Dear Podcasters, You’re Ruining My Run (Podcast Loudness)

Audio stereo WAV in Audition CCI’ve been making a concerted effort to get back into shape and while I’d love to say that my beer-gut is diminishing, sadly the most noticeable result has been a growing irritability caused by podcasts that are all published at different audio levels.

Let’s talk about LUFS:

Loudness, K-weighted, relative to Full Scale (or LKFS) is a loudness standard designed to enable normalization of audio levels for delivery of broadcast TV and other video.

LKFS is an abbreviation of:  Loudness K-weighted Full Scale, and one unit of LKFS is equal to one dB. The LKFS term is used in the ITU BS.1770 standard and the ATSC A/85 standard also operates with this term. Other organizations, such as The European Broadcast Union (EBU), uses the term LUFS, which is an abbreviation ofLoudness Units Full Scale. Despite the different names, LFKS and LUFS are  identical.

The LKFS standard (ITU standard) is what allows you to listen to the radio at a consistent level without having to turn the radio up or down every time a new tune is played (unless they’re cranking out some AC/DC then you have to turn up the stereo – it’s the law). That’s awesome right?

What’s not awesome is when I’m on the treadmill and every other podcast is barely audible over my headphones, while others are way too loud, forcing me to have to repeatedly fiddle with the audio levels on my phone.

Let’s face it – I’m not the most graceful of people at times. One of these days, pulling my phone out of my pocket while running is going to result in my breaking a leg as I go flying backwards off the treadmill and into the min-fridge.

The solution is to make sure that every podcast has consistent audio levels, and the magic number that has been settled on is -16 LUFS. I’ve embedded a tutorial by Mike Russel from Music Radio Creative so you can see just how ridiculously easy it is to do Adobe Audition CC.

I don’t know if Audacity can adjust LUFS out of the box (it’s been years since I’ve used it) but I’m sure there are plugins for it (a quick search found this LUFS meter), and even mobile podcasting apps like Auphonic can automatically adjust the levels as they process the audio.

So fellow podcasters, there’s really no excuse to now have your audio at the correct levels and give podcast listeners the best experience, is there?

Distraction Free Blogging? I’d Pay For That!

Distraction Free Blogging

While I applaud the efforts made by the WordPress team to include a distraction free editor, it unfortunately does little (and cannot for technical reasons) to stop the myriad of distractions that occur on my desktop or laptop. The only real way to stop the flood of email notifications, IM’s, phone calls is to disconnect from the internet completely, turn off my phone and write my posts in an offline editor – none of which have feature parity with the WordPress platform.

When I look at my kindle e-reader I see a device perfectly setup for distraction free reading – all you have to do is silence your phone and go into another room, and I find myself wishing for a simple tablet like device that only allowed me write and save drafts to my WordPress site.

I’m thinking a 7 – 8 inch, tablet-like device with a foldout keyboard, can have a cheap low-resolution screen because it serves one purpose only, to push blog posts to my CMS via an API.

I’d buy one in a heart-beat.

They Didn’t Think It Through – Browsing WordPress Mobile Theme Stores

I was looking for inspiration for a mobile site design today, trawling WordPress theme stores, when I noticed a particularly stupid and unhelpful trend.

The image you see below is what I get when I visit the demo for a mobile theme on a mobile browser. Yes, that’s right – you’re looking at the full desktop site with the mobile version embedded in a frame…

I understand that these demos are setup to help people visiting from their desktop, but is it really such a stretch of the imagination to think that someone might want to demo your mobile them on, I don’t know… their mobile device?

Theme Demo Nexus Screengrab

Medical Practices Simply Can’t Afford To Skimp On IT Infrastructure

1964, Dynamic control problem being studied in the Analogue Computer Laboratory

Analogue Computer Laboratory – 1964. Source.

The Earth orbits the Sun, and medical practices can’t afford to skimp on IT infrastructure… some facts are simply immutable.

