Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Podcast Review: A Painless Way to Improve Your Writing

Good writing skills are important in business, in everyday life, and in blogging. Even though I've been a professional writer for more than two decades, there are still aspects of grammar that I just can't seem to get right. Like many people, I have an aversion to reading grammar texts and reference, so I was glad to come across a useful podcast on writing the other day called "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing."

It's a short, friendly, four-minute audio program that covers a different aspect of grammar, punctuation, usage, or business writing in each episode, often using handy tricks to help you remember. It comes out a couple of times a week and you can subscribe for free through iTunes and other podcast programs, which means that each episode is delivered right to your computer. (If you don't want to download the episodes, you can listen online at the Grammar Girl Web site, which also includes transcripts of each episode.)

I haven't listened to all the episodes, but some recent ones have tackled topics such as:

  • When to use "who" and "that"
  • Using the Chicago Manual and other style guides
  • How to use acronyms and other abbreviations
  • When to use "affect" and "effect"
  • Using prepositions properly
  • When and how to use commas
  • How to use measurements (liters, inches, etc.) and abbreviations for them when writing
  • Good ideas for an opening sentence for an article or paper

Every so often she answers questions sent in by readers. The Grammar Girl podcast is a great way to improve your grammar and writing, and to brush up on the basics.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Coachella 2007 Features Reunions, Variety, and Lots More

Since 1999 the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has been bringing a wide range of indie and alternative acts to the California desert. This year's edition is no exception, but it also features widely anticipated reunions by two much-loved bands of very different styles.

The final day Coachella 2007 will be headlined by the reunion of left-wing rockers Rage Against the Machine, who appeared at the first Coachella in 1999. Adding to the anticipation is the fact that no other dates have been announced for the band, leading to the speculation that this reunion is a one-off just for Coachella.

The other band that's reuniting does have plans well beyond Coachella. Crowded House, the Aussie/Kiwi pop band led by the Finn brothers, are scheduled to stage a full-fledged one-year tour. Songs by the brothers have been covered by many others, but it will be an exciting opportunity indeed to see the songs performed by their originators.

Here are some highlights of Coachella for this year:
Friday, April 27:
Interpol, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Arctic Monkeys, Sonic Youth, Brazilian Girls, Peaches
Saturday, April 28:
Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Arcade Fire, Tiesto, The Decemberists, the New Pornographers, Fountains of Wayne
Sunday, April 29:
Rage Against the Machine, Manu Chao, Happy Mondays, Air, Willie Nelson, Kaiser Chiefs, Crowded House, Lily Allen

Thursday, January 18, 2007

David Bowie Turns 60 Years Old

Believe it or not, "The Thin White Duke" is now a Thin Dude with White Hair. That's right, whether you call him by that name or Ziggy Stardust or his more common name, David Bowie, he turned 60 in the second week in January.

Although I've never owned any of his albums, I've been a fan of his music since I first heard it on a progressive-rock station in New York City in the early 1970s. Bowie stood out with his flamboyant glam-rock persona Ziggy Stardut, with heavy makeup, androgynous wardrobe, and flaming orange hair piled high on top of his head. I found the "Ziggy Stardust..." and "Diamond Dogs" albums captivating, but was turned off by his later success with more the mainstream pop effort "Young Americans."

Changing course again, Bowie then turned to a more minimalist approach with "Low" and "Heroes," which often reminded me of his work from the '70s updated for a new decade and greater maturity as an artist. I liked his "Scary Monsters" album too, and loved his single with Queen, "Under Pressure."

Another turnaround then occurred, and though "Let's Dance" was wildly successful on the charts, I was disappointed with its straightahead pop approach, which I found pretty middle of the road and unimaginative.

I lost track of Bowie's music after that, never really listening to the Tin Machine albums or getting into his "Earthling" and "Heathen" CDs. I thought maybe Bowie just wasn't of interest to me anymore. But I immediately loved his 2003 CD "Reality" the first time I heard it. Bowie had heart attack during his 2004 tour to support that album, but has recovered and is making music again.

So happy birthday, David Robert Jones. Thanks for all the great music; I hope you'll be creating more of it for many years to come.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple Introduces its Long-Awaited iPhone

The iPhone is finally here. Apple Computer chairman Steve Jobs announced the device, which combines the functions of a cell phone, widescreen music and video player, and Internet connection tool, in his keynote speech at the Macworld Expo on Tuesday morning, January 9th.

According to a live feed from Mac Observer at the Expo in San Francisco, Jobs hailed the iPhone as a "breakthrough Internet communications device" and then launched into its various features. The iPhone Jobs demonstrated is said to features a 3.5" touch screen that takes up most of the front of the device; Jobs said the screen has a resolution of 160 pixels per inch, which Macobserver.com said is the highest resolution screen yet shipped by Apple. Users will be able to dock the iPhone with their computers, like an iPod, but the new device will also sync with the user's contacts list, calendar, and other data.

