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I was trying, again, to record audio using Audacity, the audio program you're more or less stuck with when you have a Macintosh. This time, instead of recording from my turntable through Line In, I was trying to record from an audio stream. The result was the same as always: horrible, echo-y sound with feedback and every room noise.

It's pretty clear that the built-in microphone is working really hard. Don't worry, Master! it seems to say, I'll record every sound, despite the fact that you have carelessly selected another input and turned me all the way down!

Yes, it's the Return of the Demented Servant. The Mac insists on doing things for me that I not only didn't ask for, but which I specifically asked it not to do.

Googling up forums where the question is asked, I see two or three answers. (1) Go to preferences and choose Line In instead of Internal microphone. That was the first thing I tried. Audacity laughs that off. It only knows one input, and that's the microphone.

(2) Open the "Audio Devices" utility. Turn the microphone all the way down. Mute it. Select the other input. Turn it up. Have done; am doing. Audacity snorts derisively at this silly move by Dear Master to deter it from what it knows must be done, and uses its machine language to tell the computer that I didn't really mean that but have been corrupted by some evil PC to try and mess up the proper functioning of the wonderful microphone that is Audacity's best friend ever.

(3) Plug something into the input jack. This will disable the microphones. Ha. That may disable ordinary microphones, but not these guys! They will not be deterred from their mission of always putting sound through to their pal Audacity.

1+2! 1+3! 2+3! 1+2+3! Same result! Echoes, feedback, and room noises!

Any suggestions? (Please don't suggest drugs. If I could, I'd already be on it.)
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I keep looking for this one book I saw at the motel we stayed at when we moved here: The Roger DeCoverley Papers, a collection of pieces from The Spectator about this squire fellow. I've even thought of going back and seeing if they'd sell it to me, because the used book stores here don't have it. (Oh, sure, I could buy it online, but do I? Do I??) So I finally gave in and downloaded one from Project Gutenburg and formatted it for my iPod "notes" function. I did this in what seemed to me a more clever and faster way than I have in the past.

First, I looked at it in Notebook (TextEdit, for you Macsters). There were line returns after each short, short line. Next, I took it into QuarkXPress, where I set up a document in half-sized pages with two columns and let it flow to see how many pages it wanted. The filesize was 168k, and since you get just under 4k per "notes" page, I wanted to get it into 45 to 50 pages. I did the usual find-and-replaces to accomplish the following:

• changing all hard returns to soft returns
• changing two soft returns in a row to two hard returns -- I decided I wanted a space between paras
• changing remaining soft returns to spaces, so those lines would flow together into paragraphs
• putting a space at the beginning of each paragraph just for format niceness

Then I started highlighting text and exporting it to .txt files in a folder. I named each one dc0##- followed by the number of the article (with an initial that revealed whether it was written by Addison, Steele, or Budgell). I had to break up articles across pages, so I used hyphens to indicate whether it was continuing. Work it out yourself; it seems silly to take the time to explain this part.

I closed everything on the desktop and kept the Quark file and the folder I was putting files into open, so I could alt-tab between the two places. If the file showed as 5k or more, I took out lines. If it showed as 4k or less, I put lines in -- arrowing up and down in the Quark file to highlight more or fewer lines (making sure to end between sentences). If the filename was highlighted in the folder, the exact size showed at the bottom, and after a while, I knew that a column line was about .03k, so I could more quickly get near the limit of my allotment. If I had to break up a paragraph (as so often happened with these wordy fellows), the first line in the next file had no space before. On the few occasions I had to break up a speech, I put a quote mark in square brackets at the start of the file.

When I was done, I made a table of contents that gave the title for each number. It took me a couple of hours, which is less than some of the jobs I've taken on have taken. I need to get back to the Gilbert & Sullivan plays, but they're a mess, with too many little paragraphs here, and too many speeches jammed together there.

So I read the first couple of pieces last night in bed. Not too hilarious so far, but at least (unlike other humor I've read from the late 18th and early 19th century) you don't need to know who was famous then, and why, and what kind of hat they wore and what sort of dog they had in order to make any sense of it.
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After a while, I decided mp3s were the way to go. They sounded good enough on any system I had. After proper preparation, I bought a Memorex from Target: Educational Experience Number One. I learned how to convert a CD and how to record from a cassette. I found a perch for the "78" turntable (not one I'd recommend putting LPs on, though I did a couple times). I got some output and burned it onto a CD and put it in the player.

The first thing I learned was that the player seems to alpha-numeritize everything, so I needed to go back and put track numbers on anything I didn't want to hear out of sequence. The second thing I learned was that mp3 programs feel that they, and only they, have the right to name tracks, and they do it in the most convoluted way possible, taking the album name, the artist name, and the title of the cut and concatenating them (in that useless order). This often leads to names so long they get cut off, generally just before the part that identifies the cut. So I had to rename everything, taking out superfluous info, as well as characters that aren't supposed to be used in filenames. Came the next lesson: the system sometimes refuses to use those names, using buried tags that can be accessed by diving through multiple menus for each and every track. Yay. The last thing I learned was that the Memorex was a piece of junk, playing some disks every time, others never, and the rest when it felt like it. Out it went, accompanied by curses.