Normally I would proclaim that any business can’t afford to skimp on its IT infrastructure, but given the current climate where just having a Windows XP machine connected to your network is a HIPAA violation, I’ve clearly got a certain target audience in mind for this post. That said, it’s not just medical practices that could benefit from taking a few minutes to read this post.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past months advising (and implementing) practices on how to make the move from the no longer supported Windows XP to Windows 7 and newer operating systems, and one thing has become readily apparent to me – there are two kinds of medical practices:

  • Practices that see technology as part of the patient experience.
  • Practices that only think about IT when it breaks.

The medical practices (and other businesses) that realize that their IT infrastructure is part of the patient (customer) experience tend to have made the realization that IT in a medical office is not just there to scan ID cards, print receipts or create patient forms, but actually adds substantially to the patient experience and bottom line of the practice.

Happy patients = more money!

That’s not a difficult concept right? I think everyone can agree that if a patient has a positive experience at your office they’re more likely to come back the next time something ails them. They’re also far more likely to recommend you to other potential patients (word of mouth marketing), leave positive reviews on rating sites, etc… Happy patients = more money for you. Simple!

A lot of medical practitioners and office managers appear to forget that the patient’s experience in their clinic is not just measured by the patient – doctor interaction, it comes from the everything they experience at your office. From the moment they walk in the door, from that first impression, the friendliness of the staff, the promptness of their appointment, the ease of filling out information – it’s all being judged by the patient and it ALL impacts your bottom line.

So, how does IT actually affect any of this? Well, let’s forget about silly little things such as multi-thousand dollar fines (per patient) when data is exposed due to poor infrastructure and / or running out of date operating systems and look at the ways that keeping your computers and software up-to-date actually affects your bottom line.

Faster computers (and modern operating systems) increase staff productivity.

It’s not just just the ability to run better, newer software, but multiply the 10 minutes it takes those ancient computers to start up by the number of staff you have and there’s a massive amount of wasted productivity hours. A lot of time is wasted every day because applications take forever to open / switch between, and all of that wasted time is time that you are paying staff for. If  you want to get more productivity from  your staff then give them the tools to do it.

Faster computers equal happier staff.

In my experience, there’s little that will annoy good staff in a good office faster than slow computers. It’s frustrating to have to not be able to move on to the next thing, especially when you have a patient standing there waiting for that document you sent to the printer 5 minutes ago.

If there’s one thing patients are especially good at picking up on, it’s the atmosphere in an office. When staff aren’t happy, you can be sure that patients aren’t, and that is going to have negative impact on their experience and willingness to return in the future or recommend  you to other potential patients.

Faster computers equal happier patients.

When you’re sick, tired or in pain, the last thing you want to do is stand around twiddling your thumbs for five minutes at the check in desk at your doctors office waiting for their EMR (electronic medical record) system to pull up your details. That should have happened almost instantaneously, and it would have if the aging computer had more RAM, a faster CPU or better connectivity to the server.

Get those patients checked in and out faster for a better patient experience and a less crowded waiting room.

Keeping your infrastructure up-to-date saves you money.

All computers break down, have issues and occasionally need repairs, but performing support tasks on older computers takes longer. Slower machines take longer to install drivers on, track down issues etc. It’s not rocket science.

As your infrastructure ages there tends to be more issues which require support and the cost of that support can escalate rather quickly. You might only see it as a $100 here, $200 there, but when this is happening every other week (even when you have contracted support agreements) it can quickly get to the point where you could have actually paid to replace aging equipment and had LESS support call-outs.

Upgrading / Staying up-to-date doesn’t have to be a huge expense.

A lot of small practices get sticker shock at the notion of spending many thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars to replace equipment that still essentially works. Most don’t realize that these upgrades don’t all have to be done at once. Unfortunately a lot of vendors won’t tell you that, instead going for the big “all in one” sell – but that’s another blog post.

