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July 27, 2006

The "Not-So-Bright" Future for Media

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So I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the future of media. No doubt some of this has been spurred by all of the discussion of Chris Anderson's new book The Long Tail (which you must read if you're at all interested in where media is headed). The question on my mind these days is what exactly is the future of media?

Media disruption is happening at a ridiculously fast rate. The best example of this is YouTube. I was walking back from lunch yesterday with my brother and was mentioning that YouTube was disrupting media consumption even more than TiVo did. You see with TiVo you still had to know when something was going to be on and decide whether it was good and TiVo-worthy. With YouTube you no longer need to worry about that. Just wait for everything to air and then wait for something like Digg videos to let you know if it was worth watching (like this awesome Colbert clip).

Then there's music. The fact that Yahoo is pushing hard to make music available DRM-free (as discussed here) speaks volumes about how far we've come in the last few years. More and more companies are getting the fact that DRM doesn't help anyone and they are willing to roll the dice on business models that don't assume that DRM offers the protections it pretends to.

And then there's this whole Long Tail thing which is pushing content to the edges. Your media discovery no longer comes from the aisles at Sam Goody or Blockbuster. It comes from your friend's MySpace page and some blogger's del.icio.us account. You use Pandora instead of Rolling Stone to find new music and can't even remember what network your favorite television show is on because that doesn't even matter anymore.

Lots of big media companies are frightened by this scenario. And they should be. The gatekeeper mentality toward media is rapidly eroding. It's being replaced by user-generated content, disintermediation of publishers and AI-like discovery and personalization tools. I'm not saying anything new here. Just making some observations of what I'm seeing and what others are talking and blogging about.

But what does this mean?

It means that if you're stuck in a 20th-century model for media distribution then you're toast. Sure, maybe not now...maybe in a few years or maybe you'll hang around even longer. But you'll eventually be moved out of the way (sometimes not so subtly) but what's coming down the pipeline. By the kid in the garage who just invented the next-generation media app that makes your content ridiculously easy to get. By the media discovery device that can't reach your content and therefore can't share it with people who are looking for it.

So what do you do?

First, you deliver incredible value to your consumer. You make it so easy to buy your content at a reasonable price that dealing with Bit Torrent or something else of that nature isn't worth it. You deliver the files in a non-crippled format that is at least the equivalent of what people can find on the Net for free. You make user experience paramount. You make consumption of your media incredibly painless.

Second, you build community around your media. You create passionate fans of your stuff who want to pay you for your stuff (even if they could get it for free elsewhere). Our buddies over at Integral Naked have done this. People pay them money because of the content but it's not just that. It's also about the community that forms around the content. Accessing that is just as important for many subscribers as the media itself.

Third, you are willing to innovate and understand that your revenue model is going to change. Hanging on to the way you made money in the past is, to throw out a bad cliche, like polishing the brass on the Titanic. The ship is going down and while you might make some money in the short-term by doing this you do so at the risk of the future of your company. We're moving to an all-digital world really, really fast and if you're not prepared for that you're putting your entire company at risk.

How do you innovate? You take chances. You try new things. You realize that some of the things you do won't make any sense in the short-term but will return you millions of dollars in the long term. You embrace the youth because their behavior will be indicative of what everyone will be doing in a few years. You watch how people are consuming media and let them dictate to you how they want to consume media vs. the other way around.

What does this have to do with LearnOutLoud? Nothing...and everything. We're trying to forge new ground with media delivery and consumption. And we're working with a range of people, some of whom really get it and some of whom don't (note: we prefer the former). And as much as this rant seems like it's focused on content producers it's equally important to consumers. Your world is shifting too and you have an opportunity to help forge this new future by voting your time, attention and hard-earned dollars towards the companies that are willing to take chances on new business models.

So maybe the future is bright after all. At least for those willing to embrace the tidal wave of change that has just started. A year ago nobody knew what YouTube was. Three years ago nobody knew what MySpace was. Six months from now there's going to be a new company that everyone will have heard of that no one has today and that company will be disrupting things all over again.

Bottom line = pay attention. Media shapes our lives and we're at a very cool point in history where we have the opportunity to really shape media. Just a little something to be conscious of...ok, back to your regularly scheduled, er, time-shifted programming...

