Podcast Diet

Podcastlogo Podcasting changed my life.

There, I said it. Melodramatic, but true. When free time is whittled down to razor-thin margins, something’s gotta give, and media consumption is often the first luxury to go. And, speaking for myself, when I’m tired at the end of the day and give myself an hour of couch time, I’m not exactly predisposed to turn to the news. “Man vs. Wild” is more like it.

The one chunk of time I get all to myself every day is the daily commute (by bike or walk+train), which amounts to just over an hour a day. A few years ago, commute time was music time, but podcasting changed all that.

With a weekly quota of five hours consumption time, didn’t take long to subscribe to more podcasts than I could possibly digest before the next week rolled around. But I continue to hone the subscription list. Here are some of the podcasts I’ve come to call friends:

Links are to related sites – search iTunes for these if podcast links aren’t obvious.

This Week in Tech: Tech maven Leo Laporte used to do great shows at ZDTV, now runs his own tech news & info podcasting network. I appeared on his TV show a few times back in the BeOS days; now I’m just a faceless audience member. Show gets rambly and too conversational at times, but they do a good job of traversing the landscape, and there are plenty of hidden gems. Frequent co-host John Dvorak drives me crazy, despite his smarts.

Podcacher: All about geocaching, with “Sonny and Sandy from sunny San Diego, CA.” Great production values. Love it when the adventures are huge, but get bored with all the geocoin talk (unfortunately fast-forwarding through casts and bicycling don’t go well together, especially since losing tactile control after moving to the iPhone). Still, lots of tips, excellent anecdotes, and occasional hardware reviews.

Radiolab: I’ll go with their own description: “On Radio Lab, science meets culture and information sounds like music. Each episode of Radio Lab. is an investigation — a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around One Big Idea.” I love what they do with sonic landscapes. I can’t think of a better example of utilizing the podcasting medium’s unique characteristics. The shows are mesmerizing, and welcome relief from my tech-heavy audio diet.

This American Life: Everyone’s favorite NPR show. Excruciatingly wonderful overload of detail on the bizarre lives or ordinary Americans. Your soul needs this show.

Slate Magazine Daily Podcast: They say it would be a waste of the medium’s potential to just have someone read stories into a microphone. I beg to differ. I don’t have time to read Slate, but love their journalism. I’m more than stoked to receive a digest version of the site through my ear-holes.

FLOSS Weekly: Another Leo Laporte show, but in this one he gets out of the way and lets his guests do the talking. All open source, all the time. Usually interviews with leaders / founders / spokespeople for various major OSS initiatives. Great interviews recently with players from the Drizzle and Django camps.

Stack Overflow: Who woulda thunk a pair of Windows-centric web developers would have captured my attention? But great insight here into the innards of web application construction. Geeks only.

NPR: All Songs Considered If you’re old-and-in-the-way like me, feeling like your musical soul isn’t get fed the way it should, you could do a lot worse than subscribe to All Songs Considered – annotated rundown of recent (and sometimes not-so-recent) discoveries that remind you why music is Still Worth Paying Attention To.

This Week in Django: Part of the reason I’ve been so quiet lately is that I’m deeply immersed in Django training, having inherited a fairly complex Django site at work (more on that another day). This podcast is pretty hardcore stuff, for Django developers only. Can’t pretend to understand it all, but right now it’s part of the immersion process, and is helping me gain scope on the Django landscape.

The WordPress Podcast: I spend more of my time (both at work and at home) tweaking on WordPress publication sites than anything else, and this is a great way to stay abreast of new plugins, security issues, techniques, etc. Wish it was more technical and had a faster pace, but it’s the best of the WordPress podcasts.

Between the Lines: Back in my Ziff days, I worked for the amazing Dan Farber, who’s still going strong at ZD. This is my “check in with the veteran tech journalists” podcast, and is a serious distillation of goings-on in the tech world. Always a good listen.

Obviously there’s no way to fit all of these into the weekly commute hours, but I try. No time to digest more, but dying to know what podcasts have you gripped. Let me know.

