MacVoices Interview Now Online

Scott McNulty and I talk to Chuck Joiner about WordPress.

One of the things I like to do — but don’t get a chance to do very often these days — is talk to podcasters and other media people about the projects I’ve worked on.

MacVoices LogoEarlier this month, I got a chance to do just that with Chuck Joiner, the host of the MacVoices podcast. For the first time ever, Chuck did a double interview, killing two birds with one stone as he spoke to author Scott McNulty and I about WordPress. During the Interview, we talked about our separate WordPress-related projects and how they might be used together to help someone learn the ins and outs of using WordPress.

Here’s the blurb on the MacVoices Web site:

Thinking of starting a blog with WordPress? Maria Langer, the author of Self-Hosting a WordPress Site and WordPress.Com 2.7 Essential Training on Lynda.com and Scott McNulty, the author of Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read, share some tips from their respective projects to help you make the right choices. Maria and Scott talk about deciding on using WordPress.com or selecting your own host, one-click vs. user installs, why permalink structure is one of the first things you should think about, and finding and customizing a theme for your blog and more. Backup options, favorite plug-ins and why their video and book compliment each other are discussed.

If you’d like to hear the podcast, you can download it directly from its page on the MacVoices Web site.

Maria Speaks Episode 37: KBSZ Interview

Maria Speaks Episode 37: KBSZ Interview.

I was interviewed yet again by local radio station KBSZ 1250-AM. Pete’s a great interviewer and always makes his guests feel comfortable. We talked for about 40 minutes, mostly about the Internet and flying. You’ll hear my layman’s explanation of my recent experience getting seriously Dugg. Keep in mind that the station’s audience isn’t exactly computer savvy, so I do a lot of explaining and simplifying when discussing some computer topics.

This podcast starts in the middle of a commercial; the interview starts about a minute in.

February 17, 2010 Update: KBSZ went under back in 2009. The Web site was taken down and all podcasts removed. As a result, the podcast of this episode is no longer available. Sorry!

KBSZ Interview

Maria Speaks Episode 36: KBSZ Interview.

I was interviewed again by local radio station KBSZ 1250-AM. Pete’s a great interviewer and always makes his guests feel comfortable. We talked for about 40 minutes, mostly about my wickenburg-az.com Web site, which celebrates its 8-year anniversary this month. We also talked about blogging in general, search engine optimization (which I’m no expert in), and my flying business. Keep in mind that the station’s audience isn’t exactly computer savvy, so I do a lot of explaining and simplifying when discussing some computer topics.

Computer Wait Speed

Maria Speaks Episode 34: Computer Wait Speed

My current computer woes remind me of something I heard long ago.

A long time ago — ten or more years, which is the middle ages in terms of the computing industry — computers were being marketed primarily on the basis of processor speed. Every time Intel or Motorola would come out with a new processor chip, members of the geeky set hurried to the stories to buy a new computer or upgrade that would bring their machines up to speed. It was then that I heard this rather curious statement:

All computers wait at the same speed.

The statement, of course, was meant to poke fun at computer users. At least that’s how I read it. Your computer could be the fastest in the world, but if you weren’t up to speed, all that extra fast processing power would be wasted. After all, each time a computer completes an instruction — whether it’s opening a dialog box, applying a font style change to some text, or matching e-mail addresses in your address book when you type into a field in a new e-mail message form — the computer faithfully waits…for you. As long as it has to. And while computer processors are getting ever faster, computer users are simply not keeping up.

Let Me Tell You About My Mom

All this reminds me of a sort of funny story. My mother, who has been using computers for nearly as long as I have, is not what you’d call a “power user.” She pretty much knows what her computer can do for her and she can usually make it do it. But she’s not the kind of person who pushes against the boundaries of what she knows very often. And when she’s working with her computer, she spends a lot of time making the computer wait while she thinks about what’s onscreen and how she needs to proceed. That isn’t a big deal — I’d say that 95% of computer users are like her. People react to what the computer does rather than anticipate what’ll come up next and have the next task prepared in their minds when the computer is ready to accept it. And all these computers are waiting at the same speed.

