Sunday, June 03, 2007

What's In Your Gear Bag?

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Anyone in the media, whether a professional or Citizen Journalist, should have hardware and software "toolkits" to expedite collection and dissemination of information. Your physical kit should consist of the following (I'm using the items I carry: feel free to substitute your own devices):

1 - COBY CX-R45 AM/FM Stereo Cassette Recorder [new approx. $17.98 USD]

1 - Panasonic Microphone w/clip [from old Panasonic cassette recorder: it's unusually high quality]

1 - miniplug to miniplug patch cord [for dubbing]

1 - Sony IC recorder ICD-B10 [back-up]

1 - other patchcord (various kinds: pick the one you would use the most) [mini to RCA]

1 - digital camera (small or USB/flash) I've seen many reporters use cell-phone cameras too, with very good results. [I use a small simple Kodak digital]

1 - set of spare batteries (highest quality you can afford: there are also rechargeables that can by used in solar cell rechargers)

* I have everything packed in a 7"x4"x3" 2-compartment bag w/carrying strap - with this equipment I can go forth and confidently cover any story in the field.

More ideas and tips for reporters.

Your software tools should be compiled to give you maximum efficiency and if you're on dial-up, you'll need to be especially choosy and experiment to find whatever system works best for you. Mash up, cobble and configure!

Look for new ways to apply old techniques and don't be afraid to try new things: I got some great ideas from Sokari Ekine’s notes from the conference on mobile activism in Africa, which recently took place in Kenya. Here are a few:

Scribe is a small and fast email client with an intergrated contact database and calendar. It supports all the major internet mail protocols and uses international standards where possible. Scribe doesn't require installing or uninstalling and can be run straight off a floppy disk or USB stick! It allows you to manage email accounts, check your mail periodically, color code messages and preview them on the server. It comes with a bayesian spam filter and translations to many different languages. Updates are published regularly to respond to problems and to add features. Because Scribe runs on Windows and Linux you can take your mail with you when you change operating system. And don't worry about viruses, Scribe protects you from the usual security holes in other email clients with it's own virus safe HTML control and executable attachment protection.

ASTERISKTelephony Toolkit
Asterisk can send post-connect DTMF digits and waits. For example, if you were to add this to extensions_custom.conf in FreePBX or Trixbox:

exten => *20,1,Dial(Local/18005558355@outbound-allroutes,,D(wwwwww932))
exten => *20,2,Hangup

Assuming you had a route for U.S. 1-800 numbers, when the user dials *20 it would place a call to the "TellMe" service, then wait three seconds, then send DTMF for 932 ("WEA") which would take you directly to the WEAther forecast section (to further automate it for a particular location, you could add a few more waits - I've found that wwwwwwww is about right - after the 932, and then a five-digit U.S. zip code). The point is that the caller never hears the tones that are being sent because the audio path doesn't connect until after the digits have been sent (which would make this technique useful for sending account codes, etc.)

Complete instructions for routing calls using a free international calling service

AllFreeCalls.net - free international calls to Argentina (some locations), Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil (Rio De Janerio), Canada, China, Christmas & Cocos Is., Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico (some locations), Netherlands, Norway, Poland (Warsaw), Portugal, Russia (Moscow, St. Peterburg), Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and U.S.A. (including Hawaii, Puerto Rico).

SIPURA 2000 Hardphone. Phone + VOIP in a box (costs $40). Works with any phone, needs internet connection (GPRS / Dial up does not work)

Democratic Surveillance System - Datadyne
New: EpiSurveyor 1.1.4 release -- Click to download
A mini database on your PDA and certain cellphones with incoming and outgoing facility. Can be used for surveys with data being sent immediately. Can also call up data from other sources or surveys if needed when out in the field. EpiSurveyor is a free, open source tool enabling anyone to very easily create a handheld data entry form, collect data on a mobile device, and then transfer the data back to a desktop or laptop for analysis -- without expensive consultants, software subscriptions, or long-term contracts

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