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July 27, 2006

iTunes Podcast Directory Keeps Getting Better

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I have to hand it to Apple. They've really nailed it when it comes to promoting podcasting. Back when they launched their podcast directory over a year ago, I remember it being a sort of free for all and you couldn't find much of anything outside of what they featured and everyone was struggling to get on iTunes and their images weren't showing up right and going into the categories you'd just get overwhelmed with this never ending laundry list of podcasts.

Well Apple has come a long way since then. The ability to subscribe to and listen to podcasts through the iTunes application and then to transfer them to your iPod is flawless. They've nailed video casting with the ability to stream right in the application or transfer to a video iPod, and they've added the ability to make enhanced podcasts with chapter marks, inserted images, text, and hyperlinks. Every podcast you download is an MPEG-4 file that goes to the Podcast section of your iPod and each file is bookmarkable so you never lose your place.

They've grouped together all the big podcasters such as NPR and all their affiliates making those podcasts easy to browse. And now they've added a new section of categories and subcategories making it much easier to find podcasts in your areas of interest, complete with listings of new podcasts, featured ones, and the top 100 podcasts in every category and subcategory. And let me not forget that they've got good listener reviews along with excellent "Listeners who subscribed to this also subscribed to this" podcast suggestions.

Now for a few things I think iTunes can improve on with their directory. First off I still think their search is weak. It's better than it used to be, particularly when you do a broad search like "wine" and you get a nice set of relevant results up top with images. Search anything more obscure though and you're bound to pull up no results or a result that seems totally off base. It doesn't even seem like they're bringing the text in the RSS feeds to bear on the results, much less converting the audio of podcast episodes to text and allowing people to search the audio like our good friends at Podzinger have done for our podcast directory.

Another thing I don't like is that they don't allow you to stream podcasts in their entirety. I have to download it and then find it in my ever growing list of podcasts I've downloaded or subscribed to in iTunes. I guess it's a concern that streaming whole podcasts might suck too much bandwidth from podcasters and make them mad so I sort of understand.

So Apple's almost there with the ultimate podcasting player/catcher/directory. The only problem facing podcasting now is that I believe it's reaching a glut. So many seemingly interesting podcasts, so little time. That's why at LearnOutLoud.com we'll keep devoting ourselves to seeking out only the best podcasts that you can learn from. We don't want to overwhelm you with information, we want you to learn!

 

July 20, 2006

LearnOutLoud/Loomia featured on CNET

Ken (one of the co-founders of Loomia, the company we use for our super-cool recommendations service) just dropped me a line to let me know that Loomia and LearnOutLoud were recently featured on Alpha, the CNET blog. Here's the link. Pretty cool write-up...

If you haven't used our recommendations service yet definitely give it a try. Log in to the site (or register if you haven't already), rate a few titles (the more the better!) and then click the Recommendations link in the upper-right corner of any page on the site for your own personalized recommendations. LearnOutLoud is the only spoken word audio site currently offering custom recommendations and we think you'll really like this feature.

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July 19, 2006

Guide to LibriVox Audio Books

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In case you're not aware, LibriVox is a site which brings together volunteers to narrated books in the public domain, and then offers these audio books as free downloads on MP3 and Ogg Vorbis formats. They have 1000s of completed free titles, most of which are classic literature, short stories, and poetry.

There is quite a bit of variance in the quality of the recordings and the narrators so at LearnOutLoud.com we've put together a guide of quick reviews on the quality of narrators and recordings for each LibriVox solo project. They have a number of projects which are collaborations of multiple narrators and we haven't had time to listen to all of those yet. This has helped us feature the best LibriVox audio books which you can browse here:

http://www.learnoutloud.com/librivox

So without further ado here is our guide to LibriVox audio books:


Completed Books

Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger, Jr.
-Alice gives a fun reading here. She does a lot of different voices sort of like she's reading a kids story. The audio quality is good. She may be a little too dramatic for some tastes but she puts a lot of energy into it.

Poetics by Aristotle
-Robert Foster does a decent job here with handling Aristotle. He doesn't seem to have a great command over the text and he maybe should've read it before narrating it. He stumbles over words and his audio overmodulates a little.

Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bédier
-Joy Chan has an awesome British accent that is perfect for reading this audio book. The audio quality is average, but her narration is top notch.

The Parenticide Club by Ambrose Bierce
-Good reading by British accented Peter Yearsley. Not terribly exciting, but fitting for the text. Decent audio.

Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly
-Stellar narration by Alice and this sounds like a really interesting audio book. I was captivated.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
-Bravo Joy Chan! She narrates this 12 Hrs. 30 Min. audio book wonderfully. Her accent continues to be the coolest on the LibriVox scene. Recording quality is good, not great.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
-Good amateur narration by Kara Shallenberg. Maybe not dynamic enough to keep the constant attention of children, but still high quality narration.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
-It's good technically but it lacks passion. Denny Sayers narration is a little dry for this adventure novel. The audio recording is well done.

North of Boston by Robert Frost
-High quality audio and good narration by Brad Bush for these Robert Frost poems. Bush has a southern accent which I'm not sure fits Frost, but it's not too overbearing.

China and the Chinese by Herbert Allen Giles
-David Barnes delivers these lectures on China in fine fashion. They were originally delivered in 1902, and depending on your interest level in China, may or may not hold you full attention.

The Four Million by O. Henry
-Marian Brown's narration is fine for these O. Henry short stories. The audio quality is very good, but the narration could use a little more dramatic flare.

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
-The audio quality on this one is okay. There's a constant fuzz in the background and the edits in the audio are audible. The narration by Brit Martin Clifton is fine but it doesn't overcome the weak audio.

A Calendar of Sonnets by Helen Hunt Jackson
-These are really short sonnets. Laura Fox does well to read them, but they might be too short to bother with.

The Tao Teh King by Lao-Tze
-Eric S. Piotrowski delivers this audio book in a tolerable way but it lacks the depth and insight of Phil Chirco's LearnOutLoud.com narration of the Tao Te Ching.

American Indian Fairy Tales
-Chip sounds like a professional narrator. I was very impressed with this recording. There's nothing amateur about this audio book.

Spirits in Bondage by C.S. Lewis
-C.S. Lewis's first book is read well by Robert Garrison. His voice is gravelly, yet clear and suitable for Lewis in his early days.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
-Brit Jon Ingram reads The Communist Manifesto and his narration is solid. The digitizing has some artifact that is a bit piercing at times, but it's still listenable.

Typee by Herman Melville
-Very professional recording by Michael Scherer of this 11 1/2 hour audio book. He doesn't overdramatize yet he still does a good sailor's voice.

Absolute Surrender and Other Addresses by Andrew Murray
-Joy Chan gives an inspired reading of Andrew Murray's sermons. The audio quality still has a little hiss but her cool accent and enthusiastic reading overcome it.

From October to Brest-Litovsk by Leon D. Trotsky
-Good recording and good narration by Rebecca. Don't be fooled by the name. This is a British man reading.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-John Greenman gives an entertaining narration which seems directed at kids. He has fun with it even though the voices might be a little annoying for adults. The recording quality is good.

Chapters from my Autobiography by Mark Twain
-John Greenman reads Twain's autobiography with wit and understanding and the recording quality is high quality.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
-Well done narration from John Greenman who has become the voice of Mark Twain on the LibriVox scene.

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
-Rebecca (a British man) has an excellent voice for this H.G. Wells novel. The sound is good and his voice keeps the listener intrigued.

The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde
-LibriVox's most prolific narrator Joy Chan gives a good reading of these stories with her British accent. There is a little fuzz to the recording.

The Romance of Rubber by United States Rubber Company, edited by John Martin
-Good, if you're interested in rubber.


Completed Short Works

Sarrasine by Honoré de Balzac (transl. Clara Bell and others)
-Chip is basically a professional narrator. He's the best. He even pronounces his French phrases correctly.

Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories by Ambrose Bierce
-Peter Yearsley gives a soft-spoken, haunted reading of these stories. You can understand him, but he could pick up the pace a bit and project a little more.

The Book of Job (ASV)
-Robert Garrison has a strong voice which works well for the Old Testament and his recording quality sounds great.

Ecclesiastes (ASV)
-Robert Garrison has a strong voice which works well for the Old Testament and his recording quality sounds great.

Three Short Works by Gustav Flaubert
-Dark British reading by David Barnes. He does a good job with it.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
-Betsie Bush is an average narrator and the sound quality is a little below average. It's only 13 minutes though so it's probably tolerable.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
-Chip is a professional. He narrates with gusto.

Magna Carta
-A very proper British reading of the Magna Carta read by Jim Mowatt.

The Song of Songs (ASV)
-Another good recording of a book of the Bible read by Robert Garrison.

