A couple of interesting links for materials on librivox.org

I really like librivox.org. For those of you who may not have heard of it before, it’s an effort to take works in the public domain and record them as mp3 and ogg files for anyone to download. It’s an awesome resource: I’ve listened to many of their recordings, and while the quality can be somewhat variable, most are excellent and well worth downloading.

Today I found a couple of interesting items though that were a bit different than their normal literary fare. When you are recording for librivox or a podcast or whatever, the questions always come up: “what recorder should I use?” and “what microphone should I use?” To answer that question, librivox merely accepted submissions of the same poem being recorded by different devices and through different microphones, and let you hear the difference and decide for yourself.

Recordings on MP3 players and other portable devices
Recordings with different microphones

It is a bit difficult to normalize the results, as the recordings were done by different people in different places at different time, and with differing amounts of post processing, but you can consult the links to both project’s websites to gain more information. Pretty neat!

Musings on Blogging and Social Media

Over the last couple of days, weeks, and even months, I’ve been pondering my participation in various social media: mostly my efforts at blogging and podcasting, but also my participation in things like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the possibility of using things like YouTube. I thought I’d toss out some ideas and ask for some feedback, so if any of this resonates with any of you out there, please feel free to comment.

My first posting on the brainwagon blog occurred on July 21, 2002. Since then I have posted 3,418 posts about a wide variety of topics. I’ve viewed this blog as an outlet for some of my geekier interests: if you look through it, you’ll see some trends which ebbed and flowed: podcasting, programming (especially my Atari 2600 and checkers), mathematics, and of course my recent fascination with ham radio. You’ll also see a scattering of just links to blogs and news items that I found enjoyable. I made two conscious decisions: I wouldn’t monetize my blog with advertising, nor would I seek to become a “pundit”, a talking head whose job it is to render opinions from on high about what people should or should not be doing or thinking.

I’m mostly pretty happy with those basics, except for one thing: I don’t feel like I’ve helped develop a community of people who are interested in doing the same. My blog, as interesting as the subjects appear to be to me, doesn’t seem to be very inspiring to others, at least as far as I can judge based on comment and email feedback. (Yes, there has been some positive feedback, but not as much as I would like.)

I’m faced with two conclusions.

One is that I’m interested in stuff that nobody else is interested in. That’s certainly a possibility, a very strong possibility. But when I go to places like the Maker’s Faire, or even interact with some of my fellow geeks at work, it seems that there are people out there who are interested. If I extrapolate that to the entire country, there really must be thousands of people who are potentially interested in the kinds of things that I’m interested in. Heck, I found a website for a guy who is interested in two of my more eclectic interests (Egyptian hieroglyphics and checkers, of all things) so you people must be out there.

So, I’m left with my other conclusion: that I’m not reaching other people in a fashion which inspires them to respond and engage. I think that there are several possible reasons for that. I think there are basic questions about technology: am I doing all I can to maximize the effectiveness of what presence I do have on the web? Would more use of Facebook/Twitter be helpful? Or maybe YouTube/Vimeo/iTunes podcasting? Or is there room for a new kind of social media that works to generate the kind of community vision that I crave?

But frankly, I think the problem is more basic than that.

I’m basically one of those people who is mostly happy living inside my head. I have recognized and even relished in the idea that what I like is relatively rare and geeky, so I haven’t done a lot of work to actually build the real social bonds that connect me to other people who share my visions and interests. Thus, the problem isn’t at the root a technological one: it’s likely a problem of my own personality and behavior.

While I think that making any significant changes to my personality is probably out of the question, i do think that there are changes to my online behavior which could be achieved. Just as I am trying to convince myself that frequent exercise is good for me, I can try to “exercise” my own efforts in building social bonds based upon mutual interest and vision.

The other thing is to try to simply do more inspiring stuff, and figure out more dynamic ways to share it. Many of my software projects are still in the “not-ready-for-release” stage, but that’s kind of cowardly of me. If you read that I had developed some code that did something interesting, and that I’d release it someday, you’d be bored and uninspired. If however, I released it and let you play with it, that’s much more engaging. And if I showed how you could use it to do cool things (like, say, predict when the ISS is overhead and photograph it) that would be more inspiring. I should recognize that I have only a couple of minutes of your time at best to get you interested and thinking about the stuff I like, and that if I really want to get you on board, I’ll have to work harder at it. I guess that it boils down to a simple new thought:

Mark, expend some effort to engage your audience.

