Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Best World News Podcasts

Podcasting has introduced people around the world not only to new music, but to a wealth of international news as well. Here’s a look at some of my favorite podcasts from some of the best regarded news organizations.

BBC News: The granddaddy of Western news organizations offers more than 20 podcasts, but there are two I enjoy the most. Newspod offers a one-hour program each weekday that features about five segments in each program that take a deeper look at the day’s leading world news stories, from the U.K. and around the world. From Our Own Correspondent is a twice-a-week podcast featuring four or five segments from foreign correspondents stationed around the globe. These vignettes give a reporter’s-eye view of a topic in the world news; it could be a fresh glance at a major new event or a curious or amusing look at local traditions.

ABC’s All in the Mind: This approximately hourlong look at one issue related to psychology and the mind comes not from the American ABC, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Some of the topics are specific to the land Down Under, such as the mental health problems of homeless aboriginal residents; others are universal, such as a look at advances in brain surgery.

Deutsche Welle: Germany’s state broadcaster offers many world news programs, but two of its podcasts are of particular interest to the listener seeking news of Europe and the world. Inside Europe examines several stories regarding events in the European continent, while Newslink provides insight on events around the world.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun, the Man Who Signed Aretha, Ray Charles, the Stones

Ahmet Ertegun, one of the true pioneers in popular music and the founder of Atlantic Records, died Thursday, Dec. 14. Perhaps fitting for a man whose life was synonomous with music, he died of injuries he suffered in a fall when he was attending a Rolling Stones concert in New York City in late October. He was 83.

Ertegun made a huge mark on American music, first signing R&B acts such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Big Joe Turner, as well as Joe Tex and Otis Redding. The label later signed what turned out to be some of the biggest rock and pop acts of all time, including the Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Bette Midler, ABBA, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. And Sonny & Cher!

When I was a kid, Atlantic was probably the first record label I became aware of. This was the 1960s, and my older sister had a whole collection of 45s with the distinctive red and black Atlantic logo on them. She also had a hits compilation of Atlantic soul and R&B singles, which was one of my favorite albums to listen to.

A few years ago I bought the Atlantic R&B box set, which contained many of the tunes from that old vinyl LP of 40 years ago. And you know the songs sound as good now as they did when I was a kid. Thanks for all the music, Mr. Ertegun. We'll miss you.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Record Companies Turn the Tables on Downloaders

Facing slumping sales and increased online piracy, record companies have decided to turn lemons into lemonade. Companies have started planting advertiser-sponsored video clips of their artists on video sharing sites–the exact same kind of sites they've been battling for years.

The Wall Street Journal noted in October, for example, that rapper Jay-Z authorized a video clip from one of his summer concerts in New York to be placed on a variety of illegal music-sharing cites. The action occurred at the request of Coca-Cola, the Journal said, and the clip included promotions for Coke.

While record companies have usually battled file-sharing sites by planting fake "decoy" files to thwart and frustrate downloaders, this new tack by Jay-Z recognizes that the people who download files are also some of the biggest music fans and buyers, and that it may be more in their interest to market to them rather than sue them. So the decoy files being planted on leading file-sharing sites contain promotional materials, which are then seen by eager fans. So when fans turn to the file networks for purposes of piracy, they're getting a marketing message instead.

The article notes that other artists including Audioslave and Ice Cube have also benefited from decoy files, putting bits of a song into the files and promising that the user and this companions will be able to stream the entire song once the file is forwarded to a certain number of people.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

News Corp. Steals Band's MySpace Site; Outcry Ensues; Band Gets Site Back

I ran across this story the other day and couldn't believe it. Here goes: An indie-rock band called Bones recently logged in to its MySpace page and found that its content had been replaced by promotional content for the Fox TV Series "Bones."

Who snatched the band's site, why, and how? Well, the band's URL - - was apparently coveted by the Fox network and its owner News Corp., which happened to buy MySpace within the last year.

Since the Louisiana-based band relied on its MySpace page as a means to promote itself and stay in touch with fans - and the MySpace URL is on all their posters and other literature - this was a pretty disturbing turn of events. The good news is that once the hububb became public, News Corp. did an about-face and restored the band's original content.

A posting from the band on their MySpace page says they received a message from Tom of MySpace saying:

"I heard about what happened with your URL. I gave it back to ya...Sorry about that! As we grow in size, sometimes people make decisions I don't know about. This was obviously the wrong decision. The Bones URL is yours once again. :-) "

The story has a further happy ending for the non-corporate Bones. The band has received much publicity from the incident, and has been encouraged by the outpouring of support and good wishes from other indie bands and music fans in general.

