August 26, 2006

Free Resource Highlights: Week 2

We’ve been sending out our “Free Resource of the Day Email” for a number of months now, and we want to share some of the free audio & video titles from past weeks that we have offered. Here are the free resources from Week 2:

Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy lived his life in the shadow of his brother John. Yet his story is a remarkable one and one of the moments that most stands out is the speech that RFK delivered on the evening of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Delivered on April 4th, 1968 in Indianapolis, Kennedy’s speech is a message of reconciliation that came at a time when America needed it most.

The World is Flat: MIT Lecture

MIT has tons of great educational content online for free. One of our favorites is a lecture given by New York Times writer Thomas Friedman on the subject of his book The World is Flat. Like Friedman’s book, this lecture is an extremely interesting look at globalization and both the challenges and opportunities of doing business in the 21st century. This title is available on streaming audio and video.

St. Patrick’s Day – A Complimentary Lecture

Have you listened to a Teaching Company course? If not, you’re in for a real treat. We have a link to free full-length Teaching Company lecture on the subject of St. Patrick. It’s presented by Professor William R. Cook, the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo. You’ll enjoy this lecture which provides the background on this 4th-Century saint.


Ayn Rand’s books are made for audio. In these busy times very few people have the time to sit down and read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. But get these audio books and pop them on in your car while you’re commuting and you can finish them up in a month or two. It’s a great testament to the opportunity represented by audio learning.

If you would like to check start off with a more bite-sized portion of Rand’s wisdom check out ThoughtAudio’s production of Anthem, one of Rand’s earlier novels. Anthem sets the stage for what’s to come in Rand’s later works.

August 20, 2006

The 5 Dangers of Buying DRM’ed Media


A generation of people are being mislead by some glitzy marketing. They are buying music and other media off of services like iTunes thinking that they “own” this media. But unlike the generation before them was able to do with all those CDs they purchased, this new generation probably won’t be able to enjoy their music and other media for many years to come. Instead, they’re making a purchase today that will likely become worthless to them, and perhaps much sooner than they think. As I’ve heard Ian Rogers over at Yahoo! Music state several times, the iTunes music file is the equivalent of the 8-track cassette for this generation. So with that said let me present 5 very real dangers associated with buying DRM media:

1. Your next media player might not be an iPod – Right now everyone is in love with the iPod and for good reason. It’s by far the superior device and experience for personal media. However, history tends to repeat itself and one thing we know from history is the gadgets that are dominant rarely stay on top for long. Microsoft is going to launch its new Zune soon and it may or may not be the coolest thing since sliced bread. Knowing Microsoft it probably won’t be but other companies are going to launch other players and eventually there is probably going to be something out there that’s cooler than the iPod. If all of your media was purchased from the iTunes Music Store (or any other place selling content in a proprietary format) you’ve pretty much locked yourself in to buying a particular type of device in the future. I’m not sure about you but that’s not what I want to do. And besides, it’s possible that your next MP3 player might not even be a dedicated MP3 player. Instead, it’s quite possible that…

2. Your phone will be your next media player – Almost all of the new phones coming out right now have media playing capabilities built-in. For a while you’ll probably find that whatever you’re doing with your iPod is going to be superior to the experience on your phone. However, over time that will change and within a few years your phone will provide an iPod-like experience and eliminate the need for you to carry to devices everywhere (heck, the Nokia N91 is almost there today). So if you’ve bought a bunch of music in a proprietary file format (such as the iTunes Music Store) you really need to ask yourself the question “Am I prepared to not be able to listen to stuff on my phone in the future?” Sure, Apple will launch an iPhone sometime and it’ll probably be cool but the fact of the matter you’ll probably want to keep your options open for a while.

3. You have no idea how you might want to share your media in the future – Oh my gosh are there a lot of cool new media-sharing devices and technologies these days. Slingbox. Sonos. Roku. Bluetooth. Some of these work well with DRM’ed content and some don’t. And who knows how the media-sharing devices of the future will respond to all of these proprietary file formats. The bottom line is that if you want to keep your options open and be able to use all of the kick-ass devcies that are on the horizon you’d be well-advised to have most or all of your media stored in an open, non-proprietary file format like MP3. Otherwise, you just might be SOL…

4. You might decide you want to get a new computer in the future – Yes, it’s quite possible that the computer you are on right now might not be the same computer you’ll be using a few years in the future. I’ll go out on a limb and say that you’ll likely want a little more memory and processing power down the road which will mean you’ll have to upgrade. Will your music and other DRM’ed media go with you? Maybe… Music services such as iTunes/Rhapsody/etc. have ways you to authorize new computers and de-authorize computers you are no longer using. But can they guarantee that it won’t be a pain in the ass? Nope, many people who have to do spend many hours of frustration dealing with this. And an unsettling number of people can’t their media to work at all with their new computer.

