Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Stuff That Works

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 30, 2011

I was in Israel for most of the past month, doing research for a book. That’s why I haven’t been able to deliver a new Writing Wednesday each week. My apologies!

The sojourn in the Holy Land produced mucho grist for future WWs, however. But we can bang one post out immediately: Product Recommendations.

Stuff I took with me that actually worked.

H4n

The ZOOM H4n recorder: Two Thumbs Up!

I offer the following consumer report (with NO connections, financial or otherwise, to any product recommended or reviled below) for my fellow aspiring journalist/novelist globetrotters …

1. SwissGear IBEX laptop backpack.

I had noticed, doing book signings at West Point, that the cadets all had black Victorinix rucksacks that they carried their books in. My friend Lisa Corsiglia turned me on to the civilian version. I bought one ($99.99 at Best Buy) just for the Israel trip and it was great. The interior is divided into layered pockets, one on top of the other. One has a sleeve for a laptop (or a sweater or windbreaker), then four more pockets of decreasing sizes. Perfect for recording gear, cameras, passports, iPads, water bottles. I used it every day and it was a joy to work with.

2. Zoom H4n digital recorder.

I knew I was going to be doing a ton of interviewing, so I wanted something pro-level for sound quality, reliability and ease of use. My friend Mike Sita, who’s a video and sound editor, ordered this for me for $299 from B&H Photo on Ninth Avenue in NY. It worked great the whole way. The device takes memory cards—1G to 16G—which I found to be ideal. A 4G card records about an hour and can be swapped out in two or three minutes.

Two disadvantages to the H4n: it’s hand-sized, too bulky to stick in a shirt pocket for walk-and-talks—and if it has a mike jack, I couldn’t find it. For outdoor interviews I had to use a mini-recorder with a lavalier mike.

3. Olympus DS-30 mini-recorder.

I walked around Jerusalem one whole day with tour guide Roni Gilo. I was able to stick this recorder in his shirt pocket and pin a lavalier mike to his collar. Only problem: not enough memory. The DS-30 doesn’t take cards; memory is all self-contained.  Two hours and the window said “MEMORY FULL.” Not good.

4. Olympus WS-700M micro recorder.

This one did take micro-cards, up to 16 gigs. Only problem: the first card jammed in the slot and I couldn’t get it out (it’s still jammed now.) Bottom line: $99.99 and a total bust.

I used my iPhone’s recorder as a further backup. Not bad. And my MacBook laptop with a free downloaded VLC program. Didn’t use this enough to give a report, but it looked promising for indoor use.

5. Data roaming.

My hotel in Tel Aviv had wi-fi but I wound up paying extra to AT&T for a month of overseas data roaming. Expensive ($199) but worth it to get e-mails on my iPhone and to have local GPS, which was indispensable.

I never figured out how to use a SIM card. I wound up borrowing a cell phone for local calls. Any advice, readers? Help!

6. Dropbox.com.

Webmaster Jeff Simon set me up with this, which proved invaluable. Dropbox is the cloud. I have iCloud on my MacBook but I’ve had troubles with it—like 22 hours to upload a one-hour interview—and I didn’t want to take a chance on the highly-lauded but, in my opinion, totally indecipherable Apple system.

Dropbox is a free download, with a premium version available. I used the free one and it had more than plenty of storage space, even though I used so much memory on this trip that I maxed out the hard drive in my MacBook.

It would take me an hour to ninety minutes each night at my hotel to upload to Dropbox.com what I had recorded during the day, but that included copying the files to iTunes, then compressing them from .wav format to MP3. Way worth it, as my primal dread on this trip was to spend XX thousand dollars to get XX critical interviews and then lose everything when someone stole my laptop.

7. Hertz at Ben-Gurion Airport.

My friend Danny’s laptop was stolen out of the trunk of my Hertz car at the airport. Enough said.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

14 Responses to “Stuff That Works”

  1. Tony
    November 30, 2011 at 1:48 am

    “The sojourn in the Holy Land produced mucho grist for future WWs”

    Grist for future World Wars?

    :)

  2. November 30, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Thanks Steve, I’m going to check out that backpack. And Dropbox is fantastic. Combine that with Google Docs, and my backup/sharing hassles are over.

    • December 2, 2011 at 11:39 pm

      Evernote is another must have.

  3. November 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    the link for the backpack takes you to the Wenger site; and even searching for IBEX there doesn’t bring up the product. I did find it as mentioned for $99 on the BestBuy web site and it looks great and very functional. Thank you for the recommendations.

  4. Jimmy
    November 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    This is good information!

    I usually come here for inspiration. So this post is a pleasant surprise that is also helpful.

    Thanks!

  5. November 30, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Has anyone had any luck with voice to text? Like Dragon Naturally Speaking who seems to be the leader, but has several flavors confusing me.
    I’d like to be able to talk ideas while walking or driving and just dump the mp3 or wav to text then edit. That Zoom looks nice.
    Thanks.

  6. November 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    The best voice to text tool is a good transcriptionist. You can get an hour of voice typed, proofread, formatted, and generally made beautiful and useful, for about $150. Naturally Speaking is good. It requires training, and you wanna get the version that supports transcribing recorded audio, and not just live audio (you talking, vs. drop an MP3 in and let ‘er rip.)

    I love my Amazon S3 account. Ten cents US per GB of data for storage on Amazon’s servers. Chances of data loss are probably less than zero, and it all operates through a web interface, even on my antique Mac. Free to set up, dirt cheap to use, secure as Amazon.

    I’m sad the Zoom doesn’t have a remote mic plug. They’re stupendous for recording live music, but if you can’t multitask it for standing out in a field, well, that’s sad.

    What if laptops had an exploding orange dye pack in them? Gotta be a way.

  7. Sonja
    November 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Have been meaning to get a dropbox account. Thanks for the scoop, Steven. : )

  8. December 1, 2011 at 12:05 am

    Steven,
    You actually can use an external mic with the Zoom H4N. On the backside, right above the external speaker, is the input. You can use a lavalier mic.
    Remember, once you are plugged in, that will mean the external mic pickups will not record sound. So, check your recording levels once you’ve placed the lavalier on the person before you record for good. Blown out audio sucks for editors.
    And, it’s always an excellent idea to read the Zoom owners manual so you know how to make it work best for you.

  9. Ronald Sieber
    December 1, 2011 at 7:09 am

    Regarding SIM cards, I always buy one in a phone kiosk upon entering a country, then have the attendant install it, fire it up and test it out. New country, new card. Usually cheap.
    I have also purchased simple phones with phone minutes in an effort to KISS (not lose my expensive phone overseas, etc.).

  10. Annette
    December 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Hi Steven,
    If the Zoom H4 is too bulky I recommend the Zoom H2. Its the same quality just smaler but its one I use all the time. The recording quality is superb. The Zoom H4 is almost like a mini recording studio. Both devices record in WAV file which you can convert into MP4. You can import the WAV files into Pro Tools and add all sorts of effects on vocals….amazing piece of technology.
    Love it!!

  11. December 2, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Allow me to suggest a pocket USB hard drive like the WD Passport. It fits into a shirt pocket and in several years’ use mine has remained reliable (though treated with care). Mine is 1Tb, half for my Time Machine backup and half for additional file storage (my MacBook has “only” a 350Gb drive). That would give you yet another backup medium that would be quite fast and that you could carry separately from your MacBook. They’re currently about $100 and IMHO a very inexpensive way to sleep better at night.

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