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
-John Gonzales trying a little too hard to sound British and humorous in the reading of this short pamphlet. The recording is good.

The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain
-Kristen McQuillin gives an adequate narration of this Twain short story with average sound recording.

The Constitution of the United States of America, 1787 by The Founding Fathers of the United States
-Kristen McQuillin gives a good narration of the Constitution

Amendments to the United States Constitution (version 2) by Founding Fathers
-A much better reading of the U.S. Amendments from Jim Cadwell.

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America
-Jim Cadwell narration is fine but the audio quality is a little tinny and there's some digital artifact.

U.S. Historical Documents
-Very professional recording and narration from Michael Scherer including Articles of Confederation, US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Gettysburg Address. He runs the site Americana Phonic.


Completed Poetry

The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll
-Robert Garrison narrates this Lewis Carroll poem well. It could have a little more enthusiam.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
-Kristin Luoma gives a splendid, dramatic reading of Coleridge's classic poem.

War Is Kind by Stephen Crane
-ChipDoc might just be the best narrator LibriVox has. An excellent reading.

So that's our LibriVox guide for now. Since we wrote this guide we've added over 1000 new audio books from Librivox based on their quality.

All LibriVox Titles on LearnOutLoud with 1000 New Titles

Among the 1000 new audio books there are 150 free audio books specifically for kids. All these new free audio books for kids can be found in our Kids Section:

150 New Free Kids Audio Books from LibriVox

And here are some of the great new audio books we've added by category:

Biographies:

Mozart: The Man and the Artist as Revealed in His Own Words by Friedrich Kerst

The World I Live In by Helen Keller

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography

Edison, His Life and Inventions by Frank Lewis Dyer

The Life of St. Teresa by St. Teresa of Avila

History:

A Short History of the United States by Edward Channing

A Short History of England by G.K. Chesterton

Herodotus' Histories, Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3

The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The Book of the National Parks by Robert Sterling Yard

Literature:

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

John Barleycorn or Alcoholic Memoirs by Jack London

Walking by Henry David Thoreau

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

The Aeneid by Virgil

2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Candide by Voltaire

Poems of William Blake

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Philosophy:

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Golden Sayings of Epictetus

The Sayings of Confucius

Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill

Introduction to The Philosophy of History by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Discourse on the Method by Rene Descartes

The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

The Joyful Wisdom, or The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Discourse on Inequality by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Essays, First Series and Essays, Second Series by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Religion & Spirituality:

The Tree of Wisdom by Nagarjuna

In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? by Charles M. Sheldon

The People's Idea of God by Mary Baker Eddy

The Large Catechism by Martin Luther

Conceptions of Divine Love by St. Teresa of Avila

The Golden Bough by James Frazer

Bhagavad Gita Translated by Sir Edwin Arnold

The Meaning of the Glorious Koran

Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg

The Bahai Revelation by Thornton Chase

The Story of Mormonism by James E. Talmage

Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness by Evelyn Underhill

Twentieth Century New Testament

Science:

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin

The Story of Alchemy and the Beginnings of Chemistry by M. M. Pattison Muir

The Outline of Science by J. Arthur Thomson

Philosophy and Fun of Algebra by Mary Everest Boole

Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein

Curiosities of the Sky by Garrett Serviss

Self Development:

Supreme Personality by Delmer Eugene Croft

A Practical Guide to Self-Hypnosis by Melvin Powers

Mental Efficiency by Arnold Bennett

The Power of Concentration by Theron Q. Dumont

The Secret of Dreams by Yacki Raizizun

A Guide to Men: Being Encore Reflections of a Bachelor Girl by Helen Rowland

How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett

And this is just scratching the surface of what they've got!

 

July 19, 2006

DRM-free MP3s from Y! Music???

Very cool blog post from Ian Rogers over at Yahoo! Music about their desire to sell content as DRM-free MP3s rather than protected WMA files (which among other things do not play on iPods). Ian makes the great point that music companies are already selling DRM-free content whenever they sell a CD. Sure there's an extra step involved of ripping that track to mp3 but what high school/college student doesn't know how to do that these days?

I've been making a similar point to publishers for a while now. At LearnOutLoud we currently have the largest selection of DRM-free spoken word audio content of any site on the Net. And our selection is set to triple or quadruple by year's end (stay tuned!). We're able to pay the publishers we work with a whole heck of a lot more because we don't have the costs associated with implementing and servicing DRM'ed content. And our customers benefit because they don't have to worry about tedious stuff like authorizing computers or devices, not being able to listen to their stuff both at home and at the office, etc.