Music: Minutemen :: Storm In My House

Notes on Open APIs

Geocachingicon Readers following this blog have seen my occasional references to geocaching – a sport/hobbby/pastime that Miles and I do quite a bit of, which involves using a hand-held GPS to place and find hidden treasures – either in the woods or in the city.

One of the many unusual aspects of geocaching is the fact that it relies completely on the existence of a single web-based database, represented by the site geocaching.com. As web-based database applications go, the site is a modern marvel. The database represents hides, finds, people and their discovery logs, travel bugs (ID’d items that travel the world, hopping from container to container), and more, all sliced and diced a million ways to Sunday. The site is deeply geo-enabled, letting users hone in on hides near them, along a route, or near arbitrary destination locations. It’s also one of the best examples I’ve seen of useful Google Maps mashups, relying heavily on the open APIs provided by Google to integrate its cache database with Google’s map database. This is what map mashups are all about, and geocaching.com has done an amazing job with them.

As the popularity of personal GPSs rises, so does the game’s popularity. But when geocaching.com goes down (or slows down), so does the game, which involves more than half a million hides world-wide, and many millions of players. The site, which is, sadly, based on Microsoft database technology and ASP, does go down from time to time (big surprise); it’s a “single point of failure” in bit-space for the entire meat-space game – a precarious position. Continue reading “Notes on Open APIs”

Minnesota 2008

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here for a while. One of the busiest stretches in memory. This summer:

– Three Knight Digital Media Center workshops
– Rains-it-pours freelance workload
– Old friend Rinchen back from three years in monastery; hosted big party
– Old friends Will and Sage back from three years in Australia; hosted big party
– 25th high school reunion (coming up)
– Work crazy as always
– Week in Minnesota with Amy’s family (just returned)

Minnehaha Minnesota: Rolling hills and lush wetlands. Summer thunderstorms. Nieces and nephews and grownups. Golf and tennis on the teevee. Floating down Minnehaha Creek on our backs. Geocaching in warm rain. Mosquitos, mosquitos. Orange Julius Jamboree. Steaks and burgers. Solo bicycle trek in the afternoon heat, through the woods and around the lakes, stashing bike in woods while hunting geocaches (hint: mark location of hidden bike on GPS to find it again later easily). Set mother in law up with new 20″ iMac. Ultimate Frisbee in the cul de sac with extended family, finally understand concept of blocking+interception, which I can apply next time I try to watch football or basketball. Blown away watching nine-yr-old niece navigate her social network like lightning. Puzzled by mall culture; impulse to “shop” without going to buy something in particular. Minnesota Museum of Science to see Star Wars exhibit. Read Zora Neal Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” – amazing, moving. Fireflies. Reeds and rushes. Fish tacos. Humidity sweat, well water, sprinklers sputtering in the dusk. Idly strumming ukulele on the porch. Total recharge, much needed.

Flickr set.

Music: The Fall :: Reformation

Boys’ Weekend

Just returned from an extended weekend with Miles at Grandpa’s house in the mountains outside Tahoe, on the cusp of spring. For the first time, just the three of us boys; Amy sat this one out. Spent the first day sledding and playing in the snow; the next visiting Daffodil Hill, geocaching, and journeying into the bowels of Black Chasm cavern in Volcano, CA. Miles: “Whoooaaa! Is this really what it’s like in the center of the earth?” Later, asked if he remembered what kind of rock the caves were made of, responded “Marbles!”

Daffodil Hill 1

On the return trip, Miles and I ventured into deeper woodlands to find our 200th geocache (hard to believe we started just under a year ago; we’ve found all but ~30 of these together). It’s become a centerpiece of our bond, and he’s still surprised when he realizes that most kids have never been. Phoned our milestone into the Podcacher podcast, and Miles did the talking; hopefully we’ll get to hear his proud little voice on next week’s show.

