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November 30, 2005

Podcast History

PodcastHistory.jpg

I decided to take a hand at recording my own Wikipedia entry today. The results, for better or worse, can be found here with my rendition of Wikipedia's entry for Podcasting. I was astonished to see how much the definition and history of podcasting had expanded over the past few weeks (then again, just look at how much Wikipedia itself has grown in the last year). I keep up with podcasting's development on a daily basis so I have an incremental knowledge of what's happening and what might happen. When you actually step back and take stock of what's changed in this sphere over the last few months, you see the incredible strides the medium has made.

Personally speaking, I've never had such direct access to an emerging technology much less known at the moment that I was actually taking a small part in its development. Thanks to podcasting I basically got a crash course in how the internet of the 21st century works. We started doing our own shows at LearnOutLoud last February and that seems like a million years ago now. Back then we didn't know if anyone was listening to these things or if this whole medium had any legs at all. Now even my mother knows what a podcast is, and she’s beginning to think about trading her walkman in for an iPod nano. I still can't predict the future of the art much less tell you what the present state of it is at any given instance. If anything I've come to know that technology is no longer a static thing (if indeed it ever was) and I've become accustomed to this constant flux.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my reading for you. It has really placed the recent past into perspective for me and I think it serves perfectly as a podcast definition. It is also a valuable primer for all of the new listeners that join the podcasting community on a regular basis. With podcasting, the history books are being re-written every single day, and every moment of this is recorded by people like you and me.

 

November 29, 2005

...and Furled...and Lifehacked...and Yahoo'ed!

It's been a bit of a wild last 30 hours or so. First the front page of Digg. Then the front page for del.icio.us where we still are over 30 hours later (I have no idea how that works). Furl kicked in a little bit. Then we thought the coast was clear.

Then around 1 PM PST today we got posted on the front page of a very cool blog called Lifehacker. (Apparently it's very popular as well.) Then, to double our pleasure (or pain depending on how the server is acting at that minute) we see that Lifehacker's article is syndicated to Yahoo! News. So in the span of 24 hours we go from nothing to getting posted on five of the biggest websites on the Net. Crazy...

Anyway, just two reasons for posting this. First, to explain why the site has been sluggish and apologize for any less-than-stellar experience that you have had with the site. We think we're in the clear now publicity-wise although the way the last couple of days have gone I wouldn't be surprised if Oprah gave me a call later tonight. ;)

Second, to say that this is all really cool. It's fun to see all the support for what we're doing and I hope that many of the thousands of people who've been introduced to the site in the last couple of days will return soon and often. It's also really cool to me personally that maybe, just maybe, for a few of you who visited this might have been a spark to figure out what this whole "audio learning" thing is all about. If all of the Diggs, Furls, del.icio.us bookmarks, etc. cause one new person to view their commute tomorrow as "prime learning time" then for me the headache of trying to keep up a server over the last 30 straight hours that I've been awake has been well, well worth it. :)

Discuss this post in the LOL Forums!

(Updated 11/30/05 - Had the wrong URL for Furl...)

 

November 28, 2005

We've been dugg! (and del.icio.us'zed...)

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If you've been on the site at all today you've probably noticed that it's a bit sluggish (or downright inaccessible). This was due to a huge influx of new visitors that happened when we made the homepage over at Digg.com. We made the homepage around 10 AM PST today and within an hour we were the victim of the "Digg Effect" (something so common that it even has its own Wikipedia entry).

We've been working hard to get the site up and it looks like most of the site is functioning properly (albeit a bit sluggishly) with the exception of the Free Audio and Video Directory which we've replaced with a static page until things stabilize. It also didn't help that in addition to being "buried" (the alternative moniker to the Digg Effect) we also have been on the popular list over at del.icio.us for a good chunk of the day.

Anyway, thanks to all the new folks for stopping by. We hope to have the site fully operational soon so you can see all we have to offer. In the meantime, bookmark us (or bookmark us in the del.icio.us), sign up for our newsletter or subscribe to our blog or podcast so we can keep in touch with you. Apologies to all of you for the inconvenience.

(And if you're not familiar with Digg.com or del.icio.us I would definitely recommend to go check them out. They're two of the coolest sites on the Net!)