Macobserver.com notes that the iPhone runs Apple's Mac OS X operating system, supports any IMAP or POP3 e-mail server, and will work with Microsoft Exchange and Yahoo! Mail. For Web browsing, the iPhone uses Apple's Safari Web browser, includes Google Maps, and has WiFi networking. At one point Jobs brought on stage Eric Schmidt, one of Google's co-founders, and Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!, and discussed how Apple worked closely with those companies to integrate their features into the iPhone.

The iPhone will cost $499 for a 4 GB model and $599 for an 8GB model. But, you'll have to shell out your money for it: the iPhone will not be available for purchase until June 2007. Apple has an exclusive multiyear agreement with Cingular to provide service for the iPhone.

A little matter that still needs to be ironed out: the trademark for "iPhone" is actually held by Cisco Systems, which uses it for its Linksys brand VOIP-based wireless phone, which was just introduced in mid-December. Apple is said to be in final talks to acquire the iPhone name.

Maybe Steve Jobs will just give Cisco CEO John Chambers a certificate good for a zillion song downloads in iTunes?

During his keynote Jobs also announced AppleTV, the company's device to stream TV and video content wirelessly.

Tech Blog Review: Musings of a Young Tech Mogul

JohnChow.com isn't your regular tech-news blog. Instead of just being a dry recitation of the latest tech happenings, this site is an immediate, personal look at ways to use the Web to make money and make life easier, from someone who practices what he preaches.

The home page shows an expensive sports car and features the tagline, "The Miscellaneous Ramblings of a Dot Com Mogul." This made me think that this guy must be some high-and-mighty corporate technology executive... that and the fact that the article that brought me to JohnChow.com was provocatively titled "The Biggest Google Whores" (which I commented on when I first discovered it).

In that entry Chow sought to rank the individuals who had the highest AdSense earnings from their Web sites. It was an intriguing look at how individuals who started out with nothing more than good ideas had managed to make big bucks through the AdSense, including the two founders of Digg.com.

And it turns out that John Chow is himself a thirty-something guy who started his own tech Web site, not some corporate suit. In the Google whores entry and others on the site, he addresses topics ranging from how he's tweaked his Web sites to get the most traffic and clicks from AdSense to cool new gadgets that he's used. I liked the fact that he wasn't some wealthy dude bragging about his wealth; he's someone who built his business from the ground up and was enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge with others. Readers often comment on Chow's entries, and Chow responds to many of those comments and questions.

Blogs often include personal content, and JohnChow.com is no exception. When not blogging about AdSense or search engine optimization he'll talk about dinners with visiting family members, including photos of some absolutely scrumptious looking Asian dishes. (I try not to read JohnChow.com on an empty stomach.) If Chow is indeed a mogul, he's not the stuffy kind who spends all day hunched over a computer or analyzing stock charts. He seems like the kind of guy who sees wealth and success as just one part of a life well lived, one that includes family, fun, and giving back.

I would recommend JohnChow.com to any blogger or other person who is looking to make money from his or her Web site, or to learn how to make a Web site more attractive and more popular with visitors.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Podcast Review: Great Free Indie Rock from North of the Border

When people think of indie rock they probably think of the many innovative bands that have come out of the U.S. and England. But I've found that some of the best indie rock of recent years has come from just north of the American border. While Canada may only have one-tenth the population of the U.S., it's more than holding its own in producing great indie rock musicians.

A fantastic place to discover these bands, and get full-length songs by them for free, is the CBC Radio 3 podcast, which has become one of my favorite music podcasts. I've seen a lot of good Canadian acts in concert in the last two years--Broken Social Scene, the New Pornographers, Stars, the Dears, Metric, Sarah Harmer, and Feist, to name a few. All of these have been played on the Radio 3 podcast, and there are many artists that I've heard of through the show.

You'll also find tunes from indie rock artists including Destroyer, the Be-Good Tanyas, Great Lake Swimmers, Amy Millan, Emily Haines, Wolf Parade, the Arcade Fire, Jason Collett, the Joel Plaskett Emergency, and Pony Up. (It was a surprise to me, but maybe it shouldn't have been, that many of these artists can be found on the same indie record label, Arts and Crafts.)

Not to say that this show from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation
only covers rock. The show plays independent Canadian music of all stripes, including hip-hop (such as Manitoba rapper Mcenroe) and electronica.

Host Grant Lawrence knows his Canadian music and brings a dry humor to the proceedings and tells listeners about the artists, but he never dominates the show with his banter or makes himself the center of attention. Which is good, because the music is excellent and Lawrence probably has a tough enough job trying to fit 12 or so songs into the approximately one-hour show. For my taste, there are just enough details about the artists and brief interview segments to introduce the musicians and give some insight on their songs, how long they've been together, and where they'll be touring.

You can find even more music at the CBC Radio 3 Web site, which gives news on the bands and lets you stream songs from dozens of artists. There's a lot of great music coming out of Canada, and CBC Radio 3 lets you hear it for yourself.