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In fulfillment of [ profile] shadesong's request for a birthday poem, and also partial fulfillment of my pledge to do something creative for certain people in 2009, I hereby submit There Are Scars, a Lou Reedish number very much inspired by Her Songfulness.

Click here to listen to There Are Scars.

Lyrics and chords follow.

G                    C
There are scars that define us
G                    C
There are scars that shine
G                          C
There are scars we don't remember receiving
G                             C
It must've been a pretty good time

E7                        Am7
There are scars we didn't ask for
E7                Am7
In places I won't say
We make them ours anyway

There are scars that keep us warm
There are scars that align
(Yours and mine)

There are scars we are proud of when we see them in the mirror
Every time

There are scars that whisper
There are scars that bind

There are scars that are mostly internal
But now and they show outside
There are scars that provide
There are scars that are tougher than steel
Scars that slowly fade away
Day by day

There are scars that will never heal
Sometimes I like it that way

F#                           G#        A#       
I'm slightly broken and it's not a bad thing

            D#          C#        B            
I won't get jaded and I won't get bored
You won't be ignored

There are scars that never cease to inspire
Our souls will never be poor
Mine and yours

I push the limits and I run out of wax
Sometimes I burn my fingers
Don't want to relax

There are scars that drive us
There are scars that attract

We don't just linger what we do is abide
And I refuse to make a suicide pact

There are scars
There are scars
Yours and mine
There are scars
There are scars
Yours and mine
Yours and mine

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I am not materialistic. As a general rule.

But I just bought an Audio Buddy pre-amp, by M-Audio. And I need to be alone with it.

Last week I bought an XLR to mini-jack cable, which improved my recordings but only a little. I did yet more research and learned that the line-in jack of the Macbook is expressly line-level only and not suitable for the low voltage output of a good dynamic microphone like, let's say, my Shure SM-58. Which I have been underutilizing for at least two years now.

I read about awesome-but-expensive solution— lots of high-end USB audio input solutions. But I considered the facts:

1. I have a Mac
2. Macs are built for awesome
3. It has a line-in jack, which promises to be awesome at line level
4. I was throwing something far below line level at it and it was darn near coping already.

That led me to the M-Audio Audio Buddy. But I still had doubts about its affordability. Until I headed over to Musician's Friend and found it on sale for $59. Even less, scratch and dent.

The Audio Buddy is a simple little box with two channels— quarter-inch and XLR mic inputs, and quarter-inch outputs. You can get "stereo" output from it in order to record two tracks at once to, let's say, a Mac.

I missed the quarter-inch output issue when purchasing and didn't have the quarter-inch to mini-jack cable ready to go when it arrived, but a miracle happened: Radio Shack actually had them in stock for the reasonable price of $7.

The end result: awesome. Really, really awesome. I turn it up just a tiny bit and the Mac sucks up beautiful, noise-free sound. My long national nightmare is over.

All I have to do now is play competently. Crap, I knew there was a catch!

I can definitely recommend this unit to budget podcasters who are willing to spend a modest sum to GREATLY improve their home recording studio.

I also bought a pair of claves. And Eleanor taught me the right way to hold them, although it doesn't seem to make much difference with this pair. The claves themselves are an interesting recording challenge: I have to hold them WAYYY back from the mic to avoid clipping. But they sound quite decent once I do that.
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Last week I pledged to create something for the first five people who replied to the post. Surprisingly, only four people did. If you want to be recipient number five, go comment on that post now Edit: aaaand [ profile] shadesong makes five!

So I recorded a little ditty called Australia, which you can listen to or download on

But the big catch here is that I wrote this song with lucky recipient [ profile] xtingu's voice in mind, not my own! So I'm really hoping to hear her version of it. Possibly in partial fulfillment of her own obligations under the very same LiveJournal meme.

[ profile] xtingu, I can record a karaoke backup track if need be. Working with musicians more instrumentally skilled than myself is also more than okay!

I ended up recording this with my mac's built-in mic, which did a pretty good job, considering. But at least I wound up ordering the proper cable for my real mic. I'll probably rerecord it once I have that, and do separate vocal and guitar trax, and so on.

