Saturday, October 26, 2013

Podcasting: What & How

What do English class, cassette tapes, fried beef, and Keanu Reeves have in common? Read further.

In class this week, we will be learning how to create podcasts. Podcasts can be about virtually anything - in a sense, they are radio shows broadcasted on the Internet. 

The program in focus is Audacity, a free audio recording/editing program. We'll also cover use of music beds and sound effects. In order to better understand this range of topics, I scoured the interwebs for some tips. Here are the gems I stumbled upon regarding podcasting:

General Podcast Tips

Mashable has a great list of what a successful podcast entails. I am a little biased because I really enjoy the aesthetics of the website. The layout of this tech-savvy site is simple and clearly showcases the plethora of eye-catching articles. The content is helpful, cutting edge, and quirky. Here is a list of the tips that made most of an impression:

  1. Your topic should mean something to you. This is a 2-step process. First, ask yourself, "what interests me and what is the purpose of this podcast?" Think about the benefit you are providing listeners. Second, research your topic and related podcasts on iTunes. What is out there and how is what you have to say different and interesting? (Note: iTunes also has a podcast webpage with tips, FAQs, and more)
  2. Brand, plan, structure, and grow. Brand your podcast like you would a product: pick a memorable name and logo. Next, plan what you are going to say because your content is the point of the podcast. Make sure you give it structure as well. Imagine reading an 8-page essay that is all one big paragraph. Last, continuously work on building an audience. Promote it on other social media websites. Consider creating a website devoted to the podcast. Your goal is to form a community of listeners, and having a space for the community to interact is key.
  3. Fine tune the tech. Record and edit your podcast. For this, I will use the essay metaphor again (I like writing). When completing a writing assignment, would you say editing it before turning it in yields a better grade? Many times I have forgone editing a paper due to laziness. However, my grades are undoubtedly higher when I do edit. If you take the time to edit the podcast you are already putting in the time and effort for, listeners will notice. 
How do you edit and record podcasts? Use a program like Audacity


It works with Macs and Windows users alike, as well as the GNU/Linux crowd. The best part is you can download it for free. Audacity does not have all the bells and whistles of a beautiful designed website because it really is not necessary.

I recommend clicking on the About tab at the top of the homepage. Here you can learn more about what Audacity is. Next, click on the Features tab on the left. This will tell you what Audacity does and how to use it. Here are the basics:

  1. Recording
    • Through a microphone, line input, or USB/Firewire device, Audacity can record live audio
    • It can also digitize cassette tapes, records or minidiscs. Perfect for a podcast focusing on music from the last millennium!
    • Streaming audio can be recorded if you have Windows Vista, Windows 8, or Windows 7 or particular sound cards (more info here)
  2. Import and Export
    • Import and edit sound files, as well as combine them with new recordings
    • WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC, and Ogg Vorbis files can be imported and exported (Ogg Vorbis is an open and patent-free audio encoding and streaming technology)
    • Certain programs can be used to import and export other types of files
  3. Editing
    • Cut, copy, paste, and delete (a given)
    • Unlimited undo and redo
    • Can use multiple clips in a track and label tracks
    • Envelope tool fades volume up or down
    • Automatic crash recovery, so no need to panic if your computer freezes
  4. Effects
    • Change your pitch without changing the tempo, and vice-versa
    • Eliminate background noises
    • Change frequencies
    • Alter volume
    • Create voice-overs

Music Bed/Sound Effects
I had to look up the definition of "music bed" for this one. The consensus of the web is that a music bed is a sample of a song sans vocals that is implemented in a commercial or informative setting such as an advertisement, radio show, or podcast.

Music beds can be costly. There are many websites that offer music beds from recording artists for a fee. Do not fret, though - there are free music beds out there! Websites like Free Music Beds and Free Stock Music offer a wide selection of cool tracks.

FriedBeef's Tech compiled a list of 7 best sources of royalty free music for video and podcasts. The bottom line is you can find free music for your podcasts, but ensure that you credit the musician based on the guidelines of the download.

Sound Effects

Free sound effects can be found on iTunes, such as this compilation by user Whether you want booming dubstep or smooth jazz, you can find it here.

SoundBoard also has some fun sounds, ranging from the basic applause to Keanu Reeves talking about global warming.

I can already tell that I am going to thoroughly enjoy adding in music beds and sound effects to my podcast. You might be wondering what my topic is. 

The guidelines of the assignment included that a partner and I must choose a topic in emerging communication methods. While not necessarily the newest social media community on the block, we decided on Tumblr. Why? 