Implement a rolling upgrade policy. Start with the oldest computer (or computers depending on how desperate the situation) on your network and get them upgraded – whether than means adding more RAM, SSD’s or a better CPU or simply replacing the whole machine. If you have a server, see if that needs upgrading too. In 6 months time upgrade another machine or two and continue to do so over the next two years. By the end of the two years you’ll have completed 5 upgrades (0 months, 6 months, 12, 18, 24) and have replaced or upgraded 10 machines without any one major expense.

Most small medical practices will have somewhere in the region of 10 – 20 machines, but you can adjust the plan to suit your infrastructure needs and budget accordingly.

On month 30, start the cycle again – upgrading the components of or replacing the machines first updated at month 0. Repeat the cycle over and over again and you’ll never have machines more than 2 – 3 years old running on your network.

You may also wish to annually evaluate your networking equipment and see if any performance gains can be made by upgrading aging switches / firewalls / routers to newer faster standards.

Remember that it’s not just your hardware.

Aging software can be a productivity drain almost as much as aging hardware. Be sure to evaluate new versions of the tools and software you use in your practice and determine if making the move to newer versions could increase productivity or will add features that improve security etc..

Speaking of security… Don’t forget those updates…

Again I’m going to gloss over the potential fines that medical practices and businesses can be slapped with if patient / customer information is compromised, and instead remind you of the cost of having someone come out to clean your network of trojans, spyware and malware. Good anti-virus and anti-spyware software is always a must, but none of it is perfect. No matter your operating system – Windows, OS X, Linux… make sure that you are installing updates regularly. These updates don’t just add new features to your system- they fix bugs, can increase stability and performance, and fix security holes and issues.

If your IT person (you do have an IT person, right?) recommends that you turn off Windows updates for performance, or because things “might break” then you need to fire them. The days of such things happening are long, long in the past, and the rare times that they do occur are far lest costly than the potential damage than can be caused by not running them.

While you’re at it, have your IT person or vendor upgrade the firmware on you routers / managed switches / firewalls etc….

It doesn’t cost a lot to be secure AND productive…

For most practices, if you put your IT infrastructure on a rolling upgrade cycle the cost becomes pretty negligible plus you get to avoid the major sticker shock of a one time upgrade.

If you start thinking about your IT as part of the patient (and staff) experience the outlay will more than recoup itself in increased productivity, repeat patients and positive word of mouth marketing.

Please Just Be Honest When Asking For A Link Removal

404 - Broken Links In Google Webmaster Tools

Can we just be honest when asking people to update or remove links?

It happens to all sites. Links move or change, posts occasionally get deleted, categories get restructured and despite your best intentions, you still have broken links coming into your site.

At this point you can either set up 301 redirects to a new location or relevant content, or you can reach out to site owners and ask them to alter or remove their links. Most site owners will be happy to update broken links, but a little bit of honesty will get you a lot further than trying to scare site owners by saying that Google is penalizing your site and the same will happen to them.

I’m seeing it happen a lot lately. Instead of just being honest and saying “Our bad, we restructured our site and don’t care to put 301’s in place” or “We deleted the content you were linking to” or (and perhaps most honestly) “we’re engaging in some reputation management”, most emails of this type appear to be defaulting to the “Google is penalizing us and if you don’t delete the link Google will penalize you and your site will never rank again” tactic.

The truth is that a handful of broken links on my site spread over thousands of posts isn’t going to result in Google issuing my site any kind of penalty.

While you’re at it, make it as easy as possible for me to find the link you want removed. Provide me with the name and URL of the post in which the link appears. Sure I could search for the URL you want removed but that’s more work for me. The easier you make it the more likely I am to actually do what you want.

Do not, ever, ever, ever send me a list of URLs from my site that include category indexes, tags etc. That’s pointless and making more work for me. Just 1 URL. That is all. Show me you’re not lazy and actually care.

