Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Enabling podcast addictions since 2008

For months, I’ve been promising friends and family members I would do this. So here it is...

Julie Q’s Podcast Addiction Enabling Tutorial

I’ve typed up a thorough review of all the podcasts I listen to, from my favorites down to the ones I let pile up but can’t bear to delete because they sound fun even though I’m too busy to get around to listening to them. I’ve also included a “getting started” guide if you’ve never podcasted because you just didn’t know how to do it. Let me help you. Let me introduce you to my favorite hobby. It’s easy. It’s free. It’s therapeutic. But beware, once you push that first GET EPISODE button, you may never want to stop.

What is a podcast?

The podcasts I listen to are generally radio programs you can download for free and listen to whenever and wherever you feel like. You can play them on your computer or load them to your iPod or MP3 player to take with you and listen while washing dishes, exercising, driving the noisy carpool kids, or falling asleep at night. Call me crazy, but I confess I have an iPod with almost NO MUSIC on it.

I’ve included links to the websites for each of these shows but the best way to subscribe is use iTunes (or something similar) to keep them updated for you.

My favorites

1. WNYC’s Radio Lab
This is by far my favorite podcast right now. It’s essentially science oriented, but science in an oh so fascinating, real people can totally get this stuff, let’s discuss what it means to be human kind of way. The show is highly produced with quirky sound effects and dialogue that get occasionally hokey, but I think you’ll get used to it and grow to love the style like I do. The great thing about Radio Lab is that on iTunes, you can download all their old episodes going back over 2 seasons. Some of my favorites are: Choice, Placebo, Who am I?, Memory and Forgetting, and The Ring and I (most amusing discussion of Wagner’s operas I’ve ever heard).

2. Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life
So popular it now has its own television spin-off, this is a classic radio broadcast and one of the best podcasts out there. Each week, host Ira Glass and his various producers choose a theme and present different stories connected by that theme. It’s always interesting, often educational, very entertaining. Of the many months’ worth of episodes I’ve listened to, I can only think of maybe two that didn’t keep my attention from beginning to end. The only drawback to This American Life is their shows are only available for free downloading for one week after they air on the radio, so you have to make sure you get them during that window. You can always stream them for free on their website, but it’s less convenient.

3. NPR’s Wait, wait, don’t tell me
A weekly news quiz show. Always hilarious; makes me laugh out loud at least once during the hour-long show. If you have the slightest interest in current events and politics, this podcast should appeal to you. The show has a celebrity panel with regulars (Paula Poundstone is my favorite) and each week they host different guests, ranging from NBA stars to supreme court justices. My one warning is that while I feel Wait Wait is an equal-opportunity mocker, I’m fairly liberal in my politics and not all conservatives might agree with me. If you’re a big George Bush fan in particular, you might not appreciate their satire. Anyway, this is usually the podcast I listen to when I’m driving home from class and I need something amusing to give my brain a break.

4. PRI’s To the Best of our Knowledge
Another great program that takes a theme and explores it through interviews with authors and deep thinkers. It’s educational and often fascinating. Once or twice I had no interest in the topic, but generally, it’s a good way to gain some exposure to interesting philosophical issues. Some typical topics include: Libraries, Einstein and God, Debunking pop mysticism, Musical Taste, Living Green, etc.

5. Oprah.com’s Spirit Channel
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m an Oprah fan. But I probably watch her TV show less than 4 times a year. Instead, I listen to her interviews with guests about spiritual topics on this podcast. I’ve really enjoyed these discussions, especially the ones with Eckhart Tolle, Sarah Ban Brethnach, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Jill Bolte-Taylor. You can download most of these episodes in either audio format or various video versions (I pick the audio because I have a slow connection and it would likely take a week for my laptop download the big fancy ones). Oprah is generous: you can still get all kinds of old episodes for free.'

More podcasts

The rest are really in no particular order. I love them all and listen to whichever ones I happen to feel in the mood for at the time.

If you like science, try these next two. Both are fascinating and accessible enough that you don’t have to be a big science nerd to learn cool stuff.

Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American
A weekly show covering the latest in science and technology. Host Steve Mirsky explores cutting-edge breakthroughs and controversial issues while interviewing scientists and journalists. Recent episodes have discussed things like alternative energy, astronomy, science in the Obama administration, and pigeons. If you don’t have time for an hour-long show, Scientific American also does a daily “60-second Science” program. (They also have a 60-second Earth and 60-second psych).

