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Listen, Don’t Watch: Three Great Audio Sources for U.S. and World News June 5, 2014

I admit that I don’t usually watch the evening news. I don’t possess a desire to remain ignorant of world affairs. Nor is my stomach too weak for the sometimes graphic images displayed in living color. (Though I do occasionally grow frustrated at what seems to be an excessive replaying of such visuals.) My issue, instead, is one of time. My morning’s start early and nearly every minute is packed from 7AM to 9PM, leaving little time for viewing television in between.

Ignoring the news isn’t really an option, so I began a search for acceptable alternatives to the nightly newscast. There are, of course, iPod apps for nearly every major and, often, many minor news stations. Activating the “push” feature ensures that should anything really big take place, I receive an immediate one-line notification. Sadly, I have to be staring at the screen of my iPod at the time the notification is processed if I’m to notice that newsworthy events are in progress. And on the occasion that these notifications do slide into my visual range, they are often too short to provide any truly substantive (or oft times, accurate) information. I was looking for effectiveness, not merely efficiency… and the apps clearly wouldn’t do.

It was clear that I needed a non-visual solution and that’s exactly what I found. Many major U.S. and World news sources were offering regular podcasts which could be set to automatically download to my device. I experimented with several of these, finally narrowing my options down to three which provide particularly informative fare:

BBC World News is at the top of my list. At less than half an hour in length, this newsfeed does an excellent job of hitting the high points of global news. It often covers the major happenings which are missed by U.S. evening newscasts including events in the EU and Africa and includes on-the-scene interviews with those on the ground as news unfolds.

C-Span Radio – Washington Today comes in at a close second. I love this podcast because of its fair and balanced reporting. The broadcast centers on actual clips from House and Senate proceedings and interviews with the nation’s policy makers rather than the analysis of “talking heads”. At a few minutes over an hour, it’s a great way to keep on top of what’s going on in the nation’s capital.

WSJ This Morning, produced by The Wall Street Journal, is a nice “all around” recap of national news with a focus on political and economic analysis, entertainment, and an occasional “feel good” story or two. Another short broadcast, it’s a great way to round out one’s news gathering efforts.

Each morning, I roll out of bed, plug in these podcasts, and set about my day. It’s a great way to maintain my busy lifestyle while keeping track of the news that matters.

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“Star Trek” in the Real World November 14, 2013

I hadn’t meant to purchase an iPad.  At least, not at first.  I had a perfectly functional iPod Touch and, as far as I was concerned, that was sufficient to meet all of my needs.  Then, life changed.  A writer’s conference and the start of a school year drew my attention to the fact that my 15” laptop (hitherto used exclusively as a PC) was too unwieldy to haul back and forth to classes and seminars.  Its lengthy boot time (far less than that of the 386 on which I began my computing career) and limited battery life also detracted from its actual usefulness in these settings.  Something had to be done… and quickly.

Noticing my dilemma, my mother expertly drew my attention to the “nifty” Apple product.  She had purchased one for herself earlier in the year and with a flourish that would have made any Mac salesman proud, began demonstrating each of its features.

The urgency of my situation demanded immediate action and I’ve always been a bit of a gadget junkie, so I’ll admit that it wasn’t a hard sell.  Marching into our local Mac Store, I informed the sales clerk that I wanted a 64 GB, 4th Gen iPad, in black, with a keyboard and screen protector.  It was an order that he was more than willing to meet and, a few minutes later, I hopped into my pickup truck, nestling my new gadget securely in the passenger seat.

I spent the evening charging the device and downloading useful apps (many of which came at the recommendation of my fiancé who was born with a glowing, data-streaming Apple binkie in his mouth).  I set up Evernote (the access anywhere notebook that’s perfect for organizing everything from lecture recordings to notes and photographs), moved all of my Audubon guides over, and installed a few useful library apps.  As almost an afterthought, I decided to install Netflix as well… and that was my downfall.

While watching TV on my device had not been a part of the plan, I had recently begun listening to Ken Ray and John Champion’s “Mission Log” podcast.  A weekly look at the “messages, morals, and meanings” of “Star Trek”, I had made it a habit to watch along and I had yet to watch this week’s episode.

