Some wicked multimedia tools…

At the Online News Association’s annual conference last week in San Francisco, I showed a few cool tools journalists might find uses for.

The first tool I showed was Swivel. This is a great and easy tool for taking data and creating interactive graphics from them. Here’s an example:

Swivel is free, though if you want to keep the data private, you have to pony up some cash.

The second tool I showed was AudioBoo. This is a nifty podcasting app for the iPhone. Not for listening podcasts, but for making them. Here’s how it works:

  1. Download the app
  2. Create an AudioBoo account
  3. Use the app to record audio
  4. Snap a photo to go with the audio
  5. Title the audio and tag it with keywords
  6. Publish the clip

The result is both a file and an RSS feed that one can subscribe to through iTunes. One can also automatically publish the audio to Twitter, Posterous, Tumblr, and more.

Here’s an example of the embedded audio player:

Those were the two main tools, but we had some extra time, so I offered two bonus tools.

The first bonus tool wasn’t really a tool, so much as just something too damn cool not to show. Specifically, Yelp!’s secret “Monocle” augmented reality tool. Basically, it works by layering information over a live camera image. Here, watch this YouTube video to better explain it:


And here’s the last one: regular expressions, also known as grep, or pattern-matching search.

Basically, this is a method of search or find-and-replace that uses wild cards and variables. Say, for example, you have a list of names, like this:

  • Jefferson, Thomas
  • Washington, George
  • Adams, John
  • Franklin, Benjamin
  • Lincoln, Abraham
  • Hancock, John
  • Jay, John

And, you want to change the order of each name to make it first name, space, last name. That is, instead of “Jefferson, Thomas” you want “Thomas Jefferson.”

Without grep/regular expressions, you’d have to cut/paste a bunch of names or retype them. (Or, you could find the comma and replace it with a tab, copy the lines to an Excel spreadsheet, change the orders of the columns, then copy the lines back to a text editor and then find/replace the tabs with spaces.) But, there’s a far easier way.

If you have a grep-enabled text editor, like TextMate, TextWrangler or BBEdit (among others), simply search for this:

(.*), (.*)

and replace with this:

2 1

So, how does that work? Simple. The period is a wild card for any character. The asterisk means “repeat.” So .* means “any character followed by any character, followed by any character, etc.” Because .* is followed by a comma and a space, that first set will find all the characters until it reaches a comma and space. And the parenthesis assigns that text string to a variable. So, it will find “Jefferson” and assign it the variable “1.” (The first set of parentheses gets the variable “1,” the second set of parentheses gets “2” and so on.)

After the space, another .* will find the remainder of the line and, thanks to the parenthesis, assign it the variable “2.”

Finally, it replaces what it finds with the value of “2,” followed by a space, followed by the variable “1.”

See? Yeah, I know it’s kind of obtuse. But, play with it and check out this awesome grep reference site.