Having completed ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, I’ve now got to read ‘King Lear’ for my upcoming English course. I’ll be studying these two in-depth soon, but it’s necessary to read them through first to get a gist of the plot and form preliminary ideas about meanings and themes. Whilst I enjoyed ‘Streetcar’, ‘Lear’ is proving much more heavy-going. The language used is very hard for me to get used to, and I must say the plot is yet to get interesting. It takes me several minutes to get through a single page since I have to keep referring to the modern translation page, which tells me what the most confusing phrases mean. Moving on from this tangent and putting my ineptitude aside, this article does have a point to it. In my pursuit of making Shakespear easier to read, I searched for an audio recording of ‘Lear’, and fortunately found it listed on the smashing little website called LibriVox.
All the audio-books available for download are fully legal since their copyright has expired; they’re therefore in the public domain. There’s a useful search feature which lets you find books by title, author, genre, or other options. So even if you’ve not got a particular book in mind, you can simply search for ‘Horror’ or ‘Romance’ to receive a selection of different books that meet that criteria. When you’ve found a book you want to listen to, you have the choice of downloading it as a single zipped file, or streaming separate MP3 or OGG tracks. Once these have downloaded to your PC you can unzip the folder and then play the tracks. Since the file format is MP3 you’ll should be able to copy it onto your MP3 player to listen to it when you’re not at your PC.
Web community projects have been all the rage since Wikipedia, and LibriVox is no exception. However, the community features are implemented in a very in a very effective way way – the users seem friendly, and it appears that anyone who wants to can add audio for a new book or contribute to one that’s currently being recorded. You’ll obviously need a microphone and some recording software to save it, but other than that, there are no limitations. Each project tells you where the transcript can be downloaded for free – this saves you buying the book.
The variety of audio-books is very impressive, and the dedication of the contributors is equally good. From my brief look around the forums, everyone seemed to be more than willing to assist confused users. The library of books is also being added to all the time. The audio-books can be downloaded from librivox.org.
I possess little to no musical talent – music lessons at school always left me stumped and longing for English or another subject where I could feel at home. However, this ineptitude doesn’t mean that I’m afraid of creating some utterly awful pieces of music on the PC if the opportunity arises. The opportunity did arise, and in the form of TuneAroundStudio. It’s a light-hearted application which can be used by amateurs (or more experienced fellows who like to show the rest of us up) to create tracks.
After downloading and installing the application will prompt you to log in. It’s mildly miffing that you can’t use the software without signing up for an account. This only use of an account appears to be if you’re planning on uploading your music to the TuneAround website, which if you’re as awful as I am, you won’t be. It’s apparently necessary since the software seems to save your data online rather than locally on your PC.
After signing up and logging in, you can then get down to business. You’ll be able to choose from a number of different pre-created tracks which fall into various categories varying from dance to classical. You can then load the pre-created items into your new creation, or start from scratch. I think the ability to start solely from scratch with a blank screen should be easier – it seems that you have to choose a pre-created track, but then opt not to import the music into it in order to start a blank creation. That struck me as little bit odd, but far from a catastrophe.
I was initially a little bit confused, but found that once I’d fiddled around for a few minutes, the basics were easy to pick up. Each instrument or noise which will play in your song is listed along the left. Clicking on one of those will open the interface where you can edit the current beats or add your own. You can right-click and drag to select areas to alter by right-clicking and selecting an area. You can then cut, copy, paste, or clear the area. Adding your own beats is a simple case of scrolling through the choices of different sounds and dragging them to a blank square. These squares are coloured to represent different sounds. Since I’m completely clueless when it comes to music, I just pick fairly randomly – pretty colours draw the eye of feeble minds like mine. Another useful feature is the ‘Autochoice’ button. There’s one of these under each instrument used in the current track, and after highlighting an area by dragging the right mouse button you can click it to have the software decide what will sound good there. That kind of takes away the fun, but it’s good for making a starting point which you can then edit.
