Sunday, September 21, 2008

TOTW #9: Portable Music; Blurred Backgrounds

Computer Tip: Portable Music

Most of us have portable music players (PMPs), usually iPods. But when I say “portable” here I’m actually referring to the ability to move music between different software ecosystems, not being able to take the player with you. In other words, not being tied down to just one particular program or player; being able to move music between say, and iPod, and a Zune, car stereo, etc. freely.

iTunes and the iPod like to use a file format called AAC. Devices and software outside of the Apple world, on the other hand, usually don’t recognize this format. Most other players in the world don’t play AAC but rather Microsoft’s format, WMA. All can play MP3 files, though, so if you want a type of file that can be played by anyone, MP3 is the only viable option. (I’m not a fan of the sound quality of MP3 files, but there is no other universal format that can be played everywhere.)

The vast majority of music purchased within iTunes is not only in AAC format, but it is also copy protected. So not only are you limited to playing within iTunes or on your iPod, it will only play on YOUR iTunes and iPod. You can’t even share a file with a friend or use it in a video if you want to. (On a side note, I strongly recommend against buying copy protected music, just so you know you’ll be able to play it on whatever computer or device you may have a few years down the road.)

So what is the solution? Buying music from sources that supply unprotected MP3 files. Or buying CDs and copying them to the computer in MP3 format instead of AAC or WMA.

Personally my favorite source for legal MP3 downloads is the MP3 Store. They have a huge selection, the prices are usually better than other sources, and all of their music is in unprotected MP3 format so it plays on anything. Their downloader utility even copies music into iTunes or Windows Media Player automatically. Walmart and others also offer MP3 downloads as well. iTunes has some “iTunes Plus” titles which are in an unprotected AAC format, but once again you are limited to whatever devices can support AAC files.

Multimedia Tip: Blurred Backgrounds

Some of the nicest photographs you ever see utilize a technique called ‘shallow depth of field’ to ensure that only the intended subject is in focus, with everything behind (and in front of) thrown out of focus. This naturally draws your eye to the most important part of the image by removing extraneous details.

To get this effect on a point & shoot camera, set it to its Portrait mode. Then stand comfortably close (5 feet?) and take the picture. It helps to be outdoors or in other well-lit conditions.

To get this effect on an SLR camera, set the mode dial to Av or A. Then turn the adjustment wheel to get the largest aperture possible, which means the lowest number possible. Stand at the same 5’ distance and snap away.

In either case you should also have the camera set to its fastest ISO (lowest number) possible. Adding a neutral density filter to your lens also enhances the effect.

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