I was interviewed last week by someone writing a paper on DRM and they asked what I thought the future of DRM would be in five years. I said (and it was indeed Ian who I first heard this from) that either we'll see no DRM whatsoever or the DRM that will be there will be so transparent that it won't bother you and you won't even know that it's there.

Sadly, that's not the case today. I'm a huge fan of the Rhapsody music service but there are times when I've driving and trying to listen to my Rhapsody music and DRM issues make me want to toss my Zen player onto the 405. Customers are becoming increasingly wary of this and so unless things get better soon I think you're going to see more people moving to DRM free audio services in the future.

Hopefully Yahoo! Music can pull a DRM-free service off. I'm definitely rooting for them.

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July 14, 2006

What if a mobile phone could make your life better?

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Came across this amazing article in the Washington Post yesterday (thanks Kareem!). I've been fired up about mobile for a long time now but reading this article just adds more fuel to the fire. It's soooo nice to see an application of technology that truly changes lives for the better. Not that there's anything wrong with the plethora of RSS aggregators and video sharing service out there...but at the end of the day the question is whether we're using technology or whether technology is using us right?

I definitely have no desire to wax philosophical here but at the same time I think it's refreshing to see a clear case where technology is improving peoples' lives and presents the opportunity to possibly lift an entire generation out of poverty through enhanced communication, better business possibilities, etc.

So what does this have to do with audio learning? Well...my gut tells me that when the audio learning thing hits the developing world it's not going to come via the PC but largely via the mobile phone. Imagine this...kids growing up in rural Africa learning English and other basic skills via a cell phone. Based on what I'm reading in this article I don't think that's too far off. It might be a while before the sub-$100 laptop is a reality. During that time the whole effort might be leap-frogged by a cheap cellular phone that can provide voice and data access.

I'll admit I know nothing about this.

This might be an idealistic Pollyannish notion from a guy who lacks basic know-how about what goes on over there.

Or not.

A buddy of mine reminded me yesterday that the only limitation is our imagination. So for today I'm going to imagine a world in which kids from Africa and other third world countries grow up listening to educational and inspirational audio material and use the knowledge they've gained to create sustainable businesses and teach others and lift their countries out of crushing poverty. Will that dream become a reality? I don't know but we're going to do our darnedest to make it come true.

Have a great weekend everyone and thanks for all of your support of LearnOutLoud. We're experiencing record levels of traffic this week and I want to express how excited I am about what's going on. After all, we're just getting started.

:)

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July 12, 2006

How to Have a Better Brain

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I've been doing a lot of looking lately at what people can do to improve their brains. Does that sound strange? Perhaps...but think about it. We spend tons of time and money as a culture on improving all sorts of other parts of ourselves. Think how much money is spent on skin care or on making our bodies more asthetically appealing (the plastic surgery industry is HUGE). Yet, what affects our mood and happiness more than our brain?

I think most people feel that there isn't much you can to improve your brain. From what I've been learning lately I beg to differ. I tihnk there is actually a ton of stuff that people can do to improve brain chemistry and mood. Unfortunately the vast majority of our culture turns to chemicals to do this. Either prescription drugs ("improving" brain chemistry is basically what anti-depressant drugs do), legal drugs (like alcohol or nicotine) or illegal drugs (I heard recently that cocaine is a $100 billion industry in the U.S. alone!!!).

What are some non-chemical ways to improve brain chemistry? I've listened a couple of Dr. Daniel Amen's audiobooks recently and there are some good suggestions in there. Currently I'm listening to Making a Good Brain Great and while I haven't gotten to the part that talks about improving the brain yet there are some pretty strong warnings about what not to do. For instance, while football and soccer are great sports, the number of head injuries that are incurred can lead to major psychological problems later in life due to the brain damage that can occur. That's something I've never thought of. Anyway, for a free preview of Amen's stuff check out this speech he gave on IT Conversations.

One practice that has been shown to improve brain function is meditation (see a couple of stories related to this here and here). I've been experimenting with different types of meditation and contemplative practice lately. One of the best ways to introduce yourself to meditation is through guided meditation audio. A couple of titles that I've tried recently include some of Bodhipaksa's stuff and Andrew Cohen's Meditation audiobook. Meditation requires a lot of patience but based on everything I've been reading lately the benefits are tough to deny.

