Friday, December 30, 2005

Where to get new audio books

One of the uses I'm enjoying with my IPod is having a few Audiobooks with me at all times. I've got a number that I've bought from various sources and with all the storage available on my IPod model, it's easy to keep them handy for listening when I've got some time.

I've been waiting for someone to come up with a way to turn some of the public domain books that are out there on the Web into audio books. I figured it was just a matter of time and with sites like Project Gutenberg out there, there's plenty of material.

Well, someone has taken up that challenge. Check out LibriVox to see the result. They're serving up public domain books that you can listen to on their site or download to portable player and enjoy wherever you are.

This is a very interesting site that is built on the open source model, where like-minded people come together to create something useful. It looks like a great idea and one that you can participate in if you're so inclined. They're looking for volunteers to read chapters and contribute, so if you've always thought that those years of reading to your kids were wasted on them, try those pipes on a wider audience. Maybe you'll be able to quit your day job!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Gun violence hits close to home

The Boxing Day shooting in Toronto put a spin on the Christmas holidays that we certainly didn't need around here. But as it turned out, our family was involved in a way we didn't expect.

On Boxing Day, Heather's brother, Rob, and his son, Henrik, arrived in Toronto from Oslo. Henrik and his hockey team were in town to play in the North Toronto Christmas hockey tournament, which was on over the Christmas break.

While the kids were staying with billets, the parents were staying at the Delta Chelsea, which is located about half a block from the scene of the violence at Yonge St and Elm. When Rob's cab arrived at the hotel a couple of hours after the shooting, the street was still closed and they had to enter the hotel through a side door.

Ironically, Rob had been telling the Norwegians how nice Canadians were and how friendly everyone was. But when they arrived to find armoured police staffing the lobby of their hotel and plenty of worried people and rumours flying everywhere you can imagine how they felt.

The next day, we were in Toronto for supper with Rob and we walked past the Future Shop on Yonge, where 15-year-old Jane Creba was killed, and five others injured. The police tape had just been taken down and the street was filled with people again. Many were there to see the spot. You couldn't help but feel strange to be walking past the same spot just a few hours after it all happened.

When we walked by on the way to supper, the site was freshly washed and the sidewalk was clean. But just an hour later, on the way back, a makeshift memorial, with candles, teddy bears and hand-written notes, was already in place on the sidewalk outside the Future Shop. It's a ritual that seems to be all too common these days whenever a young victim dies.

At one level, it seemed unreal. It was just another day on Yonge St. But Creba was the 52nd person killed by a handgun in Toronto this year. And while the murder rate in Toronto is a whole lot lower than most other big cities, the rapid increase in the use of guns is a sobering statistic.

Update -- Jan. 1 -- The bad news continues for Toronto, as the first murder of the year comes just hours after the New Year arrives. And again, a handgun is involved.

Monday, December 19, 2005

One billion strong

Sometime in 2005, the world passed a significant milestone, as the one billionth Internet user signed on.

This week, Internet usability guru Jacob Neilson explores the significance of this in his latest Alertbox newsletter. Here's some interesting tidbits:
  • According to Morgan Stanley estimates, 36% of Internet users are now in Asia and 24% are in Europe. Only 23% of users are in North America, where it all started in 1969 when two computers -- one in Los Angeles, the other in Palo Alto -- were networked together
  • It took 36 years for the Internet to get its first billion users. The second billion will probably be added by 2015; most of these new users will be in Asia. The third billion will be harder, and might not be reached until 2040.
  • In 2002, NUA estimated that we had 605 million Internet users. Since then, Internet use has grown by 18% per year -- certainly not as fast as the 1990s, but still respectable.

The implications on how we use the Internet and what it is used for (like e-commerce) are sobering.

This is a good piece to whet your appetite for thinking some big thoughts about where all this is taking us.

Personally, I'm finding it more and more exciting every day. But just how significant the changes are is not necessarily that obvious in a day-to-day sense. It's only when you look at how quickly things have changed in such a short time that you start to grasp that something big is truly happening.

After all, as I am fond of telling my kids, when I went to school, computers were kept in separate rooms. I only ever used a typewriter to do term papers and when I started my first job in the newspaper business, I used a manual typewriter! And I'm not really that old!

What about you? When did you start using computers? And when did they become a part of your life that you couldn't imagine doing without? Or have you yet to cross that Rubicon?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Proud Papa Update -- Kelly's a Cardinal!

I just realized that I hadn't let you know about Kelly's big decision, which she made a couple of days ago.

As you might know, she's been entertaining rowing scholarship offers from the University of Louisville, Cal-State in Sacramento and Washington State in Pullman, Washington.

It was a tough decision, but she's decided to go to Louisville next September, and join the Louisville Cardinals rowing program. They were her first choice from the beginning, but strong challenges from both Sacramento and Washington State made the decision a really tough one. (That's their varsity 8 on the right.)