The next player was a Rio-Volt, which included an FM tuner. I went for broke, determined to convert my listening collection (then on cassette) to disks in time for our China trip. As departure time neared, I got more and more frantic to convert all my favorites. I converted tapes at home. I converted tapes on my laptop at work. I discovered another interesting fact a few days before we left: my laptop only hears things in mono. It passes sound through in stereo, but when recording, it chooses a channel -- not sure which -- and puts it on both tracks. This fact became clear when I was listening to W Carlos's synthesized Brandenburg Concertos -- the sound just wasn't there some of the time.

After the trip I began putting it all together. I used Jukebox for some of my conversions, but I never could get it to listen to an LP and give me a file, so I looked into Sound Forge, which came with the laptop. This would do it, but not for free. I gave it money. After that, I could convert to mp3s from a WAV, but only on one of our computers. The others refused to believe the unlocking code I had been given. I was recording the files to WAV (a very large file), then I'd have to burn it onto a CD to move it to the computer that could convert it to nice little mp3s. Tedious! Then came my present player.

I selected an RCA Lyra, a barely pocketable 40 gig hard drive. No tuner, and no changeable battery (which would have been damn inconvenient for the flight back from China, where I went through a couple of sets of batteries in the Rio), but it was very clean and had a lovely personality. I set about filling it up with my junk, including backups from my laptop. It took six weeks during which I worked like a beaver, recording new tracks with my sharp teeth, transferring them to the other computer with the Lyra, then converting them with my large, flat tail. I converted family tapes and 78s, graphically editing pops and patching skips. I converted CDs, generally renaming each track by hand. I drove to work, exultantly listening to Buddy Ebsen and Darlene Gillespie singing "Buckwheat Cakes" from the Mickey Mouse Club. Yes! Life is good!

At the office, I set the unit up as always (can you tell this is going somewhere?) and put it on Mozart's Requiem, but the music ended early. The unit was stone cold dead. I poked the Reset button over and over. I tried it on and off the power supply. On and off the USB. Even cursing didn't work.

I leapt into action. Well, okay, I moped around the house. Then I tried stuff. I went to web pages and I found a Yahoo! group for the player, where I was advised that I needed to open it up, put the hard drive into a bay, hook it up to another computer and get the data off. Best Buy and RCA were happy, they said, to exchange the unit, but nobody could save my precious data -- months of work (not just those last six weeks -- even stuff I had on disks ended up getting changed after I moved it over) hung in the balance. I became despondent. I called places, looking for someone who would express confidence in their ability to do the work. I eventually purchased a bay for the disk and an appropriate cord, but ran into another obstacle: I couldn't get inside the unit. I had a friend come over and we tried to get into it. He took it to his work, but even the Shipyard didn't have a tool that would turn the two screws on the unit. Eventually, he managed to get them off, and it turns out they led nowhere. We never did figure out how to get inside, though one of my old books on stage magic had some interesting pointers.

About that reset button. This was RCA's sole line of defense. In the documents, it's the only thing they tell you to try. There's no Plan B after that. Push the Reset, you'll be hailed as a savior, people will throw flowers at you in the streets, and you'll be home by Tet. Everyone I spoke to helpfully mentioned the reset button. I assured them that I had poked it. More than once. I poked it while pressing other buttons. I poked it while speaking in low, reassuring tones. I poked it while putting the screen to my forehead and thinking Vulcan thoughts. There is actually room in the margin to put the results I got, and still have space left over for angels to dance in.

I was, to put it simply, not up to the task, so I put the problem to my friend who edits PC World, and he said to compose a letter and he'd forward it to their consumer advocate. There followed a number of phone calls and emails, and I ended up shipping the unit to Ohio, where it was dismantled (turns out a chip had died) and the drive was put into a new unit which was shipped to me. And by the time it came, we had a new computer in the house with huge hard drive space, and I finally was able to back up the player. I mean, what was I going to put it on before? Floppies?

So now I have my player. I just want to know why it does some of the stuff it does. It plays cuts out of order: 03, 04, 01, 02, 05... Some cuts it doesn't play at all. I recorded "Pico and Sepulveda" by Felix Figueroa off of Dr. Demento years ago, and as it hadn't been included in the Forbidden Zone sound track, I transferred it to mp3 and put it in there myself. Only, when I go to "Albums" and select "Forbidden Zone," it's not there. I've attacked the problem over and over, renaming tracks, renumbering tracks, burrowing through menus to change the down-deep knowledge of what it is, and even that gets me nowhere. I can go to the "All Files" view, the one I usually use anyway (but which plays cuts out of order about a quarter of the time), and it's there, but (say it with me) it won't play in order.

Why, oh why doesn't my player recognize the track? Or alpha-numeric order?

Hey, here's a tip for anybody who has read this far. If you go down a plastic slide with the player going in your pocket, static electricity will turn it into a zombie before you hit the bottom. With mine, it squeals until I reset it, and for all I know it's doing permanent damage, so turn the player off at the top of the slide, kiddies.

While I was typing this therapeutic screed, the music changed. Highlights of subsequent tunes: "My Way," by Sid Vicious, "Jocko Homo," by Devo, and "Pet Wedding, by Monitor (presently). Not sure who needed to know that, but always obliging, that's me.

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