Thursday, May 10, 2012

Your own drumming blog: software

Continuing our little series on getting your own drumming blog going, today we'll look at the software I use , and that might be helpful to you. I try to use free software whenever possible. Your computer OS may include acceptable versions of some of these; and if you don't like my choices, you can look for free alternatives on Sourceforge. Lifehacker is also a good source for software recommendations.

Apart from routine web browsing, and things that can be done within the Blogger interface, the tasks I have to do include writing (text and music), transcribing, notating music (is it still called copying when you do it on the computer?), generating pdfs and jpegs of notation, editing pdfs, editing images, uploading files to the server, editing audio, and creating/editing videos. Here's what I use to do all of that:

Transcribe! is the best transcription software I've found. Not free, unfortunately. There is an open source program which came bundled with my new Free Geek Linux box, Transcriber. It's made for transcribing speech, but could easily be used for music.

Audacity. Audio editing software. Can replace Transcribe!, though it may be a little more ungainly to use for transcribing. I mainly use it for making sampled playalong loops, for assembling podcasts, and for making excerpts of recorded music.

Finale, Sibelius, or the free MuseScore. Or other music notation program. I use Finale, and frankly the program is a behemoth and all-around big PITA, but I've figured out how to do most everything I need to do fairly quickly, and it will likely take me more time than I will save to relearn it all with another program so, so it looks like I'll be with Finale for awhile. People say Sibelius is easier to use. I haven't heard a lot of feedback about MuseScore, but it's free and open source, which we like.

CutePDF is what I use to generate the pdfs you download from the site. It operates like a pseudo-printer- you print the file in Finale, selecting CutePDF as the as the printer instead of your regular hardware printer.

Continued after the break:

Adobe Acrobat. For editing pdf files. The Acrobat Reader most people have only allows you to view pdfs, but we sometimes need to edit them. It's a great medium for other things, too, so it's definitely worth having the capability. Mainly with the blog, though, I just export a jpeg for jpeg for display. Since we just got a Linux box back in the house I'll be on the lookout for a robust free alternative.

Paint.NET and The Gimp for image editing. The former for quick minor edits, the latter for bigger jobs. Both are free. Or you can pay hundreds of dollars for Adobe Photoshop- it's up to you. Most frequently I will use these to edit down the short examples, or for the site graphics. Adobe Fireworks is good alternative for web graphics.

Filezilla is a good, free ftp program. Ftp stands for "file transfer protocol", and is the common means for transferring files between your home computer and your server. All of the downloadable pdfs on the blog are hosted on the server for my lessons site, and I use Filezilla to upload them.

Opera, the little-used web browser. One of its many handy features which I use a lot is the search shortcut- you can hit ctrl-t to open a new tab, and type a single letter plus your search terms to search Google (or increasingly Duckduckgo), Wikipedia, Ebay, Amazon, or any other site you want- that reminds me, I need to make a shortcut for Steve Weiss Music- all I have to do is right click on the search window, select "create search", and assign it a letter or letters- maybe "sw". It's a small thing, but I sorely miss it when using another browser.

Notepad++, or any other plain text editor, similar to Windows Notepad, but not Notepad. It's a good idea to do your writing in a text editor on your computer, then paste it into Blogger- that way you have your posts saved to your computer in an archival format (plain, ASCII text- with a .txt suffix). It's also too easy to hit the wrong key and lose all your work when you write directly into Blogger. "Word processor" type programs that include a lot of peripheral functions, like MS Word, are no good for our purposes- they mark your text up with a lot of proprietary formatting gunk that is not archival: there is no guarantee that Word (or whatever) files written in 2012 will be readable with future versions of the program. That has been a problem in the past.

Notepad, the program that come with every installation of Windows, is not a good option, by the way- for awhile it developed the annoying habit of inserting line breaks based on the size of its window when in "word wrap" mode, which I would have to go through and delete when I pasted it to a different sized window. Ridiculous. Notepad++ seems to be the choice du jour for tech people using Windows.

If you're using Linux, there's always the choice of elite hackers, vi or emacs:
In the GNU/Linux world there are two major text editing programs: the minimalist vi (known in some implementations as elvis) and the maximalist emacs. I use emacs, which might be thought of as a thermonuclear word processor. It was created by Richard Stallman; enough said. It is written in Lisp, which is the only computer language that is beautiful. It is colossal, and yet it only edits straight ASCII text files, which is to say, no fonts, no boldface, no underlining. In other words, the engineer-hours that, in the case of Microsoft Word, were devoted to features like mail merge, and the ability to embed feature-length motion pictures in corporate memoranda, were, in the case of emacs, focused with maniacal intensity on the deceptively simple-seeming problem of editing text. If you are a professional writer--i.e., if someone else is getting paid to worry about how your words are formatted and printed--emacs outshines all other editing software in approximately the same way that the noonday sun does the stars. It is not just bigger and brighter; it simply makes everything else vanish. For page layout and printing you can use TeX: a vast corpus of typesetting lore written in C and also available on the Net for free.

Windows Movie Maker. This  final embarrassing entry came bundled with Windows Vista, and is a good example of what's wrong with software that comes with your OS. But I don't do a lot with video- mostly I just put a title to an audio track and post it to YouTube. If you plan on doing a lot with video you'll want to use something better.

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