  1. Tumblr has been in the news lately concerning its desire to implement ads throughout the website, amid user angst
  2. Marissa Mayer, President and CEO of Yahoo! acquired the popular blogging site for $1.1 billion
  3. Because of #1 and #2, Tumblr is surely worth talking about
I did not realize it at first, but this is actually a good segway into next week's topic! Get ready to learn about the mystical land of social media.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Creative Suite 101: Dreamweaver, Photoshop, and InDesign

Midterms are approaching and Western's tree-lined streets are boasting fall palettes. 

One month into the school year and the Emerging Communication Technologies class has hit the ground running with the latest versions of Photoshop and InDesign. 

Our expertise ranges from "I have no idea what I am doing" to "I can do this in my sleep", but we have all been having fun with our in-class projects. So far, we have used:
  • Photoshop to create personal logos
  • InDesign to create newsletters
  • InDesign to create magazine covers
  • InDesign to create book covers and pages
Now that I know how to use Photoshop, I find myself using it whenever a design is involved with an assignment. The hardest part was remembering what each tool does. However, there are many tutorials out there that make it easy to get the art of photoshopping down. Once you get familiar with the program, design possibilities are endless. 

Here is a YouTube tutorial that demonstrates how to turn yourself into a Na'vi from Avatar:

Learning how to use InDesign was a piece of cake after learning Photoshop basics. I found a very useful guide prior to learning InDesign. This helped me familiarize myself with the program, and once I started using it a lot of the tools seemed intuitive. 

Here is a YouTube tutorial that goes over some basics:

Dreamweaver will be the next program we approach as a class. It intimidates me a little, as I had never heard of it prior to Day 1 of this class. This web editor is the go-to program for creating and managing a professional website. Adobe offers a nice list of 10 steps to building a simple website with Dreamweaver. I think I'll probably start with that and hopefully work my way up to creating a more complex website.

Here is a YouTube tutorial that I am watching to prepare for Dreamweaver usage:

Next week I will be discussing podcasts. This is in preparation for the podcast I will be recording with a partner from class. Our chosen topic is Tumblr, one of my favorite social media sites. We will be putting a fun spin on the traditional tutorial format, so stay tuned!

One great, uniting aspect about these programs and assignments is that individually and as a class, we are given many opportunities to channel our unique creativity.

Hello and Welcome

Hi readers of my blog,

You may be wondering why this blog exists, or who I am. Or not − maybe you got here by accident, but if so, I invite you to stick around!  My name is Sharona, and this blog is part of a quarter-long assignment for my Emerging Communication Technologies class at Western Washington University.☟
Source: Professor Jason Lind
We are located in scenic Bellingham, Washington, a port town nestled in a sea of evergreens. In fact, our town is as "northwest" as you can get in the US, geographically speaking. 
Every week this quarter, I will be writing on a topic related to communication technologies. Consider this a journey across the information channels of the World Wide Web, in search of new tools and tips. This week, I'm going to share the best website design tips the Internet has to offer.

Top 10 Rules of Website Design

  1. Brand your website with a sleek logo. A unique and professional-looking logo will catch the reader's eye and increase the website's credibility. Link the logo to the homepage, as it will ease navigability. 
  2. White space can be good − clean up the clutter. Information-overload can cause a reader to lose patience. A simple and organized layout is much easier to process, holding the reader's attention longer.
  3. Less is more when it comes to the mousepad. Too many links and endless scrolling can cause a reader to abandon ship. The less clicks required, the higher engagement with what they see on the screen.
  4. Make your words count. Website content that lacks proper spelling, readable font, and sufficient spacing looks unprofessional. Using a spell checker, implementing clear font with a contrasting/simple background
  5. Size matters. Whether it is the font, photos, or page width, be conscious of size. Font should be large enough to read and the width of content on each page should not be too narrow or wide. Photo size should be limited as larger photos take longer to load.
  6. Put yourself in the reader's shoes. Consider the type of content they want to read; make what you say interesting and important. Also, make sure the website can function on varying browsers and operating systems.
  7. Focus on the necessary and eliminate what is not. Write concisely and avoid using too many graphics. This goes along with the notion that less is more.
  8. Organize content efficiently and strategically. The source of this tip,, cites that studies show that most people spend more time at the top of a website and may not take the time to scroll down. By putting most of the content
  9. Know when to use serif or san serif. Headlines tend to be san serif and bold, as it makes the words clearly stand out. Text is often serif.
  10. Stick to a layout of no more than three colors. Colors that contrast each other stand out to readers. Too many colors can be distracting, and too few can make the website seem dull.