 

November 27, 2005

IT Conversations

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I've been a big fan of IT Conversations ever since I started listening. I simply don't think that there is anyone else out there producing audio content as consistently solid as what Doug Kaye and his legion of volunteers are doing. And what started out as a lot of conversations about technology has evolved into so much more. Here's a recent sampling of episodes I enjoyed listening to:

Tim Zak's interview with Ethan Zuckerman on the subject of Africa and social entrepreneurship from the Globeshakers Podcast
Moira Gunn's interview with Dr. Andrew Weil on the subject of aging and longevity from the Tech Nation Podcast
John Battelle's conversation with Vinod Khosla from the Web 2.0 Conference

This is just a sampling of some of the amazing stuff that's out there. We've re-done our listing of the IT Conversations podcasts and added a simple re-direct for you to be able to find them:

http://www.learnoutloud.com/itconversations

You can find all of these programs at ITConversations.com as well. This is just our way of trying to give this wealth of amazing audio content some more exposure. Also, we've added in links for one-click subscriptions through iTunes and to product pages on Odeo and Yahoo! Podcasts to make it even easier for you.

Please don't forget to support IT Conversations as it is a listener-supported non-profit. Here's a link to go to if you would like to donate. Finally, check out Doug's Conversations Network. I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record about this but I really feel that what he will be doing with this will change the world.

 

November 26, 2005

The "Tepping" Point Here at Home

On Wednesday I wrote an entry about The Tepping Point, a grossly simplified equation (Technology + Education = Productivity > Progress) that I fell underlies which economies become successful and which fall behind. I framed it in the context of Africa and Jeffrey Sach's groundbreaking book The End of Poverty. However, the Tepping Point isn't just a concept that it's important for economic develpment abroad. It's just as important right here in the U.S.

I'm reading the most recent issue of Fortune and I came back-to-back articles where the Tepping Point has direct relevance. The first ("Get a Life!") describes the increasing desire of men to have better work/family/life balance. One of the main issues: Can people be as productive (or even more productive) while working 40-50 hour weeks as they are if they are working 60, 70 or even 80 hours a week? The second article ("It's His Economy Now--And Yours" includes a couple of interesting charts that plot the growth of real GDP and real wages and salaries over the last five years. The take-away? While real GDP has been relatively strong (3-4% over the last couple of years), real wages and salaries have been falling for the last couple of years.

With a few blips on the radar the U.S. economy has been on relative easy streets for the last couple of decades. It's easy to think that will continue indefinitely, especially when we've been in the midst of such a prolonged uptick. However, history is full of examples of countries that were on top and presumably invincible one year can find themselves in troubled waters only a few years after. One only needs to look to what's happened in Japan over the last decade as evidence of that.

One again, let me offer a full disclaimer that I'm far from anything remotely resembling an economist but I get the general sense that there could be economic trouble ahead for the United States. Not in the sense of "Oh my gosh we're going to have another Depression and everyone is going to be poor." Rather a sense that although we will continue to do well and specific sectors might do very well that we're going to face an intense challenge from China, India and other countries that are growing at a much faster rate than we are.

China's economy is growing at a rate of 8% per year. Let me repeat that. China's economy is growing at a rate of 8% per year. With that type of torrid growth rate we don't need to look forward more than a couple of decades to a time when China, not the United States, will rule the world economically. After all, as I read in the early pages of The End of Poverty, it was a mere 1% difference in GDP growth rates between the U.S. and Africa between 1820 and 1998 that lead us becoming an economic power and Africa becoming an economic backwater.

OK, full disclaimer #2: I don't care who wins. I love my country as much as anyone but I also don't define myself by it. So I don't write any of this in the interest of trying to imply that it's bad if China or India or somebody else takes over the #1 spot in the world's economy. Rather I want to see all nations and all individuals succeed to their best possible ability.

And that's what I love about the Tepping Point. It's the furthest thing from a zero-sum game that you can find. Technological development and educational advancement form a tide that lifts all boats. No one loses in a more educated society. That's the beauty.

And to be honest, just as Africa has a long way to go in terms of education so do we here in the United States. Many K-12 schools are in a lot of trouble as over-worked teachers struggle to deal with larger class sizes and fewer resources. Colleges and universities are still world leaders but many American students are falling behind their often harder-working foreign classmates.

And adult education? Well the most telling sign for me of the state of adult education is when I tell people that I have a company that sells audio and video educational products. The immediate assumption by the vast majority of people is that we offer products for children. It takes many people a surprisingly long time to get the fact that we're trying to educate people who've already finished "their education" (as defined by that high school/college/graduate diploma).