Of course another common sense way to improve brain function is to make sure the brain is getting plenty of oxygen. In fact, the brain loses consciousness after being deprived of oxygen for just 8-10 seconds. There are a couple of things that you can do to ensure that you are getting plenty of oxygen to your brain. The first is deep, diaphragmatic breathing. This is pretty simple to do (just take deep breaths and make sure that it's your abdomen and not your chest that is moving). However, one tool that I've found that helps with this is a bio-feedback device called Wild Divine. It'll help you monitor and regulate your breathing patterns. I'll often hook this up when I'm reading or watching a movie (yup, I'm a dork) and it's interesting to see times when I'm breathing free and easy and other times when I'm breathing more shallow or even holding my breath.

Of course another way to ensure good blood flow to the brain is through exercise. There are dozens of ways to exercise but one of the best I've found for this purpose is yoga. The combination of cardio work and deep breathing can produce an "oxygen high" of sorts that feels pretty damn cool. I'm fortunate enough to have one of the world's best yoga studios in my backyard but for those who don't the audio versions of yoga courses can be a great substitute.

So those are a few ways to "have a better brain." No doubt there are many more. If you have any suggestions feel free to post in the forums. I'm a junkie for anything I can do to improve the most valuable part of my body. :)

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July 6, 2006

The Infinite Mind


Recently I've been completely obsessed with Lictenstein Media's The Infinite Mind program. Each one-hour episode focuses on a particular issue related to the brain, be it mental illness, how the brain is affected by outside stimuli, what certain emotions mean, or the outward consequences of neurological process. A quick look at the episodes we carry on LearnOutLoud will give you a good idea of the wide range of topics that fit within this spectrum. All of them feature guests that are experts on a specific subject, with discussion that is approachable yet heady. They also sometimes feature slice of life examples to help one better understand a certain issue, such as one woman’s vivid description of a panic attack ("If you could visualize someone holding you by the hair over the George Washington bridge..."), or another person’s tragic acknowledgement that her mother’s creative genius was probably fueled by the same mania that led her to suicide. This formal structure works to complete a fairly thorough picture of what is discussed; from introduction, to expert analysis, to “street-level” experience.


Thus far I can list a few episodes that warrant serious attention. First of all is the incredible Art and Madness, which explores the undeniable link between insanity and creative brilliance. Here you will hear about musicians, poets and actors that have made incredible works of art, only to be hampered and sometimes killed by debilitating illness.


Next up, I would say Marriage is an episode that stuck with me, not because of any sort of personal affinity at this point in my life, but more for the questions raised on whether or not fidelity is hard-wired into us. Additionally the episode offers the most concise common sense advice I've yet heard on what it takes from an emotional standpoint to turn formative passions into lifelong bonds.


I'll also mention Alcoholism, which is treated in this instance as nothing short of a neurological illness. With alcohol however, the pain is consensual: it's always a choice one makes when they decide to drink. The episode addresses this argument, and goes further to show how certain people may have less of a choice in the matter than you may think.


Religion endeavors to trace the human attraction to the religious experience and why interest in the divine endures to this day despite encroaching secularism. Experts identify parts of the brain that are now associated with religious impulse, and we see how religion's tenants may appeal to a primal aspect of human neurology that has yet to be identified.


Finally I'll there's Narcissism. All of us have probably met someone we feel is self-absorbed, but does that necessarily mean they are a narcissist? Here we learn that narcissists lack a certain sense of empathy that makes them believe they somehow exist beyond established laws of social conduct. Think of it as the most extreme selfishness you’ve ever known and somehow that doesn’t describe all of what these people go through. I thought many of those interviewed in this episode were terrifying to be honest with you.


In all, every episode of the Infinite Mind has it's pearls of wisdom to impart. If you can download any one of these episodes, be sure to get one on a topic you are especially interested in. I can guarantee you will hear an hour of information packed with insight you can't find anywhere else. I was basically up for hearing every one of these shows, and I have yet to leave unsatisfied with the wealth of detailed information available. Definitely an amazing way to fill up your iPod.

 

July 5, 2006

Over 1000 Free Audio & Video Titles!

