Myrtle Beach Blogging Conference is Go

We decided that we want to hold the conference next spring, and that even if 20 people show up we’ll consider that a success for the first year that we can build on. Our first order of business is to name the conference so we can start to do all the other things like set up a website. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment on our group blog with your nominations. We’re throwing it open to a vote for a short time (to avoid permanent bikeshedding) and then will move forward into the serious business of planning it. If you other bloggers and southern ones in particular could link to that and spread the link love, we’d highly appreciate it. Onward and upwards!

Myrtle Beach Blogger Conference Get Together TONIGHT, 11/29

For those if you in the Myrtle Beach area who are willing to get together and discuss the possibility of us holding a blogging/new media/technology conference this spring, we are meeting at the Liberty Beer Garden at Broadway at the Beach tonight at 5:30 PM. We need to make a go/no go decision soon and if we commit really start knocking it out. This meeting is a big part of that. You can keep up with this sort of stuff over at Grand Strand Bloggers, where the original post and reminder originally came from. Hope to see you there.

Thoughts on the Zune

Thanks to friend of the blog/podcast Ken I now have a 30 GB Microsoft Zune on indefinite loan. I got it the day before Thanksgiving. Because of all the videos I had in my backlog it took two days of syncing and transcoding for it to be completely ready to go. I started actually using it on Sunday and have some thoughts on it.

As a point of reference for people who haven’t been paying attention or are drive-bys, I have never owned a hard drive based iPod. I had never owned an MP3 player until the podcast era, and I suffered through the first six months of it without any player at all. Since then I have owned in order: a 512 MB iPod Shuffle (broke twice, once under warrantee); a 512 MB mobiBLU cube (broke); a used 512 MB Lexar LDP (never really used and now is DOA and won’t power on); a 4 GB Creative Zen V Plus. The last is the only one that played video and the only one that still works.

First, a rundown of pros and cons. Here’s what I like about the Zune:

  • The screen is quite nice for watching video
  • The playout to a TV also works fine and is quite watchable
  • Ummmm
  • Yeah
  • I can’t really think of another thing

The downsides are plentiful:

  • The UI is not very good, and requires navigating in places that it really shouldn’t
  • The podcasting support is not only ridiculous, but is a value subtraction – more on that later
  • The wifi sharing is useless since I’ve never once seen another person with a Zune
  • Neither videos nor audio marked as podcasts can be put in playlists
  • The videos require transcoding to WMV format, and some fraction of them result in unplayable files on my device. I’m not as bothered as some by the transcoding process, which seems fairly transparent and which I score a draw
  • It’s pretty clunky and ugly, as some have remarked it seems like the kind of MP3 player the Soviets would have invented
  • The fast forwarding is not progressive, ie it doesn’t get faster as you go along so going to minute 60 of a 80 minute file takes forever
  • Only podcasts and videos can be resumed, regular audio files can’t and there is no bookmarking functionality that I can find
  • The management application is pretty flawed and setting up and editing playlists is really cumbersome
  • The delay going from file to file is noticeable. When playing songs that should be gapless, it pauses up to 5 seconds going from one to the other

Like I said in Twitter a few days after getting it, “This is not an iPod killer. It’s not even an iPod hurter.”

Since I use this almost exclusively for podcast listening, you’d think I’d be happy that it has podcasting support “baked in.” Well, I’m not. There are three classes of files on the Zune, “Songs”, “Video” and “Podcasts” with the last having audio and video subclasses. You can add songs to a playlist, nothing else. You can resume videos and podcasts, not songs. The weird discrepancies in what you can do from different classes of files is puzzling because it makes the way the device handles change from file to file. Worst of all, I can’t find any sort of way to do continuous playback of files it marks as podcasts. It’s worse than just having to navigate with the device from show to show. You have to do it between every single episode even within the same series. Considering that I and most people who listen to pocasts do it in part or entirely while they are driving, having to constantly futz with the player to get to the next file is a complete no go.

Now, in an apparent effort to be helpful, the Zune software will mark as a podcast anything you have downloaded externally if the ID3 genre tag is set to “Podcast.” This means that the stuff I had downloaded went about 80% into the audio file collection and 20% into the podcast category. It was so annoying that I had to turn the Zune software off, download the files, and run a script that set every genre tag to something other than “Podcast” in order to prevent them from automatically added to the podcast section.

There is a podcast directory component of the Zune marketplace that seems like a complete clone of iTunes. It’s hard to search, not very complete at this point and generally cumbersome. I know Rob Greenlee is in charge of this portion of the project but as it stands today I can’t imagine it being useful to anybody. Even if it was, picking something to subscribe to means it will come down in the unusable portion of the device and thus I don’t really want to do it.

