Cloudup – free, cloud-based file sharing

Cloudup is a free, web-based media sharing platform. Users are allowed to upload a maximum of 1000 items, 200 MB each. Yes! That’s 200 gigabytes of free storage. There are desktop applications for Macs and Windows but the web interface is meant to be the main way to use the service.

Cloudup allows for synchronizing, sharing, password protection, downloading and streaming of files. Files are simply shared with a unique web address like cloudup.com/c6n9XSN2kTH Any type of file can be uploaded.

Cloudup is provided by the amazing people at Automattic (WordPress, Simplenote, Long Reads, more). I have not extensively used this service but can recommend it based on Automattic’s reputation.

I have previously recommended Archive.org for hosting media (and still do) but Cloudup has the advantage of not giving-up copyrights. Archive.org has no private or password options. This could be very helpful for media made by students which you don’t want on the open web.

I could not find any way to embed media from Cloudup, so only the link can be shared. This might be a problem for some.


Tool: Cloudup

Description: Free, cloud-based media hosting.

Usefulness: very

tinypic — quick and easy photo and video hosting.

This photo was uploaded July 8, 2015.
This photo was uploaded July 8, 2015.

tinypic.com-logoThere several good free photo hosting sites but it’s a real time-waster for your students to create accounts. tinypic will host your students’ photos and videos with no registration or hassle.  tinypic is the free version of PhotoBucket which is a flagship photo hosting site.

A convenient feature of tinypic is that it provides the linking code for HTML and other common formats. And, it lets you link directly without advertisements. tinypic allows you to upload a photo directly from your phone via email (a feature I didn’t test).

There are better choices if you need your image to last for years since tinypic keeps your students’ images for only 90 days.  Even so, this should be fine for class assignments.


Original Video – More videos at TinyPic

 

Another potential downside is that all images are public but the odds of anyone stumbling across your photo are probably minimal. Photos are limited to 1600 pixels on the longest side and videos are limited to five minutes. If you submit larger items, they are automatically reduced.

The bottom line: tinypic is a super-easy way to post photos and videos for sort-term projects.


Tool: tinypic.com

Description: photo and video hosting with no registration

License: Open Ethos

Alternatives: Flickr, Imgur, many others

Usefulness: very

The best FLAC compression level – a simple guide

FLAC is a great open source tool for archiving audio.   There is no loss in quality but it is smaller than WAV or AIFF files.   See my blog entry about the various audio file formats.

While FLAC is very easy to create and use, there is some confusion about the best compression level to use.   Unfortunately, a Google search does not clarify the issue.

For starters, it is important to understand that all FLAC files sound like the original.    That’s why it is called “lossless.”     The main difference in the compression levels is how much time it takes to “rip” the file and how small the resulting file will be.

Simply put – the higher compression level (6.7, 8): the smaller size of the file but the longer time it will take to rip.

Thanks to the good people at Stream #0,  we have some data to determine what compression level to use.   For their test, they used “Pride”  by U2  (3:50) as a sample song.

FLAC_compression

As you can see from the graph, a compression level of 4 or 5 is the best choice.  Higher takes longer but the file is minimally smaller.

Bottom line:   use compression level 5

See the original study.

Audio formats – which are best for a school library?

As I was writing the review on Audacity, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to have an entry on open audio formats.

Audio Files for Distribution

The vast majority of people use MP3s (endless players and software), AAC (Apple and Sony products; some phones) and sometimes WMA (Windows).

 

.WMA

 

These are all effectively open-ethos formats although they are not truly open source. On my equipment, they all sound similar. (There are differences which are discussed at length elsewhere.)

In a library or school setting, MP3 files are the safe choice. All your users, no matter what software or players, should be able to play them.

The trick is to encode (aka “rip”) the file properly and, in my experience, you need just two compression levels (aka bitrates): one for spoken audio and one for music.

AudioFormats_encoding screen

For audio books and podcasts, I rip to mono, 64 kbps. This creates a small file and, to my ears, sounds fine.

For music, I rip to stereo, 192 kpbs. This creates a larger but still reasonably sized file and sounds good on my equipment.

I decided on these settings by encoding at different rates and playing it on my different equipment, including my best headphones and studio speakers. I compared the file sizes and made a subjective choice.

You may consider doing the same experiment on your equipment.

Keep in mind, if people are downloading your files, choose the smallest file that sounds OK to you. For me, 48 kbps is barely acceptable and 32 kbps is bad. Audiophiles and computer geeks will drive you crazy with their debates about the best audio format/codec. Bottom line: if it sounds good, it is good.

Unfortunately I can’t recommend the most common truly open-source audio format: OGG. It is a good format but it’s not widely adopted.

Audio Files for Archiving

For archiving, you’ll want a non-lossy, well-supported, format that can easily be converted to smaller, lossy, formats.

The safest choice is WAV, which is proprietary but open-ethos. Virtually every audio program can use a WAV file. Importantly a WAV can be converted to almost any other format and will be supported for many years. But, WAV files are huge.