Lyrics and chords. )
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SO tired of struggling with sound recording problems. My Mac's built in mic is handy for google talk but too noisy for music. The line-in jack has static. And my Griffin iMic is all but perfect EXCEPT for occasional really LOUD pops which I'm sick and tired of manually correcting.

I also have a dumb, clunky "XLR cable to XLR-to-quarter-inch-plug-adapter to mini-plug adapter" thing going on, and there's a short somewhere in that arrangement unless I arrange everything just so. This much, I can fix easy: I've ordered an XLR to mini jack cable. Just. Stop. The. Madness.

I'm wondering if the static on the Mac's line-in jack will go away with that fix. I doubt it, because it's probably generated by the computer itself. Which is why the USB device (on its long cord) is a better plan, except for the damn pops.
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Don't Stop Tu Amor: Journey meets Marc Anthony )
Simple download link for those who have embed trouble (because we've only had this technology for over a decade now and it shouldn't be expected to work).

Don't Stop Tu Amor: Journey meets Marc Anthony. My first mashup. Whee!

I used Audacity to make this.

Some notes on making mashups with Audacity:

1. You must use Audacity 1.3, even though it is "still in beta" (after several years). Audacity 1.3 has the concept of splitting tracks into sections that can be easily moved around. Without that feature you will lose your sanity much more quickly.

2. You'll need to shift the songs into the same key. The simplest and cleanest-sounding way is to shift one song into the key of the other, and leave the second song as-is. If you don't already know what key a song is in you can usually figure it out quickly Googling for "don't stop believin chords" or similar. To change the key of a song, select "Change Pitch" from Audacity's Effects menu. Audacity can change the key of a song without changing the tempo, which is pretty awesome.

3. Matching up the tempo is 99% of everything. Some notes on how to do that:

Audacity has a great effect for this. Look for Effects -> Change Pitch and Tempo -> Change Tempo.

Treat one of the songs as the master, and bringing in small portions of the second song, a few measures at a time, on additional tracks. Make sure you're in sync on the portion you've done so far before you move on to the next. Adjust the tempo of each chunk of the second song individually.

The tempo adjustment effect can work in percentages, beats per minute or exact length terms. Exact length is very useful because you can use this approach, which I unfortunately didn't discover until just now:

A. Select the portion of the first song you're trying to match tempo with (presumably you've imported it as the first track of your project).
B. Turn on the "Length" radio box at the bottom of the Audacity window.
C. The length of the selection is displayed. Write it down.
D. Select the portion of the second song (imported into a separate project) that you plan to sync with this portion of the first song.
E. Paste it into place in the mashup project.
F. Select "Change Tempo" from the Effects menu. Enter the length you wrote down for the relevant segment of the first song as the length to change to and click OK.

If the tempo of the first song is consistent you'll be able to copy, paste and reuse the chunks you adjust in this way.

You have multiple senses, so use them. Don't try to sync up the tempo purely by ear. Mute the second track and play back the first, keeping your eyes on the second track. If there are clear drumbeats visible in the waveform of the second track, it'll be easy to see whether you need to shift the second track backwards or forwards.

Once you know which way to move, use Audacity's "time shift tool" (the doubleheaded arrow) to move chunks of music around. This is very helpful.

4. I broke this rule a lot, but... it's a lot easier to make a great-sounding track if you avoid using segments of the second song that have vocals in them, or at least keep the vocal segments to a minimum. I was in a bit of a bind because I really, really wanted some Marc Anthony vocals in the final product. But if I used them too much Journey would just disappear: Don't Stop Believin' is a classic (shut up, it is) but it can easily drown in the richer soundscape of a salsa track. So for most of the song I borrowed from the relatively simple and vocal-free intro segment of Tu Amor Me Hace Bien.

5. Sometimes when you paste material into track #2, Audacity will insist on moving the rest of track #1 an equal distance to the right, for no special reason. This is incredibly annoying, but I've discovered that you can work around it by pasting material into track #2 beyond the end of track #1. Then use the time shift tool to move that material back to where you really wanted it. A pain? Definitely. But it helped me get the job done.
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Click for player.... )

Also, a direct link to download the MP3 for those who have issues with embedding for whatever reason.

