11/28/2007

Classic look for Charlottesville Podcasting Network now available

Michael Strickland has done it again. The web designer of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network has added a page which presents a classic view of the community podcasting site. We switched it to the magazine format, which some people didn't like so much. They thought it made it harder to find if new things had been posted.

I must admit, I think I'll make this the main way I check the site online. I am more used to this style, given that it's how I read mostly everything online. It seems more real, and things don't get buried like they currently do.

Thoughts?

Thanks, Michael!

11/22/2007

A sunny day in Thanksgiving

Another Thanksgiving, another trip to see Henry in England.

Of course, England is in mourning having lost 3-2 to Croatia last night, meaning that their hopes of entering Euro 2008 are now over. I watched the second half at my family's house in Dunstable, and everyone was upset. James went upstairs in disgust to play Freespace2, and then Jim stumbled home from the pub, distraught. Even Pam was livid, and was questioning why the about-to-be-sacked manager decided to play Carson in goal.

At the cafe where I went for breakfast, it was much the same. Elderly lady after elderly lady decried the result, and it seemed that everyone here is quite gloomy.

Except cousin Georgina, who thought it was funny that England are crap.

Today is not gloomy. I am bright and cheery and happy and well rested after my first day here yesterday. I worked up to the last minute, and dashed out the house, thankfully with everything intact.

Things could have gone wrong, as our Saturn is on its last legs and doesn't play well in traffic. Stopping at lights tends to overheat it, and I was worried it would die on the way to Dulles. So, I rented a car to get to Dulles. I decided against Enterprise, because they would have charged a $150 dollar drop-off fee. So, Hertz got my easy business, and will continue to do so in the future.

On the way out of town, my optometrist's office called to say my new lens were in, and I was about 4 minutes away at the time. I said I didn't want to get them because I was leaving town, but I'd get them next week.

Also on the way out of town, I spoke with a woman at Baker-Butler Elementary who told me they have in fact found my missing bag which contains an expensive Zoom recorder. A big relief that got me on my journey with a big smile, because that opens up the possibilities for the Charlottesville Podcasting Network without me needing to replace the recorder. So, big hurray there.

I got to the airport with hours to spare, as I always do when I'm traveling. I like to settle in at the airport, and watch people going from A to B. It never ceases to amaze me just how many people there are. Charlottesville is an incredible bubble that shields us from the sheer amount of men, women and childred who populate our country. So, it's nice to take in that sea of citizens, busy on their way to Thanksgiving feasts all over.

I even remembered to buy an adaptor kit to get my laptop connected. I wrestled with whether or not to bring it because this is a pure vacation, and I don't want to do any work. However, proposal writing isn't work, is it?

The flight itself was dismal, and was one of the worst experiences I've ever had on an airplane. That's because I had a window seat, and the people next to me were asleep within minutes, and I felt trapped and claustrophobic the entire time. I have a hard time sleeping on airplanes, but I wanted to try. The beer I had had at the airport bar sat there in my bladder, making it a lot harder to consider getting a good rest.

But the worst part was the lost passport scare I had. While trapped in the seat, I did a quick check to make sure I had it, but could not find it. When morning came and we had an hour left before landing at Heathrow, I searched all over the floor, the seat, my pockets, everywhere, and could not find the thing. In optimist mode, I thought at least I would get to be home for Thanksgiving! But, I panicked and panicked and panicked.

Then the plane landed, and we sat on the tarmac for about 45 minutes. The claustrophobia continued, and they wouldn't let us stand. I wanted to check my jacket, but I couldn't. It went on for ever, as I played over and over again what I was going to have to say to Henry's mother to explain why I wouldn't be able to come. I pondered if the UK immigration authories would let him come visit me while I sat in custody, waiting for a flight back. In short, my cheery feeling was pretty much washed away in a sea of worry.

However, I had the passport, and relief coursed through my veins. And, then, it was off to see Henry!

Traveling to England for me is always a chance to check out different modes of transportation. I'm less than 48 hours into the trip, but so far, I've been on five buses, two trains, and a large plane. And several long conveyer belts as I walked through the concourses at Heathrow on my ways to the arrivals hall for passport control. That part was easy, and so was getting my luggage, which was right there as I got to the baggage carousel. That picked up, it was time to walk more so I could get to the bus station to catch a coach to Hemel Hempstead.

A lot of people in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area are interested in inter-town transportation. At Charlottesville Tomorrow, we had a lot of people return cards with the voter guide, and we asked them to tell us what we should cover. A lot of people want to know if there could be bus service to Crozet.