Anyway, for years, my Mom used dial-up Internet services. Most of us did. But as better alternatives came around and Web sites got ever more graphic-intensive, most of us updated our Internet connection technology to take advantage of cable or DSL or some other higher bandwidth connection. (I was literally the first (and only) kid on the block to get ISDN at my home. This was back in the days before cable and DSL Internet service. It cost me a fortune — heck, they had to dig a trench to lay new telephone lines to my house — but I simply could not tolerate busy signals, dropped carriers, and slow download speeds for my work. It operated at a whopping 128 Kbps and cost me $150/month. Ouchie!) My Mom, on the other hand, didn’t upgrade. She continued to surf the Internet through AOL on a dial-up connection, right into late 2006. Worse yet, she refused to get a second phone line, so she limited her Internet access or was impossible to get on the phone.

Let me take a little side trip here to discuss why her attitude wasn’t a bad thing at all. Personally, I believe we have too much dependence on the Internet. I recently read “I Survived My Internet Vacation” by Lore Sjöberg on wired.com, which takes a comic but all-too-real look at Internet withdrawal. If you’re the kind of person who uses the Internet to check the weather, look up vocabulary words, and find obscure information throughout each day without really needing that information, you owe it to yourself to read the piece. It really hit home for me. So in the case of my Mom, the fact that her Internet use was minimal wasn’t such a bad thing. Not at least as far as I was concerned.

But it had gotten to the point with my Mom that she was spending more time waiting for her computer than her computer was waiting for her. And it had nothing to do with processor speed. It was her dial-up Internet connection that made it slow.

At first, I don’t think she understood this. I think that when she replaced her aging Macintosh with a PC about 2 years ago, she really expected everything to get faster. But the Internet got slower and slower for her, primarily because Web designers don’t design sites for dial-up connections. (Shame on them!) The Internet had become a tedious, frustrating place for her and she couldn’t understand why so many people were spending so much time using it.

In November 2006, I came for a visit. I had to look up something on the Internet and within 15 minutes, I was about to go mad. I asked her why she didn’t upgrade to a different service. Then she showed me a flyer that had come with her cable bill. We sat down with her phone bill and AOL bill and realized that she could upgrade to cable Internet service and actually save money. A little more research with her local phone company saved even more money.

So she was paying a premium to connect at 56Kbps or less.

I made a few phone calls and talked to people in the United States and India for her. I’ll be honest with you — the price difference between cable Internet and her local phone company’s Internet was minimal, but we went with the phone company because the person who answered the phone spoke English as her first language. (Subsequently, my Mom needed some tech support after I was gone and that person was in India. Sheesh.) The installation would happen the day after I left to go back to Arizona, but I was pretty confident that they would make everything work. And although it didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped, my Mom was soon cruising the ‘Net at normal DSL speeds.

In other words, wicked fast.

My Mom was floored by the difference. I’d told her it was much faster, but I didn’t tell her it was 100 times faster. And it’s always on — all she has to do is turn on the computer and she’s online! And she can even get phone calls while she’s on the Internet! Imagine all that!

The happy ending of this story is that my mother now spends a lot more time on the Internet. (I’m not sure how happy that is.) And of course, she’s now back to the situation where the computer is waiting for her.

Who’s Waiting for What in My Office

I reported a hard disk crash here about 9 days ago. I know it was 9 days because that’s how long I’ve been waiting for the data recovery software to churn through whatever is left of my hard disk. And although it’s still progressing, it’s slowed to a crawl. I think it’s teasing me. But I’ll get the last laugh — I’m pulling the plug today.

There comes a time when you simply can’t wait anymore. I think 9 days shows a great deal of patience on my part. I know I couldn’t have waited so long if I didn’t have other computers to work with. I did get some work done this past week. I wrote up the outline for my Mac OS X book revision for Leopard. I did a lot of e-mail, fixed up a bunch of Web sites, wrote and submitted a bid for Flying M Air to dry cherries this summer in Washington State.

But what I did not do outweighed what I did do. I didn’t work on my Excel 2007 Visual QuickStart Guide. (I need the big monitor to do layout.) I did not pay my bills. (The latest version of my Quicken data files are on the sick drive.) I didn’t update Flying M AIr’s brochure. (Original files on the sick disk, need big monitor for layout.) The list does go on and on.

Now it’s time to get back to work. So I’ll pull the plug on the current data recovery attempt, put the hard disk in the freezer for a few hours, then reinstall it and try again by accessing the sick disk via Firewire from another computer. I can try multiple software solutions to fix the problem. And if that doesn’t work, I take the long drive down to the nearest Genius and let them give the computer a check up to make sure there’s no motherboard damage (again). If the mother board is still fine, I’ll leave them the disk to play with, get a new disk to replace it, and get the hell back to work.

That’s the plan, anyway.