I think I should record the Monday Fourteens more often. What thinkest thou?

Busy 2

Aug. 5th, 2008 09:15 pm
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"Hey, Tom hasn't written a song in a while! Oh wait..."

Make with the clickage yo!

I don't have much time for songwriting these days, much less editing. But I just got my guitar back and I was real happy to see it.

This strikes me as a very possible song for Somebody Else to perform, and I'd really love to hear that. As in [ profile] xtingu on vocals. With, oh I don't know, the Joe Trainor trio. Hey, I can dream.

P.S. If simple links to MP3s are still a problem for some people (i.e. they don't play), let me know. I can do the flash player thing if needed.
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I needed salsa tracks in a hurry for my new MP3 player and I haven't had time to sort out how I'm going to export my old DRMed iTunes tracks.

DJ Jay Rockwell has a great "hard salsa remix" podcast which I've listened to many times.

It's not that hard to pull down the full podcast as an MP3 file— just pull up the properties and copy and paste the URL. But that gives me one continuous 80-minute MP3... tough to skip around if you come across a track that's not working for you.

How to split it up neatly? I could pull it into an audio editor like Audacity, but that would first decode the MP3, then reencode the pieces— making a low-bitrate MP3 even worse by discarding yet more information. Not a good plan.

mp3splt to the rescue! mp3splt is a Linux command line utility that can split any MP3 file into smaller pieces, like so:

# Split at 3-minute intervals
mp3splt -t 3.0 dj_jay_rockwell.mp3

mp3splt also offers silence detection for more graceful splitting, but Jay Rockwell's megamix has no convenient pauses between songs. People might sit down if he did that.

mp3splt does the job nicely and my player devours the resulting MP3s without complaint. The filenames are a bit long, though, and that makes them less than useful for navigation on my little MP3 player. For example:


What to do? Rename them all by hand? Of course not. A quick and dirty PHP script to the rescue:

  $files = glob("*");
  $count = 1;
  foreach ($files as $file) {
    if (preg_match("/^dj_jay_rockwell_/", $file)) {
      rename($file, "djjr_$count.mp3");

Of course, if I find myself doing this often, I'll turn the beginning of the original and replacement filenames into parameters.

"PHP? What's WRONG with you, boy?" Yes, yes, go ahead, be appalled. But I do most of my professional work in PHP right now, and while it was obviously built with the web in mind, PHP is perfectly capable of "swiss army knife" command line work. Using it for that work keeps me in the groove of solving problems with PHP.

I must admit I also find it difficult to hold PHP and Perl in my head simultaneously because they are so nearly the same, yet so completely different.

You may also find it is best to rename the original file first so that the old, long filename doesn't wind up in a "helpful" ID3 tag in each of the new MP3 files, cluttering your player's display.

Ubuntu users should not, of course, run off to SourceForge and start compiling things. Always try the command first; you may have it already, or you may get a message telling you how to get it from Ubuntu's package manager without any further effort:

boutell@tombuntu:~/Music$ mp3splt
The program 'mp3splt' is currently not installed.  You can install it by typing:
sudo apt-get install mp3splt
bash: mp3splt: command not found
boutell@tombuntu:~/Music$ sudo apt-get install mp3splt

The momentary pauses between the tracks are a little bit bothersome, or maybe just amusing. If I had more time I'd look into setting up mp3splt-gtk, a GUI that might make it easy to pick my own split points for the tracks. But this is a good example of the 80-20 rule: 80% of the benefit for the first 20% of the effort.

Edited to add: !!! The player has a tempo adjustment feature that doesn't alter pitch! That could come in very handy were I looking for a slower track in a hurry.


Jul. 15th, 2008 08:44 am
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Problem solved, hopefully.

Charger with 4 AAA 1000 mAh batteries: $8.99 (cheaper than batteries alone)
Portable folding speaker system: $13.99
EWAV 1GB Mp3/ MP4 media player: $39.99

Slightly more than I could've spent on the player component, but it looks like a good physical fit for the speaker system (i.e. iPod-like). Apart from the color of course. And the video support means it could be used to review videos of previous salsa classes. Also easier to navigate material. So I think I'll get good mileage for that extra $20 or so beyond the cost of a keyring MP3 player.

