Reader Elizabeth Kimball writes to ask how she might use her laptop's built-in microphone to record the interviews she needs for her graduate studies. I reply that it can be done with the tools she likely has on her Mac or with a two-track audio editor affordable enough for even college students.
Step 1 is to launch System Preferences and select the Sound system preference. Click the Input tab and be sure that Internal Microphone is selected.
Step 2 is to decide which application you'd like to record with. If you have Apple's iLife '04 suite, you have two options -- iMovie and GarageBand.
To record audio with iMovie, launch the application, click the Audio tab, press the red Record button, and start talking. Press Record again when you're done. The recording will appear in the first of iMovie's audio tracks. To save the file, choose Share from the File menu, click the QuickTime tab, choose Expert Settings from the Compress Movie For pop-up menu, and click the Share button. In the resulting Save Exported File As dialog box, choose Sound to AIFF from the Export pop-up menu and name and save your file. You can now open your audio file in iTunes or any other audio application that supports the AIFF audio format.
To record audio with GarageBand, launch the application and create a new "song." Click the Plus button at the bottom of the GarageBand window to create a new track. Click the Real Instrument tab in the resulting New Track window. Choose Basic Track from the left column and No Effects from the right column. Click OK. If Metronome is checked in the Control menu, select it so it's unchecked. Press the red Record button and start talking. Press the Record button again when you're finished. Save your file and then choose Export to iTunes from the File menu. Your audio will be saved as an AIFF file in iTunes.
If you'd like to use a dedicated, two-track audio editor for recording and editing sound, take a look at HairerSoft's $30 Amadeus II.