On Blogging

Maria Speaks Episode 32: On Blogging – Looking back on three years as a blogger.

This episode covers my thoughts on blogging: why I blog, my personal history as a blogger, and the future of blogging as I see it. The transcript for this episode can be found on my Web site, www.aneclecticmind.com.

And sorry about the nasal sound of my voice. I’m just getting over a cold.

Transcript:

Last month, I celebrated my third anniversary as a blogger. Well, I didn’t really celebrate anything because I really didn’t think about it then. But I realized today that it had been more than three years since my first blog entry. A little research found that entry online in my current blog: “iBlog.”

Why I Blog

I am a writer. I’ve been a writer since I was 13 or so, in the days when I worked on stories and a novel while sitting at the desk in the room I shared with my sister. I’ve probably written billions of words by now.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of writers. Well, three:

  • The first is the person who writes because of that need to write. The person who, like me, started at a young age and got hooked on it. But for whatever reason, they did not pursue a career in writing.
  • The second is the person who doesn’t have that need to write but writes for a living. Copywriters, business people who spend much of their time writing reports, tech writers — those might be some examples.
  • The third is the person who needs to write and writes for a living.

Through hard work, an understanding of the writing business, and a good dose of luck, I’ve managed to join that third group of writers: I write because I need to write and I’m fortunate enough to get paid for it.

Writing is like an addiction for the people who need to write. They can’t go more than a day or two without writing something. And that’s where blogging comes in. It’s the perfect outlet for writing whatever you want, whether it’s a description of how you spent your weekend (Days in My Life), your view on current politics (Deep Thoughts), a narrative about your hobbies (Flying for Pleasure, Writing for Pleasure), or a discussion of your work (Flying for Hire, Writing for a Living).

And that’s why I’m a blogger. It gives me the opportunity to vent (so to speak) the words and thoughts that are in my mind.

My History as a Blogger

Back in October 2003, I got started as a blogger using a blogging client called iBlog. It was an interesting tool that was very easy to use and didn’t require a bit of HTML or programming knowledge. I’d create blog entries on my computer, using a WYSIWYG format. When I was ready to publish, the software would create all the pages and links and upload them to a Web server. They were static pages — that means they existed in plain old HTML on the server until I replaced them with new pages.

I liked the software, but as technology moved forward, I ran into its limitations. The author of the program — it’s shareware — was busy with work and couldn’t spend the time needed to rework his creation and add features. I decided that it was time to find another solution.

I played with Blogger and actually built two podcasts that used it for an engine. (I even wrote an eBook about it.) But Blogger had a lot of limitations, too. I wanted something I could get under the hood to change, something I could tweak forever, fine-tuning the appearance and functionality all the time.

The answer was WordPress. I decided to install it on a Mac OS X server in my office. It was a chore and a real learning experience. But I always get a certain feeling of satisfaction when I work my way through a tough task and succeed.

The first big challenge (after getting WordPress up and running on the server) was to import my 300+ iBlog entries to my new WordPress site. That required exporting all entries as an RSS feed, modifying the entries to be WordPress compatible, and importing them into the new blog. I did this over time, in batches. I still have about 50 entries to import, but they include photos and require a lot of work. Frankly, I’ve been too lazy to do it.

Once the content was online, I reworked the blog to merge it with my personal site and my book support site. That posed some organizational challenges: to keep my work separate from my blog but both of them in the same place. I’ve gotten complements on the site’s organization from several people, so I think I may have done a good job.

Now, with the work mostly done — other than the tweaking, which I do occasionally to fine-tune the site — I’m free to write. I never stopped, of course. The site has been building itself slowly but surely, with 5 to 20 new entries a week, depending on my schedule. These days I’ve been pretty busy, so I’m not writing as much. But I still try to get a post in each morning, as I sit drinking my coffee, listening to my parrot run through his repertoire of words, phrases, and weird sounds.

The Future of Blogging

Over the past few years, I’ve seen blogging change from its original purpose — a personal online journal — to a commercial phenomena. People are blogging for money, splashing advertisements all over their sites. Companies are starting blogs to advertise their own products and services.

Although I will be the first to admit that I talk about my books and articles and flying services on this site, those topics are not my primary focus. They’re part of my life and, like most of my life, they become blogging topics. But I just can’t bring myself to splash all those Google ads all over my sites. I’m not in this for the money. The little ads that appear at the bottom of some pages on my sites are just my attempt to raise cash to pay for this blogging habit of mine. (Please feel free to click one or two on every visit. ;-) )

But it saddens me that blogging has become so commercialized. That some bloggers are using this form of communication solely to gain wealth and fame — or try to. That some bloggers are irresponsibly spreading inaccurate information in an attempt to sway public opinion. That the media is spreading falsehoods by quoting blogs as news sources. That some blogs (like some podcasts) are simply another form of advertising to sell products and services in a world that’s already so full of advertising that it invades every part of our lives.

