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Archive for the ‘General Education’ Category

The podcasts I listen to and how BusinessWeek got it wrong

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on December 3, 2006

Is Podcasting revolution over before it began? BusinessWeek seems to think so and quotes Pew Internet & American Life Project’s statistics. The topic is also generating some buzz in the blogosphere, with BusinessWeek’s interpretation being gleefully accepted by some and thoughtfully rejected by others.

I believe into podcasting‘s future because it is here already for me. I have a 40 minute walk to work each day, so I have over six hours of content a week I can consume. And being quite busy during days, nights and weekends, I try to use that walk time constructively as well. I have been listening to the podcasts from before they were called that and, so, had some time to get my bearings. And they are basically aligned with what the concept of Long Tail teaches us.

Strangely enough, BusinessWeek did not even mention any of the concepts that are important for me and my podcast consumption. That’s how I know the article is missing many points. It is not really unexpected, as it takes a while to get past the beginner’s understanding and actually see the real depth of the concept.

My current collection is at 25 podcasts and I have discarded over time probably twice that number. Less than a third of the podcasts on the list would be considered even vaguely popular by normal measures, the rest are plainly hyper-specialized to my needs and interests.

Over time, I had dutifully sampled and eventually discarded Adam Curry, Dave Winer and Gillmor Gang podcasts. They sporadically have some interesting content, but so infrequently that I find myself frustrated with all the filler. Gillmor Gang specifically I have given 3 or 4 tries over years, but I think they were most interesting during their ITConversations’ days.

I also don’t have any popular radio podcasts. I find the latest news to be easiest to consume in an aggregated or RSS format on my computer. That way if a news item is interesting, I can follow up on its references or setup keywords alert for the future notifications. Podcasts, in my mind, are much more suitable for content that has already undergone some thought process by its producer. I know that for some people, the reasoning is different but just as valid (for them).

I break my subscriptions into roughly 5 categories:

  • Technical News – In my industry (IT) it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. Without these podcasts I feel that I would not notice what is coming down the line until it would be too late and I would be stuck maintaining Cobol-equivalent systems forevermore.
  • Trend watching – Many interesting things are happening in the world if one just happens to be in the right place at the right time. These podcasts put me into that place and do it very early in the ideas’ lifecycles: somewhere between a cutting edge and an early adoption stage. I may not have time to participate, but sometimes the knowledge I get allows me to leapfrog the conventional process. For example, I have been on a cheap Voice-over-IP service (Lingo) for nearly two years and saved myself money and hustle of dealing with Verizon and its ilk.
  • Learning new skills in a background – I may not have time to allocate several active hours a week on a useful, but not currently essential skill, but podcasts in these category allow me to learn something through osmosis over time. Later, when I would need those skills, I would have already absorbed enough to be a very quick learner.
  • Language learning – I am studying Spanish now and before that I was learning French and Esperanto and there is always some improvement I could do to my English. These podcasts provide additional learning (or meta-learning) material. Some of them are also good edutainment.
  • Entertainment – Some podcasts are just funny or interesting or have my friends in them. They round up the collection nicely.

My full list is available publically, but here is the breakdown by the categories as I see it:

Are there more podcasts I would have liked to listen to? Certainly. I would love a podcast on computational linguistics. At the moment, even the bloggers on the topics are extremely rare.

I would also love a podcast on Scottish Country Dancing. There is just so much one could do with that. I know that at least one person have thought of it and given up as unsustainable, which is a real pity. I am tempted to start one myself just to prove her wrong.

Finally, I think there is a way to make a better language-learning podcast/video cast than the ones I found so far. I have mentioned some of the ideas to at least one person in a position to do that. Nothing happened yet, but such things take time. I will wait a while and, if nothing happens, will blog it here instead. I don’t mind prividing competitive advantage to a company that deserves it through good service, but will not sit on the ideas forever either.

To summarise the long post, I think that podcasting has legs and will succeed in the content niches that appeal to people based on their individual interests and needs. There is a lot of fluff and junk podcasts on the web at the moment, but it is getting better and, as with blogging, the absolute number of interesting podcasts is growing fast. It takes some time to find good content, but it really pays off in a long run.