The other variable is that Heather and I will be in Victoria next year, which means Kelly will be a long way away. But she'll only be a short (about 8 hours) drive from Hamilton. And Cory will be still be here, so she'll have someone to stay with if she gets back during the school year to visit her friends.

Needless to say, Heather and I are very, very proud of Kelly. She has handled the pressure of being recruited, visiting the campuses, evaluating the programs and making a really tough decision with incredible poise. She's a great kid and I'm just so very, very proud...did I mention that I'm proud of her?

Well, I'm glad I got that out. Now we're all going to settle in and enjoy this holiday season, the last one we'll be spending here in Hamilton. Jaime arrived home last weekend and it's been great to have her around again. She's flying higher than ever. She's the only kid I know who welcomes the chance to come home and work out for hours and hours every day, since she doesn't have any school work. Talk about dedication (or is it obsession?) I'm only kidding, Jaime.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wikipedia may not be as dead as some thought

For some of you, the whole question of whether Wikipedia is alive or dead may be a moot point.

But if you're familiar with the on-line encyclopedia, you might be interested in Dan Gilmour's report about a study published recently in the journal Nature, comparing Wikipedia and the Encylopedia Britannica on the accuracy of their scientific postings.

Wikipedia, which is unique in that anyone can post an entry, or edit an existing one, has been under fire in recent weeks. (For a bit of background on some of the controversy, read this post from Bruno Giussani.)

But in recent days, it's been getting some good notices, like this one.

I use it often and I think it's a tremendous project. So long as people realize that there is no such thing as an absolute sure thing when it comes to sourcing information, we should use it, contribute to it, if appropriate, and enjoy the benefits of yet another open source project. (Like the Music Genome Project I wrote about last week.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Worst job ever?

OK, this isn't up to my usual high standards... (I do so have them!)
But I couldn't resist.
See if you can figure out what this guy is doing...

(WARNING -- This clip is not office-safe!)

Watch it here

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Now here's a pretty cool music service

In recent months, I've been having a blast discovering lots of new music, especially what is called podsafe music by artists who are letting their music be played by podcasters.

But I admit that I also like to listen to lots of music that isn't "podsafe." In fact, my Ipod is full of all the copyrighted stuff I've collected over the years.

So I was really excited to hear about a new service that's up and running called Pandora. It's essentially an on-line radio service, but you can create your own, personalized stations, tailored to present music you like.

The format is deceptively simple, but it really works. If you don't believe me, just try it out for yourself. Just go to the website and type in the name of an artist, or a song that you like. Then the site will start playing music that matches your preferences.

How does it do that? That's the really cool part. The site is based on the work done by a dedicated bunch of folks who have been working on something called The Music Genome project. Their goal is to break down music into essential elements in such a way that you can identify which songs will be attractive to which people.

But like I said, the details are less important than the end result. And the result is -- it really works. The online service lets you create up to 20 personalized radio stations. You have to register on the service, but it's not a problem and it's available for free. There is a Premium edition, without any advertising, but the ads are not really a problem. After all, it's the music you're interested in.

Oh, one more thing. If you're not a US resident, you're technically not allowed to use the service, according to the licensing arrangement the site has with the copyright owners. But as long as you don't tell anyone I told you, there is an easy way around that requirement.

When you get to the part of the registration process that asks for a valid US Zip code, just go here, enter the name of any US city, and you'll get a valid Zip code. Then just copy that back into the Pandora site, and you're off and streaming.

And since it's the holiday season, you should know that you can create a holiday music station really easily. Here's what the site says about that:

To hear holiday music on Pandora, just start by entering the name of a favorite holiday song (for example, "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow"). We'll then ask you to pick from a list of artists that we know performed that song. Pick your favorite version and we'll create a station that will play other similar holiday music. While we're not able to play that exact song immediately, it will play on your station eventually so keep listening!

If you'd rather start from an artist, just enter the artist's name followed by the word holiday (for example, "Nat King Cole Holiday"). We'll then use that input to build a holiday station based on the musical qualities of that performer's holiday

If you're looking for something nice to listen to at your desk filled with stuff you like, give Pandora a try.

Update - Dec 21 -- I'm not the only one that loves this site. Here's a detailed review by Tonya Engst from the Tidbits site.

Podcast is the word of the year

As an English major and an all-round word kind of guy, I feel good about having my opinions validated by a prestigious organization that is widely respected as an arbiter of the English language.

This week, the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary chose podcast as the Word of the Year for 2005.

According to a recent story in the Globe and Mail The New Oxford American Dictionary defines podcast as:

“a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made
available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.”

I couldn't have said it better myself. And it's nice to know that all my harping about how cool a use of new technology podcasting is getting some larger agreement in those not directly involved in this business.

Now I've got to start thinking about what the word for 2006 should be...

Monday, December 05, 2005

"Meet the life hackers"

Last week, I posted a note about the virtues of simplicity -- and how Google is one of the best examples of how "just enough is more." It's a mantra that will only gain strength as we continue to reclaim our most precious resource -- time.