I don’t know what the future of blogging will bring. But I do know the future of my blogging activities: the same as the past.

I blog because I like to blog. I need to blog. And whether my words are appreciated or scorned, I’ll just keep blogging.

Podcast Stuff

Maria Speaks Episode 31: Podcast Stuff.

This episode marks my return to Maria Speaks after a two-month break. It covers my change in podcasting technique, a new video podcast I just created for Flying M Air, and the podcasts I subscribe to.

Transcript:

Hi, I’m Maria Langer. Welcome to Episode 31 of Maria Speaks: Podcast Stuff.

I just spent the past three hours redoing the Maria Speaks podcast. I used to publish it with Blogger and FeedBurner. Now, since my personal Web site is blog-based using WordPress, I cut Blogger out of the picture. It took me three hours to create or modify blog entries to embed my thirty existing podcast entries on this site. Well, twenty-nine. One of them covered an eBook I no longer distribute, so it didn’t link to it.

I developed this new method of podcasting — new to me, I should say — to reduce the amount of work required to publish a podcast and keep all podcast information together. I used to use a WordPress plugin called podPress, but I removed all references to it and disabled it today. Keep it simple — that’s what I decided. And the technique I worked out is relatively simple, utilizing an existing WordPress blog and FeedBurner. I wrote about it in an article to be published soon by Informit.com. When it comes out, I’ll link to it on the Aritcles page of my Web site and create a podcast based on its content.

For some reason, my “Maria Speaks” podcast has more subscribers than ever. That makes me wonder, since I haven’t released a podcast episode since September, and that episode was a bit more commercial than I like. This time last year, I was releasing one or two episodes per week. I ran out of steam last December and have been releasing them far less frequently. Still, my subscriber numbers have been climbing steadily. It doesn’t make sense to me, but it did convince me to release more content. The way I see it, when all these new subscribers start getting the new content, they’ll either like it and stick around or not like it and leave.

In the meantime, I started a new video podcast in October for my helicopter charter company, Flying M Air. I have literally thousands of photographs taken throughout the southwest, in places I fly to. I also have photos taken by my husband and by professional photographer and Bigfoot Hunter, Richard Noll.

Rick accompanied me on a test run of Flying M Air’s Southwest Circle Helicopter Adventure. The deal we struck was that in return for all all-expense paid trip, he’d let me share copyright on all the video and still images he took. While he has the ability to sell these images as stock photos or use them in other projects, I have the ability to use them in marketing material to help sell the excursions and in articles I plan to write for publication about the trip. It was a win-win deal. Richard took lots of pictures from the air, which is something I simply can’t do while I’m flying. He also took video images with something a few clicks better than the little Canon digital video cameras I have. I’m still going through the over 1,000 still images and 3 to 4 hours of video he left on my MacBook Pro’s hard disk before departing back to the Seattle area.

I decided to turn my library of photos into video brochures for Flying M Air’s tours, charters, and excursions. The result is “Come Fly With Us!” (subscribe), which currently has three episodes. Another episode will be released Monday. (That’s one of the good things about my new podcast publishing technique; I can schedule a publication date and time. This makes it possible to record several podcast episodes at once and release them periodically over time.)

Part of the learning experience for creating this new podcast was finding legal music to play while the images were showing. I wasted a lot of time looking. Some sites promoting “royalty-free” music for podcasts required that you buy the songs to use them. That wouldn’t have been so bad if the songs were sold at iTunes prices or even a few bucks, but they were asking for $25 or $39 dollars per song. I use each song on just one video podcast episode and plan to release new titles once a week until I run out of material. That music was simply over my budget.

The much hyped GarageBand.com promised royalty-free, free downloads music. But the vast majority of artists didn’t allow free downloads of their songs. And since I was looking for relatively mellow instrumentals — you know, mood music — I had trouble finding what I wanted there in the first place.

I finally wound up on MagnaTune.com. I heard about it during an interview with the site’s founder, John Buckman, that Miraz had referred me to. MagnaTune predates iTunes by about two weeks. Although it has a limited number of artists on board, it offers very reasonable licensing of its music for podcast use. I’ve been getting tunes for my “Come Fly with Us!” podcasts from MagnaTunes since then and giving credit to the artists at the end of each video. I hope they sell some music.