Score this one: Rock 'n Rollers- 1, Corporate Cretins- 0.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Russian Download Site– Great Deal or Pirated Music?

Russian Web site All of MP3 has been pleasing customers but irritating the recording industry by selling low-priced MP3 music downloads. The site charges as much for an entire album as other sites charge for a single song, and also lets users download music in a variety of formats and quality levels, but it has been accused of violating copyright laws.

Mediaservices, the Moscow firm that owns All of MP3, recently held an online news conference with reporters to counteract the criticism and to insist that it is running a legal business, not a pirated music site. All of MP3 addresses the issue head-on at its Web site, insisting that its business is authorized by the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society (ROMS) and by the Russian copyright agency.

The company also claims to pay 15% of each sale to ROMS for royalties, which it says is responsible for paying the copyright owners. Mediaservices says that it has offered to pay royalties to the record companies but has been rebuffed. But Mediaservices has never had a license from the major recording companies to sell their music to begin with, which experts have said is a requirement under U.S. law.

The major record companies have copyright infringement lawsuits pending in Britain against the operators of All of MP3.

All of MP3's Web site says that the license fees for all downloaded materials are paid in accordance with Russian copyright law, but notes that the buyer is solely repsonsible for the use and distribution of materials from the site. "This responsibility is dependent on the national legislation in each user's country of residence," the site notes. It continues, "The Administration of does not possess information on the laws of each particular country and is not responsible for the actions of foreign users."

So basically they're putting the onus of legality on the user. I know a number of people who have bought entire music libraries from the site; at pennies per track, it's very affordable to do so. Will the recording industry go after people who buy music from All of MP3?

Not likely; the site is still a relatively little-known player in the music download market. Sounds like the record companies will instead institute more lawsuits like the one in England, seeking to shut down All of MP3's operators in individual countries. For now the company seems to be operating in a legal gray area. We'll need to stay tuned to see what happens next.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

The speculation is over: Google announced October 9th that it has bought video sharing Web site YouTube for more than one and a half billion dollars in stock. According to Google's official announcement, YouTube will operate independently, its offices will stay at their current location in San Bruno, California, and all 67 YouTube employees will remain.

Acquisitions are nothing new in the fast-growing, quickly consolidating Internet business. And Google has purchased a number of companies in its efforts to move from search engine to software and service provider, content supplier, and advertising giant.

But the YouTube purchase is breathtaking in a number of ways:
* It is supposedly the first Internet start-up company to be bought for more than $1 billion
* YouTube has only about four dozen employees total, as noted above
* Although YouTube provides more than 100 million video views a day, the company has only been in existence for a little over a year and a half.

In the past YouTube has been criticized (and threatened with legal action) for posting copyrighted videos without permission. But both Google and YouTube have in recent days signed deals with major music and TV companies to license content. CBS is said to be creating its own YouTube channel for TV shows like Survivor.

Hmmm, $1.65 billion for 67 employees... I'd say YouTube's small staff of hardworking employees is about to get a nice bonus!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Top AdSense earners: the biggest "Google whores"

Trying to make money using Google ads or similar ads on one's Web site has, for many people, become the gold rush of the early 21st century. Since I'm trying to earn a little folding money this way myself, I was intrigued by an article I saw on a few days ago. Entitled "The Internet’s Biggest Google Whores" (link below), the article claimed to show the top eight individuals who were earning the most AdSense income–and how much they were making.

The article appears on the blog of John Chow, who calls his site "The Miscellaneous Ramblings of a Dot Com Mogul." The interesting thing is that Chow was looking exclusively at individuals, not big corporate publishers like Time Warner or the many big-name news sites. He says that he assembled his rankings from interviews and articles, and in some cases the individuals sent Chow a photo of themselves holding up a check from Google.

So who's number one? According to Chow it's Markus Frind, founder of, a free dating site. Frind earns $300,000 per month in AdSense income, Chow says. And yes, he runs the Web site from his home–an inspiration to all of us who dream of working in our pajamas and having a 30-second commute to the office.

Number two is Kevin Rose, one of the founders of, who Chow says earns $250,000 a month from Google ads. (For the complete list, click here .)

Comments on Chow's site suggest that the rankings may not be entirely accurate. Some people mention blog publishers who should be on the list, while others point out that folks making big bucks from Google ads may not want to publicize the fact.

