Sunday, May 27, 2007

Polarbear Podcast: Everything Swedish But the Meatballs

Sweden has always seemed to me to be a country of laid-back, easygoing people who don't take themselves too seriously. I don't know if that image is correct but Andy Nyman, the host and creator of the Polarbear Podcast, fits right in with my perception.

[UPDATE, Sept 26th, 2012: I'm pleased to report that, after going dark for a few years, the Polarbear Podcast has returned! Doing a podcast is a lot of work, so for this reboot Nyman has taken out a number of the special segments of the previous podcast, and is looking to make a shorter podcast that comes out more frequently. The first new episode came out in late August, and another one has appeared already. See more information at the Polarbear Podcast website.]

Banner of the newly rebooted Polarbear Podcast.
The podcast offers a fun and relaxed look at happenings in Sweden, and a Swedish perspective on the world. The fact that Nyman doesn't take himself too seriously is evident in the podcast's name: He realizes that folks outside Europe may not know too much about Sweden except that it's very far north and is cold, and so they may think that polar bears live there. (To help further clear up confusion about the country, there's a link at the top of the podcast's Web site that reads, "Sweden, Not Switzerland.")

Polarbear Podcast offers interesting and often humorous glimpses of Sweden as seen through the eyes of an average Swedish family guy who wants to help listeners learn a bit about his home country.

My favorite episode of the Polarbear Podcast came last December, when Nyman described the customs of a Swedish Christmas and New Year's Eve, and told us about his family's preparations for the holidays. To me, there are few vacations I'd love more than a Swedish Christmas.

The show features several regular segments. There's a brief travelogue description of interesting historical or cultural spots in Sweden—not the typical sights you'd read about in a tourist guide, but places that Swedish residents know of.

Another segment called "Swe-News" offers short new tidbits involving odd or scandalous news items from Sweden.

There are a couple of segments from regular guests, both from the U.S. One is "Email from America," from a listener who'll sometimes contrast American and Swedish approaches to issues. In another segment, a Swedish woman living and working in the U.S. gives her insights on being a Swedish expat wife and mother living in America.

The podcast has recently begun offering brief lessons in the Swedish language. (In keeping with Nyman's self-deprecating style, the segment is called "Swedish as a Seventh Language.")

Each episode also features a few new podsafe songs by Swedish artists in each episode. Often they are mellow folky tunes, but Nyman recently gave listeners a shot of adrenaline when he played a song by a heavy-metal band.

If you've ever been interested in learning about Sweden and life in the country today, check out the Polarbear Podcast. It's a fun glimpse into life in contemporary Sweden.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca... Hoboken?

That's right, the Mile-Square City of Hoboken, New Jersey is joining those other famous venues in launching a film festival this year. The first Hoboken International Film Festival, which runs from June 1st to the 7th, hopes to spotlight the city's long and illustrious connections to filmmaking.

Best known as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, Hoboken was itself practically a star of the classic '40s film "On the Waterfront" (alongside a young Marlon Brando), which was filmed largely in the city. More recently, a number of films, commercials, and other works have been shot in Hoboken, taking advantage of the city's old-time urban grit and many examples of classic architecture, many of which have been refurbished since Hoboken's resurgence beginning in the 1980s.

Danny Aiello, who has appeared in a number of films that were partly filmed in Hoboken, was to meet Hoboken's mayor on May 15th to formally announce the Hoboken International Film Festival. (Several of Aiello's films will be screened at the Festival.) I'll have more on Aiello's films and career in a future post.

And Hoboken is home to legendary indie filmmaker John Sayles, whose acclaimed movies range from "Brother from Another Planet" to "Eight Men Out," "The Secret of Roan Inish," "Lone Star," and "Passion Fish."

New Jersey's role in movie history goes back much further than "On the Waterfront," though. Thomas Edison was a motion picture pioneer and created America's first movie production studio, called Black Maria, not far from Hoboken in West Orange, New Jersey. And since 1981 there has been a Black Maria Film and Video Festival--based in New Jersey--that has toured around the U.S.

The Hoboken International Film Festival will include a mix of narrative feature films, documentaries, and shorts. Some of the features to be screened at the Festival include:
"Polycarp," a horror/psychological thriller
"Fingerprints" starring Lou Diamond Phillips
"Animal People," a look at the animal protection movement in the U.S.
"Get Thrashed: The Story of Trash Metal"
"Chasing the Lotus," a documentary that takes a worldwide look at surf culture

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

ABC and NBC Present Fall TV Lineups

Although this blog is mostly about music and podcasting, I like to give a nod to significant news in TV land sometimes... after all, TV shows now have their own podcasts, too.