Also, the customer reviews of the little speakers say just the sort of thing I'm looking to hear— people who actually use the speakers on batteries are happy and find that they last as long as their player's batteries, etc.

Thanks to [ profile] nikki_wraith for pointing out the great stuff on

The advertised dimensions of the speakers are a little deep, but examining the pictures and comparing them to the specs of actual iPods, I suspect they are the box dimensions and the actual item will be shallower. Otherwise the pictures just don't make sense. At this price, though, I won't be too upset if they are exactly as deep as advertised.

I should have the gear within a couple weeks. w00t.
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This wants to be awesome. But according to a more thorough review, it is not awesome. The review does give the LatteBoom credit for originality, and rightly so. I'm amused that the phone had the nerve to call the reviewer fat. For a wacky twist that brings us right back to another recent topic in this very forum, you'll have to read that second review.

This also wants to be awesome, on the "too big" rather than "too small" end of the spectrum. But it's built for crap. I mention it again because I keep coming back to it. And reading about the crap build quality and frequent problems experienced by those using it on batteries— as I would. And going away again.

The Samsung YP-K5 actually qualifies and would be an instant winner if it were under $50. At $150 I'll have to give it some thought— perhaps I can get this toy from work instead of an iPod 3G? It's not perfect— it's clearly an easily-kicked, easily-broken item. A cheaper solution involving simple external speakers sewn in or at least hanging on the mag may yet be the winner.

This has tremendous merit, especially for $29. Four AA batteries, four watts. A very plausible solution. The 2" depth is a bit of a concern. I was thinking more like 1". Very shallow speakers seem to be an engineering problem. The same company makes even smaller devices... which are underpowered. I'm beginning to see a general rule here, and this may be as good as it gets. Seems discontinued-ish, so the price may be as good as it gets too.
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Having figured out how to turn off the dumb six-second limitation, the next step was to shoot video of a salsa pattern. Mike at Estilo obliged me, and the end results are definitely more than good enough for private practice purposes, which is all I want. w00t!

Empty of photos, my phone can shoot video for a little under two minutes. That's not bad, not bad at all. But since MicroSD has fallen to such an amazingly low price, I do plan to pick up a 2GB chip so that I don't have to be in such a rush to unload photos from my phone.

When I really want to take a quality photo, I have my admittedly clunky Fuji, and when I want to shoot keeper-grade video I've got my Canon ZR800. So I really don't have reason to worry about an upgrade in either department.

So what would I like that I don't have in the way of portable electronics? A boom box. Crammed with salsa and bachata and merengue. One that fits in my usual kit.

Incorporating the phone was of course my first thought (if you're thinking "how is that an 'of course?'" then you haven't been reading my blog very long; hint: my phone is a device I actually have with me, not something I might remember). I am lusting after this, but honestly it doesn't make sense— my Nokia 6126 apparently needs a sort-of-forbidden firmware upgrade to talk to it properly, and maybe not even then, and I'd be killing my phone's battery for no good reason Because the moment I start talking about carrying speakers around, I may as well get a cheap MP3 boombox of some sort for a similar or smaller amount of money.

The Zen Stone Plus with Speaker is an interesting device. It is highly portable and highly affordable. There's just one speaker on it, though. I happen to be monaural (please don't judge me... sniff), but still, it's a little on the "too basic" side. Also, I should think the laws of physics would limit the battery life. I want something that's loud enough to, let's just say, bust out a few salsa steps on a lunch date somewhere. And reviewers have said harsh things about the interface, which for some reason is not the same friendly interface Zen ships on other devices.

This is hilarious and it actually works, but the MP3 player would be a separate purchase. Once you start talking "separate speakers," there are lots of dirt cheap options, but the cheapies are powered by the MP3 player, which means the volume has got to be pathetic.

The Samsung YP-K5 is dead sexy but well outside my intended price range. The Coby MP-C341 has potential too and is almost affordable enough, but multiple reviewers have spoken of units (and replacement units, and replacement replacement units) that were DOA or dead within an hour. Ugh.

