Sunday, September 30, 2007

Audacity, BondageCast and the Cops

I took a crash course in Audacity today, and I think I've come around. I might be more apt to use it than Garageband. I especially like that it's free, cross-platform and open source.

Turns out the big podcasters party tonight was literally three doors down the hall. Mike, Davina and I attended, until the cops came and shut it down. Got to meet Adam of the Maccast finally and Justine of iJustine fame. No, she wasn't filming. Dawn and Drew were there, too, as was the Ask a Ninja guy, Brother Love, C.C. Chapman, and I believe I saw Alex Lindsay as well. Plus, some guy was literally tying up a half-naked girl with rope. RopeCast? BondageCast? I'm not sure.

Pictures of Adam and me, Justine and me (I look like an ogre next to her, even more than usual - she is TINY) and other assorted shots including the bondage stuff, will remain in the vaults.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Revision 3 and the Pixel Corps

This morning's keynote was given by Revision 3 boss Jim Louderback. He mainly spoke about Revision 3's business end and how they've developed their content, such as Diggnation, around identifiable hosts with ties to the community (and not dumb blondes, to paraphrase him). Of course, Diggnation is a pretty strong example of community, as readers submit and vote on stories at Digg, which in turn leads to them being highlighted on the front page and in the subsequent podcast. Hence a built-in community around the site and a show that helps people feel "empowered," to use Louderback's word.

He also talked a bit about advertising (down with pre-roll!) and also about how new media is affecting old media. So of course I flagged him down after the presentation and asked him for thoughts on how newspapers can better use new media techniques. Funnily enough, he asked me if I had ever seen or heard of The 1Up Show, which happens to be one of my favorites (Jen is forced to listen to me singing the theme all the time). He suggested a similar format for a paper podcast, with a mix of different departments and a "what's happening in the newsroom" sort of vibe. (He seems to think big-name writers and columnists still write from their desks as opposed to filing remotely.) Still, you can't argue with it - The 1Up Show really is extremely well done.

Following that, I met up with Davina and we headed up to Alex Lindsay (of Pixel Corps and MacBreak Weekly fame), and he gave a great lecture on how the MacBreak video podcast is done, along with some other projects, including Food Science with Kirsten Sanford, aka Dr. Kiki, who was in the audience and sat there looking embarrassed (and also cute). I liked what he had to say about podcast length and frequency, basically 30-90 minutes for audio, 3-8 minutes for video.

Any more, especially with video, and people start to tune out. Also, once a week is perfect for both. More than once a week, people feel overwhelmed; less than once a week, they forget about it.

He also showed a video podcast that would make an awesome model for something to put together on our own site, if we can work out the (numerous) kinks.

Day 1 Rewind

The show wasn't as packed as I was expecting on Day 1. I spent the day attending various sessions, some more helpful than others, and the floor exhibits were a bit hard to navigate because a lot of the booth operators weren't good at making it clear what exactly they do. Davina was frustrated with Podango, as they seemed to lack a sales rep, and just had geeks who could speak about plug-ins for free blogging software, but seemed to know nothing about the expensive platform we're running. Still, they could be a good option. I also introduced her to Adam Bloom, who flagged me down during a mixer later last night.

I missed my chance to meet with Adam Christianson, but he's doing some live shows from the floor today so perhaps I'll get another opportunity. It would be refreshing after yesterday, when all the folks we met at the show represented the business side of things. Even the Podcast Awards, given out in the late afternoon, were often accepted by proxy, as the podcasters themselves weren't attending. Brother Love accepted for Keith and the Girl, for example, in his usual flamboyantly obnoxious way, so at least Davina got a proper introduction to the podsafe music network's legend-in-his-own-mind.

Mostly, I enjoyed the more technical sessions, because the more theoretical ones really weren't stimulating. I scooted out of the Viral Video session early, because all the viral videos they were highlighting were old news to me, and I didn't feel they were adding much to the discussion. Maybe it got better after I left, but in 15 minutes about the only point that grabbed me was when one the panelists made the point that these YouTube sensations represent the model for new technologies/forms of expression, such as what we saw during the early days of film - "spectacle comes first, then storytelling." At least I'll have another quote to throw out at dinner parties (perhaps even this one).

