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Car LockSelf-awareness of the privilege I was born to has slowly widened. Ever more so in the past few years as brave humans I’m lucky to call friends share the harassment and discrimination they’ve experienced or continue to experience on a daily basis.

Perhaps you’re like me. I haven’t done much more than retweet, +1, like, or share posts that discuss the issues of male privilege or other inequality. Partly because I felt that, being a man (or white, or educated), I didn’t have the right to say anything – but mostly because of that inner voice that says “Hey, I’m not doing any of this messed up stuff, so all’s good, right?”

Well, last weekend a simple conversation with my wife opened my eyes to my male privilege wider than they’ve ever been before and connected some dots. Perhaps this will connect a couple for you as well. The conversation went like this (paraphrased):

Me: Cool – this car lets you change the lock settings so all of the doors unlock when shifting into park instead of just the driver’s door. We no longer have to hear people complain that they’re locked in when we park and their door handle doesn’t do anything!

Viv: Umm.. Well… My mom taught me to always keep the doors locked when I park until I can look around and know that it’s safe to get out of the car!

Me: Huh.

Viv: I guess you’ve never had to worry about that since you’re a guy.

Me: …huh, I never thought about it like that.

I’ve always known that the world is generally safer for straight men than women. But it never really sank in that the simple act of parking your car can have such a different perspective. For me, it’s just picking a spot close to where I wanna be, hopping out, and going about my business. For my wife (and I assume most women) it is a strategic calculation that takes into account the physical environment, time, weather, type of people (or lack of people) out and about as well as many other things I’d never think of.

That’s a lot of stress for something that happens multiple times a day. I cannot fathom how many other “simple” everyday events there are that have shaped my perspective. Or theirs.

I was born to privileges that I never realized as a child or a young man. Those benefits have compounded as this rock we live on circles (ellipses?) the sun each year. I am a (mostly) white, cis gender, heterosexual male with above average intelligence that grew up in a middle class household on the Southern California coastline.

I moved out of California 20 years ago and quickly learned that I hit many jackpots in the birth lottery. Some had obvious tangible benefits that were easy to spot. I knew about gender and racial inequality, but have come to realize that knowing and knowing are completely different things.

The benefits of being raised in a community that had pretty much every race, religion, and sexual orientation represented, as well as confident and strong women close to me, created some gaping blind spots. I now realize that my privileges have compounded as I grow older, in subtle ways that I didn’t realize until I started to really take stock and think about it.

My income, promotions, relationships, hobbies, and abilities have all been made possible by that lottery. Sure, plenty of bad things happen to me and I’ve had my share of tough times and struggles. But even my mixed heritage has helped.

I’m a quarter Cherokee and grew up hearing about the atrocities visited upon my father, aunts/uncles, grandmother, and generations of Native ancestors. I never fully appreciated how their suffering opened employment and educational opportunities for me. How being part of that minority actually gave me a leg up on the other privileged white guys.

Living for six years in Albuquerque, New Mexico and taking business trips around the country gave me a new appreciation for race and gender inequality. In Mississippi, I not only saw separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks, but was shocked that even though the signs are gone, I never saw people drinking from the “wrong” fountain – in a Government building no less!

I saw a woman (multi-millionaire partner of a big four accounting firm) patted on the head by an old white guy (that probably made $50 grand a year) when she made a poignant remark during a business meeting, and I once abruptly left the room when that same man started telling racist jokes.

Before leaving the room I seriously considered saying something or quitting, but I was a lowly contractor so I figured nothing would come of it. And besides, his minority co-workers didn’t seem to have a problem with it, so what right did I have to create a problem where I was the only one that acknowledged the issue? Isn’t self justification a magical thing?

That was the beginning of my journey to inequality enlightenment. I’m far from the end. I still make inappropriate jokes and ogle at boobies. I’ve never done so to demean  or devalue anybody, it’s just a lifetime of “being a guy”.

I’ve certainly made other mistakes in hindsight, and on many fronts. I am human with an ever-evolving sense of understanding, and I see now that I’ve been inappropriate with my speech and actions in the past.

I’m ashamed of that behavior even though I thought nothing of it at the time, nor did others call foul. In my mind those weren’t offensive since I had no malice. It was my misunderstanding of the impact of the power imbalances that have recently been getting much needed attention.

If I have ever frightened a woman by coming on too strong, or offended anybody with thoughtless remarks, I am deeply sorry. I know that ignorance is no excuse. To paraphrase a movie (though I can’t recall which), “I am not a great man, but I am better than that.”