Speaking of music, if you’ve been listening to Maria Speaks for a while now, you may have noticed that I changed the “theme song” for this podcast. The reason: I had a one-year licensing agreement with FreePlay Music for the old tune, Floater. Last year, when I bought that license, it cost $25/year, which I thought was reasonable. When I went to renew, the price had gone up to $100/year. I guess they decided to cash in when podcasting took off. That’s above my budget for a free podcast that doesn’t even earn any advertising revenue, so I decided to find a new tune. The new tune is is a segment from a nameless bit that I got off a public domain music CD I acquired back in 1996. I spent about an hour yesterday going through the one thousand plus songs on that CD set to pick this one. I’m not sure how much I really like it, but I do need something for my opening and closing credits.

The main topic of this podcast episode was supposed to be a quick discussion of some of the podcasts I listen to regularly. So let me dive into that for a few minutes.

I want to start off by telling you what I don’t listen to. I don’t like podcasts that mix discussion and “Garage Band” music. For example, I used to listen to a podcast about words hosted by two guys who seemed to guess more about word origins than actually research them. They’d pick few words or phrases and do a 40-minute podcast about them. The way they’d stretch out that podcast is by inserting a few Garage Band songs into it. Trouble was, their taste in music was nothing like mine, so I found myself having to fast forward through the music filler to get to the discussion meat. Fast forwarding is not always easy when you’re listening on an iPod and driving in traffic. When I realized that the content I was interested in wasn’t that good to begin with, I dropped the podcast. Ditto for the writing podcast some woman was doing. I wasn’t listening to hear music. I was listening to hear content. If the content was music related, the music would make sense. But it wasn’t and it didn’t.

In general, I don’t listen to music podcasts at all. Finding new music is low on my priority list. So if you you think you might find some tips for new and exciting music podcasts here, you will be disappointed.

What I do like listening to is podcasts that can enlighten me, teach me new things, or make me laugh with intelligent humor. I listen to podcasts primarily when I’m driving or flying, although I do have a i-Fusion speaker thing that makes it easy to listen when I’m working in the kitchen, making dinner or tidying up. So if I can be trapped in a place doing a relatively mindless thing and listen to something that’ll expand my horizons or make me laugh, I’m pretty happy.

That said, here’s a brief summary of some of the podcasts I listen to. You can find links to these podcasts on the transcript for this podcast. Go to www.aneclecticmind.com and click the Podcast link in the navigation bar to find it.

First on the list are a handful National Public Radio (or NPR) podcasts. There are 355 of these podcasts and I’ve tried at least 20 of them. I listen to five of them regularly.

  • NPR: Story of the Day is a daily selection of a story from NPR’s programming. These stories are wide-ranging in topics: business, war, travel, entertainment — you name it.
  • NPR: Business Story of the Day is a daily selection of a business story from NPR’s programming. Stories cover anything business related, from Silicon Valley news bits to global oil production information and lots of stuff in between. It keeps me informed about the business world.
  • NPR: Satire from the Unger Report is a weekly podcast of satire by Brian Unger. It’ll make you laugh — and think.
  • NPR: Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! is a weekly radio quiz show about the news. It has a panel of three celebrities (no, not the kind in People magazine) and call-in contestants. The questions and answers lean toward the comical, so the show is extremely entertaining.
  • NPR: Sunday Puzzle is a weekly podcast of word games with an NPR host, Will Shortz (of the New York Times), and a telephone contestant.

I’ve tried other NPR podcasts, but eventually lost interest in them. And as I prepared this list, I noticed a bunch of new ones to try out. So I might report on some additional podcasts from NPR in the future.

I also listen to American Public Media (APM) Future Tense. It’s a great podcast with short episodes about technology topics.

I listen to three PBS podcasts:

  • American Experience is a podcast with short episodes about historical topics. Recent episodes included the Gold Rush and New York.
  • NOVA is a podcast of brief stories from the NOVA science television show.
  • NOW is a podcast of rather lengthy stories form the NOW news television show. Sometimes the stories interest me and I listen to them. Other times, the stories don’t interest me and I just delete them.

I also watch a NOVA video podcast, which I find excellent. It combines science information with video and still images in a 2 to 3 minute podcast. I like some episodes so much that I save them as movies on my iPod so I can show them to others.

