reproduction of a 2-D work of art in the digital domain is essentially noncopyrightable. One of the members from Australia replied that she had never heard of this ruling before. I pointed out that I was referring to Bridgeman Art Library Vs. Corel Corp. and Googled this ruling to get a link for her to read more about it. I found that someone had posted information about the ruling on Wikipedia. I was surprised to read in the Wikipedia Article that another ruling, Meshwerks vs. Toyota, has extended the "lack of originality" concept to include wireframe renderings of existing three dimensional works as well.

The article also points out that UK museums continue to claim copyright but these copyrights would be essentially unenforceable for images used on a website hosted in the United States. The US courts essentially find the notion of "slavish copying" trumps the UK notion of "sweat of the brow".

I personally agree with the US ruling. If museums restrict access to public domain art by prohibiting visitor photography, the concept of public domain art is destroyed. Copyright would then have nothing to do with supporting creativity but bastardized into law enforcement for commercial activity based simply on possession of artistic work.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Adding multimedia and Web 2.0 elements to e-books the next step in media evolution

I found this article about Vook's effort to add multimedia elements to e-books quite interesting. The article points out that with the colorful covers and specially designed (?) fonts eliminated from e-books that they are in danger of becoming too bland to appeal to the younger generation of consumers raised on large helpings of internet multimedia.

"Bradley Inman wants to create great fiction, dramatic online video and compelling Twitter stream — and then roll them all into a multimedia hybrid that is tailored to the rapidly growing number of digital reading devices.

Mr. Inman, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, calls this digital amalgam a “Vook,” ( and the fledgling company he has created with that name just might represent a possible future for the beleaguered book industry." - The New York Times

I've always thought the book industry's abandonment of in-text illustrations was a major mistake anyway. I love to pick up books from the 19th century (and earlier) and flip through them to view the illustrations that were often included within the text. In fact, I plan to take some of the books I inherited from my mother and scan the images within them and upload them to Wikimedia for possible use in illustrating online articles and Wikipedia entries since the artwork within them is now in the public domain. So, I think Mr. Inman has hit upon a very viable idea.

As a history enthusiast I think a line of history books that resemble a graphic novel rather than the dry textbooks we all grew up with would be far more fascinating. There is no reason video cannot be used as well as still images in e-book format, although to keep the cost down, some video may need to be produced with software like iClone or Crazy Talk, using virtual actors and sets instead of real ones. However, if a library of video clips of historical reenactors was available, they could be used as well.

I noticed that the BBC sells snippets of its video productions - most just a few seconds long - for £99 but this is still too expensive for classroom production. I told a friend of mine that, in addition to shooting still images licensed with Creative Commons for free non-commercial use and uploading them to Flickr, we should start shooting bits of video where appropriate, especially since Flickr now accepts video and animation. Many of the latest digital still cameras produce quite respectable video and with the dramatic drop in prices of SD cards and their increase in capacity, shooting video can be easily interspersed with still photography without packing around a lot of extra equipment.