5. Two words “Sony Rootkit” – Everyone knows about the Sony rootkit fiasco. That only affected people that had bought DRM-infected CDs. However, there’s nothing to guarantee that something similar won’t affect digitally downloaded files in the future. After all, DRM protection is always changing. For example, a while back Apple modified its firmware to make it incompatible with Real Networks music track. Now, it’s important to point out that there hasn’t been a case where DRM’ed files have rendered someone’s computer inoperable. Having said that, I’d be very surprised if there weren’t a scandal similar to the Sony rookit one that does affect downloadable content in the future. Given the ever-changing nature of DRM and the lengths to which some content providers will go to try to protect their works it could quite easily happen. And I don’t want to be there when it does.

There are no doubt many other reasons not to buy DRM’ed media (including the very important one that you are supporting DRM with every DRM-laden purchase) but I think these five give a pretty compelling reason to avoid purchasing this type of content in the future. Now, I’m not adamantly against all shapes and forms of DRM. Sometimes it does make sense. For instance, it would be pretty hard to pull off an “all-you-can-eat” music service like Rhapsody/Yahoo Music/Napster without DRM. So in this case I’m not against DRM (I personally LOVE Rhapsody).

But the bigger problem is people (mostly unsuspecting teenagers and 20-somethings) buying DRM-laden media and thinking that they will be able to play that media ten or twenty years down the road (just like the generation before was able to enjoy CDs many years later). That almost assuredly will not be the case. Unless you’re interested spending tons of time on the tedious (and potentially illegal depending on how you interpret the DMCA) task of removing the DRM from your media.

So where do you go to find DRM-free media? A while back I wrote a post entitled A Guide to DRM-Free Audio and that’s a great place to start. Music services like eMusic and Audio Lunchbox rock and will only get better with time (especially as we lend them more support). And you can get a ton of spoken word content (audiobooks, podcasts, etc.) DRM-free as well.

If you still want to go out an buy DRM’ed content that’s totally cool. Just don’t say you weren’t warned about what might happen. 🙂

August 19, 2006

Our Podcast Directory at One Year


It’s been about a year since we launched the LearnOutLoud.com Podcast Directory, devoted to high quality podcasts that you can learn from. Man has podcasting exploded!

I just went through our whole directory and got rid of a lot of the podfaders whose podcasts haven’t been updated in a year or so. For the most part all the podcasts we feature are now up-to-date.

Some highlights from this last year in podcasting:

webcast.berkeley Courses Podcasted!
Many New Language Learning Podcasts
National Public Radio Podcasts
Hay House Podcasts
New York Times Podcasts

And theres a lot of other individual podcasts that have popped up and really excelled, but I’ll leave it up to you to find them in our directory:


August 16, 2006

Free Resource Highlights: Week 1

We’ve been sending out our “Free Resource of the Day Email” for a number of months now, and we want to share some of the free audio & video titles from past weeks that we have offered. Here are the free resources from Week 1:

I Have a Dream Audio and Video

One of our favorite free titles in the directory is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s classic “I Have a Dream” speech. Delivered on August 28th, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., King’s passionate call for justice and equality was the battle cry for the civil rights movement in America. Choose from an audio version of the speech from American Rhetoric or a video version from iFilm.

50 Things I’m Going To Do Today

Are you doing the 50 Things? 50 Things I’m Going to Do Today is an exclusive audio title that we love. Brian Johnson (CEO over at Zaadz, Inc. recorded this a while back and it’s well worth listening to a couple of times a month. There’s a ton of great advice about optimal living contained within and the format makes it easy to listen to a little bit at a time.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

How about diving into some Nietzsche? We came across an edition of Nietzsche’s classic Thus Spoke Zarathustra a couple of weeks ago. Not only was it the only Nietzsche audio we’ve encountered…it was also free! Really good quality too. Download it to your iPod and your weekend listening is all taken care of.

August 15, 2006

Our Top 100 Bestsellers


I’m a sucker for lists. When I was kid I remember creating a Top 100 list of songs each year and dubbing the songs (along with a voiceover of course) onto cassette tapes. It was one of my fondest memories of childhood.

If you’re a sucker for lists like me you might want to take a look at the new Top 100 Bestsellers list we just posted to the site. We’ve had our Top 10 up for a while but now we’ve finally had enough orders to produce a meaningful Top 100. Here were a few I found interesting:

#20: English for Portuguese (Brazilian) Speakers – Easily our best selling language title. Who knew LearnOutLoud was so popular with the Portuguese and Brazilians?