My two favorite sessions were the Sound Production and Post-Production talks, because although they sometimes got a bit too technical and steps were rushed through to fit an hour, I learned a few tips that could come in handy when working with audio. Note of interest: I expected a lot of home hobbyists in the podcasting world, and there seemed to be at least a few there in the audience, but the podcasters on the panels were all pro-level editors, filmmakers, actors, etc., who were using the medium of podcasts to get their material out there. I guess when a conference costs $300, some of the non-pro enthusiasts stay home. I look forward to checking out the podcamp in New York in February, because it's free and I'd expect to meet a lot more amateurs.

As for the technical stuff, I learned things that Geoff will tease me about, because he spent four years at NYU film school and I'm trying to pick up this stuff in an hour, like the difference between dynamic, condenser and ribbon microphones, what polar patterns are, and other various tips about sound recording. I did get some recommendations for various gear, including some handheld devices that could be useful for audio podcasts.

The Post-Production speaker was really interesting. He's a sound editor for IT Conversations, and the developer of The Levelator, free software for podcasters that completely automates levels adjustment and is now on my must-download list. Also, he makes an Audacity plug-in for deleting with crossfade, which, to sum up because I need to get in the shower and head for breakfast, removes ums and ahhs from recordings smoothly. I am not comfortable in Audacity, having been a Garageband guy, but if I could master this plug-in, it would make life much easier.

By the way, note to the powers-that-be: the Sound Engineer in the first session recommends Garageband among his favorite tools for editing. Just sayin'.

I joined Davina for some monetization session, given by podcasting's version of a motivational speaker. It did little for me, but he did make the point that Diggnation is essentially an hour-long promo for their, which is pretty smart. Also, he got into targeted ads a bit, and I mentioned to Davina that targeted niche ads in podcasts, when done well, don't seem intrusive because they're for products I'm interested in -- making the ads feel informative, not intrusive. I forward past TV ads with my DVR, but I've been turned on to cool, geeky things, by ads in certain podcasts. Or by hosts just talking about the products, as editorial content.

There was a party later on, with, of all things, belly dancers and a ballet dancer who hung from the ceiling by a cloth and did things that would have broken every bone in my body. She was good, but we really only hung around to see if we'd won the raffle. We also saw the Ask a Ninja guy at dinner.

Okay, off to the shower.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Podshow Party: 'Just Hit Record and Go'

Podshow is a mixed bag in my opinion. I think the concept is absolutely fantastic -- it provides a connection between unsigned bands and musicians and the podcasters who want to play music without being sued by the RIAA. It also gives unsigned bands a great distribution method for the material and helps them get noticed not just by podcasters and podcast listeners, but by music fans of all shapes and sizes on the Web.

My only beef is that the music to be found there leaves much to be desired. But I'm an elitist snob, and as Ed Ovett, host of "Ed's Mixed Bag" podcast -- a Brooklyn native, no doubt -- told me tonight, "you gotta dig" for the good stuff. Fair enough.

Which brings me to the party, which was excellent (it's still going on, but I wanted to get back and jot down some of my thoughts). Most of my efforts to bring up the newspaper business were met with excitement -- a newspaper sent you out here to look into podcasting, great! -- but most of the talk was about music, although I consistently tried to swing it back. I spent much of the time talking with Ovett and "Podshow Radio" host Brent Bradley. Bradley, who says he's a diehard print fan when it comes to getting his news, was more than enthusiastic about the idea of news podcasts, pointing to a few other organizations that already do them. We discussed the podcasts put out by 60 Minutes and Meet the Press, but agreed that they are only carbon copies at best of the programs themselves, and not Web-exclusive content. When it came to a newspaper podcast, Bradley stressed that reader response is key, saying "letters to the editor" should be as large part of the focus and that audio voicemail with host response is killer.

Mostly, I spoke with Bradley -- whose show focuses on one podsafe artist each episode -- and Ovett about the music business and how the Net has allowed artists to avoid the trappings of record company deals or at least get their music out without those deals. Are artists who use Podshow or Facebook or MySpace just trying to get their music out there -- or are they hunting for record deals? And, if a Podshow artist goes mainstream, is that a win for Podshow or a betrayal? Ovett and Bradley, as purists, were fascinated by the question, but didn't have an answer.

Note: This all led to an idea for a great podcast we could do. Won't make it public here, though.

I later had the chance to speak to Podshow exec Adam Bloom. He was quick to say that a Podshow artist gone big-time would be a triumph. As for newspaper podcasts, he wasn't much help. After I told him the name and circulation of the paper I represent, he asked if it was an alternative weekly. Blame it on geography -- or on his own expectations. To be fair, it's not his field. At any rate, he stressed video, video, VIDEO as being the medium of choice right now. Like me, he's a radio/audio guy, but "more people watch TV."