My brother was telling me how cool he finds it that the iPhone and iPod touch both know their orientation and adjust accordingly. The Zune is the opposite. When you play a video, it switches from portrait to landscape automatically. When the video ends, you are back at the UI always because it won’t play continuously. However, it automatically goes back to portrait which leaves you looking at it sideways like a dolt. You can either turn the device, navigate to another video and turn it again or you can operate the UI sideways. Neither of these are great user experiences. Why the hell doesn’t the UI turn sideways until you leave video mode? Why doesn’t it just play the next video unless you stop it? Either would be more satisfying than the way it is. I am, however, getting caught up on my Something to be Desired which is a positive.

Here’s what they could do to make me happier. Make both video files and podcasts playlistable, so they could be set up for continuous playback in an order I specify and make the track to track transitions happen seamlessly. Improve the playlist handling of the management application. The way Creative does it is just fine, look at that and copy it. The former seems like it could be easy to fix in firmware without even being that dramatic.

I got so frustrated with the audio handling that I decided to continue to use the Zune to watch the videoblogs I’m subscribed to but to go back to my Creative Zen for audio podcasts. Being able to just set up my playlist on a tiny device and listen to them was such a relief after trying to make the Zune do what I wanted. It was only 4 days but it seemed like so much more. That’s right, the biggest joy I got from it was when I stopped using it. Now mind you, for video it is way easier than the Zen plus has a screen of much higher resolution and much larger size. Now I’m doing the two device thing. I watch videos on it at my desk at lunch or on the couch at home, which is pretty much it.

Here’s a write up on the deficiencies of the Zune. What I noticed and find hilarious is that one guy wonders why, if the Zune is so bad why were people stampeding to get them? What he fails to point out is that the 30 GB regularly $250 MSRP devices were on sale for $79.99. That’s much cheaper than the cost of the components, I’m sure. I’m pretty happy with it as a video only device for free but even at free, not happy enough to continue using it as a podcast listening device. Had I paid $250 for this device, I’d be outside Steve Ballmer’s office with a pitchfork and a torch trying to storm it with a mob. I’d love to see Rob Greenlee whip their podcast support into shape because as it is presently, it would be better if all of it was removed.

My final analysis: At $80 for the 30 gigabyte version, it is a marginal buy. At $250, you should not even consider it.

Gmail and “Privacy”

One thing I see people saying over and over that they feel it is a violation of their privacy to have contextually targeted ads in the sidebar when they are looking at their GMail web interface. Truly, I never understand that feeling. I understand feeling it is cheesy or overly crass but a privacy violation? Wouldn’t that require giving your information to some third party that you did not want it given to? They ain’t giving nothing to nothing. You must stay withing their silo as an advertiser. If they gave away who you were, they’d have no more exclusive relationship with you to sell to the advertisers.

There are many things you might not like about it, including feeling like a player handling your sensitive data is pimping you too hard and treating you like a sheep to be sheared, but privacy is not the technically correct complaint. I think it would actually be helpful to make the complaint match the reality on the ground if you want things to change. Me personally, when I realized how deeply Google has its hooks into me, I bought a few shares of their stock. If I can’t get the tiger off me, maybe I can ride it a little.

An Open Letter to APM

I am a regular listener to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac and have been since before they had a podcast. However, they screw up some simple things that makes listening to their show kind of a pain. I thought I’d actually email my issues to them, and blog it as well while I’m at it. I’ve had a general post brewing for months about public radio, how it doesn’t serve me as well as it seems to think it does and how they integrate uneasily into the new media sphere. This is a tiny spoke in that wheel.


Hello. I am a listener to the Writer’s Almanac and have been for many years. Although my local station doesn’t carry it, in the days before you had a podcast version available I used to record the MP3 streams of public radio stations and save them to listen later. When you began podcasting it made my life easier.

I thought I would bring a few technical issues to your attention. One is the implications of the way you use your ID3 metadata tags in the MP3 itself. Every file has the same tags, which are to have an artist of “APM”, an album of “The Writer’s Almanac for …” and a song title of “The Writer’s Almanac for …” . The ellipses are not my convention, those are the literal text in every one of your files. Y’all might not be aware of this, but that causes problems with a number of MP3 players. I have both a Creative Zen and a Microsoft Zune and both of them have some “smart syncing” capabilities. That is, they will only sync a given song once and what defines a distinctive song is that it has a unique set of artist, album and song title. Since your song title never changes, I get one and only one copy of the song on my device, regardless of how many were downloaded. It would not only make that syncing issue work but make your show more usable if the song title also included the date.