Finally a tip for managing and detecting broken links on your own site.  You really should be fixing broken links yourself as it improves not just your SEO but also the user experience. If you’re using WordPress try using a plugin such as “Broken Link Checker” to stay on top of things. Regardless of what platform you use, you should also be using Google Webmaster Tools which also report crawl errors and broken links.

Where Are The Parents?

Facebook Social Media AbuseI read the following without a single shred of disbelief, but with a lot of sadness when it comes to parenting skills of many of my peers and societies reaction to such a state – which is to let state be the corrective force.

The channel found that British police deal with around 20 “social media abuse” cases a day. In the last 3 years, there have been 20,000 investigations involving adults and almost 2,000 targeting children – although, since around a third of police forces did not give up their data, the number must be higher. Over 1,200 children have been “charged with a criminal offence or given a caution, warning or fine,” including four 10-year-olds and one 9-year-old. 

I have two questions to ask:

  1. Why are the children being cautioned or charged instead of the parents?
  2. Why are these parents allowing their children to use the internet without monitoring their activity?

Sadly, I suspect the answer to both questions to revolve around the same idea…

You Must Ditch Windows XP Now!

IE11 Will It Run On Xp

WiIll IE11 be available on Windows XP?

Will IE 11 exist for Windows XP? Are you kidding me? People like this crack me up!

Medical practices all over the company are scrambling right now to replace computers running the decrepit Windows XP operating system in order to avoid a HIPAA violation and remain meaningful use compliant. All other businesses and private individuals would do well to realize that once the April 8th deadline rolls around, your Windows XP operating system isn’t just less secure because it’s not receiving patches and updates, but is less secure by orders of magnitude because it will never receive a patch or update for a security exploit even if the exploit is widely publicized and used.

The very first month that Microsoft releases security updates for supported versions of Windows, attackers will reverse engineer those updates, find the vulnerabilities and test Windows XP to see if it shares those vulnerabilities.  If it does, attackers will attempt to develop exploit code that can take advantage of those vulnerabilities on Windows XP.  Since a security update will never become available for Windows XP to address these vulnerabilities, Windows XP will essentially have a “zero day” vulnerability forever.  How often could this scenario occur?  Between July 2012 and July 2013 Windows XP was an affected product in 45 Microsoft security bulletins, of which 30 also affected Windows 7 and Windows 8.

As Tim Rains explains, anti-virus and security software won’t help you either.  So, unless you as a business or a private individual are happy with unsavory types (you know, besides the NSA) having access to your patient / customer patient databases, email, credit card numbers, your web browsing history, and being able to use your computer as a zombie bot to steal from others, and any potential fines (as a business) for data breaches, then get rid of Windows XP now!

The cost of the upgrade will be far less than the cost of potential consequences.

Windows 8 – Good Enough For Pirates!

Windows 8 Pirate EditionBrowsing the web I see a lot of people complaining about Windows 8 and I automatically assume that 90% of those people have never used it. All of the people I know who have actually used it like it, or at least don’t complain about it. With so much apparent hate for Windows 8 spewing forth from the comment sections of most tech news sites, I was surprised to read that Windows 8 was the only non-video search in the top 50 searches on Kickass Torrents in 2013.

There is no central database of searches available, but Kickass.to, one of the top three torrent sites in terms of visitors, was kind enough to share the most popular search terms of 2013 with us. This list is based on millions of searches and gives an indication of what people were looking for on BitTorrent networks during the last 12 months.

Adult related searches are surprisingly absent among the popular search terms, and the same is true for music and game searches. The only non-video search in the top 50 is Windows 8 in 40th place.

The only non-video search in the top 50, eh? No mention of Linux, Windows 7, Windows XP, Photoshop, Creative Suite, video games, Android or Apple apps for rooted devices, or chart topping music albums… It’s all Iron Man 3, World War Z, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and… Windows 8.

I guess people don’t hate it enough to not pirate it! And the first person to suggest that people are only pirating Windows 8 to “try before they buy” is getting a swift kick to the groin because we all know that’s plain bollocks.