Whether the rankings are precise or not, these eye-popping figures make it clear that some folks are reaping the huge income potential from ad-supported blogging–an area that didn't even exist a couple of years ago. As for me, these findings are interesting in themselves, as well as a possible learning tool for helping me make more money from AdSense.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Support the troops: 6 easy ways to really help

"Support the troops" -- we see the phrase on bumper stickers, signs, and those ubiquitous magnetic ribbons on cars. Regardless of your political position or your opinion of the conflicts overseas, here are six Web sites that make it easy to really support the troops. From postcards and care packages to school supplies for Iraqi kids, these are inexpensive, easy ways to show your support.

Better yet, they won't take any more time or effort than putting one of those yellow ribbon magnets on your trunk.

America Supports You: The U.S. military's official Web site for supporting service members. Includes plenty of links for getting involved, from donations of frequent-flyer miles and phone cards to homes for disabled vets, scholarships for children of service members, and sending letters and postcards of support.

The U.S.O.: Yes, this is the same organization that was responsible for Bob Hope's travels to entertain the troops all over the world across several decades. The U.S.O. is still sending entertainers overseas to boost troops' morale, and has numerous clubs across the U.S. where visiting service members can relax when stateside.

My Soldier: Founded by a Manhattanville College (NY) student who served in Iraq, this program matches up members one-on-one with a service member overseas who has requested to be part of the program. This lets you build a relationship with one service member, if you're willing to commit to keeping up a regular correspondence.

AnySoldier: For decades, Americans have sent packages to troops overseas by addressing them to "Any Soldier" and an APO address. This program takes the idea into the Internet age, allowing you to send packages that will be distributed to troops on an as-needed basis.

Books for Soldiers: This site had humble beginnings, seeking to provide some reading material for soldiers. It has now become a very versatile site that helps people send music, magazines, DVDs, and foods to troops. Individual soldiers or their supervisors send requests to the Web site, which posts them. One of the coolest things about this site is that you can search by types of items requested, by the branch of service, by where they serve (including U.S. locations), and even by their home state.

Operation Iraqi Children: Some U.S. troops are helping to build schools and improve the conditions for Iraqi children. This project, founded by actor Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump;" currently in "CSI:NY") and author Lauren Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit") collects funds that are used to by school supplies for children in Iraq.

Please note: Make sure to read each site's FAQ or special instructions. Books, DVDs, and similar materials can be sent at a low "media mail" postage rate. Also, for service members stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, etc, sending alcohol or pornographic materials is a no-no; supporters need to be sensitive to the attitudes in the host country.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Quick laughs: short, funny video podcasts

Sometimes you need a good laugh, but don't have the time for watch a whole episode of your favorite sitcom... or to search through the zillions of videos on YouTube, etc. Here are a few short, funny video podcasts that you can subscribe to on iTunes and other services. All will give you some laughs–and maybe even useful knowledge–in about five minutes.

Hope is Emo: Life is tough for Hope, a teenage goth/emo girl. She feels your pain–and everybody's, for that matter–as she emotes about modern teen angst. Parents who don't understand her, mean classmates, the emptyness symbolized by a discarded pizza box–pretty much anything can make Hope feel the suffering of the world. A funny podcast from two of the guys behind "Ask A Ninja;" Hope is played by Crista Flanagan of MADtv.

Tiki Bar TV: Doctor Tiki and his cohorts provide laughs and jokes as they cavort around their barroom and offer useful prescriptions: how to make a different cocktail in every episode. Includes special guests, from the occasional real-life celebrity to "the bastard illegitimate son of the father of the Internet." Consistently zany and informative. Who says educational TV is only for kids?

French Maid TV: Three buxom ladies in frilly French maid costumes cavort around a hotel while instructing you on how to undertake a range of handy tasks, from how to do a video podcast to administering CPR. After the lesson is over, the maids engage in a friendly pillowfight while jumping up and down on the beds. What's not to like? New episodes appear infrequently these days.

Rocketboom: This pioneering vidcast rocketed to fame quickly, even being featured in an episode of CBS' "CSI" last season. Yes, original host Amanda Congdon has left in a falling-out with RB's founder, but temporary replacement Joanne Colan does an admirable job as successor. This three- to five-minute weekday video blog sometimes covers technology issues and real news, but usually presents a comical view of current events, along with a generous helping of bizarre or amusing bideo clips sent in by viewers. Colan has the nerve and comic timing of Congdon, and while some viewers have complained about her British accent, I like it just fine.

Comedy Central Stand-Up: Video of a live routine from Comedy Central, each running about two minutes. I enjoy stand-up but can't be bothered to tune in to TV shows to try to find comics I like; these clips give me a quick glance of different performers so I can seek out longer performance by the ones I like.

Free tunes: some great music podcasts

With all the hubbub about music being downloaded illegally from the Internet, podcasting has opened up a great way for artists, radio stations, and record companies to share their music legally. And since commercial radio is so bland and repetitive, podcasts have become the best way for me to discover new (and not-so-new) music.

