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Crafting Digital Media available now!

Crafting Digital Media: Audacity, Blender, Drupal, GIMP, Scribus, and other Open Source ToolsCrafting Digital Media by Daniel James

My book Crafting Digital Media: Audacity, Blender, Drupal, GIMP, Scribus, and other Open Source Tools is now available to buy from Springer in the US and UK, as well as local bookshops.

I wrote this book so that more people could find out about the great range and excellent quality of Free Software applications now available. I'm looking forward to hearing what readers think about the book, and about the projects that they have created using the tools and techniques described.

I'd also like to hear about features you would like to see on this website which would help you get more out of the book. Discussion forums? Sample materials for the tutorials? Extra hints and tips? I'm thinking about adding all these things, and more.

To get involved, create an account for yourself using the boxes over there on the left side of this page, and start posting comments!

Audio interconnects: snake oil?

If you want to read the most creative sales literature imaginable, sample the marketing material for audio interconnect cables. The esoteric end of the hi-fi market offers cable products which claim to deliver the highest possible quality, and yet these products aren't used in even the best-equipped recording studios. If the recording is being made with 'lesser' cable, then I fail to understand how a more expensive product can reveal hidden sonic detail in the recording when it is played back in a domestic environment.

I thought I'd already seen the world's most ridiculous, overpriced audio cable, but then I saw the 'proprietary' Denon AK-DL1 digital audio interconnect. Retailing at $499 US dollars, it looks uncannily like an ordinary RJ45 ethernet cable costing around 1% as much, albeit with pretty woven jacketing. I was especially bemused to find out that the AK-DL1 is meant to be directional - having spent nearly $500 on a 1.5 metre network cable, you wouldn't want to connect it up the 'wrong way round'.

To send multiple channels of losless digital audio over network cables, you can use the NetJack extension to the JACK sound server. Not only is NetJack a Free Software download, it works with ordinary network cable too!

Morevna Project creates Anime with Free Software

Not unlike the Blender Foundation's Open Movie projects, the Morevna Project is aiming to create a full-length movie in the Anime genre, using only Free Software tools. The main applications in use are:

The project looks like it has a lot of work still to do, and so the organisers are appealing for creative people to get involved.

Dinosaur Jr. and the loudness war

On listening to the Dinosaur Jr. album Farm, I became convinced that the CD was merely the latest casualty in the loudness war, and had been excessively limited on purpose. Instead, the band's label PIAS has claimed that there was a mistake at the duplication plant in Europe, and has offered a free replacement CD to anyone who sends back the original disc. If only the duplication plant had used Jamin (covered in chapter 10 of Crafting Digital Media) to check the master, a lot of trouble could have been avoided. I now have the second pressing of the disc, which is 3dB quieter but sounds a lot, lot better.

Still, PIAS should be commended for offering a refund once the mistake was discovered. This is in stark contrast to Metallica's refusal to remaster their album Death Magnetic, despite a petition from over 21,000 fans of the band.

Beatboxing, live looping and Free Software

Take a look at the street performer Dub FX on YouTube; the layers of music he can create using just one microphone and a looping pedal are pretty impressive! There are a couple of Free Software programs that can be used for live looping - one is SooperLooper (GNU/Linux, Mac) and another is Freewheeling (GNU/Linux, Mac). Check out Patrick Shirkey's tutorial on using Freewheeling with Hydrogen too.

Project files used in the book chapters

Here are the project files used as examples in several of the chapters of Crafting Digital Media. Please leave a comment if you have any problems opening the individual files.

Producing a book with Scribus

Out of the Cold Blue, page 2Out of the Cold Blue, page 2

While working on my own book, I've also been typesetting a 240 page poetry book by Richard McKane using Scribus, for the publisher Hearing Eye. Years ago I used to use Quark Xpress for this sort of project, so I was pleased to find out that Free Software can now do the same job.

I used the font Deja Vu Book because of its support for the Turkish characters used in the manuscript, which used to be a real typesetting challenge on proprietary software. Modern Turkish has all kinds of characters that aren't used in the standard Latin alphabet - the letter i with no dot, for instance. Most fonts left these characters out, and when importing documents the software often failed to recognise them, leaving the pages to be manually corrected. Fortunately, Scribus and GNU/Linux have much better support for internationalisation than the System 7 and System 8 Macs that I learned typesetting on.

These are my tips for book production with Scribus:
Out of the Cold Blue, front coverOut of the Cold Blue, front cover

1. Use the latest upstream stable version of Scribus. The GNU/Linux distribution packages are often a release or two behind, and you really don't want that.

2. Unless you have a very fast CPU in your computer, break the book document up into sections or chapters - it will make the editing process much more bearable. It also keeps the sections separate at the proofing and corrections stage.

3. Import master pages from one section to another to maintain consistency, such as margin and page number formatting.

4. Export each section as an individual PDF file. Then use pdftk to stitch the sections together into a single inside pages PDF for your litho platemaker or print-on-demand digital press. No doubt the cover will be required as a separate PDF anyway.

The cover for this particular book was designed by my friend and colleague Valerie Mondesir. We worked together at Copyart, then part of InterChange Studios in Kentish Town, London, during the 1990's.

Table of contents

This is the table of contents for the book. I had to limit myself to covering just a few applications per chapter, but I do mention alternative programs in each section.

Part 1, Introduction

1. Working with Free Software
A general introduction.

2. Getting Started
with Ubuntu installation.

Part 2, Tools

3. Photography
with the Gimp, F-Spot, gThumb, and XSane.

4. Illustration and Font Design
with Inkscape and FontForge.

5. Animation
with Synfig and KToon.

6. 3D Modelling
with Blender.

7. Publishing
with Scribus.

8. Making Music
with Mixxx, Seq24 and Hydrogen.

9. Recording Audio
with Audacity and Ardour.

10. Mixing and Mastering
with LADSPA and Jamin.

11. Video Editing
with Avidemux and Open Movie Editor.

12. Web Content
with Drupal CMS and Icecast.

Part 3, Appendixes

Appendix 1: GNU/Linux command-line quick reference.

Appendix 2: GNU Free Documentation License.