Ah, but then there's the Creative Labs Travelsound. Three watts, OMG! But seriously, that's much more than the Zen, and I listen to too much loud music as it is. Add an el-cheapo keyring MP3 player for sub-$20 and you're off to the races. Or the South Street footbridge. If the cops don't decide to fine you for playing barely audible salsa, that is.

I'm tempted to purchase something today, but I'm going to hold off. Because I'm sure other people out there have experienced with MP3 boom boxes and portable speakers. Someone who's reading this might even own a Zen Stone With Speaker. And I'd like to hear from them before I jump.

But in the meantime, I've ordered a 2GB MicroSD chip for my phone for $9.95 including shipping. Geez that's awesome.

Another audo-related investment I should consider, more important in the long run: earplugs that stay put and aren't day-glo-tronic. The clubs are just too loud; older guys I know wear them religiously and don't have any trouble making the sort of limited conversation that's possible in the first place.
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I've been offered an iPhone 3G. It's a very cool toy, but it would cost more on a monthly basis, and when you get right down to it:

My phone can sync with my Linux PC relatively painlessly
My phone fits the phone pocket in my irreplaceable, nigh-perfect mag
The iphone still can't shoot video at all, so far
I just discovered that my phone can shoot long videos after all, albeit at low res; the stupid six-second limitation is just a default setting (!!?! WTF?)
I love my phone
If my phone were any more awesome I'd spend too much time using it

So what would I really want to be any different about my Nokia 6126? Apart from a few dumb quirks of the built-in applications that I've learned to live with?

320x240 video would be nice. Tomorrow I'll experiment in class and find out if the 176x144 video is adequate to shoot "don't forget how to do that turn pattern" salsa videos.

Also, the ability to keep more photos and videos on the phone at one time... but that's readily available: microSD cards fit the phone, and 256MB microsd cards are dirt cheap (around $20). That's a huge multiple of the phone's capacity now.

Beyond that... oh I dunno. Let's be unreasonable: a loud-ass stereo speakerphone that can play MP3s off that microsd chip would be fun. Nice for spontaneous salsa in unlikely places.

Shameful confession: I kind of want a sansa shaker. I'd need to give it a paint job though.
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1. Get Audacity 1.3 (1.2 won't cut it for this)
2. Hook up a nice mike
3. Start recording
4. Whistle any random classic rock guitar solo that's stuck in your brain (uh... if you can't whistle, hum?)
5. Run the noise removal effect (follow the instructions carefully). This is vastly better in Audacity 1.3 than it was previously.
6. Run the phaser effect on the end result
7. Copy it to a second track, and heck, perhaps a third
8. On the additional tracks, use the "Pitch" effect to decrease the frequency by 50%, 75%, etc... choose interesting harmonics, in other words
9. Hit play. Kind of interesting huh.
10. Run the "leveler" effect. Much less faraway-sounding now

The end result doesn't sound like a guitar so much as some sort of hippie organ, but it's pretty cool.

Why yes, my guitar is still stuck at Mary's house, why do you ask?
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Man, audio input is a mess under Ubuntu Linux on this laptop.

Audacity can't record at all. I always get a sound device error. Same one regardless of what device I try to use.

The Sound Recorder applet seems to work, but records silence.

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I am completing a challenge out of order because I feel like it. Hahh.

Object: lederhosen
Character: Miss Piggy
Catchphrase: Don't have a cow, man
Genre: yodeling

[ profile] solestria, youdaladywho put me up to this.

Listen to How Low Do You Go?

Also available on the Songs to Order page, which should work better for those who have trouble with direct links to MP3s.

Lyrics and chords. )
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1. My handheld digital camera, a Fuji Finepix A345, is about to die. The lens refuses to zoom out and uncover itself about 50% of the time. Soon enough that will be 100%.

Any recommendations on my next affordable handheld camera (sub-$300 at most)? I want it to do two jobs: take good stills, and shoot good-enough-for-YouTube video. A wide field of view is also a big plus.