NPR’s Science Friday
Another great science show, this one hosted by Ira Flatow (I like Ira and his voice reminds me of Alan Alda). Ira interviews guests from the world of science. They discuss and take questions about topics from science, technology, health and the environment. Recent episodes dealt with the “invention of air,” cold and flu season, birdsongs, and nano-knotting.

APM’s Speaking of Faith
I love this show too (can I please have like 20 favorites?!) Krista Tippett interviews various scholars, priests, poets, theologians, etc. in this fascinating discussion of all things spiritual, religious and ethical. You can access all of the old shows (going back to 2006) on iTunes. Some of my favorites from the past include: The Ethics of Eating, Quarks and Creation, Yoga (with Seane Corn) and Inside Mormon Faith (Krista’s interview with Robert Millet).

PRI’s RadioWest
Host Doug Fabrizio drives me absolutely nuts but I’m willing to overlook (overhear?) his idiosyncrasies when he has a great guest or fun topic, which he often does. This is a Utah show, but the subject matter is usually of more general appeal. I download several of these episodes a month when the topic catches my interest or the guest is someone I’d like to hear more about.

WAMU’s Diane Rehm Show
This is one of the first podcasts I started collecting. Back when I used to listen to the radio all the time, I would often catch Diane’s show in the middle of some interesting conversation and wonder what the rest had been like. This way I can download whichever episodes sound fun to me. Diane’s voice takes some getting used to (she has a neurological condition affecting her vocal chords) but she is a very witty, insightful interviewer. She draws out interesting dialogue from all her guests (who range from actors to authors to political figures to doctors to academics). Episodes are only available on iTunes for about a week.

NPR’s Fresh Air
Speaking of great interviewers, Terry Gross has to be the best. She hosts a daily program and manages to get very candid responses from her guests. She has been around on NPR forever and has an amazing flair for conversation, very friendly but probing. Her topics are usually related to the arts and popular culture, (current TV shows, films, etc.). I have to say that Terry is one of those people whose voice does not fit her body. I finally saw of picture of her recently (and learned that she was very short) and it totally blew my mind.

NPR’s Story of the Day Podcast
I used to listen to the NPR news programs religiously. Now I just don’t have the time (or the emotional constitution for all that depressing news, more like). But I can still catch the best story of the day (editor’s pick) from Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

NPR’s Book Tour

A weekly program featuring best-selling fiction and non-fiction authors. The writers read selections from their latest books and then take a few questions. This program has introduced me to some pretty darn fascinating books (which I then rush to the library to check out and then leave next to my bed for 3 weeks intending to read but eventually have to return to the library because they are overdue, and I feel bad about this but then I realize I probably got to hear at least the best bits in the podcast and I hardly remember anything I read lately anyway although I still love to read and maybe I’ve just crammed too much stuff into my head and I should chill out on all the podcasts but I can’t). Yeah. So. Authors range from Toni Morrison to John Hodgman.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation

I’ll admit this is one of the ones that has just been piling up lately. I think I have 40+ hours of it waiting for me to get around to listening. But the topics sound interesting and the ones I’ve listened to in the past were good. It’s a talk show/phone call-in show dealing with hot issues (like health care, politics, etc) and just plain cool topics (like the high cost of parenting, why it’s so hard to swat a fly, etc.). Probably considered liberal, but what do I know? The host is good. The dorks who call in are often annoying. Friday’s show is the Science Friday program mentioned above.

New Yorker Out Loud
A weekly short discussion about one of the stories in the New Yorker magazine. It’s best when the editor interviews one of my favorite New Yorker authors (like Adam Gopnik) but typical New Yorker fare is often quirky or amusing.

New Yorker Fiction
A monthly short story from the New Yorker archives, read and discussed by another New Yorker writer. I have loved a few of these. Others have been mind-numbingly boring. I must be getting old.

Last but not least, if you want inspirational talks, you can download recent BYU devotional/forum speeches or BYU’s classic speeches. Just type “BYU speeches” in an iTunes store search. You can also download LDS General Conference talks (search iTunes for “LDS Conference”).

Getting Started
I am by no means an expert at this, but here’s what I’ve learned. I have your basic iPod. (Ethan has a newer, fancier iPod and calls mine a relic.) But you can do all of this on other kinds of MP3 players too. I also have a fairly slow connection so the following may be quicker on your computer than mine.