Well, at Hemel Hempstead, I was able to catch the 500 to Tring, and then walked a long, long, long way again to Henry's child minder. A long, long, long way. But, worth every step and strained abdominal muscle, as I finally got to the door and there he was, after about seven months, my Henry. He saw me, his eyes lit up, and he was so happy to see me, and I was so happy to see him, but then he got very shy. But I gave him a huge cuddle, and suddenly, there we were, Henry and Daddy together again!

We spent the afternoon at the park, at the library, at his house playing with the toys and games I brought him. Then his mother came home and we caught up on everything, and then it was time to put him to bed, and then go back to Dunstable, which is about 15 miles away, and an hour or so on the bus. The last one stops just outside his mother's flat at 8, and out I went after having a nice chat with Dean, Henry's mother's partner. He's an exceedingly good chap, and I'm glad he's in Henry's life.

When I went out, it was raining, and I waited by the stop. I wanted to double check the timetable, and looked up, but couldn't see very well, so I adjusted my contact lens, and a drop of rain hit me in the eye, and that was it for the lens. And that was it for my stereo vision! I used my cell phone (can't seem to call it a mobile, even though I mix phrases often) to try to give myself a little light, but it was useless. After about ten minutes, I had to give up the quest, and off I went, Popeye on the 61 over the downs and through little villages.

This morning, I was woke up after a refreshing six and a half hours of sleep, and headed into Dunstable to see if I could work something out. I stopped in at Specsavers, booked an appointment, and then headed to what turned out to be a horrible breakfast, and then back to the appointment. The optometrist was able to help me out, and now I type again, vision restored, with about 10 more minutes at the Blue Moon Net Cafe before I have to venture out to catch the 61 back to Tring.

And what will we do today? I don't care. It's Henry and Daddy time on this days of Thanksgiving, and I am certainly blessed that my children are thriving, the sun is shining, and that I am a lucky person who through this odd life I've lived now has the chance to come to England once or twice a year. What will come of this? I don't know. I know that there's a lot of work ahead, but I want to hold on to optimism, want to be positive, want to see if there's a way we can cast off the gloom, identify our problems as a country, as a world, and then find solutions that work for as many people as possible. There's a whole world of us, more than six billion, and I'm just one person part of something ineffable, something fantastic, something wonderful. How can we make it better? How can we encourage curiosity and tolerance and understanding? How can we try to strip out emotions from politics? How can we expect the best of ourselves and each other?

I don't know. But, when I come here, I feel fueled to write, feel fueled to explain the world outside the bubble. And, that's what I'll do wherever I can.

But, for now, time to catch the bus.

11/16/2007

Lessons from Sci-Fi Friday

Now, by now you likely know that I do enjoy my science fiction shows. And I'm not ashamed of this, either. I like to follow stories that inhabit intricate universes, where things may or may not be different. So, with that basic character trait, I've been watching the Sci-Fi channel on Friday nights in order to watch glimpses of an upcoming movie of which I've written about quite often in the past. They've been showing clips from Battlestar Galactica: Razor (debuts on November 24!) during commercials of Flash Gordon and Stargate Atlantis.

That has meant I've watched shows that inhabit very uninteresting universes. In my case, that means that it has incredible aliens, dumb accents, or just isn't very believable. Or, isn't very consistent. Or the acting was awful.

Just like the show I'm watching now. Stargate Atlantic doesn't seem to have anything to do with its predecessor. Somehow the idea of going through space via a gigantic portal controlled by hieroglyphics was a novel concept, and sustained the telling of interesting stories. This just seems to be people talking about weird things while walking through a forest. This must be a budget saving show. I'm not sure. But, it has my attention because I'm waiting for something I really want to see.

I don't want to see a crappy fight scene where one ninja lady takes on four big guys wearing Juggernaut-like masks, complete with absolute surprise from her female companion. By now I've tuned back to the keyboard, so I just hear the drums and the occasional rise of dramatic danger music.

I want to see stories about characters. Does that mean I enjoy Flash Gordon, which has been on the last six Friday nights I've sat here and watched for three minute clips of Bill Adama's past?

I prefer Flash Gordon, even though I would not ever watch it without something compelling me to do so. At least there, the ideas are interesting, and there's a story that's easy to grasp for the casual viewer. However, being easy to grasp doesn't translate into being worth watching out for.

Unlike Battlestar Galactica, which I think has been one of the best shows on television. I think it has lost some of its initial luster, but it more than made up for it in the last episode of Season 3, with the haunting appearance of a Bob Dylan tune serving as a key plot point.

