First Coders at Work interview done

The interviewing has begun! Yesterday I sat with the people’s choice, Peter Norvig for our first interview session. I’ve also signed up Joe Armstrong, inventor of Erlang, and Bernie Cosell, one of the software geniuses behind the original ARPANET IMPs. Both of these guys were not only kind enough to agree to be interviewed but also invited me to stay in their homes when I travel to interview them. Simon Peyton Jones has also agreed to be interviewed assuming the publisher of another book of interviews that has already signed him up for a group interview about Haskell doesn’t object. I’ve got a half-dozen other queries out with more on the way. Hopefully soon I’ll have my full roster of sixteen interviewees signed up and can start figuring out how to stretch my rather small travel budget to get me all the places I need to go to do the interviews.

On a geekier note, after I did a practice interview with a friend and went to try out the transcription software I had downloaded, I discovered that it didn’t understand the WMA files that my digital voice recorder produces. Turns out on GNU/Linux the best way to convert WMA to MP3 involves using the program Mplayer to convert the WMA to a WAV file. While skimming through the Mplayer man page I discovered it has a “slave mode” where you can type commands at it. “Hey,” I thought, “If I can control it by typing commands at it that means I can also control it by having Emacs type commands at it.” A bit of elisp hacking later and I turned Emacs+Mplayer into a quite nice bit of transcription software. A few features:

  • Auto-insertion of timestamps into the transcript at the beginning of each paragraph.
  • Rewinding the audio back to the previous timestamp at the touch of a key (combo).
  • Automatically backing up a few seconds when I pause.

I experimented with having it automatically pause whenever I hit the backspace key and resume when I started typing again but that didn’t turn out to be as handy as I thought it would. The nice thing, of course, about having written my own software to do this is that as I get into the work of transcribing all these interviews I’ll be able to spend an endless amount of time procrastinating by fiddling with my transcription software. Er, that is, I’ll be able to tweak it just the way I want it to maximize my transcribing efficiency. (Ironically, because of either a limitation of the WMA format or a bug in Mplayer the jumping to timestamps doesn’t work quite right when transcribing WMA files so I still end up having to convert to MP3 files.)

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