Posted in General Education, Language acquisition, RSCDS, Spanish | Leave a Comment »

The next computer in my household will not run Windows

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on October 19, 2006

Wendy Seltzer’s plain-english explanation of the Microsoft Windows Vista’s EULA was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. There will be no Windows Vista on my next computer. I am sick and tired of worrying about computer viruses and misbehaving software; having the operating system that decides to remove functionalities or sabotage my work otherwise, is just beyond bearable.

It barely matters what Operating System I run anyway. My primary applications are Firefox, Open Office, Gmail, WordPress and various Java applications.  The first two are platform independant as are most of Java applications. Gmail, WordPress and other services are all web hosted and don’t care about the user’s computer at all.

I will most probably buy a Mac, since it combines the eye-candy of the Apple User Interface and the solid core of Unix security. And it would work well with my iPod, which is the only gadget I like enough to buy a second one when the first one fails. This, of course, depends on Apple not getting too arrogant about their growing market share. Their latest ‘apology‘ for virus infected iPods was not a hopeful sign.

Fortunately, there is always Linux. While Linux UI is still not as well integrated as Apple’s, distributions such as Ubuntu show great promise. I know some peripherals will need extra care to work well in Linux (like iPod), but I strongly feel that the long term effort will be less than putting up with Windows Vista.

I may still have to use whatever windows my workplace has, but wherever I have a choice, Microsoft will no longer be even in consideration.

Posted in General Education | 3 Comments »

Wish list for ‘copious’ spare time – 3D modelling and animation

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on October 18, 2006

What would I do, if I had 3 more hours a day free? I would learn 3D modelling and animation.

This used to be the skill that only a limited number of people needed and the tools were difficult and expensive. With computer power not that long ago, even having the skills was not very useful as those skills could only be applied for high-end imaging, movie and computer game making.

This has all changed in the last year or so, though not too many people outside of the field noticed.

Computers are now fast enough to do small projects at home. Software is free, like the excellent open-source Blender package. Even commercial packages are becoming ever cheaper (e.g. current promotion of Bryce 6 for $6) Companies such as Pixel Corps give VPN access to multiple-thousands worth of high-end software to its members for about $50 a month.

And applications for 3D are ever growing. Animators and 3D modellers within SecondLife are making enough virtual currency that it converts into good supplemental or even primary income. And more and more games (and pseudo-games like IMVU) allow users to create and incorporate their own models and artwork into the game for money or (less excitingly) credits.

I don’t happen to have any ‘copious’ spare time, but to anybody who does and is not afraid of computers, I would advise to look into this area very seriously.

Posted in General Education | Leave a Comment »

Good overview of e-books – especially for distance education

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on October 16, 2006

David Rothman of the TeleRead fame has written a good background article on the e-books for the Innovate – journal of online education (free registration required).

While David’s articles at his blog are frequent and in-depth, any one of them is too tactical for a good overview. The article at the Innovate is a good summary and is rather more strategic. It also utilises the online nature of the journal to provide a comprehensive set of relevant hyperlinks. There is even a recorded Webcast connected to the article with further discussion on the issue.

(Disclosure: I have previously written an article about e-books for language learning for the TeleRead blog)

Posted in e-books, General Education | Leave a Comment »

E-book discussion at the Philips’ Simplicity forums

Posted by Alexandre Rafalovitch on October 9, 2006

Philips recently had a Simplicity event, where they showcased a number of concept products that may or may not make it into the real world in the future.

To go along with the event, Philips also setup a voting board for a number of discussion topics. One of the topics currently under discussion is whether e-books are a good idea. You can pick a side and argue out your position or vote on the arguments of others. At the end of the discussion (3 weeks from now), the results are summarised, based on the vote counts.

I have added my opinion to the forum and pointed to the TeleRead hosted copy of my article on the issue and I invite you to join in the conversation either at Philips forums or in the article’s comments area for your view on the situation.

I believe that the more interesting functionalities we can point out now, the more likely they will be incorporated into the future e-book design. Waiting until e-books are avialable, will lead to those design having just some of the advantages of a paper book, but all the disadvantages of an electronic device.

In fact, Sony’s e-book reader seems to have proven that point already. It does not even seem to have dictionary lookup, something most of the handheld e-book readers provide.

Posted in e-books, General Education, Language acquisition, Publishing | Leave a Comment »