But, at least Sci-Fi had a gimmick that worked. Here I am, sampling its shows, watching its commercials, learning about the upcoming remake of the Wizard of Oz called Tin Man.

Oh. Wait. They moved the flashback to 8:00. And, me, a loyal viewer, knew nothing about it. I've even signed up for their e-mail list, and they know who I am because I willingly gave them at information, but yet they couldn't send me a program note? That's fairly irritating.

I am at the point where I am about to give up on Comcast and simply watch television online. I've already transferred my watching of several shows to the computer monitor. I'm hoping eventually I can watch them over wireless on my iPod. Why do I need to be learning about sleep medication? I don't have a problem falling asleep. What does this advertisement have to do with me?

So, now I feel like I have no need to watch Stargate Atlantis, and I can go back to watching something I want to watch, as opposed to manipulating me.

I would like to see film and television productions begin to aim themselves at Internet distribution. What would it take to by-pass the idiots who so poorly run the networks? Going back to Battlestar Galactica, it boggles my mind that more people don't know about the show. And, I worry they won't, because it's on a network that's surrounded by schlock like Stargate Atlantis. I'm ashamed to talk about BSG with people, but so many people that initially balked have come around to it. It's a fantastic show about an incredible mystery that erupts from the end of human civilization. The acting, writing, special effects, cinematography, music, directing, podcasting (Ron Moore's podcast commentaries are brilliant and candid), and all-around feel of the show just has to be seen to be believed.

I would pay $5 an episode.

Eventually, the television industry will have to come around to people's shifting expectations. More and more people are going to question why they have to sit through ads. NBC may have been right to drop out of iTunes in order to sell more expensive downloads, but will you be able to download content for your iPod through Hulu?

I do worry about that answer selfishly, seeing as NBC owns Sci-Fi, and thus controls the rights to Battlestar Galactica. I would not be surprised if you see it making an appearance if the writer's strike goes on for a very long time.

11/13/2007

British writers won't cross US picket lines

Well, so much for my fantasy, in which Britain's best comedy and television writers would get a golden chance to remake the American airwaves.

The Writer's Guild of Britain has asked its members to honor the strike by members of the Writer's Guild For America. This isn't unexpected, and of course, my fantasy is pretty far-fetched. But, the scenario outlined below is something I frankly would love to see:

“We are contacting the major UK broadcasters and producers, and the UK Film Council, asking them not to dump UK material into the US market, and not to dress up American projects to look as though they are British. Any such manoeuvres would bring at best a short-term advantage, whereas the adverse consequences could last for years."
That's Brian Corbett, chair of the Writer's Guild. While the solidarity is impressive, this would be a good chance for American audiences to see first-run British stuff, rather than recycled remakes. Much has been written about how the NBC version of The Office has escaped the curse of the American-made British show. But Coupling? The US version of Red Dwarf? The two attempts to convert Fawlty Towers into star vehicles for Maude and the guy from the Night Court?

I don't have a well-formed opinion of the strike, but I've blogged elsewhere about how I just don't see the writers winning this one. The suits have way too many options in terms of program recycling, and there are many well-produced shows owned by the networks that have already run on cable. There's also a ton of alternatives available online. Network ratings are plummeting, and this is just going to make it much worse. And frankly, I don't think most people care.

But, I would suggest that individuals seek out some British shows, and I'd be happy to recommend a few. If you've not seen Spaced, you could be missing out on something that could fundamentally change your life. There's even talk it's going to be remade as an American show, which would be rather unfortunate given that it's so lovingly produced. You may recognize one of the main characters from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Next up, Peep Show. This one has already been made into an American pilot, and it did not get picked up. That might be because the British version is close to absolute perfection. The laughs are usually painful, and rooted in self-loathing, self-aggrandizement, and self-abuse. I'm not doing the show justice, but seek this one out before it gets remade by Spike. The premise is simple - two former college housemates continue to share flat well into their 20's. But, you constantly hear their interior monologues, undercutting what they say in real life. The result is something incredibly honest.

Finally, I've recommended this before, but Life on Mars is a pretty fantastic show as well, if only for how wonderfully decadent 1973 Manchester is depicted. This is another one that's currently being remade, and is simply not going to work. I'm somewhat encouraged by the presence of two folks from the British Isles who are on board (Colm Meany and Lenny Clarke) but without a huge soundtrack, this just isn't going to work. Americans are also going to want an answer, and there are no answers in Life on Mars. Watch Journeyman instead - my favorite show of the new season.

