Twitter has left the building

Twitter was down for a while today. In order to feed the Twitter addiction, @shareski started a group Skype chat and started to drag people into it, who in turn started to drag more people into it. Pretty soon we had our very own pseudo-Twitter going, as everyone continued adding people into the chat space until there must have about 50 people in the room… easily the biggest Skype chat I’ve had.

Twitter eventually came back up, and a huge collective global sigh of relief was breathed.

Still, the Skywitter chat was a fun experiment. As Vicki Davis observed…

“It is like an Elvis impersonator — not the real thing but close enough when the real one is dead.”

That comment made my day. 🙂

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Skype + Phone = Skypephone

3skypephone.jpgAs an existing customer of 3, Australia’s first 3G mobile phone network, and an avid user of Skype, I was interested to see this new product just about to be released here in Australia. It’s a 3G/Wifi enabled phone that lets you make free Skype-to-Skype calls over wireless LANs. Given that I spend all day at work, and all my time at home bathed in the radiant glow of wifi, the ability to make free calls is pretty attractive. I’m assuming that it reverts back to a standard GSM phone when you wander off the grid, and switches back to wifi when you get back into a wifi zone. I need to read the fine print of course, but it’s an intriguing idea.

While it’s not exactly an iPhone (far from it) it certainly looks interesting and suggests that the already competitive mobile phone business is about to get a whole lot more heated in the next 12 months. There’s been no word from Apple as to when the iPhone might land in Australia, so this push by Skype and 3 might be a positioning strategy to establish themselves as players in the developing VOIP mobile scene before Apple gets a chance to dominate it completely.

Either way, we live in interesting times!

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Audio Plumbing

picture-1.pngI’ve been trying to make a screencast of Skype conversation. And I thought it would be pretty simple. But as so often happens, there are technical issues to overcome that can make things so much trickier than you first thought they would be.

I’ve done quite a bit of screen capturing before, usually for short training videos on how to do certain software tasks. In fact I made a CD for a commercial training organisation a few years back that had over 80 tutorial screencasts on it made with Capture Cam Pro, so I figured I knew how to do this stuff. I’ve also been using Jing lately to make short screencasts on tech tips for our school network users. I think that screencasting is a great way to learn (and teach) this sort of practical, “show me” sort of stuff. Atomic Learning is another excellent resource based on this idea.

So I wanted to make a couple of screencasts to demonstrate how to use the features of Skype. I’d been using Snapz Pro X on the Mac, but wasn’t totally happy with it. I’d heard good things about iShowU so I downloaded a copy to try. I only had to use it a couple of times before I realised that it was going to be well worth the $20 they were asking for it, so bought a copy immediately. Easy to use, lots of professional options, and very customisable. A cool tool.

So I set up a screen capture, fired up Skype and called the Skype call testing service at echo123. iShowU captured all the on-screen action easily, as well as my microphone input, BUT not the audio coming out of Skype. Hmmm, that’s no good… I can’t do a demo of Skype if I can’t hear the conversation played back in the screen capture. I thought of a bunch of ideas to solve this, including using Audio Hijack Pro to capture the Skype audio, iShowU to capture everything else, and then dropping it into iMovie to edit them into a single movie but that seemed like it was all getting too hard and time consuming. I’m basically quite lazy, so I wanted a better, more elegant solution.

After quite a bit of trial and error I finally figured out how to do this, so here is my solution in case you ever need to do it yourself.

picture-2.pngThe trick is to use Soundflower, a Mac system extension that lets you route audio around the system in non-standard ways. From the Soundflower website, it says “Soundflower is a Mac OS X system extension that allows applications to pass audio to other applications. Soundflower is easy to use, it simply presents itself as an audio device, allowing any audio application to send and receive audio with no other support needed. Soundflower is free, open-source, and runs on Mac Intel and PPC computers.”

So, here’s how you do it – or at least it’s what eventually worked for me after much trial and error…

  1. First, I set the audio inputs of the Mac to Soundflower (2ch), that’s input, output and system.
  2. Then in the Skype preferences, set the Audio input to your desired microphone (I used a USB headset mic) and the Audio output to Soundflower (2ch). I set the ringing to Soundflower as well, but that’s probably not so important.
  3. picture-3.pngFinally, in iShowU, set the Input selection to Record Microphone Audio, Force it to Mono, and turn on Record System Audio. Set the microphone input to the USB headset (in my case). I also prefer to get the monitor feed while both previewing and recording, so turn that on if you want.
  4. By the way, setting the compression to H.264 makes a huge difference to the size of the final files.

There you have it. From what I can figure out, it works by routing the Skype microphone input to Soundflower, then routing its output to be the Mac’s regular audio input as a Soundflower stream. Then the Mac uses that diverted audio stream and treats it as the regular mic input to the computer (except after passing it via Skype it now has the entire Skype conversation in it) and then using iShowU to monitor the standard audio feed, which now contains the Skype audio. This may all be totally useless information to most of you, but for someone out there it may just save you a whole lot of time. I hope so.

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