I quickly determined that this would be an excellent way to test my iPad’s video streaming capabilities.  Setting the device on the table, I propped it up on its kickstand and hit play.  In the blink of an eye, the screen was filled with images of Kirk, Spock, and the starship Enterprise… all digitally remastered for my viewing pleasure.

It nearly brought tears to my eyes.  I had spent much of my youth dreaming of technology like this and here it was… in my own home and capable of far more than any of us had ever imagined.  As I watched McCoy deliver a hypospray to an overly-excited crewmen, I couldn’t help feeling that this was the way “Star Trek” was meant to be viewed.  And that Gene Roddenberry would be impressed.

 

An Introduction to Podcasting or Why Our Enjoyment of Movie Adaptations Shouldn’t be Hindered by Our Love of the Book July 18, 2013

I didn’t feel like writing this morning, so after finishing an assignment that needed to be submitted, I retired to the couch with my copy of “Podcast Solutions: The Complete Guide to Audio and Video Podcasting” by Michael W. Geoghegan and Dan Klass.  This book is a part of my ongoing crusade to guarantee that when I start my own podcast, I’ll be producing something of acceptable quality.  After all, if you’re going to do something, you might as well take the time to do it well.

Meanwhile, I’m biding my time with a lovely show entitled “Aboard the Knightbus” which, if you listen to the promo, claims to be “a fun and light-hearted look at the Harry Potter books chapter-by-chapter”.  In reality, it’s a bit more like four women having an early mid-life crisis.  I’ve been slowly improving my performance as “your friendly, neighborhood Slytherin” by practicing my enunciation and, on occasion, purchasing new and better equipment.

The first piece of this equipment, my AT2020 USB microphone by audio-technica, arrived last week and I spent a good bit of time fiddling with it as I prepared for today’s recording.  I’m quite pleased with the product, though the sensitivity of the mic has led to some issues, namely, that it is capable of picking up the sound emanating from my headphones.  Since this will cause an echo in my voice track, it became necessary for me to pop out for a new set of “cans”.

It was during this impromptu shopping trip that I got sidetracked by one of our local bookstores.  (I swear, it just jumped out at me from behind the mall!)  I had recently seen a preview for the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, a book that a friend of mine has been repeatedly recommending for years.  I felt that it would be best to read the book before seeing the movie and decided to purchase a copy to read while I’m at an upcoming writer’s conference.

After explaining all of this to the sales clerk, she led me to a stack of books which I had walked right past in my endeavor to locate a clerk to help me locate the book as quickly as possible.  “It will ruin the movie,” she observed as she handed me a copy.  I smiled, thanked her, and headed for the checkout.

Her words echoed in my ears all the way home.  Would reading the book really destroy my movie-going experience?  The truth is, more than once, I’ve gone to see a movie adaptation of a book I enjoyed only to walk away disappointed.  “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” series’ were prime examples.  While both did an excellent job at visually portraying what I’d envisioned as I’d read the books, neither seemed to do justice to the story lines.  Neither Frodo nor Faramir had lived up to my expectations of these heroes and the sad absence of most of Severus Snape’s best lines left me with a sense of emptiness.

This sense of betrayal lasted until just a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to listen to Mugglenet Academia’s “Harry Potter: Book to Screen” interview with screenwriter Janet Scott Batchler.  Truth be told, I’d never really considered the many difficulties that screenwriters face as they attempt to adapt the written word to an almost entirely visual medium without angering long-time fans of the book.  Sadly, time and budget restrictions often result in writers expunging characters or sub-plots that have become dear to readers in favor of the primary story arcs which will attract those unfamiliar with the story.  Lengthy explanatory passages which worked well in print must be translated into dialogue.  And elaborate descriptions of scenery or costumes must often be reduced to whatever can be created with the technology or textiles currently on hand.  The result?  Even the best movie is likely to fall short of our expectations if what we’re seeking is a perfect representation of the book.

So what do we do?  Perhaps the best answer is to understand and appreciate both medium for what they are.  Books play primarily on our imagination.  They allow us to visualize the most unusual or extraordinary circumstances and personalize what we see.  And there is no limit to the number of pages they can take to convey this information.

