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Chapter 4. Accessory Hacks > Use a Voice Recorder for Logging

Hack 62. Use a Voice Recorder for Logging

Don't write it, speak it.

Traditionally, amateur astronomers have kept written logs of their observations, and most still do today. An increasing number, though, have started using a voice recorder to supplement or replace their written log sheets.

There are a lot of benefits to using a voice recorder:

  • Most important, using a voice recorder encourages you to record more detailed observations.

  • Because you can log your observations while you're right at the scope, looking through the eyepiece, your records tend to be more accurate and to include details you might overlook if you have to move to your chart table to write them down.

  • A voice recorder can actually help you make better observations in an absolute sense because it encourages you to look more closely at the object as you search for details to speak into the recorder.

  • Using a voice recorder saves precious observing time. What takes you 15 seconds to dictate into a voice recorder may take you 5 minutes to write down on a paper log sheet.

There are two types of voice recorder available:

Mini-cassette recorders

These devices are miniaturized versions of a standard tape recorder. They use small, dictation-size magnetic tape cassettes and are very inexpensive. You can find them in big-box stores selling for $25 or less. Unfortunately, that's about the best that can be said of them. The tapes they use are fragile, particularly in cold weather, which may cause the tape to break. Because they have a motor, they draw significant current from their batteries, which again is a problem in cold weather. The actual recording speed may vary with the temperature and the state of the battery, so your recordings may sound like Alvin the chipmunk or the Addams' Family's Lurch. Although they are miniaturized, they are still large enough to be inconvenient when you are working at your scope. Cassette-based voice recorders are a poor choice.

Digital voice recorders

A digital voice recorder (DVR) is all solid state. Instead of recording to a magnetic tape, it records to internal memory or a flash memory card. DVRs are small, light, and rugged. Because they record your voice in digital form, it's easy to transfer your voice logs to your computer, if the DVR provides a computer interface. (Not all do; look for one with a USB interface.) Transferring voice recordings to your computer allows you to keep them as a permanent record of your observing sessions. Because you can pause the file during playback, it's easy to transfer the data to your permanent observing ledger [Hack #28]. DVRs typically sell for $50 to $150, depending on brand name, features, recording time, and so on.

If you own a portable MP3 player, you may already have a DVR you didn't know about. Many MP3 players, such as Barbara's Creative Labs MuVo N200, include a built-in microphone and voice recording capabilities. Many of them allow you to switch back and forth from voice recording mode to music playback mode, so you can use one device to serve both purposes.

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