I'm hoping artists and labels keep participating in podcasting. It's a good deal for them, since it has enticed me to buy the recordings and concert tickets of many artists I wouldn't have heard of otherwise. Here are some of my favorite music podcasts, covering different types of music. All can be found in Apple's iTunes. This public radio station from Santa Monica, California offers several music podcasts. The Morning Becomes Eclectic podcast presents live in-studio performance from the station's acclaimed show of the same name. Two sets of music enveloped by conversation. There have been performances from everyone from indie rockers to alt-country bands, from Spanish-language pop bands to electronica artists.

KCRW also features a Today's Top Tune podcast that features one song daily.

CBC Radio 3: Who'd have thought so much of today's innovative rock and pop music would come out of Canada? This one-hour (give or take) podcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation features full-length versions of songs from rock, pop, folk, and hip-hop artists from the well known to the unknown.

The Roadhouse: An hour of "the finest blues you've never heard"–old-style, contemporary, and everthing in between–comes your way in this podcast from Iowa City, Iowa. Host Tony Steidler-Dennison knows his stuff and plays a wide range of blues styles and artists. And with his deep voice and informal approach you'll feel like you're sitting next to a buddy on a barstool in a honky-tonk with a great blues jukebox.

Ritmo Latino: Like The Roadhouse, this podcast covers all styles and genres of its chosen form–Latin music, in this case. The host, an American living in Micronesia, spins tunes ranging from old-school music from Tito Puente and Carmen Miranda to modern Spanish-language rock and pop stars including Mana, Cafe Tacuba, and Shakira to reggaeton superstars Daddy Yankee.

The Tartanpodcast: Host Mark Hunter claims that Scotland is one of the leading centers of great music in Europe and, after listening to a few shows, it's hard to disagree with him. Singer-songwriters, pop bands, rock outfits, and more are all featured here, and while Hunter doesn't work in the music business, he nevertheless has a good ear for talented musicians.

All Songs Considered: Despite the clunky name, this podcast from National Public Radio offers a great wealth of pop and rock music in several forms. The weekly ASC podcast covers songs from about a half-dozen artists with snippets of each tune (you can hear full versions at the show's Web site). What I really enjoy are the archived live concerts that ASC Webcasts monthly from a Washington, D.C., also at the show's Web home. You can hear the full concerts from artists such as Sleater-Kinney, The New Pornographers, Toots and the Maytals, James Brown, and many more. For some you can even download the entire concert in MP3 form; the others you can stream to your computer.

Radio Without Borders: From radio station KUT in Austin, Texas comes this podcast of live performances from their studios, with one song each from several different artists. As you'd expect from its location, the program leans toward country, alt-country, and singer-songerwriter genres. It's often interesting to hear a song you know performed in a more stripped-down, live acoustic environment.

Indiefeed: This podcast gives you a free tune each day, along with a bit of introduction about the artist. Indiefeed has channels for alternative/modern rock, Americana/roots/folk, blues, electronic, and hip-hop music. Includes tunes from up-and-coming artists as well as established ones.

Shut off those &%#! loud MySpace tunes... and more

If you're like me, you've probably come close to losing all sense of hearing after browsing to someone's MySpace page and getting blasted out of your chair by the page's chosen song. I don't know why these tunes have to play so damn loud, but I do know a way to shut them off.

First off, get the Firefox browser (, Mac and Windows), if you don't already have it. Once you have Firefox you can customize it with any number of add-ons that tweak the browser's action in some specific way. You can find add-on headquarters here..

Once you're at the add-ons home page, search for a program called Greasemonkey, which uses scripts (small pieces of code) to let you customize the way Web pages look and behave. You'll see a list of tags with a number beside each; this number shows how many scripts are available for that tag.

There are over 150 scripts devoted to MySpace alone, from how to download and play its media features to how to avoid them altogether. Beside each script's name is a description of what it does and a rating from people who've used it. The script I downloaded (unfortunately I can't find its name) disables the media player on MySpace pages so the tunes or videos won't play, but you can easily turn them on at any time.

There are Greasemonkey scripts for dozens of other MySpace features, such as removing the "Cool New People" box, stripping out the ads, and much more. There are also more than 270 scripts for tweaking various aspects of Google (and this doesn't even include the 72 covering Gmail), as well as scripts for, Flickr, and various design and color themes.

If you've ever wished that you could make one of your favorite Web sites work a bit better, you probably can do just that. Check out the Firefox add-ons page for Greasemonkey and other ways to customize and improve your Web experience.