Sure, a lot of people are good at learning what they need to know for work. Which is fine until you switch positions or careers and realize that this often means developing a whole new skill set. Or until you're forced to deal with the fact that innovation is moving at break-neck speeds and that the knowledge you have today is increasingly likely to become obsolete a couple of years from now. Or until you wake up and realize that 1.3 billion Chinese people are now a prime player in the global economy and that many of those people want your jobs and are very qualified to take them.

But by then it might be too late. That's what we want to help prevent here at LearnOutLoud. We want you to start Learning Out Loud before you find yourself in a position of learning too late.

 

November 23, 2005

The "Tepping" Point and The End of Poverty

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Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time.

If that doesn't send chills down your spine I'm not sure what will. It's in the introduction of Jeffrey Sachs' revolutionary new book The End of Poverty (Note: I just put up a free video lecture from Sachs here). I'm about 35 pages into this and it's an incredible combination of history and economics lessons and a call to action that we actually have the ability to put an end to extreme poverty including the continent that suffers the worst from its economic situation: Africa.

Helping Africa has long been a personal passion of mine and I fully expect to devote significant chunks of my life to doing what I can to improve the situation over there. It's no doubt a complex and daunting challenge to even make a dent in what often seems to be an overwhelming set of challenges. But I don't think we have a choice. If we believe in equality and justice then I think we must help.

As I was reading The End of Poverty I developed a (very) minor thesis which I'll call The TEPPing Point (apologies to Malcolm Gladwell). What is the TEPPing Point? It's a simple equation:

Technology + Education = Productivity > Progress

The combination of an improved technological infrastructure and increased access to education will lead to higher productivity. At the end of the day higher productivity means higher wages and ultimately economic progress. Sachs offer some illuminating points early in the book when he talks about how just a couple of centuries ago Africa wasn't all that far behind the rest of the world economically. However for the last couple of decades the rest of the world has advanced at a quicker rate leaving Africa in the dust. That's the main reason (I am likely oversimplifying here) behind why we see extreme levels of wealth in North America, Europe and Asia while most people in Africa live on a few dollars a day or less.

Why am I talking about this here on LearnOutLoud? Well, for starters we're doing our best to work on the "E" of the TEPPing Point. We feel that by enabling and encouraging audio and video education both here and abroad that we're doing our part (albeit perhaps a small part at this stage) to raise productivity and economic progress.

Consider this. I formed a bit of this theory while listening to a great interview on the IT Conversations Globeshakers podcast. In it, Tim Zak interviews technologist Ethan Zuckerman and asks the question "Why Should We Care About Africa?" A couple of years ago I would have had no way to access that conversation. Today it's as easy as plugging into an RSS feed and listening to it on my iPod. That's the kind of thing we want to enable on a wide-scale. Globeshaking indeed...

As far as technology is concerned some amazing strides are being made. In the interview Zuckerman talks about the incredible impact that the sub-$100 laptop that Nicholas Negroponte and others at MIT are developing will have (for a collection of links on this click here). He also relayed a story about how parents in Ghana (where Zuckerman has spent a good deal of time) will save money for months so that their children can spend time at cyber cafes in the hopes that the technical skills they'll pick up will help them to have a brighter economic future. (Note: When thinking about things to be thankful for tomorrow perhaps adding easy Internet access is something we should all be adding to our list?)

Indeed, I can feel a TEPPing Point coming. Things are accelerating at such a tremendous rate. If we (I speak collectively here) can bring technology and education to developing and impoverished countries without exploiting those countries in the process then we will change the world. When a kid growing up in Ghana can watch lectures from Stanford on his sub-$100 laptop or listen to foreign language training courses on her sub-$20 iPod then we will change the world. When the quality of a child's education no longer depends on an accident of latitude and longitude then we will change the world.

And I can't think of anything I would rather be thankful for in another decade or two than a world in which no one has to go to bed hungry or die from diseases that are ridiculously easy to prevent.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at LearnOutLoud.com to all of you around the world.

 

November 23, 2005

Wiki Out Loud: Wikipedia Entries on Audio

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A few nights ago I was at the office and the ol' brain was fried. I decide to take a couple of hours "off" and record some Wikipedia entries on audio. It was kind of fun. Here were my reasons for doing this:

1. I learned about some cool new stuff while reading. For instance, did you know that JFK, Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis died on the same day (November 22nd, 1963)?