. AIFFWAV . FLAC

Another good choice, especially for Apple users, is AIFF. Like WAV, AIFF is uncompressed, non-lossy audio. AIFF files are also huge. I suspect that AIFF files won’t be orphaned for a long time, although maybe sooner than WAVs. I am unclear on the license but it is open-ethos.

For years I have been archiving my audio in the open-source FLAC format. This is compressed but non-lossy. It is roughly 40% smaller than a WAV file but sounds the same. There are plenty of open source tools to convert FLACs to MP3s or burn to an audio CD. FLAC seems to be gaining popularity and I expect will be supported for a long time (but maybe not as long as WAV files.) I use the default settings on my encoding or exporting software.

(If you aren’t a purist archiver, a highest-level (320 kpbs) encoded MP3 should also be OK. These files will sound nearly as good as WAV/AIFF/FLAC and should be easily converted to any future file format. It will be much smaller than WAV or even FLAC.)


I tried to keep this simple but if you find this confusing, here’s what I do:

For distribution:

  • spoken word: MP3, mono, 64 kbps.
  • music: MP3, stereo, 192 kbps

For archiving:

  • FLAC, default settings

Audacity – digital audio editing

Few programs have dominated an open source category like Audacity.  It works so well that many people don’t even try other programs — especially for podcasts and “Powerpoints.”

Audacity can import or record multiple tracks, trim audio, level audio, fade-in and out, cut-out mistakes, etc — all the basic features you need for podcasts, radio spots, presentations, etc.   It has more audio-processing filters and the ability to add even more but I rarely use any of those.

It can export to WAV, WMA (Windows), AIFF (Apple), FLAC (cool) and most importantly, MP3.

Like  most open source software, Audacity is similar to programs from about ten years ago — but I consider this a virtue.   Modern programs can have so many features they they are a nuisance to learn.

A few years ago, I had a radio production studio with a couple of expensive commercial editing programs but I found Audacity to be the quickest for simple  productions — like two or three voices and a music track.

I challenged one of my technicians to produce a song with Audacity but he didn’t like it, saying it gave him timing problems.  (three or four musicians?).  More recently, I tried to use Audacity as a music sequencer and didn’t like it for that, either. I have also had problems with very long, single take, recordings (like over an hour.)

But, for simple audio production, it’s a very useful program, rivaling commercial products.  Highly recommended.


Tool: Audacity
Description: Cross-platform digital audio editor
License: GNU, free
Alternatives: Linux MultiMedia Studio, several others
Rating: very useful

Web-based file conversion

Web Converter logos

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a bunch of *.lit files (discontinued by Microsoft in  2012) but my Sony eBook reader works best with *.epub.   You’ve had a similar problem, right?

I found two free web-based file converter services that converted these files fine.

Both sites convert an impressive number of file formats including text-word processor documents, ebooks, presentations, audio and visual.   I didn’t try nearly all the features but the few tests I did worked well.   Results tyically have to do with the complexity of the document and similarity of the two file formats.

These sites seem especially useful if you are doing the occasional conversion and don’t want to install and learn dedicated software.   If you are converting a lot of files, you may want to install dedicated software.

These sites are also useful because they can grab files off the internet and convert them to work on your phone (for example).   Convert.Files has a very useful list of mobile devices and their file formats.

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Tools:

ConvertFiles dot com

Online Converter

Web-based

Description: converts between a wide variety of file types, including files posted on the Internet

License: Proprietary, free

Alternatives: Any Video Converter (free version, Windows, Mac); Calibre (for ebooks); Google Docs;, your existing word processor

Rating: very useful

IrfanView – photo processor

There are a lot of photo editors on market, many of them open-source but I have yet to find one that does what IrfanView does so well — photo processing.

I call it processing because it doesn’t replace a full-feature editing program like GIMP (or Photoshop).

If, for example, you have 600 photos from your students that are all too big and a few too small — IrfanView can resize them with ease. The same for a bunch of photos that all are poorly exposed. Or a directory of photos that all need to be rotated. Or converted from GIF to JPEG.

IrfanView is also a very efficient file viewer where you can view a batch of photos and tweak them one-by-one. You could do this with Photoshop or GIMP but not as efficiently. It also works nicely for batch scanning.

IrfanView is not open-source but it is free for individuals. I include it here because I have not found an open-source program which replaces it.  If you decline to have the adware installed, it is as well-behaved as most open-source packages.

If your library is running Windows PCs, I consider it a must-install.

IrfanView is only for Windows but it runs fairly well in Linux using Wine (a Windows emulator). Reportedly, it can run on a Mac using a Windows emulator.


Tool:

IrfanView http://www.irfanview.com/
Portable version: http://www.irfanview.com/
Description:
a photo processor for resizing, cropping, rotating, sharpening, batch-scanning, creating panoramas and much more. Many features can be done in batch mode.
License:
free but not open-source.
Alternatives:
many, notably GIMP.
Rating:
very useful for Windows users