Now, a treat - the full first episode of Spaced, which sets it all up nicely. I'm still saving the last two episodes, but I'm pretty sure the opening sequence here relates to the last few minutes of the entire series. Amy is perturbed I don't want to race through, but this has very quickly become one of my favorite shows of all time. I've watched the rave episode at least 20 times already. It's not that that episode is particularly funny. It's that there's geniune character development and it's made so lovingly that you feel like you're there.






11/11/2007

BBC's In Business presenter writes about podcasting

Peter Day is the presenter of In Business on BBC Radio 4. He's written an article for the Daily Mail about how podcasting has drastically increased the profile for his show, which he's been hosting since 1988.


I woke up to what was happening when I went to Cambridge and a procession of dons and local business angels mentioned recent favourite programmes they'd heard in the gym. It seems to be a good fit, this half an hour of workout accompanied by half an hour of keeping up with busines trends.

Whenever I meet teachers, they talk about the use they can make of In Business in schools. Podcasting makes this 'resource' much more accessible. And we've now made available on the website a downloadable archive of programmes going back years.

When the BBC started podcasting two years ago, I made a programme about it. 'Although I report endlessly about technology,' I said, 'you only notice what's happening when it begins to effect your own job.' Here comes podcasting, and here am I in the firing line.

I'm happy getting the audio, but how long until I can buy video podcasts of BBC shows directly from the UK? Could that be negotiated?

11/09/2007

Podcasting Charlottesville Beyond Charlottesville

This blog entry prompted by Leslie Middleton who was alarmed at the weird pingbacks she was getting on her latest Rivanna Rambler podcast. These days, pingbacks are mostly spam, but every now and then I get an example of how the Charlottesville Podcasting Network has a vast potential audience.

The Islamic Cultural Community of Northern California is having Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina speak in December, and what better way to pitch his talk to potential attendees by linking to his recent appearance on WINA's Charlottesville--Right Now! with Coy Barefoot? I'm sure they found it by typing "Sachedina podcast" in Google.

I'm always glad when this sort of thing happens, because it turns a one-time radio appearance into part of the public record. And, it's good for a couple extra fifty downloads or so, I reckon. That particular recording has been downloaded 122 times now, so we'll see if this goes up over time.

11/08/2007

Radio on the television / television on the radio

I was searching out new mp3s to listen to just now, and came across this absolutely painful interview. Luke Burbank of NPR interviewing Icelandic band Sigur Ros and it goes pretty poorly. After the first long pause, it's pretty clear the group has no interest in being interviewed for this show, which is also being filmed for YouTube (hence the video).



I thought it odd to watch an interview like this, and to see it going so poorly. It's a very raw interview, with people who has clearly not been prepared for interview. There's absolutely nothing going on here, and the host points that out at one point, and then it just goes downhill from there.

I've never been very good at live radio. For me, it's all got to be scripted. I've not been writing many radio pieces lately, and I miss the structuring of creating a script. When I write for radio, I transcribe everything I can, even the soundbites, to see if there's a way I can present the information as succinctly as possible.

In other words, I've had painful interviews before, but thankfully, never of them were live. Kudos to Luke Burbank and NPR for putting this stuff up in the raw, with video footage as well, to show a little bit about how the sausage gets made.

On another note, I've been loading my new iPod Touch up with new podcasts, to take advantage of the absolutely cool visuals on the thing. I noticed that the audio portion of 60 Minutes is available now for download. As I walked my dog tonight, I listened to a fascinating story about US policy on killing civilians in war-time. Don Hewitt has always said that 60 Minutes is about the writing, and I think I'm going to adopt the habit of listening to this podcast. (Hey - Drag to iTunes!)

iTunes podcast subscribing as easy as dragging and dropping

You would think that the guy who runs the Charlottesville Podcasting Network would have figured this out already.

Today I was reading through one of the e-mails I get from Poytner about how to improve my craft as a journalist. And, I noticed there was a podcast involved as well. The innovation, though, was a suggestion that I could "drag and drop to iTunes."

So, I tried it. I opened up iTunes, opened the Podcast folder, and dragged the link to Poytner's podcast feed in, and it worked. I'm now subscribed! Easy as pie.

Try it yourself!

Charlottesville Podcasting Network feed: Drag to iTunes
Charlottesville Tomorrow podcast feed: Drag to iTunes

One thing to note is that feeds directly into the iTunes music store do not work this way, which I don't find terribly surprising.

Edit: I had to delete two of them, because I can't seem to get Feedburner to work correctly with the sub-category podcasts. Need to upgrade CPN's Wordpress and Podpress to get this started. Any suggestions?