I suppose all of this is a long way to say, if you feel the way I did before.. if you feel that none of this #YesAllWomen stuff applies to you — please talk to a woman or minority that you respect and get their perspective of a typical day to contrast with yours. I think you’ll be surprised.

Talk to your children about this stuff. Try and help them appreciate the advantages they were born to, and to recognize and stand up to inequality when they encounter it. I didn’t really get it until an innocent conversation about car features at the age of 43. Maybe the next generation will halve that.. and the next won’t have such inequalities to contend with.

I still have a long way to go. At least now the car is programmed to never unlock any of the doors when shifting to park.

Have you had an “Aha!” moment? What did it for you?

Note: This has been cross-posted to Medium as an experiment. Some people prefer commenting over there.

Auphonic Logo

Updated 03-01-2013: to correct some details noticed by Georg from the Auphonic team
 
I recently came across what may prove to be the single most useful podcasting tool I’ve seen in years. It is a free online service called Auphonic which automates the tasks of normalizing audio as well as noise reduction, encoding, distribution, and a whole lot more.
 
Many podcasters regularly use The Levelator by Conversation Networks to do some of this. Levelator is great and can save you hours of manual processing. I’ve used it a lot when I have recordings of multiple speakers spread across a room, or an uneven Skype conversation where I don’t have the raw audio from each side. Levelator does have a few shortcomings though: you have absolutely no control over any of the processing; it mangles music; is rarely updated; and only works on Windows or Mac*
 
Auphonic not only addresses these issues but goes well beyond. Working backwards: Auphonic is a web service so operating system is irrelevant; development is fast and furious and the system includes a machine learning component; it identifies music and processes it separately from voices; and you have control over what processing is done as well as the target “loudness” of the completed file.
 
Further, Auphonic will process audio and video files from/to many different formats; offers integration with Dropbox, ftp/sftp, Libsyn, and other services; will handle metadata (as well as chapter marks); and provides an API for those inclined to automate their workflow.
 
What’s It All About?
The Auphonic team’s goal is to provide end-to-end services for podcast production from recording to feed. Meaning, a system to capture a recording, edit and polish, create blog post w/show notes, and post for listener consumption. The first part of that goal is the web service to improve your audio files.
 
The service is built on open source tools, and they are planning to release the algorithms as plugins to Audacity (hopefully in the form of VSTs for use in other DAWs as well – no plans for VST at the moment. They’re working with the LV2 plugin format which Audacity supports). They have also released an IOS App to record and process files, with an Android version coming any day now.
 
As stated, the service is free and they have no plans to charge for it above voluntary donations they will try to establish a freemium model based on the amount of data people are processing. So heavy users pay a little bit for it and small podcaster[s] can still use it for free.
Much of the work is being funded by the Graz University of Music and Performing Arts and the Austrian government.
 
Feature Breakdown
When a file is processed, it is first analyzed to classify speech, music, and background segments so that each component can be optimally processed to give the best sounding output file. Current features include:
  • Intelligent Leveler – Each person speaking has their level automatically raised or lowered to give a consistent presentation.
  • Loudness Normalization – Voices and music are adjusted for momentary, short term, and overall loudness through limiting and compression. You can specify the overall loudness level based on established European broadcasting loudness standards – or the US ATSC A/85 recommendation to be compliant with the CALM act. (boy, I wish the US would adopt these! I had no idea the US had any loudness standards.. commercials sure do seem to still jump out at you!)
  • Filtering – a high pass filter that removes unnecessary low frquencies
  • Noise Reduction – removes consistent background noises from computer fans, air conditioning, or line noise (buzz or hum).
  • Encoding – the processed file can be encoded to a variety of formats including lossy (mp3, AAC, Opus, Ogg) and lossless (WAV, FLAC, ALAC). The service will create multiple output formats at the same time, so click the button once and fill all of your feeds if you offer multiple formats to listeners. Also, if the input is a video file, it can be output to the same format leaving the video untouched.
  • Metadata Management – fill in desired metadata fields once (artist, album, title, artwork, etc) and all of the output files will include the properly formatted tags, including chapter marks for enhanced podcasts. Even your MP3 and OGG files can have chapters!
  • Content Deployment – the service can read and/or write files to a host of services automating and easing the process of getting files in and out. These currently include: FTP, SFTP, Dropbox, AmazonS3, YouTube, Archive.org, SoundCloud, and Libsyn.
  • Presets – Create presets, or templates to easily process all of your files the same way. This could be as simple as predefining the bitrate for your mp3 files, all the way to what external services to copy the files to, pre-filled metadata, and what processing to do.
  • API – a complete programming interface that allows you to write scripts or full applications that will import, process, and export your files in any way you like.
  • Machine Learning – the system includes machine learning components to constantly improve all of the algorithms. Similar to email spam filters or search engines – the more people use the service, the better it gets.
  • Batch Processing – Specifying a preset, you can batch groups of files together to all be processed at the same time
 