I also met Chris Naaden, who runs a podcast transcription business, but also happens to be a huge Dodgers fan (married to a Red Sox fan, his business partner April). We spent a good twenty minutes talking about a Yankee podcast, mainly about the benefits and drawbacks of having a beat writer host it -- as opposed to the grass roots, fan-based approach.

Naaden came around to the idea of a beat writer podcast, but raised an interesting question that's been on the back of my mind: Are independent podcasts successful because, though they sacrifice polish and editorial balance, they are full of passion and fire? Would a podcast hosted by a carefully chosen fan be more entertaining, or does the beat writer's access to the clubhouse and exclusive interviews give him an insurmountable edge? I've always thought the latter, but so many of the best sports blogs are run by amateurs who live and die with every play, which other fans can relate to. Beat writers are forced to be impartial, which takes some of the color away. Do people expect a more straightforward approach from newspapers because it's what they've always gotten -- or because it's what they really want? Anyway, it just got us both thinking.

Finally, as the room started to get too crowded and I started thinking about heading for the door, in walked The Podfather, Adam Curry. I don't think I made much of an impression, as I simply told him I was a big fan and that he was one of the key inspirations for me pitching podcasts at work for the last two years. I asked him if he had any words of wisdom and he started talking about how he and Podshow have created content for newspaper Web sites in the UK. I apparently disappointed him because I didn't seem interested in his sales pitch. Had I had more time, I would have been, but, instead, I told him I was far more interested in our own original content.

Said Curry: "Great. Just hit record and go!"

And then a couple of cute blondes cut in and my time was at an end.

Favorite T

Geoff, didn't Ambrosia create Barrack? How much time was spent with that back in the day?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What's the Best Approach to Networking at the Expo?

Just hopped out of the shower and am preparing to meet coworker Davina at some point tonight, plus I plan on heading to the "Welcome to the Expo Party, Party" in suite 1312 of my hotel in about 45 minutes or so.

I've been using these down hours -- when I should be napping, but I'm wired -- to do some research about what's going on this weekend. I've contacted Adam Christianson of The Maccast -- "the show for Mac geeks, by Mac geeks" -- and he's agreed to speak with me tomorrow morning at the iProng booth. Hopefully he won't be too distracted by the gaggles of geek fans that will surely be surrounding him. Hey, I enjoy his show, so I'll be one of them.

I also hope to run into Cali Lewis from GeekBrief TV, who I believe will be holding court at the booth, as well as the Podfather, who arrives either tomorrow or Saturday, though pulling him aside seems like it would be a real challenge.

As I've been researching meetups and writing emails and listening to podcasts, I continue to wonder what I've been wondering for the past several weeks: What should I ask podcasters if and when I get a chance to pick their brains? Obviously, I hope to get a lot out of the seminars and keynotes, but I want to make the best of any opportunity I get to speak to my favorite podcasters, or to podcasters and techies I've never heard of before. As hobbyists, I'm not expecting them to have grand ideas about newspaper Web sites -- in fact, they in many ways represent the opposition to old media, or at least are a great example of how people can provide and package content in ways old media is failing to -- but I'd love to get their take on what they'd like to see, in a perfect world. What should newspapers be doing as they attempt to work with this new medium? What would pique their interest about an old media podcast, if it were done well? What makes a good podcast, anyway? How can we catch up? Can we catch up?

Of course, there are tons of other questions, both general and specific, mostly about content (although I hope to pick up on the technical and possibly the marketing side, too, if at all possible). I'll be brainstorming some more questions this evening, and I hope Davina has some suggestions, too. I'm not sure if our paths will converge a lot this weekend, but I'd be disappointed if they don't.

I Arrive

I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m. EST and have been riding trains, planes and rental cars ever since. Just now, I'm finally in my room at the DoubleTree in Ontario, California, where you get a free cookie when you check in, but 1 liter bottles of Evian cost $4.50 each.

So far not much to write home about, besides the sunny weather and lack of humidity. National was out of compact cars, so I got a minivan, with two rows of seats in the back, at the same price. There's plenty of room in the driver's seat, and with all my experience begrudgingly driving gargantuan SUVs, it could easily pass for a midsize sedan in my mind. Nevertheless, I'm thinking of offering my services as a shuttle bus driver for wayward podcasters.