Black Chasm was an amazing experience; years since I’ve been in a real cave, being stunned by mineral drapery, 200,000-year-old crystal extrusion, a pool of earth’s purest water 200 feet below glowing blue and green, inhabited only by sea monkeys. Got to Daffodil hill just as it entered it was entering waning stage, flowers just starting to think about drooping, but still beautiful. And catching a large male peacock in full strut, on a corrugated tin roof no less, was just stunning.

Flickr set

Music: The Mountain Goats :: San Bernardino

SXSW 2008 Recap

Howareyou Just before leaving for Austin last week I caught an article that brazenly wondered “Has SXSWi gone mainstream?,” citing the choice of Mark Zuckerberg for one of the keynotes. What happened to the cutting edge? It’s true nothing really ground-breaking came out of this year’s show, but that had absolutely nothing to do with the conference’s usefulness… or fun quotient.

As usual, I took (and posted) loose notes on most of the sessions I attended. And as usual, there are often two or three sessions you want to see all happening at once. If you realize you’ve stumbled into a clinker, it’s a crapshoot whether it’s going to be worth it to stumble out, walk halfway across the convention center and try for seating in another — but you do your best. The Twitter back-channel helped tremendously… getting bits and pieces of other panels whispered in helped alleviate the feeling that you were missing something big.

Twitterrific Icon Yeah, I fell for the Twitter thing big-time this year (I’m “waxwing,” if you care); remains to be seen whether it will be as fun or as useful outside the context of the show. Twitter was everywhere – at times it seemed like you couldn’t glance at a laptop (must have been 85% Mac, for cripes sake) without seeing someone plotting their tweets. I’m not big into SMS, but between trying to hook up with people and following Twitter feeds, I’ve never done so much texting in my life

Zucker Had the inverse privilege of being present at the Mark Zuckerberg train wreck interview … not to be forgotten. Gossip and armchair analysis of the interview dominated conversations for the next 24 hours until we were all just sick of hearing about it.

Cacherock Got four hours of good geocaching in with mandric on the first day, before badge pick-up. Austin is in love with virtual (no physical box) caches for some reason – I think they just love their history. As a way to discover parts of a new city through serendipity, caching can’t be beat (and I think Milan caught the bug too!) Some pretty creative hides. Thanks Austin!

As for panels… where to begin? The Expression Engine 2.0 demo blew our doors off (coming version fully integrates ORM-based framework CodeIgniter). Jason Fried’s 10 Things We’ve Learned at 37 Signals totally inspiring for the 2nd year in a row. Henry Jenkins keynote an intellectual rollercoaster — tough competition with Kathy Sierra’s Tools for Enchantment (walked out of that one reeling). So many incredible data visualization techniques unwrapped in Data as Art (big implications and challenges for journalists). Went to two scaling sessions: Scalability Boot Camp and Scaling Web Ventures – of the two, the 2nd had more real-world tips, both both full of useful goodies. Interesting web pre-history in The Web That Wasn’t. Still feeling ho-hum about Adobe Air. Building Portable Social Networks attempted to address the coming tower of Babel between SNs, but left us with “We’re in for a world of pain.” Speaking of pain, I felt for the Microsoft guy defending MS Sharepoint against Drupal at the CMS Roundup. More here.

Neil Getting too old for the relentless party scene that is SXSW, now more interested in finding quiet places to talk with old co-workers and friends, but managed to squeak in a couple of good parties. Really enjoyed myself at Opera‘s party at Stubbs, where I spent 20 minutes in the bathroom talking with an Opera engineer who was the spitting image of Neil from The Young Ones. Think Opera is dead/irrelevant? Factoid: Opera currently employs more than 500 people – the mobile browser market is huge, and Opera owns it. Also a great party at the Mexican American Cultural Center (gorgeous architecture, and music by Gruppa Phantasma = Santana + War + 2008; break dancing like you never seen. Managed to get by on 5-6 hours of sleep per night, but couldn’t keep up that pace for much longer (despite official advice to NOT try and pace yourself (the “liver hacks” portion of that session were especially interesting).