2. I thought that having some Wikipedia entries on audio would be a cool resource for visually impaired people, non-native English speakers, etc.

3. We probably won't do a lot of these but I thought that by kicking some off maybe some other people (whose narrating voices are a lot better than mine!) would be encouraged to do this and after a while a good chunk of Wikipedia would be available on audio.

I recorded six entries and we put them up on the site yesterday. Here they are:

Big Science
C. S. Lewis
Creative Commons
Digg
The Long Tail
Web 2.0

After putting these up I noticed that there is a similar project already in the works called Spoken Wikipedia. It looks like they have a couple hundred entries including some rather eclectic ones like "Gumball machine" and the "Don and Drew Show" (um, isn't that supposed to "Dawn"???). The rationale for doing the Spoken Wikipedia project was similar to ours. Here's what they say:

* Spoken articles make wikipedia content available to those who can understand English but cannot read.
* With spoken articles, users can listen to Wikipedia articles while they perform tasks that preclude reading, but not concentration (such as biking, running, doing housework, etc). It is presently difficult to find high-quality audio content that entertains and educates like spoken featured articles do.
* Blind users can of course use screen readers, but no matter how good the computer voices are, they will never be as pleasant as a human vocal performance.
* Non native English speakers, and those that don't speak it at all, can have a valuable learning tool. Having a large number of examples of how words are pronounced can be important. In addition, being able to hear how words are pronounced and read them at the same time offers two simultaneous learning styles, auditory and visual, for potentially faster learning.
* Some may find it easier to concentrate on reading an article while listening to it, especially in an environment with distracting sounds (with the use of headphones).

Anyway, the more the merrier as far as educational audio content goes. I don't really know whether to link to our audio titles from Wikipedia or not. I don't want to step on any toes. And I probably should contribute my entries to the Spoken Wikipedia project as well although they use the OGG file format which I find to be a bit of a pain in the ass (although I understand why they use it).

So I hope you enjoy the audio entries and can put up with my occasional stumbles through names and tough-to-pronounce words. We'll probably do some more from time to time. I do think that an "audio encyclopedia" would be a great resource and there doesn't seem to be a better place to start than Wikipedia given its open licensing. If you've got other thoughts on the matter feel free to ping me at suggestions@learnoutloud.com.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

November 21, 2005

Podcast Round-up

We've added a lot of cool new podcasts to the site and I wanted to direct your attention to a few of them:

The BayCHI Podcast - Interesting sessions with technology leaders recorded by BayCHI, the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of ACM SIGCHI. I listened to the recent episodes with Doug Kaye (09/13/2005) and "Are You Ready for Web 2.0?" (08/09/2005) and highly enjoyed both.

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders - A weekly seminar series on entrepreneurship out of Stanford. The session/interview with the founder of Trilogy Software was one of the most engaging podcast episodes I've ever listened to.

Stanford on iTunes - More good stuff from Stanford. These aren't technically podcasts (there no RSS feeds) but there is definitely some good content here.

If you have any suggestions for other good educational, entertaining and inspirational podcasts or other audio content please send us an e-mail at suggestions@learnoutloud.com and let us know. We have 540 podcasts in our Podcast Directory and 548 titles in our Free Audio and Video Directory and we're shooting for 1,000+ in each within a few months. We'd love your help in getting there!

 

November 20, 2005

New iPods: Micro, Pequeno and Invisa

The iPod Nano and Video iPod are now obsolete! Funny sketch from last night's Saturday Night Live:

http://section3.net/stevejobs_SNL/

:)

 

November 19, 2005

Educational, Entertaining and Inspirational

I just listened to a great session with Doug Kaye over on the BayCHI podcast where he talks about the new Conversations Network that he's putting together. During the session he talks about the type of content they are looking for and says that it must be "educational, entertaining and inspirational." He then goes on to say that he'll take "two out of three" and that the most important of those three is inspiration.

Well they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I'm going to borrow Doug's terminology because it precisely fits the criteria we've established for listing content on LearnOutLoud.com. We want content that both uplifts and informs and at the same time is very enjoyable to listen to.

To educate.

To entertain.

To inspire.

That's our mission.

(By the way, mark my words. What Doug is doing with the Conversations Network will change the world. It's going to be so much fun to watch and to be involved.)