Control Freak
You have control of many aspects of the processing and resultant files. This includes:
  • Target bitrate for audio formats
  • Stereo to mono conversion
  • Chapter splits to multiple output files
  • Which processing to perform
    • Adaptive leveling
    • Filtering
    • Global loudness normalization (on/off as well as how loud it should be)
    • Noise reduction (including the amount to reduce by)
  • Email notifications can be selected on processing completion, errors, warnings, or all of the above
 
How Does It Sound?
I’ve gone back through my archives and pulled the audio from some “challenging” recordings to put the service through it’s paces. These included live recordings from conventions with several speakers at varying distances from microphones; listener feedback recorded over phones; and a recording with significant electrical ground noise that seemed to permeate every band on the EQ.
 
Some of those took me hours to fix BEFORE getting to editing. The last was deemed unusable after I and another audio engineer took swings at it. The Auphonic exports were on par with all of the manual work I did, and the results were returned to me within minutes! The last file still had some audible hum here and there, but was totally usable in a podcast as long as you gave a little warning/caveat at the top of the show.
 
I was going to include some samples here, but seeing as the service is free and so fast – you need to just grab some raw audio and see for yourself. I’m confident that you won’t be disappointed and will likely make Auphonic the last stop for all of your future recordings.
 
Conclusion
The breadth of options and flexibility are already astounding and I can’t wait to see what features they add in the future. One in particular that was mentioned on a FLOSS Weekly interview is removing natural room reverb from a recording (presumably using downward expansion).
 
Being a completely free service, I see no reason beginner and expert podcasters alike won’t find this to be a huge time saver and go-to tool for all of their productions.
 
 
* Yes, there is technically a Linux version of The Levelator available, but the required libraries have far outpaced it, so it won’t run on modern systems. There are plenty of guides on how to use it on Linux with Wine or some such, but again, due to not getting updated, I haven’t been able to get it to output a file on Linux for a few years.

As happens just about every time we leave a Con, I’m inspired to try something new. This time I’ve decided to embark on a new music project. A lot of people do “365″ projects be it taking photos, writing blog posts, or even short stories. I’m not ready to commit to a song a day, but I’m going to write a song (or at least part of a song) during a lunch hour at least once a week and post it.

I won’t write a blog post about each one, but at least upload them to a set on SoundCloud. Anybody can listen or download them for free from SoundCloud (you don’t have to sign up or anything) and it will auto post to Facebook and Twitter for me. I don’t know how long I’ll go, but the tradition for this kind of thing is a year.

Here are my rules so far. Yes, I’m making this up as I go along and they may change:

  1. Each song will be written on a single day, in a single lunch hour
  2. There’s no schedule and no deadline. I intend to write and release one a week, but have no clue what day that might be
  3. No mixing, mastering, adding, or tweaking after the fact — I write it and post it in one go
  4. I’m releasing each track with a Creative Commons Attribution license. Anybody can take a track, change it, share it, re-write it, release it for profit — whatever — as long as they give me writing credits and link to this website. I do reserve the right to expand or combine anything I release into another song, and that song may have more restrictive rights but that doesn’t effect the license on the original release

I think that’s it.. So, here’s the first track.. It’s called Aggressive Buddhism

iPhone 4SIf you’ve even casually glanced at my site or social stream then you’ll know that I’m an Android fan. I am an Open Source enthusiast, in favor of Copyright and Patent reform, so on and so forth. So what am I doing with an iPhone?

It was actually issued to me for work. My Blackberry Bold 9000 was dying, and people in our enterprise have been gravitating away from Blackberry to iPhone, so it was the logical choice. Work doesn’t allow Android devices yet, but our management solution can handle it (as well as Windows phone), so it is not far off.

For my personal phone I use a DroidX on Verizon (running stock Android 2.3.4, aka Gingerbread). I love the Droid and it has served me well.

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