Today, I've got a follow-up. In the most recent New York Times Magazine, Clive Thompson takes a look at why so many of us are being driven to distraction by interruptions. (The article, called "Meet the Life Hackers," might still be available on the Times site, but here's a link to Thompson's blog, with a complete version of the story.)

What makes his essay so interesting is research that shows that interruptions are not always the problem -- in fact, they are often the solution to problems that we are facing, and we need the information they are providing. But not always. And there's the rub. We get interrupted, which might be a good thing and it might be a bad thing. But until we stop what we're doing and check, we won't know. And by then, it's already too late.

Here are three excerpts to whet your appetite. But be warned ... this is a long article ... make sure you have the time to read it without interruptions! Ha-ha!

Excerpt #1

Information is no longer a scarce resource -- attention is ... 20 years ago, an office worker had only two types of communication technology: a phone, which required an instant answer, and postal mail, which took days. "Now we have dozens of possibilities between those poles," Rose says. How fast are you supposed to reply to an e-mail message? Or an instant message? Computer-based interruptions fall into a sort of Heisenbergian uncertainty trap: it is difficult to know whether an e-mail message is worth interrupting your work for unless you open and read it, at which point you have, of course, interrupted yourself. Our software tools were essentially designed to compete with one another for our attention, like needy toddlers.

And another...

Once their work becomes buried beneath a screenful of interruptions, office workers appear to literally forget what task they were originally pursuing. We do not like to think we are this flighty: we might
expect that if we are, say, busily filling out some forms and are suddenly distracted by a phone call, we would quickly return to finish the job. But we don't. ... The central danger of interruptions, Czerwinski realized, is not really the interruption at all. It is the havoc they wreak with our short-term memory:
"What the heck was I just doing?"

And finally...

But for many users, simplicity now trumps power ... we have shifted eras in computing. Now that multitasking is driving us crazy, we treasure technologies that protect us. We love Google not because it brings us the entire Web but because it filters it out, bringing us the one page we really need.
In our new age of overload, the winner is the technology that can hold the world at bay.

Thanks to David Allen for the pointer to this article.

Bad news for Mallick fans

One of the reasons I'm such a fan of the Globe and Mail is because it usually makes an effort to present more than one side of an issue. Over all, I think the reporting and columns is often first-rate.

That's why I'm so disappointed to learn this weekend that Heather Mallick has left the paper over a dispute about the way the editors handled her regular Saturday column, according to The Toronto Star's Antonia Zerbisias in her media blog.

I found out about this through my friend Eric Eggertson's blog Mutually Inclusive, who in turn has a link to the original blog posting. Ah, the beauty of blogging in action.

Eric's post is called "What was the Globe thinking?"

Indeed. They've let a good voice get away, if they don't do anything to get her back.

And if you think she should be brought back send a note to the editor.

Catching up on blogging stuff

Last week, I attended a panel discussion on blogging in business hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society, Toronto, called "Wake Up and Smell the Blogs!" The chair was Michael O'Connor Clarke whose personal blog is Uninstalled. The other panelists (I've linked to their blogs) were Jack Kapica of the Globe and Mail, Mark Evans of the National Post, John Oxley from Microsoft Canada, Rick Segale, a Toronto venture capitalist and Geoffrey Rockwell, from McMaster University.

I've linked to all their blogs above, but only John Oxley and Geoffrey Rockwell actually wrote about the event and those posts are the ones I've linked to.

For me, the most important message was how important it is to have an authentic voice in order to have a credible blog. This is even more important in a business blog. Blogs are successful when the authors are passionate about what they're doing and their passion has to come across in a way that is real.

Geoffrey Rockwell summed things up for me in his post, when he said:
Finally, I realized, again, how blogging is not about the technology, it is about voice and engagement. It is a sign that web technologies are maturing when things like RSS and XML are not really the issue, it what you do with them and how they are hidden.
I'm having an "ah-ha!" moment after thinking about this for a few days. I realize just how passionate I am about this "new media" thing and its potential for the communications business. Yet somehow, I'm not connecting what I'm doing (on a daily basis) with what I know is possible.

Sure, technology is a cool thing and at first, it tends to obscure the real uses of these new tools for communicators. But eventually, content takes over as the true measure of how useful something is for the people using the technology. If the content is up to it, no matter how "cool" the product doesn't get used. And making sure the content is good is my job.

What really hit me is that I am just as up-to-date (maybe more so) on the topics of interest and the current events in the blogosphere as the panelists were, yet I'm not really participating in that world. I watch it from a conventional corporate communications perspective.

I'm on the cusp of straightening out my thinking in this area. When I do, I'll write about it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Keeping it simple

I was going to write a post about an article that's out on the Fast Company website about Google, and how hard they work to keep things simple. But, thanks to my putting off writing about it, I see that my good friend Eric Eggertson at Mutually Inclusive has already posted a great commentary with a link to the story. Check out his take here.

Thanks Eric