by April 12, 2002 0 comments



In most company meetings, usually someone notes the minutes for future reference and for informing those who were unable to attend. The accuracy of these minutes therefore is totally dependant upon the efficiency of the person who writes them. If the person wasn’t attentive, or misunderstood some point, it can lead to miscommunication later. In such cases, it becomes important to store the discussion exactly as it was held, and make it available to others later. One way is to make the recordings on a Dictaphone, and face the hassles of managing the resulting audiocassettes later. The other way is to record the proceedings, convert them to digital format, archive them on your intranet, and stream them to whoever wants them. The way to embed audio on your Intranet isn’t very difficult, and we’ll talk about it in this article. 

The process to do it can be divided into three logical steps: record, store and present. 

First record
Recordings can be done for just the audio, or both video and audio. The equipment will, of course, be different for the two, and video will require more hard-drive space. Recording audio does not need a very elaborate setup. You can use a PC or a laptop with a microphone running a sound recorder software to directly record the audio as WAV files. Or if you really want to be creative, then you can use a Dictaphone or tape-recorder to record on tape, and then record it onto a PC by connecting the recorders line out to your sound card’s line in port. 

If you already have a setup for recording video footage, say a DV (Digital Video) camera, or a regular VHS one, you can use it to for recording the meetings. A DV camera will feed its output directly to a PC for processing. The ordinary camera will store everything on a videocassette, which in turn needs to be captured using appropriate hardware and software on the PC. After this, you can extract just the audio from the footage or keep the entire thing to make it more tasteful. There’s audio stripping software available to appropriate hardware and software on the PC. After this, you can extract the audio from the recordings, or if you have an AV input source (like a VCR or a HandyCam), the audio can even be recorded separately from the source itself. 

The recorded WAV files are very large in size, and should be converted to another file format that uses file compression, like MP3 or WMA. Before that, however, it’s better to edit the WAV file to remove unnecessary sequences from the recording, such as useless cross talk, humor or silence gaps. If there was a lot of background noise, you will need to filter it out, cut down distortions, apply enhancement filters, and level out the volumes (called normalization). Anything beyond that such as adding additional voice comments, etc is totally up to you. Though a multitude of audio editors are available, we prefer something like GoldWave, which is simple to use and also effective in terms of the editing options it gives. Once edited, we move on to compress the audio data for storage.

Then store/archive
The methodology for storing the audio data is determined by a lot of factors. These include file format converted to, availability of compatible playback software, desired quality, available storage space, method of end-user presentation, etc. The choices of file formats include Microsoft’s Windows Media, Real Network’s Real Media, or even the open source MP3. Since these would be simple speech recordings, choice of format really depends upon the playback software you have, and not the playback quality. 

For storing the audio media content, you can go for commercial solutions specifically meant for this; or use other ready alternatives. Basically, you need a machine with a lot of storage space that can stream audio to lots of users. You can use your existing intranet server, but it’s not recommended because streaming (presentation) demands a lot of system resources and may slow down the server. Instead, look at a dedicated machine with lots of hard disk space, a fast processor and plenty of RAM because each connecting user would be allocated some server resources. 

Besides the hardware, you’ll also need software for managing and presenting the content. You could use a music or MP3 cataloguing software (plenty available on the Net), which would properly catalogue the data and index it to make it searchable. 

Time to present
The audio can be delivered to the machines in a number of ways. Most commonly, it’s streamed to the LAN and users just connect to the streams. This can be a single stream or a broadcast. The delivery backend would be streaming server software. Available options are Windows Media Encoder, Real Producer/Server or even a free MP3 streaming server like ShoutCast. Install one of these streaming servers on the same machine you use for archiving the audio content. 

If you already have an intranet website running, audio can be integrated with it. All you need is to make a Web page and insert hyperlinks to the content. These links can be to streams or to content-on-demand (the latter will download a audio file locally on the machine). You may even embed players like Real Player or Windows Media Player on the Web page itself (see last issue of
PCQuest). And if you are skeptical about bandwidth issues, there are none, because even a good quality voice stream will not take up more than 18 kbps.

Going a step further, this audio content on the LAN can even be integrated with your knowledge management solution so as to readily serve as a source of information at any time. Possibilities are endless and there are no constraints with technology.

The lighter side
What other audio content can there be on the intranet? Well, MP3 songs is one option. Keep them all in one place and stream them to anybody who wants to listen, similar to tuning to a radio station. Shoutcast is one such solution, which combined with the Winamp ShoutCast plug-in (both of which are on this month’s CD), can stream music to your network. The streaming works by directing Winamp’s output to the SHOUTcast server through the plug-in.

