Listen to the data- Literally!

Recently, I have been completely absorbed by a new topic: data sonification.

My obsession began after listening to an episode of the O’Reilly Hardware Podcast. In the episode, guest Cameron Turner explained how researchers are turning on microphones to collect and analyze sounds coming from things like air conditioner units and commuter trains.

Another example explains how we can take data and convert it into sound. Turner shares the scenario of a data center where the silent internet traffic data is converted into sound to create a system for alerts and monitoring.

If you do a little digging online, you will find all sorts of beautiful examples of data sonification. From the movement of fish to the colors used in famous paintings, data sonification is helping us find new ways to observe the world. In a recent episode of NPR’s Science Friday, you can hear how scientists are developing new ways to use this data analysis technique.

As a science teacher, I often helped students use visual tools, such as graphs and drawings, to understand the data they collected. The chance to add an audio component to help solidify student understanding interests me. I see data sonification as a way for students who are visually impaired to make new observations.

Intrigued by the idea of turning data into sound, I decided to create my own sonifications. I found a free program called Sonification Sandbox that does exactly what I needed.

In the video below, I demonstrate it in action.

 

Does Google hate audio?

Maybe Google doesn’t hate audio but I certainly think they skipped it for its love of video.

With all the TV and YouTube channels at our fingertips, we tend to look toward video as the only tool for expression and communication. However, much like a good book, audio allows our students to conjure up imagery from within rather than having it blasted effortlessly into their minds in the form of video.

We can also challenge our students to create new forms of expression by restricting the use of visual elements. When students are asked to create audio works, they are given a chance to develop new ways to communicate effectively.

However, audio support seems to be missing in Google Apps for Education.

You cannot play audio (unless you get help elsewhere) in Google Drive.

no audio in Drive
Google Drive can play video but not audio?

 

Google Drive knows the audio files are there (more…)

Embed an HTML5 audio player in Google Sites

Want to add audio files that play in your Google Site without forcing visitors to download the files first?

audio player in Google Sites
An HTML5 audio player embedded in Google Sites

Do you need this to work on the iPad or in other browsers that do not support Flash?

Below is the URL to a gadget I made that will embed an HTML5 audio player in Google Sites.

https://sites.google.com/site/basler45678/home/html5-audio-player.xml

Watch the video below to learn how to use it.

Get a direct link to files hosted in Google Drive

Update [10/2/2016]: It appears that Google has finally put a stop to this trick.

Update [11/7/2016]: Looks like Jonathan in the comments has figured a new way to do it!

Update [2/7/2017]: The website http://gdurl.com works too!

Imagine you want to use a QR code so guests at Parents’ Night can scan the code and stream video or audio straight to their mobile device. If you share the files in Google Drive, users will be taken to a Google page where they have to download the file first. But if you can create a link that points directly to the file, users can access the content right in their mobile browser.

Direct link files in Google Drive
Direct link to files in Google Drive

Turns out you can do this while still using Google Drive. Any public folder in Drive can host files and provide direct links to the files.

How to create the hosting URL:
https://googledrive.com/host/FolderID

This will provide a folder that will give direct links to files inside the folder.
Note: hosting view will not display files created in Google Docs.

Example:

Once in the hosting folder, you can right click on any of the files to get a direct link to the file.

Add cover art and other extras to your mp3 files

Since 2007, I’ve been co-producing a podcast, titled Lab Out Loud, for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). With each episode, I like to have all the important details about the show saved right in the mp3 file.

podcast details
add cover art and more to your mp3 files

I use a free program called Mp3tag to add things like title, artist, and cover art to each mp3. Mp3tag allows you to copy the tag from a previous file right into the new file. This makes updating new files a breeze.

mp3tag
with Mp3tag – adding info to audio files in a breeze

Despite its name, Mp3tag supports a wide variety of audio files. Beyond its simply features, Mp3tag offers a few extra tricks for managing large collections of audio. I have been using this free tool for years and recommend that you give it a look.

Gadget School: Make Ear Contact

Make Ear Contact

A few weeks ago I went on vacation in New York City. Naturally, I used the subway as my major mode of transportation. There’s an unwritten rule on the subway- no eye contact. I’m not saying New Yorkers are unfriendly but people keep to themselves while in transit by staring off into space or keep their head down in an exhausted stance.

New since my last NYC visit is the increased use of headphones. It looks like the new rule is don’t make ear contact. I suppose it’s good practice if you want a peaceful, uninterrupted commute to your next destination but it’s not a behavior you should employ when interacting with other.

Yet I see more and more students doing this. They’ll come to me before school and try to talk to me with headphones still in their ears. I’ve seen students walking home from school with plugged ears while carrying out a conversation. It’s like telling your friend, “I’m listening to you until my iPod serves up something better.”

We’ll no more. The new Gadget School rule is Make Ear Contact.

Explain to students that it is rude to talk to others with headphones on. When in conversation, they must give others their full attention. Eyes AND ears.

‘This I Believe’ -an assignment catalyst

This I BelieveOver winter break I had a chance to read a few books. My favorite was “This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women” from NPR. The book presents a collection of essays from NPR’s radio program of the same name.

The collection showcases the personal beliefs of citizens. Some essays are from the 1950’s and the others began in 2005 when the show was resurrected.

I highly recommend the book in audio format since you can hear the essays read by their authors. Most of the recent essays can also be heard (and read) at the NPR website.

NPR also describes how people can submit their own essays. They discuss how this idea has been used in classrooms across the world. The obvious assignment is to have your students write their own creed. Here are some additional ideas that I think might work too:

  1. Don’t write it- say it! Have students create an audio version of their essay. Students can record their work with Audacity. The essays could be shared as podcasts allowing students to receive feedback from their peers via comments.
  2. Students could pick a character from a novel and write the character’s ‘I believe’ statement.
  3. Write an essay for a prominent person in history. For example, what do you think Lincoln would have written?
  4. Come up with a class creed- a “This We Believe” essay. If students used a wiki, they could compose this essay collaboratively throughout the semester.

Find free book online; Audio-books too!

Beowulf the MovieBeowulf opens in theaters this Friday. I vaguely remember reading this in high school my Senior year. Since Beowulf is in the public domain, I decided to refresh my memory of the story by reading it online.

There are several great sites that offer free books online. Here are a few that I’ve come to love:

Make some noise with SlideShare

Just a day after I posted my article about sharing presentations, SlideShare added what we’ve all been waiting for— audio.

SlideShare, a site that allows you to upload and easily share your presentations, has created Slidecasts. Take any mp3 file from the web and synchronize it with your SlideShare presentation. They have an easy-to-use synchronization tool that makes the process a snap. (Watch their screencast for instructions on how to use the tool.)

SlideCast

Here is my first Slidecast:




It should be noted that SlideShare doesn’t support presentations with animations, so this isn’t the best tool if you are looking to demonstrate software. Another shortcoming is that SlideShare doesn’t let you upload your audio to their site. You’ll need to post the mp3 file somewhere else.

All in all, Slideshare is a free and simple tool that just got better.