Set up an iTunes account.
Find the podcasts you want by searching the iTunes store.
Subscribe to your favorite podcasts. You can also select only the episodes you want to download and manually check in once in a while to see what you’ve missed.
Every time you open iTunes, your podcasts will automatically check for new episodes and begin downloading.
Go out on several errands while your podcasts are downloading.
Go eat lunch because they aren’t done downloading yet.
Change a diaper.
Plug in your iPod and make sure the “Podcasts” tab is set (in iTunes) to “sync.” (You can sync all of your podcasts or just selected ones. At this stage, I have to rotate the ones I sync because my relic pod fills up very quickly and I can’t fit them all on).
Regularly go through your iTunes podcasts list and delete the ones you’ve listened to. (I have yet to figure out an easier way to do this).
You can save episodes that you really love. They are already on your computer’s hard drive (in mine, they’re under My Music, iTunes, iTunes Music, Podcasts). I create a separate folder and move my very favorite podcast MP3 files there so they won’t keep loading onto my iPod every time I sync it.)
Listen at your leisure.

If your addiction begins to take over your life (signs include wearing headphones during all waking hours, getting all twitchy when your batteries run out and you have to wait a whole hour for your pod to recharge, beginning every conversation with the phrase, “I just heard the coolest thing...”, and actively looking for new podcasts even though you have so many already that there are not hours enough in the day to listen to them all) you may want to seek professional help.

So, hey, if you're already a podcast fan and you've discovered any good ones that I don't have listed, please let me know. I'm still in the collection phase. And maybe a little in the denial phase. I can stop any time. I just don't want to.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A twist of ribbon

Here's my latest publication (page 34). It's in the Wasatch Journal and is about a fascinating Utah artist named Edie Roberson. I wish I hadn't been restricted by a word limit because Edie is the kind of person I could have written much, much more about (as it was, I did write more but alas the magazine edited it down to what they had room for). I have tremendous respect for Edie who is not only brilliant and creative, but a warm, kind soul with the great wisdom of her years. What a privilege it was for me to meet her and see a piece of her world. Take a look. The magazine's online user interface is a bit tedious, but hopefully worth the download time...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Barbie's strangest Christmas ever

Can you guess which present Nora loved most this year? Was it the sweet, adorable blond-haired baby doll with matching Nora/doll Christmas dresses? Or was it the slightly creepy Jack plush?

Good guess.

At least the doll has since gotten a little play time. According to Nora, her name is “Gear.” A lovely name for a baby doll, I must say. Jack has been a more constant companion and only had to stay home once when we went to church (a bitter, tearful separation for all parties, believe me).

We ended up giving Jack to Nora a day early. On Dec 24th, Ethan wanted to give a gag gift to his cousin Alex along with the iTunes gift certificate we had already purchased. So I took Ethan to the thrift store and he picked out the most hideously dressed, shaggy-haired Barbie he could find. I made Ethan carry her to the checkout stand because it made him squeamish. “What if I see someone I know from school?” he pleaded. “Then I guess the gag’s on you,” I answered. And then I proceeded to take the longest, most scenic, most populated route to the front of the store because it amused me.

When we got home, Nora took one look at the Barbie and fell in love. She heard the name “Barbie” and began begging for her Bah-bie and chasing Ethan around the house: “My Bah-bie...my bah-bie!” And Ethan, my teenage boy, was running for dear life, holding onto this skanky doll — with her medusa hair and silicone implants and sparkly cocktail dress — yelling “No, it’s my Barbie! It’s mine.” The scene was all the more comical because I have never let Nora (nor if I get my way, will I ever let her) own a Barbie. How ironic that my untainted, Barbie-free daughter, gets obsessed with the first one she ever sees. She would not relent. Every time Ethan tried to hide the Barbie, Nora found it again. Eventually, we got Nora calmed down and distracted while Ethan wrapped Alex’s present. A few minutes later, it was time to go to the big family party and we discovered that Nora had found Alex’s present and ripped open the wrapping paper to get to her Bah-bie. This time, there was no distracting her. She refused to relinquish the stupid doll. Finally, we resorted to getting out Jack a day early and letting her unwrap him. Her first reaction was to say, “That’s not Jack! That’s Jack” (pointing to the picture on the video case). But soon she was willing to give the imposter Jack a chance and we slipped Barbie from her other hand and re-wrapped her. Whew!

It helped that at the family party, my brother Thom, who happens to have the entire score to The Nightmare Before Christmas memorized (and I do not exaggerate), held up Jack and sang some songs from the movie. Nora—and the rest of her cousins—were totally transfixed. Jack is now definitely Jack. And Barbie is likely back at the thrift store, confused and more than a little relieved to have escaped the crazed 2-year-old and her wacky brother.