In conclusion, I’m interested in finding peers and mentors who have built the kind of online presence and community that I’m seeking. If you have a blog or podcast that you are proud of, or have used Facebook or Twitter to build an online community, or just have some reading on the subject that you have found useful, please drop me a note at brainwagon at gmail.com if you would be interested in talking to me about this kind of thing.

Thanks again.

A New Podcast! With Reviews of XM Radio and the Panasonic DMC-TZ1

What can I say? I was bored on the way home yesterday, and decided to record a 23 minute podcast, reviewing two of my moderately recent gadget purchases:

I also gave a brief report about my trip down to the Computer History Museum to see their recently restored PDP-1 and play Spacewar!

And I shamelessly plug Pixar’s upcoming summer release of  Cars.

I still get pinged by lots of podcast aggregators, here is hoping that somebody is listening.

WordPress FeedBurner Plugin

Quite some time ago, I started using Feedburner to republish my RSS feed.  It’s nice because you can actually see who is reading your blog via RSS, what items they click through and the like.  But I was sending a mixed message, you could subscribe to my feed either by the ordinary WordPress feed, or via FeedBurner.   The solution is to redirect the WordPress feed automatically to the Feedburner feed, but this has a problem: Feedburner still needs to access your feed, so you can’t redirect it.   The resulting mod_rewrite stuff always seemed like a pain, so I was happy to find the following plugin by Steve Smith, which makes all these problems go away.

If you have a similar problem, be sure to check it out.

WordPress FeedBurner Plugin // Ordered List by Steve Smith

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R.I.P. Brainwagon Radio

Well, I wish my experiment in podcasting was going out with a bang instead of a whimper, but for now, I’m closing the saga that was Brainwagon Radio. It may return in some retooled form in the future: I’m thinking that to really revitalize my interest in doing podcasts I need to find an appropriate cohost and develop a better setup. For now, the 98 episodes stand as an attempt to utilize a new media before I even understood what it was, what I should use it for, or who my audience was. Perhaps when I have a personal answer to one of those questions, I’ll be back to try it again.

Until then, I hope that I didn’t bore you all, and that you drop in and read my blog, which I will continue to keep. I also hope that at least a couple of you were inspired to reach out to others who reside in the Long Tail and create your own podcasts.

It really has been a blast.

Audio player WordPress plugin

I was looking for a nifty gadget to embed audio players inside WordPress posts. This was a nifty Audio player WordPress plugin that uses flash to play audio files. You can create simple links, and it creates a nice little Flash gadget to stream and play them.

Here’s one that links to my last podcast (which sadly occurred over a month ago):


The Cinnamon Bear

Last year, I wrote a script to eek out one episode of the classic radio serial The Cinnamon Bear each day leading up to Christmas Eve. I had a few subscribers, but just a few. Still, I think it’s a fun holiday serial, and I was gonna set it up to do the same this year. Unfortunately, I seem to have mislaid the little python script that I used to generate the feeds and the webpage, so instead, I’ve wimped out and just stuck them all on a special page dedicated to The Cinnamon Bear. Go ahead, slaughter my bandwidth, slurp up all 74 megabytes of classic radio and enjoy it.

Happy Holidays!

The Real Value of Podcasting

If you really are doing it for the love, why bother assigning a number to it?

Let’s put it another way: if my goal is to maximize the value that I create, I obviously can do that in a couple of different ways, I can either choose to concentrate and create things which are truly of large value to a smaller number of people, or I could settle for quantity over quality and pander to the lowest common denominator. There has to be more to how you choose to live your life than spamming lots of individuals with trivial thoughts.

Trick or Treat: A Halloween Treat for Your MP3 Player

On October 30th, 1938, Orson Wells’ Mercury Theater broadcast what is quite likely the most famous radio play ever created: his own version of the classic H.G. Wells story The War of the Worlds. On the occasion of Halloween, and corresponding to the current opposition of Mars, it seems like an appropriate treat would be a copy of the original broadcast for your mp3 player. Not only fun, but non-fattening!