#30: Spiritual Enlightenment – This one came to us via our TeachOutLoud service which allows you to self-publish your audio content. This title and Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment are both in our Top 50 which shows the great opportunity for those who want to self publish content to our site.

#71: A Survey of Ancient History – I love a good value as much as the next person. How about 8 hours of educational audio content for less than $5? Now that’s what I call a bargain!

#93: Appreciating Emotional Intelligence – These interviews from New Dimensions are excellent. This represents a big part of why I’m so proud of the collection we’ve got here at LearnOutLoud. You might not find all the latest best-sellers but you will find a lot of high-quality stuff that you probably won’t find elsewhere (with lots more on the way soon!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy your Top 100 list. I can’t even begin to imagine how much this world would change for the better if everyone made it their mission to listen to as many of these titles as possible!

August 6, 2006

The 6 Best Ways to Learn Physics…for Free


I was listening to an excellent audiobook yesterday called The Wisdom of Huston Smith in which Huston relates a story about a visiting professor (can’t recall the name right now) who came and lectured to the physics department at the university he was teaching at and spent the entire time presenting on philosophy rather than physics. He was asked why he didn’t talk about physics with the physics department and his answer was interesting.

I don’t draw any distinctions between physics and philosophy.

This has gotten me thinking that I need to study physics a bit more. So to help me (and you!) get started I’ve compiled six excellent ways to learn physics. The best part…all of these resources are free. Enjoy!

1. The PBS Series The Elegant Universe – I watched this one a while ago on Netflix and it’s really cool. What’s even cooler is that you can watch the entire three hours of it at the PBS website for free. The Elegant Universe covers a wide range of topics and goes particularly in-depth on string theory. It’s very entertaining and you’ll learn a ton by watching this.

2. Imagining the Tenth Dimension – A buddy pointed me to this recently and it’s a great introduction to the string theory notion of ten spatial dimensions. I was introduced to this in the Elegant Universe and while I’m getting a better handle on it I’m still a little lost when we get outside of the three/four dimensions that most people readily understand. This flash-based presentation is very well-done and a great complement to a watching of The Elegant Universe.

3. Free Physics Video Lectures – In our free directory we’ve compiled over two dozen free audio and video physics lectures. Here are some of the highlights:

Richard Feynman lectures from the Vega Science Trust – Four video lectures from world-renowned physicist Richard P. Feynman
Einstein’s Miraculous Year – Two free lectures from The Teaching Company that celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “Miracle Year.”
Parts of a Whole – A free lecture with physicist David Bohm who addressed quantum physics from a spiritual perspective.

You can find more lectures like this (including lectures from MIT and the Lannan Foundation) and in the Physics subcategory of our free audio and video directory.

4. Motion Mountain – An amazing free, full-length, professional-quality physics textbook…how cool is that? If you’d rather not part with the $100+ that most physics textbooks cost give this one a shot. This is the real deal too at over 1,300 pages! (Thanks to Wynn @ The Stingy Scholar blog for pointing us to this.)

5. Free Physics Podcasts – Another great way to learn physics is to listen to some of the excellent physics podcasts that are out there. Berkeley has two worth checking out, Descriptive Introduction to Physics and Introductory Physics. NOVA has an “e = mc2” podcast that is also worth checking out (part of their well-done Einstein’s Big Idea section).

6. Random Fun Stuff – I’ll admit it…sometimes a subject like physics can get a little dry. If you’d like to spice it up a bit check out these fun ways to learn physics below:

The Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics

Super Mario Physics
Interactive Physics Simulations

OK, that should be enough to make your brain hurt for a while.

August 1, 2006

“Soul-deadening gridlock”???

The lead story of this week’s Los Angeles CityBeat is titled Fear and Entropy in Los Angeles and starts with the following tagline:

Scenes from a gas struggle: Will soul-deadening gridlock and exorbitant fuel prices kill the remnants of SoCal car culture?

Soul-deadening gridlock? Well let’s see. In the last few weeks I’ve spent my “soul-deadening gridlock” listening to Krishnamurti, Alan Watts and Ken Wilber (Kosmic Consciousness may be the most anti-soul-deadening thing I’ve ever listened to).

So what is the author of this article talking about? Do people not know they can consume the wisdom of the world’s greatest teachers during their commutes? Or do they not care? If it’s the latter there’s not much we can do. But I suspect that it’s at least partially the former. And if that’s the case then we have a helluva lot of work to do.

Here’s to anti-soul-deadening…

July 27, 2006

The “Not-So-Bright” Future for Media


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…

July 27, 2006

iTunes Podcast Directory Keeps Getting Better


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.