Not sure if you've been to our free audio & video directory lately, but we've been adding a lot:

www.learnoutloud.com/free

Recent stuff we've added:

Audio Anarchy - Free MP3 downloads from anarchist thinkers like Emma Goldman

Boston University's World of Ideas - Free streaming audio lectures and debates from smart people like Elie Wiesel, Gene Wilder, et al.

Americana Phonic - Downloads and streaming audio of America's founding documents

Lannan Foundation - Poets and political activists speak at Lannan's Readings & Conversations with folks like Salman Rushdie, Joyce Carol Oates, and Howard Zinn on streaming audio

Cato Institute - This libertarian think tank puts out tons of free MP3 downloads of their speakers covering social issues, U.S. politics, economics, foreign policy, and more

Miller Center of Public Affairs - Along with the most comprehensive collection of presidential speeches on MP3 download, their forum features politicians and major historians discussing history and contemporary issues

LibriVox - The web's coolest community of volunteer narrators reading classic public domain books just keeps getting cooler. And we've added a bunch more of their best titles to our site (we've listened to most of them to ensure they're the high quality ones).

History and Politics Out Loud - Check out this "Out Loud" site of free historical speeches streaming on audio

BookTV's In Depth Programs - And this one might be my favorite. 3-hour-long, in-depth interviews on streaming video with some of the greatest authors of our time: Tom Wolfe, John Updike, Simon Winchester, Harold Bloom, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Friedman, Susan Sontag, and many more.

We just keep finding more and more great stuff! If you find any educational free audio & video titles to add don't hesitate to email us!

 

July 5, 2006

10 Cures for the Summertime Blues

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Summertime is in full swing. It's a great time for traveling and relaxing of course but it's also the perfect time to start audio learning. Listening to books and podcasts is an excellent way to pass time while you're at the beach or in your car on the way to Grandmother's house. To help you fight off those summertime blues I've put together a list of 10 free downloads for you to throw on your iPod or other MP3 player this summer. Enjoy!

10. Ted Talks - The good people from the TED Conference have just posted a bunch of free downloads from their most recent conference including talks by Al Gore and
Tony Robbins. Considering that the conference normally cost $4,400 to attend this is quite the deal.

9. Podrunner and fitPod - Exercising this summer? (I hope so. :) If so, download these mixes to your MP3 player. They have different bpm timings to match the pace of your workout. A great way to keep motivated and in rhythm.

8. Guided Meditation from Meditainment - Summer is all about relaxing right? Why not put a meditation track on your iPod for those moments when life gets a little to stressful.

7. 50 Things I'm Going To Do Today - It's a great time of the year to build habits, especially if you're a little less busy. 50 Things is a great free audio download that will give you some suggestions for positive habits you can build into your life. I probably listen to this once every couple of weeks and never fail to be reminded of something I should be doing.

6. Free Culture - Summer seems to be synonymous with freedom for many people. After all you're free from school and usually free from work at least for a little while. Spend some of your free time listening to Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig's seminal work on copyright and intellectual property. The chapters are read by people like Doug Kaye and Dave Winer.

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - What could be a more classic summer read than Huckleberry Finn? Now, thanks to the fine folks at Literal Systems you can listen to it for free...the full 9 1/2 hour unabridged version.

4. Learn a Foreign Language - Summer is the perfect time to spend learning or brushing up on a foreign language. There are a ton of free language learning podcasts including InstaSpanish, The French Pod Class and Let's Speak Italian!.

3. The Founding Documents of the United States of America - We just passed July 4th, the date we celebrate our Independence here in the U.S. Last month we recorded many of the Founding Documents of our country onto audio including the "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Whether you're a history buff or buff-to-be, these are worth the download.

2. Cal-Berkeley Course Podcasts - Wait a minute. Wasn't summer the time to take a break from all that schoolwork? Sure...but think about it this way. It's also a great time to listen to a course you didn't get to take during the school year or always had an interest in. Berkeley has put a ton of their courses available online for free. Introduction to Computers, Wildlife Ecology, Existentialism in Literature and Film and more!

1. Jon Udell's Summer Listening List - Jon Udell writes for Infoworld and has posted a list of five "Summer Listening" podcasts. It's a really good list covering everything from ending the oil addicition and blended value to the wealth of networks and biomimicry.

So that should keep your ears busy for a while. If you're still looking for more check out our Free Audio and Video Directory which now contains over 1,000 free resources for you to learn from. Enjoy your summer and keep Learning Out Loud!

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