Finally made my pilgrimage to the Daniel Johnson “Hi, How Are You?” mural at the top of Guadalupe, en route to lunch at Ruby’s – some of the most amazing brisket and ribs I’ve ever eaten, served up by the pound on butcher paper in a ramshackle wood and corrugated tin building that hasn’t been renovated in 70 years (or something like that). Even beat The Salt Lick (but not by much).

Didn’t take as many photos as in years past, but managed to get a Flickr set up. Once again, it takes something like SXSW to lift us out of the .edu miasma and into the new world. Always worthwhile.

Update: Wow – Check out these SXSW Interactive 2008 Sketchnotes. Gorgeous.


Loose notes from SXSW 2008 panel on geolocation. Focus was on geo-gaming but other geo-topics also involved.

Great to see Jeremy Irish on the panel – Jeremy is the mastermind behind geocaching.com – the most sophisticated and original database-backed web site I know of – despite it being built in ASP (forgive us, Lord). Jeremy opened the session by showing the placard for the original geocache, and the OCB (Original Can of Beans) (food is no longer allowed in geocaches; ammunition and drugs are also barred).
Continue reading “Geolocation”

Tahoe 2008

Took a couple days off to enjoy a long weekend with friends on the west side of Lake Tahoe, in Homewood CA. Spent four days snowboarding and snowshoeing in spectacular shirt-sleeve sunshine, cooking, drinking wine, hiking around, and just enjoying one another. Had a fun session with The Ungame (1973 version), had a few failed geocaching attempts (everything buried under six feet of snow!), Miles and his little friend took their first ski lessons (and did great!)… Returned recharged and ready for anything.

Images from the trip.

Music: Herbie Hancock :: Nefertiti

Clipper Cove Musical Cache

Yerba Buena 5 Had the most awesome caching experience with Miles today on Yerba Buena island, halfway across the bay between Oakland and SF. Still cracks me up when we happen on an ammo can cache. They’re generally the best ones, and loved the theme of this one (a depot for trading “mix-tape” CDs), but the sight of a five-yr-old cracking open a box labled “200 CARTRIDGES … M-13” still makes me laugh.

Garmin Colorado

Garmin Colorado 400T Stock-1 I’m not the gadget hound I used to be – practicality’s got the better of me. But I’ve been drooling over Garmin’s coming Colorado handheld GPS receiver. Is this the iPhone of the GPSr world? After nine months of geocaching with my intro-level unit, I’ve become painfully aware of its limitations: Small screen, tendency to lose signal easily in tall trees, difficult-to-use buttons, inability to store anything but coordinates from .gpx files (which is why I wrote gpx2ipod).

The Colorado addresses all of that and more… at a price. Excellent review at GPS Magazine (6-page review, check the photos on inner pages). “Indiana Jones Meets MacGyver.” Not sure I want to be either of those guys, but dang, I’m drooling. Went to look for a demo unit at REI yesterday, but it’s not in stores yet. Ended up walking out with new mud boots instead. Saving pennies.

Music: The Langley Schools Music Project :: Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft

Hang On Sloopy

When I was a boy, one of the things I loved about driving through the Bay Area was looking for the amazing sculptures people created and planted in the mud flats and low tidal areas around area highways and bridges. There are far fewer of those around these days than there once were, but there are still a few, if you know where to look. Yesterday Miles and I found a few good ones while geocaching around the Emeryville Marina, including this excellent biplane just beyond arm’s reach from the end of a pier at the base of the marina peninsula.

Img 8523

Img 8522

Img 8521

The GPSr pointed to a spot somewhere just beyond the plane’s cockpit, which explained why the cache was rated a 4.5 on the terrain scale – one of the more difficult ones I’ve attempted (yay adrenaline!).


Absolutely gorgeous caching day, and booty everywhere. At the end of the day, sun going down and the sky turned absolutely electric. One of the most gorgeous sunsets of my life, and the vista was 180 degrees of perfect.

Me: Miles, this is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. No, wait, *you’re* one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

Miles: Yeah, but I’m not a sword swallower. [Then, looking at the sky:] Hey, this must be where God lives!

Music: Devendra Banhart :: Sea Horse