The drive here was a breeze, about an hour all things considered, and 57N takes you right past Angels Stadium and numerous signs for Long Beach and Los Angeles (hear that, Jen?). In Ontario, there's a Blvd. called Inland Empire (my joy at this is further proof of my undying David Lynch geekdom, so much so that I almost pulled over and took a picture of the street sign) and an In-N-Out Burger on North Vineyard Lane, within sight of my hotel.

If my first-ever No. 3 combo with onions counts as an adventure, then I'm ahead of the game already.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RIB's Geekfest Podcast Expo Blog

Early tomorrow morning, I'm embarking on a weekend business trip, flying across the country to attend the Podcast and New Media Expo in Ontario, California.

Because my boss, Adam, claims he "must have been high" when he gave me this plum assignment, and because I'll (essentially) be attending alone and will likely have a lot of time to myself, I've decided to blog about the experience here, as I diligently and dutifully attend conferences and keynotes while not spending a single, solitary moment in the hotel pool (I didn't even bring my bathing suit, I swear).

Maybe this blog detour, as it were, will turn out to be the basis of the report Adam expects from me upon my return, and prove to Adam -- and his superiors -- that he was not, by any means, "high" when he decided to send me.

So, to him and any other coworkers or friends who may stumble upon this, I hope there is some value to me dumping the contents of my brain here, as I wander through a faraway convention hall. I'm bringing along my rapidly aging gear -- a G4 PowerBook that desperately needs replacing, a digital camera, a Blackberry and other assorted sundries -- and will try to use them if and when I can, if only to keep myself busy when I'm back at the hotel each night, completely and utterly sober -- and eager for an early rise the next morning.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

RIB's Song of the Week: Metroid Prime 3 Opening Theme

Metroid Prime 3 is our current Wii obsession. It's a fantastic game on so many levels - think of Zelda as a futuristic first-person shooter.

It only occurred to us tonight to make mention of its fantastic opening theme music. So, without further ado, here's a little video we shot just now. It's not the same as sitting down and playing it yourself, but it captures it well enough. The first few seconds are usually all you'd hear before you open up your save file, but those few seconds are the best part.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not Quite Chocolate Rain, But...

Okay, we'd of course love the Innocence Mission to find new life as an Internet sensation, now that they've posted this incredibly beautiful in-studio performance of Brotherhood of Man on YouTube. Unfortunately, they made the mistake of not branding themselves as amateurs playing in their living room, a couple of poor working schlubs who greet customers at Walmart during the day and spend nights just trying to get their music out there to the people. That's what America digs - a combination of freaks like Tay Zonday, American Idol winners and total fraud Marie Digby.

Rant over. Now watch the video, because it's perfect.

Monday, September 10, 2007

We Bought Jen a Nano Today

We still own a brick-like black and white no-frills iPod 2G, and now Jen has an iPod that's impossibly small, plays video and displays her photos in full, vibrant color. She also has an Intel Macbook to our PowerBook G4. Suddenly, our Luddite girlfriend's hardware is far more advanced than ours is.

Here's the proof:

Sigh. BUT -- will her iPod still be going strong after five years of continuous abuse, without ever needing a new battery? I think not!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

YouTube Roundup

Because we are still too lazy and/or too busy to set aside adequate time for blogging lately, here are some more YouTube videos that have caught our fancy recently.

First up is this video, which we saw the other day posted at by Keith Abbott, the undisputed king of all things Innocence Mission. Apparently, IM's song Clear to You was used in the two-hour Beverly Hills, 90210 pilot, to heighten the romantic drama between Jason Priestly (aka Brandon Walsh) and some chick who rides a motorcycle. The two (underage, right?) teens end up sipping champagne in a hot tub, which I'm sure Karen Peris and Co. will wholeheartedly endorse when their own children reach puberty.

The second video, if you dare to watch it, shows Roller Girl Heather Graham's unfortunate decision to become a recording artist. Since she was a waitress at the Double R diner on Twin Peaks, she gets a free pass from us, but her voice is so awful, her lyrics so trite and her band so terrible, that it's a close call indeed.

Third up, is the new iPod nano video. Why? Three reasons: 1. We have long been unpaid Mac spokespeople. 2. We love Feist. 3. Dan got a job with Apple! Congrats, sir. We plan on drinking heartily to your future success quite soon (and on more than one occasion).

Finally, there are enough musical elements in this hilarious Ricky Gervais video to give us reason to post it here. But we would anyway, because it's freakin' genius. Gervais and Steven Merchant (with or without Karl Pilkington) are a comedy team for the ages. There is a version at without audience response, if you want to stay totally pure.