Additional instruments can also be added by clicking the large ‘+’ button at the bottom right of the window. You can also add a microphone recording to your tracks. Since I won’t and can’t sing, I decided to add a recording of me clicking my fingers next to the microphone. It was a failure. Therefore it’s rather smashing that it’s very easy to delete or mute tracks – I can simply mute the track of my fingers snapping and cringe as the rest of the instruments create a cacophony of noise.
The usual controls that you’d expect in a media player are located on the bottom right of the window – stuff like play, rewind, and fast-forward. You can also save your creation to edit at another time, or export it as an MP3 which can be played in other media players. The final option is to upload your song to the TuneAround website, allowing others to hear it and vote upon it. If you make a masterpiece, it may end up being featured on the front page.
Overall a great light-hearted application. It’s a lot of fun and a great filler when you’ve got time to kill. The best way to learn how to use it is probably to have a fiddle around with it and try to create a few songs. Hopefully you should have some fun even if you create something which is liable to break glass and cause cats to howl. TuneAroundStudio can be downloaded from www.tunearound.com.
Whilst Windows Media Player suffices for most video files, it’ll refuse to play some without installing numerous codecs. These codecs can cause slowdown, and some video types don’t have codecs that work with Media Player. Therefore, you’re going to need an alternative if you want to play some odd video files. VLC Media Player allows you to this, and best of all, free of charge.
When running the software you’ll be greeted by a simple interface. VLC lacks the media library and such features that Media Player sports, but it seems to be intended for a slightly different purpose. Media is opened from the ‘Media’ menu, where you can then browse through your folders to find the file, folder, or disk that you want to play. You can even open media streams from a local network through the same menu.
The quality of the playback seemed to be pretty good; possibly better than Windows Media Player’s offering, but with no obvious differences between them. However, it’s difficult to judge since Media Player won’t play most of the files which VLC will, so I can’t compare. The interface, whilst not being the most attractive offering, is feature-rich and customisable if you’re willing to explore the menus and options within. I was very impressed with the various choices which are available; everything from audio output to network proxies can be set. This plethora of options lets you customise just about every detail of the software, allowing you to make it work exactly the way you want it to.
If you think of yourself as being one of those artsy types, you might not be impressed that VLC doesn’t, visually speaking, look quite right when compared to most of your other software. Luckily, like-minded people have come to the rescue by creating skins which can be downloaded from the VLC website. These can be downloaded and applied to your player to change the way it looks. You might want to consider the Media Player theme, which makes it look the same as Windows Media Player – the software you’re probably used to grappling with. Or, if you’re a fan of Apple’s brushed aluminium style, you might wish to opt for an iTunes or Quicktime lookalike. However, all these themes seem to take it upon themselves to hide the menus away, making them difficult to access, and unless I’m missing something, making some of them impossible to access until you revert to the default theme. This is fine if you just want to open files, but I like to have easy access to the menus at whim.
VLC is a smashing little bit of software for playing obscure video and audio files. It’s also very small in size and pretty lightweight, so it won’t be a drain on your hard-drive or system resources. You can download it from www.videolan.org.
After complaints by the Writer’s Guild of America, Amazon has caved in and left the text-to-speech feature of their portable book gadget at the discretion of the book’s author and publisher to decide whether the machine is able to read their book aloud to the owner or not.
The Kindle, which is not currently available in the United Kingdom, is a portable e-book reader which was originally released in 2007. The second version, which was released on the 23rd February, is more portable, has a longer battery life, in addition to the most talked-about new feature: the ability to read books aloud. This feature was going to be available for all books on the Kindle, however following complaints from the aforementioned Writers Guild, Amazon changed the feature to be optional for all books. This has prompted complaints from the hard of sight, for which a major appeal of the device is the ability to enjoy books through audio whilst travelling. The Authors Guild’s reasoning for the complaint was that there was a potential for the device to become the de-facto in audio-books, which may reduce the profit that publishers and authors make from releasing their books as audio-books themselves.