Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Handiham World for 16 September 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

It was bound to happen. What I am talking about is something that we had hoped to put off until the distant future, but you know how old Murphy works. The unfortunate recent breakdown of our trusty APH four track tape recorder has placed us in somewhat of a bind with our tape production.

An APH recorder, shown here in a ham shack

Photo: A typical APH 4-track recorder.

While our tape volunteer, George, N0SBU, has been able to get the September audio digest out, there was a significant delay in the production Of four track cassette tape for our blind members who do not use computers. Even so, George had to make a modified version that only included three tracks. The fourth track is garbled, apparently because of a problem with the machine.

Although the group of 4-track users is shrinking as more and more of our members become computer-literate and get their audio directly from the handiham web site, there is a core group of mostly elderly blind users who still depend on the older audio tape technology. Of course we certainly want to continue serving these members, but it is difficult to justify buying replacement equipment in what is an extremely challenging budget year. Thankfully, our high-speed duplicators are still functioning. If those quit, it would truly mark the end of the four-track program, because replacement cost would run into the thousands at a time when the sun is setting on this old technology.

One possible workaround is to master the digest audio into the correct format on my computer, using Audacity. The trick is to get the audio tracks into the correct order and direction of play. I have asked for some help in determining the way to do this. Of course the computer makes it easy to reverse the direction of a track from front to back and to make the tracks speeded up to twice the normal speed so that 60 minutes of program material will fit into each track on a standard 60 minute cassette master. Remember, a standard 60 minute cassette plays for only 30 minutes at the regular speed on a single side. Because the Library of Congress standard calls for playback at one half the normal speed, if we use the computer to speed the audio to twice normal, not only will it fit into a single track, but it will also sound normal on playback at half speed. If we can figure out how to do this on the computer, we should be able to bypass using the APH machine and use any standard stereo cassette recorder to produce the master, taking the audio directly from the soundcard of the computer through a line to the tape recorder input. In some ways, this is a better way to produce an audio master in the first place and should result in better final audio fidelity. On the other hand, we do have to be sure we do it correctly so that users don't encounter tracks that play out of sequence or even worse, backwards!

We are looking at various alternatives, but we could really use a new or gently used tape recorder capable of producing National Library Service tape cassettes. If you can help us out, please e-mail Patrick Tice at

For Handiham World, I'm...

Patrick Tice,
Handiham Manager