I've noticed that Jill's Exilim EX-Z50 shoots video that's plenty good enough for YouTube, with a very wide field of view. Saves a lot of trouble compared to fussing with my mini-DV, which has a very narrow field of view. Although the sound recorded by Jill's camera was pretty rough, even when we remembered to turn off the air conditioner. Heh. Of course, it would be nice to have the luxury of several weekends in which to make a movie sometime and properly dub the audio, rather than using the raw audio recorded by the camera.

2a. Something disgusting happened to my guitar case. I'm not prepared to discuss it. You can probably get it out of Eleanor if you give her enough chocolate.

2b. Eleanor's guitar wall mount, which was a flimsy wooden thing, split down the middle.

2c. I would order replacements for both from Musician's Friend, which always has killer prices, but they are moving their distribution center and won't ship for another two weeks. In other words, they are broken. Can anyone recommend an alternative low-cost musician's supply site that they trust?

3. As mentioned, my cell phone's ringer has died, and I must wait until 9/11/07 to get a free replacement. I'm checking for messages a lot.

4. After weeks of missed appointments, the dishwasher repairman finally came out to look at my Kenmore, which obviously has a logic board problem. He looked at it for three seconds and said "yep it has a logic board problem." The logic board will be shipped to me. The appointment to actually install it will take place in... I don't know, February I'm guessing. Yes, I paid good money for this service plan.

5. The plan was to get a little pergo-ing done this morning. My jigsaw blade broke. I didn't make it to the hardware store because my motivation-izer broke.

6. Instead I worked on burning Nine More Minutes to an SVCD. I tried to burn it with Nero, which has completely forgotten that I paid for it. I was unable to immediately locate any documentation of this fact, though I am sure it is on a credit card statement somewhere. Then I tried ffmpeg and cdrtools. cdrtools broke on the first try, but mysteriously worked after a reboot.

Strangely enough, I'm more amused by all this than anything else.
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That could be the slogan of Thomson, the company which owns the patents on MP3.

Today I decided to create and sell a simple WMV-to-FLV converter. It's a no-brainer - people need it, and I've got all the moving parts.

Except I'm not going to.

Because FLV files contain MP3 audio, and Thomson charges a royalty for the use of their patent? Nah. $2.50 per encoder is real money, to be sure, but I can price accordingly.

No, I'm not going to do it because they sharge a $19,000/year minimum royalty. And I have to cough that up for the first time upon signature.

Do I have $19,000 to gamble on the possibility that I might be able to sell at least 1,900 copies of that program per year? Not really. And others have already inquired whether there's an alternative - such as paying more per copy? Nope.

Now, I grasp why they want some sort of minimum royalty. Enough to cover the overhead of taking on a new licensee. $200, maybe. Hell, $1,000, engage in highway robbery, it's your football and I realize you can take it and go home.

But $19,000? Um, no.

They do have a maximum license fee of $50,000. Which is nice for bigger-selling apps. Of course, you need a separate license to actually stream (broadcast) your MP3s once you have them, but that's somebody else's problem.

Why the heck hasn't Adobe added Ogg Vorbis support to FLV (Flash) video? That would change everything. Maybe they threatened to, and Thomson waived their royalty? Or paid them?
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Or rather, "I've got this wonderful toy, how the hell does it work?"

I just discovered Audacity's envelope tool. And I'm smacking myself upside the haid for not playing with this sooner. What a kickass way to visually adjust the volume of any part of a track.

Anyone else got Audacity tips?
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The results of my "playing sound on demand with JavaScript code" tests are in:

Mac Safari 2 works just fine. And though Mac Opera does not work, Windows Opera is fine.

Unfortunately, IE 7 for Windows does not work so well - I figured that one out myself just now. The not-so-good news is that Internet Explorer 7 for Windows displays a scary warning one has to override in order to make it work.

Another possible solution is to use a Flash gadget and hook JavaScript up to that. And talented DHTML hacker Scott Schiller has done it:

Schillmania's SoundManager

Works in Firefox, IE and Opera on Windows. But once again, my Mac is too cheesy to test it with. If a few Mac Safari (and perhaps Unix Firefox) users could give his page a try and let me know by commenting here whether clicking on the "start" button does anything (important - just opening the page does not play any sounds), I would be much obliged. Please be sure to mention your MacOS version and whether you used Safari or Firefox.

Thanks again for the research help!

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