Your show appears to be assembled from several different audio files; the main program and several pre and post roll underwriting announcements. All of these files are at somewhat different levels. The announcement in the female voice for the Poetry Foundation is significantly lower than everything else, such that if I’m listening in my car setting the volume for the main program makes that portion all but inaudible. If you set your volume to be able to hear that section, the main show would deafen you. It would really help out the podcast listening experience if these were brought together. It would only need to be done a single time for all the component files and then the show would get better for everyone. There is even a free tool to do this for just this situation:

http://www.conversationsnetwork.org/levelator

Hope you are all well. I’m trying to do good work here, and by definition I have kept in touch.

Dave Slusher

Buy Nothing Day

So in principle I support Buy Nothing Day. It’s the same message I’ve been preaching on here and in my podcast for years. No TV or goodie is as nice as the feeling of being out of debt. However, I’m buying something today. There’s an item we’ve been talking about getting for six months, is much easier to get in the holiday season and is 30 to 50% cheaper if we buy it today than another time. So, are we getting played by the man or playing the man?

Zune Time

Thanks to Ken Kennedy, I’m going to get a borrowed Zune to play with. I’m kind of curious how well it works for the podcast workflow. I’ve already installed the Zune software on my one Windows PC and gotten it ready for the device to get here. The Zune management software seems to have the same basic strategy for handling podcasts as does iTunes – a centralized server component with a cumbersome submission process and a client app (without Bittorrent support) that can have individual URLs added. I didn’t find any OPML handling either in or out, so were I to move my podcast subscriptions entirely to the Zune app, that would require adding 150 different feeds. For now, I’ll be syncing my directories. I’m curious to see how well it will work for both the audio and video podcasts. I know better than to get my hopes way up, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Blogstipation

I haven’t been blogging much the last week or so. I think there are two things at play. One is being busy and offline for chunks of time. The other I think is Twitter. Because I have this venue for my half-assed unformed notions, I just dump them there rather than trying to expand them and make them posts.

Back in the Reality Break days, several writers who wrote poetry, short fiction and novels told me that being versed in all forms let them adjust the form of the writing to the size of the idea. If you have one central image, make it a poem. If you have a multi-generational saga, it’s a novel or series of novels.

I kind of feel the same way about Twitter. My skepticism about it still remains a little bit. Partly, that’s because the first thing I did was ignore the central idea of “What are you doing?” That’s really a generally dull notion for me. I’ve been trying to cover my podcast listening fairly thoroughly with it and occasionally throw out a provocative idea or two. Were I limited to the “what are you doing” question, I’d be bored shitless.

Cooling My Heels in the Cold

I’m sitting in the auto shop waiting for them to service my car. It seems like it will take less time than I thought, so I might even be in to work about the average time for me. I was hunkered down and prepared for it to take all morning but mercifully it seems like it won’t.

They have wifi here. Frankly, I’m not sure when any shop with a waiting room doesn’t have it. Nowadays, a $30/month cable modem and a $30 onetime cost for a router does it for you. It makes life a lot easier to have the option of doing your job sitting at the mechanics rather than always doing the car dropoff and pickup, particularly when the shop is kind of far from your house like this one is to mine.

One odd thing is that Twitter does not seem to be accessible from here. I suppose it could be down, but it just seems odd. Everything else I’ve tried works fine.

Bloglines Spam

I just received one of those emails from Bloglines that says “User X has recommended the following blogs to you” followed by a list of Chinese spam blogs. I don’t if I’m bugged that I received this email or pleasantly surprised that it has taken this long for me to get my first one of these. One presumes it won’t be the last.

Update: I might be wrong that this is a spam blog. I looked at some of the links, and they actually appear to be written by a human. Hmmm. The email address was entirely numeric so I figured sight unseen that it was spam. It still could be, just more skillful than your average.

EGC Clambake for November 12, 2007 – “Heather Gold Rocks My World”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for November 12, 2007.

This show is my interview with comedienne, talk show host and all around deep thinker Heather Gold. It’s a long show and it is almost all the talk with Heather, so it’s a little bit of a format breaker. We talk about being an outsider, about the inclusiveness of her comedy and how she breaks the boundary of typical standup in front of a brick wall style. Heather rocks!

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS.

To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5.