Configure MP3 server
Open Winamp, and the SHOUTcast Source plug-in window pops up, which has four tabs. The first shows the current status of your streams. You can stream five separate streams, each one with different encoding parameters. The Output tab is where you specify the address of the SHOUTcast server, a free port to use, the administration password and the encoder to use. Select the encoding parameters from the Encoder tab, but remember that choosing higher bit-rates here takes more bandwidth. Finally the Input tab lets you choose the input source, which can either be Winamp or your sound card. The latter will let you stream from your sound card’s line-in or microphone jack. Now start the Shoutcast Server’s GUI from the Windows Start Menu and hit connect on the Output tab in the plug-in window. 

Change settings 
players like Real Player or Windows Media Player on the Web page itself (see last issue of
PCQuest). And if you are skeptical about bandwidth issues, there are none, because even a good quality voice stream will not take up more than 18 kbps.

Going a step further, this audio content on the LAN can even be integrated with your knowledge management solution so as to readily serve as a source of information at any time. Possibilities are endless and there are no constraints with technology.

The lighter side
What other audio content can there be on the intranet? Well, MP3 songs is one option. Keep them all in one place and stream them to anybody who wants to listen, similar to tuning to a radio station. Shoutcast is one such solution, which combined with the Winamp ShoutCast plug-in (both of which are on this month’s CD), can stream music to your network. The streaming works by directing Winamp’s output to the SHOUTcast server through the plug-in.

Configure MP3 server
Open Winamp, and the SHOUTcast Source plug-in window pops up, which has four tabs. The first shows the current status of your streams. You can stream five separate streams, each one with different encoding parameters. The Output tab is where you specify the address of the SHOUTcast server, a free port to use, the administration password and the encoder to use. Select the encoding parameters from the Encoder tab, but remember that choosing higher bit-rates here takes more bandwidth. Finally the Input tab lets you choose the input source, which can either be Winamp or your sound card. The latter will let you stream from your sound card’s line-in or microphone jack. Now start the Shoutcast Server’s GUI from the Windows Start Menu and hit connect on the Output tab in the plug-in window. 

Change settings 
All server settings are stored in a file called ‘sc_serv_gui.ini’. To edit it, Click on ‘Edit Config’ in the server GUI. This will open up a new text document called sc_serv_gui. ini. Go to the directory where you installed the server and copy the contents of the file sc_serv.ini to this text document. This file let’s you change things like maximum users allowed, password, port number and much more. 

The server can also be remotely administered through any Web browser by connecting to the URL http://your_server_IP:port number. Here you can do things like ban specific user IPs, kick users, see server statistics and more. 

Tune in
To listen to the stream, users will also need to install Winamp. In Winamp open the playlist window, click on Add URL, and enter your server’s IP address and port. After a brief interval of buffering you should start receiving the stream.

Ashish Sharma and Sachin Makhija

Software: Voice Paging 

A voice-paging application lets you broadcast messages across all or selected members of a company. The benefit: a simple and cost effective way to make public announcements, share information and manage crisis situations by quickly sending critical voice messages to the intended recipients. 

One application is NetBeeper from Network Programs India. It works on client/server model, and uses VoIP and IP multicasting technologies. Every machine has both the client and server installed. It works on Win 9x/NT/2000 machines, having a speaker and microphone. The server application is used to broadcast voice messages across a group of clients. 

The server has a simple interface, with the look-n-feel of a mobile phone. It has four main buttons: Enable Call, Disable Call, Paging and Stop. A Call From edit box that displays the IP address of the client machine in case of a point-to-point conversation. The status of the server at any point is also available in another edit box on its main interface. 

The Client, too, has four buttons: Enable, Disable, Ack/Reply and Quit. Its edit box shows the status of the client. As soon as you start the client, paging will be enabled by default. You can use the disable button if you don’t want to listen to any broadcast messages. The Ack/Reply button is used to start voice conversation with the server. 

Once installed, you’ll have to make a few configuration settings using the NetBeeper Configuration tool from
Start>Programs>NetBeeper>NetBeeper Configuration. You’ll have to provide the IP address of the server and the multicast IP address on which you want to wait for the broadcast messages. It works fine with the default value.

The way the software works is: You click on the Paging button on the server application to broadcast a message across to the clients and speak your message using a microphone. After the message has been sent across and you wish to hear a response from the client, click on the Enable Call Button on the server. At the client end, the user will have to click on the Ack/Reply button to initiate a conversation with the server. Post this, a pop-up message appears on the server machine showing the client’s IP address trying to initiate a conversation. It’s up to the server to accept or reject a conversation. The client application sits in the system tray and you can keep it running continuously.

While the application is simple to use and works fine, it has a few limitations. For one, you can’t restrict the broadcast to select clients. It will go to all clients having NetBeeper installed. Plus, there are two separate GUIs for the client and server, which the user has to shuffle between during usage. Apparently, Network Programs is planning to make these changes in their upgrade version to this. The cost of the application is also pretty steep at $100 per seat.

For more see www.networkprograms.com

Neelima Vaid

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