With three weeks to go before heading out on Route 50, I've had plenty of time to think about what's involved in entering the blogosphere. In the process I've had to "tech-up" my skills, so to speak.
If I had been doing a travel blog two hundred years ago (quaintly called a diary or journal back then), my main technical concern would have involved the quality of my quill pens. Perhaps I'd be flouting my quill as Voltaire seems to be doing in this image posted on a delightful Web page of the Jane Austen Society of Austrailia, that looks back at the history of quills. As Deb Williams, author of this page (titled The writing [implement] of Jane Austen - the quill pen - or, Jane Austen never had to reboot), observes: "Those of us involved in our own personal arms race of computers, operating systems and software might hanker for the simpler technology of Jane Austen's time. The quill pen was made from easily obtainable materials and required only the simplest of equipment to manufacture." After two months trying to learn the basics of blogging, audio editing, video editing, and related skills, all I can say is "amen" to Ms. Williams' sentiments.
If I were doing this Route 50 trip just 15 or 20 years ago, my job would center on listening, taking notes, and then typing up articles for readers. While this will still be a key part of what I'll be doing -- and I'll have my reporter's notebooks handy -- in order to put together what I hope will be a stimulating, exciting blog that you'll want to visit every day, there are just a couple of technical add-ons I've had to get to know.
Let's start with the blog site itself. I decided about two months ago to start with a blog service called TypePad. Fortunately, you can set up a test weblog to try things out. Obviously, you can't just have plain text on the blog. Very gauche. You need to jazz up your blog.
[As an aside, I've emailed TypePad's technical support folks several times so far -- primarily about some glitches in adding audio. Here's something rare to say about any technical support: they're prompt; they're great problem solvers; and they're friendly too!]
But back to jazzing up the blog. First you're going to need to add some photos. That's the easy part for me since I've been using a digital camera for a couple of years. For those of you who want to know this kind of thing, I'm using a Canon A95.
And these photos are pretty simple to upload to the blog.
But wouldn't it be great to add some video clips while I'm traveling. Of course it would. But that means being able to do just a bit of video editing -- something I've had no experience with. So I've been learning the rudiments of video editing.
You can see an early sample of this from a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, about a month ago. Just a note on what you'll be seeing. The gentleman just visible on the right (just briefly near the start of the video clip) told me that he's been going to Frank's "just about every day for 30 years now." After eating their scrambled eggs and hash browns I can understand why!
Fortunately, TypePad has a fairly easy way of posting videos to the blog, using something called VideoEgg. I hope it will be obvious to people you need to click the arrow to start the video!
OK, we've got the digital photos & videos all set & ready. But won't visitors also want to listen in on some of the conversations I'll be having?
That means getting familiar with a voice-recorder, a compact device that allows you to record conversations and then download them to your laptop, so that you can then upload an edited version back to your blog.
Got the voice-recorder. A tiny, but cute, Olympus Digital Voice Recorder. Not even all that hard to use, as long as you're not a stickler for top-of-the-line sound quality. [Please note the effective use of product placement in this photo of the recorder! Be a sport & help support our trip by making a purchase from our online store].
But recording a conversation is the easy part. The problem, as I've been discovering, is that you need to edit the conversation so that listeners don't cringe. I quickly found out that I'm very effective at saying "uhmmmm" "ahhh" and similar fillers. They even have their own distinctive sound wave curves. In learning rudimentary audio editing, I now also know: not to laugh; to wait a moment before asking the next question (so you can more easily edit out material); and to put up with listening to my own voice -- believe me, that's been the hardest part of dealing with audio.
I'm using a free software program called Audacity -- probably called that because you need a lot of audacity to believe you can learn audio editing in just a month or two! But I've managed to spend enough evening hours to be able to use it at a very basic level. Even posted my first edited conversation -- and somehow managed to figure out how to add in some intro music (from Dvorak's American Quartet) which we'll use as a short intro to our conversations. Take a listen if you haven't already done so.
And the march of technology continues. Just a few words about my new friend "Flickr." For those of you not in the know, Flickr is a giant web repository for photos. Run by Yahoo!, Flickr allows users to upload and share their photos. But also, quite appealing to me, is that with Flickr you can geographically mark where your photos were taken, and then display them on a map. That something I'll be doing (I hope!) during the upcoming Route 50 trip. Here's our Flickr map page ready to be put to use.
Yesterday, our friend -- and computer fixer -- Silas Miller of Rent-a-Geek stopped by our office and told me that dozens of folks right here in Burlington, Vermont, use Flickr. Hi! Silas even took a minute to make me one of his Flickr friends -- and then made sure I added him as one of my friends. What all that means, I'm not quite sure. But when it comes to anything computer or internet related, you can trust Silas (and he's really not a geek).
And last, but not least, there's that still relatively new technology that has already swept the world, and that many of you use daily: the ubiquitous cellphone. But while you may be a regular cellphone user, have you heard about moblogging? As I'm learning, moblogging (i.e., mobile blogging) is using your cellphone to post photos directly to your web blog. In other words, you don't even need a computer to use a blog. Not sure if I'll become a moblogger ... just entering the blogosphere has been enough of a climb so far!
p.s., I promise I won't use my cellphone while driving. I'll pull over to the side of the road before making any calls.