Links mentioned in this episode:


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Evil Genius Shirts

OK friends, I need some input. I’m going to reprint the EGC shirts. I’ve now taken orders for stuff packages for t-shirt sizes I don’t have to sell. I need to either print more or stop taking orders, and I’m going to reprint them. The white shirts are now end-of-life. I’m only reprinting black shirts this next time. If you are interested at all in getting a stuff package or even just the shirt minus the CD, I think I’m now amenable to that in the future. If you have a size that is not XL and are thinking about ordering one, send me an email and let me know that so I can be sure to order enough to cover them.

Every single time I have ordered shirts, within the first week after I got them I took a number of orders for XXL and XXXL shirts to the point where I wished I had known in enough time to up the order for those sizes. Please don’t surprise me the day I open the box of shirts, just leave me a non-binding email that you are whatever size and thinking about making an order. I appreciate that.

Conferences: Doing vs Talking

Eric Rice puts his finger on something that bothers me as well. Since 2004 I’ve been to a number of bloggy/podcasty/new media type conferences. I went to Bloggercon 2004, 2 of the 3 ConvergeSouths, 2 of the 3 Podcast/New Media Expos, and Orycon (a science fiction convention at which I also impaneled on blogging.) I might would have gone to PodcasterCon in Raleigh, DragonCons and/or Balticons to be part of their podcasting tracks if circumstances had been slightly difference.

What do all of these things have in common? They are all mostly or completely talking and little or no doing. This is why I have a vision in my head if/when we do something in Myrtle Beach to make the predominant focus on doing. Like Eric says of the Blogs and Dogs conference in Canada, if you came without a blog you left with one and a plan to use it. That’s what I want in Myrtle Beach. We don’t need any more impassioned but useless discussions about whether bloggers are journalists. Asked and answered and answered and answered and irrelevant even if not answered.

However, what I want to do is something more structured than the Podcamp/Foo Camp style. I’d like to be able to give the newbies some idea what to expect before they leave the house rather than being completely loose and self-organized. I’m not sure if it would be better to have a series of breakout rooms devoted to each topic or one ginormous room with a series of areas segregated around topics, ala a comic convention dealers room. Either way, I’d like to have one area devoted for topics like:

  • Beginning podcasting, $0 in equipment. Bring your laptop if you got it.
  • Beginning podcasting, willing to spend a little in equipment.
  • Advanced podcasting – your path to world domination
  • Beginning blogging – don’t leave the session without your own blog
  • Blogging for politicians, incumbents and candidates alike
  • Blogging/podcasting for churches and community organizations
  • Beginning social networking
  • Advanced topics in social networking – teenager led, ideally
  • Publishing your own mini-comics
  • How to promote your band online and off
  • Making films/videoblogs on no budget
  • Editing video on Windows
  • Editing video on the Mac
  • Editing video on Linux
  • Using free animation programs
  • Creating and publishing your family oral history online
  • Keeping in touch with the grandkids online

Etc, etc, etc. These are the kinds of things I’m thinking about. In every case, I’d like people that attend a session to have the ability to put their hands on something and apply the lessons right there. There should be a few kiosk computers that anyone can use to get things done, and nerds willing to pair up with newbies to walk them through what they need help with. This is where my thoughts are now. Before Thanksgiving I need to start getting the framework together of people to help with the conference, find out about space and generally make a go/no go decision about the whole deal. Fun times!

Modern Girls Got No Shame




Modern Girls Got No Shame

Originally uploaded by evilgenius

A few years ago, I made a blog post about how unbelievable my teenage self would find the modern world. “You mean to tell me that I’ll be able to see down girls pants and I won’t really enjoy it? No way, dude!” I made that post in the days before I owned a camera phone.

Here’s an illustration of what I’m talking about. A few days ago I went to a burger joint for my lunch. As I was eating, this is the view. In fact, this is not even turning my head as this girl was directly in my line of sight. Young women of America, hike up your pants and cover your asses up or failing that, wear longer shirts. Seriously, this should be fun but it is actually really gross.

Punk Rock and Social Media

Justin Kownacki has an interesting post comparing social media to punk rock. I’ve long said that although I have a history in radio, to me podcasting is less like that and more like the science fiction and punk zines I read and/or published in my youth.

Earlier today on Twitter I said that the spiritual brethren of podcasters and videobloggers are the crazy kids who are publishing minicomics. The dynamics are the same to me – technology has made the publishing and distribution cheap enough that it enables work that may not be commercially viable in the standard media. I think that’s to the good, and it enables crazy work like Jon Chadurjian’s Leo Geo, a vertically oriented tall skinny comic about a guy who digs through the world. I’m still waiting for him to reprint it so I can buy one. The spirit of creating for the pleasure of it, of perhaps making a buck or three but not caring if you don’t, that’s the same thing I feel doing the podcast.