As you may know, this is "upfront" week in TV, when the big networks pitch their lineups for upcoming season to advertisers in hopes of getting them to pony up big bucks in prepaid advertising.

Here's the gist on what NBC and ABC are up to:

  • "Scrubs" has been renewed for another season
  • ABC will add a "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff starring Kate Walsh, tentatively titled "Private Practice"
  • "Friday Night Lights" is back for another season, but is moving from Wednesday to (appropriately enough) Friday
  • "Crossing Jordan" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" have been canceled
  • ABC is adding five new dramas, including "Pushing Daisies" (about a man who can bring people to life from the dead--and send them back again) and "Dirty Sexy Money" (a lawyer takes over his father's job as personal attorney to a rich family)
  • NBC is introducing a new version of "The Bionic Woman," a series from the '70s (Wednesdays at 9pm)
  • ABC is introducing "Caveman," a sitcom based on the popular Geico TV commercials about cavemen living in modern society (maybe next season we'll see a show starring Geico's Cockney-talking gecko?)

Last but certainly not least, NBC will ride the "Heroes" horse again with a spinoff called "Heroes: Origins," which will feature a novel gimmick: viewers will be able to vote on their favorite new character, who will become a regular.

Later this week we'll see upfront presentations from CBS, Fox, and the CW network.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New iPod Risk: Be Still, My Beating Heart

Using an iPod can be hazardous to your health, and it can be life threatening for some people. There have long been reports that playing music too loud can permanently harm hearing, but recent studies have should that iPods can cause cardiac implantable pacemakers to malfunction by interfering with the electromagnetic equipment monitoring the heart, according to a study reported by CNN and other news outlets.

As the study reports, "Electrical interference was detected half of the time when the iPod was held just 2 inches from the patient's chest for 5 to 10 seconds." Apple's iPod was the only portable music player tested in the study. The study looked at 100 patients, whose mean age was 77. In some cases, the article noted, iPods caused interference when they were held as far as 18 inches from the chest. The iPods were found to interfere with the pacemaker's telemetry equipment, which caused the device to misread the heart's pacing and in one case caused the pacemaker to stop functioning altogether.

Of course, as one of the authors of the study notes, most people who use pacemakersare not iPod users, so it's not known how often this problem actually occurs in the real world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Free Indie Rock Concert Videos

As a fan of indie music, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a podcast called Schedule Two. It's a series of free concert videos, one song each, from a range of indie rock artists, filmed in concert in a variety of venues, many in Minneapolis.

Lately this podcast has featured videos of some of my favorite bands of recent vintage, performing songs I wasn't yet familiar with. (If you subscribe to the podcast you'll get once song by an artist, but you can view and download other videos by the artists at the Schedule Two Web site.)

These are straightforward concert videos shot in a conventional manner; you won't find any stage pyrotechnics, dazzling camerawork, or special effects in the podcast. But that's fine with me; I'm perfectly happy just hearing the songs straight up with no frills.

Some of the recent podcasts have included "Pillar of Salt" by The Thermals, Midlake performing "Young Bride," Asobi Seksu (formerly of Cibo Matta) doing a tune called "Strawberries," and the Hold Steady rocking out on "Stevie Nix," as well as performances by Tapes 'n' Tapes, Mates of State, and Jason Colett of Broken Social Scene (featuring a guest appearance by Feist).

If you like indie music, Schedule Two is a great little podcast of cool tunes performed live.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Quick Tips for Managing Your Money

A while back I wrote about a great little podcast, "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." The people behind Grammar Girl have created other podcasts as well using the same quick-and-easy approach, and my favorite of these is one that simplifies all aspects of managing your finances.

Like the Grammar Girl podcast, "Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for a Richer Life" offers easy-to-understand advice on common topics in a bite-size format, with episodes ranging from three to six minutes or so. Though each podcast is brief, it presents sounds information on a number of topics that are frequently misunderstood.

Recent episodes have covered issues such as:
  • Who can take the mortgage interest deduction
  • Pros and cons of a 15-year vs. a 30-year mortgage
  • How to create a supercharged Roth IRA
  • Getting ready for tax time
  • How to set financial goals
  • Ways to protect your credit score
  • Telling the difference between good debt and bad debt

The Money Girl podcast is a good way to get a basic understanding of a variety of some fundamental financial concepts, from money management to taxes and retirement. It can be downloaded through iTunes and other podcast programs, or streamed from the Web site.