Movies, on the other hand, convey the vision of the writers, directors, producers, and actors as they seek to convey their own personal perceptions to their audience.  Movies must maintain the pace if they are to keep the viewer’s attention.  They must convey color and excitement, drama, and romance, and all within a limited number of “pages”, if you will.

When we approach these mediums in this fashion, it may be possible for us to appreciate both – enjoying the intimate, personal experience of reading the book and relishing the social aspect of sharing in another’s interpretation of those same descriptive words.  Perhaps, when we do, we’ll walk away with yet another unique experience: that of enjoying both the movie and the book upon which it is based!

 

Don’t Miss Podcasts June 6, 2013

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably perform at least a few tasks during the week which don’t require a lot of attention or care (like housework, automotive repair, or that unpleasantly long walk on the treadmill).  To detract from the boredom, I often plug in a podcast or two and in this week’s post, I’m going to feature a few of my favorites.  In no specific order they are:

America’s Test Kitchen  I LOVE to cook and this podcast has it all.  From advice on recipes and ingredients to kitchen gadget reviews and a bit of weekly “food history”, you’ll find it an hour of pure (and informative) entertainment.

Travel with Rick Steves  While it doesn’t contain the visual appeal of its television counterpart, “Rick Steves’ Europe”, this podcast does provide a bit of everything the saavy traveler needs.  From great insights into culture and history to tips on enjoying foreign foods, it combines the native know-how of guest speakers and travel guides with Rick’s decades of practical travel experience.

Car Talk  You don’t have to be an automotive genius (or even really care about auto repair at all) to enjoy Click and Clack’s playful banter.  Combining practical advice with random facts and a bit of humor, it’s sometimes difficult to decide whether the program is a comedy routine or a helpful guide to fixing anything and everything that ails your vehicle.  A must-hear program for anyone who wants a reason to smile.

Cycling 360  A great, short program targeted towards helping good cyclists become better ones, Cycling 360 provides listeners with a nice mix of cycling news and practical advice.  It’s a good dose of the road even on a rainy day.

Philosophy Bites  This is the perfect podcast for the would-be philosopher without the time to actually read books on philosophy.  Short and concise, each week’s episode features interviews with modern philosophers on a variety of subjects ranging from the abstract (how do we know that we really exist) to the practical (is vegetarianism more ethical than eating meat).  The podcast retains a friendly openness towards a wide range of ideas and is easily accessible to everyone, regardless of personal perspectives.

This Week at NASA  Yes, I admit it: I’m a space geek.  This charming, podcast does a great job of keeping viewers up to date with everything going on at NASA.  From interplanetary mission and the manned space program to practical application of technology and encouragement for young scientists, this podcast will keep you riveted to your seat!

Planetary Radio  A production of the Planetary Society, this weekly program offers a little bit of everything for the space enthusiast.  Catch up on worldwide space news, enjoy discussion about the latest discoveries, and find out more about “What’s Up” as you gaze into the night sky.  Combining the joy of practical astronomy with the thrill of discovery, it’s sure to get you excited about the universe in which we live.

A Prairie Home Companion  Garrison Keillor’s unique story-telling style almost inevitably makes me smile.  From the exploits of Pastor Liz to tales from the Chatterbox Café, each week’s episode serves up a bit of homespun, hometown news that leaves listeners feeling just a touch nostalgic.

Wild Ideas  I stumbled upon this one by accident and am extremely glad that I did.  Produced weekly by the Wilderness Society, Wild Ideas provides a broad and entertaining look at the natural world.  Listen as hosts discuss everything from ecology and conservation to species profiles and family-friendly outdoor activities.  It’s like a nature magazine for the ears!

Aboard the Knight Bus  This one isn’t an accident.  Join me each week as “Your Friendly Neighborhood Slytherin”, her Hufflepuff friends, a Ravenclaw, and an assortment of guest hosts take a light-hearted and fun look at the “Harry Potter” books chapter-by-chapter!

So there you have it: my top ten “don’t miss” podcasts.  Feel free to give them a try.  And if you have a podcast favorite of your own, don’t forget to share it in the comment box below!

 

 
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