Speaking of video podcasts, I also subscribe to a number of others:

  • GARY-PAUL TV is a video podcast of weird stuff published by Gary-Paul Prince of Peachpit Press. My favorite episode, which I’ve saved as a movie for future viewing, is “Drinking and Driving Texas Style.”
  • Comedy Central: Stand-Up is a video podcast of stand up comedy segments. I only like about half of these, but the ones I like arae really good, so I keep checking in.
  • National Geographic Video Shorts are short video segments from National Geographic television shows.

I also used to enjoy a video podcast called CockpitCast, which showed video out the front window of various commuter jets as they landed at airports in western U.S. cities, but there hasn’t been a new release in a long time, so I don’t know if the pilots are still doing it.

Another aviation podcast I enjoy is Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase. Betty is a flight attendant who loves to travel. She brings along her tape recorded and gets stories from other flight attendants, pilots, and people at the places she flies to. The stories are great but the audio quality is pretty bad sometimes. Still, I think it’s worth a listen. My favorite story? The one where a passenger who died of natural causes during a flight was not declared dead until after the flight was more than halfway to its destination.

For tech news and info, I’ve been trying two Wired magazine podcasts:

  • Wired Magazine is a podcast of short pieces from Wired magazine columns.
  • Wired News is a podcast of short news stories from Wired magazine.

I also subscribe to Slate magazine‘s Daily podcast, which includes interviews about Slate’s online pieces as well as audio versions of some of Slate’s online pieces. It gives me a chance to “read” Slate without having to visit the site. Of course, I only get a small portion of the thoughtful gems available online. I used to subscribe to Slate’s Explainer podcast, but have given it up because the topics weren’t all that interesting to me. You might like them, though, so check them and out see for yourself.

I subscribe to the WordPress podcast because of my interest in WordPress software. I admit that I’ve downloaded all episodes and have listened to just three of them. I think the podcast is good, but I have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to them.

The same goes for the Podcasting Underground podcast. Good, informative stuff, but I have to be in the mood to listen to information about podcasting.

For politics, I listen to a pair of real left-wingers. Sorry, but I am not a conservative at all, neo or otherwise.

  • Real Time with Bill Maher is an hour-long podcast of Maher’s HBO television series. He does an interview and then discusses one or more current political topics with a panel of three that usually includes one celebrity entertainer and one political figure. His panels always include someone sitting on the right, so both sides are represented. While I don’t agree with everything I hear, I like to hear the various viewpoints on current political topics. New Rules is a much shorter podcast that includes just the New Rules he lists at the end of his show.
  • MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olbermann is a collection of Olbermann segments from his MSNBC Countdown television show. Olbermann is a Bush basher — do doubt about it — and it amazes me that he says some of the things he says. It’s a real example of the First Amendment in action — if Olbermann said these kinds of things just once in a place like North Korea or Iran or Iraq under Saddam Hussein, he would have been shot dead for treason. But in our country, we’re allowed to voice all kinds of opinions. Olbermann’s aren’t the kind that’ll ever get on Fox News. My favorite bit? The count of times our president said “Stay the course” after Tony Snow told the press he’d only said it eight times. Classic reporting.

I also started listening to Penn Jillette’s weekday radio show on FreeFM, PennRadio. Penn Jillette is the big, fast-talking guy from the magic duo of Penn and Teller. An atheist (his Nevada license plate is the word “ATHEIST”) and libertarian, he definitely has some non-standard views of politics. But he also covers non-political topics. I don’t enjoy all of Penn’s podcast episodes — I probably delete about half of them without listening to more than a few minutes — but I like enough of them to keep my subscription. One of my favorite episodes was his interview of Phyllis Diller (who I didn’t even know was still alive). Ms. Diller had some fascinating stories to tell and I was especially touched by Penn’s patience when her memory failed her more than once during the interview.

And finally, one of the first podcasts I ever subscribed to, podictionary. This daily podcast, with 2 to 5 minute episodes, discusses the origin of a word or phrase. A weekly digest version is also available. Many, many thanks to Charles Hodgson for his dedication to the subject of word history.

Now you know what I’m listening to. What are you listening to? Share your comments and suggestions with me and other listeners by posting your comments on the transcript for this episode. Go to www.aneclecticmind.com, click the Podcasts link in the navigation bar, and scroll down until you find the “Episode 31: Podcast Stuff” entry. Or just use the Search box to search for the number 31. Then use the Comments link at the bottom of the entry to read other people’s comments and add your own.

And as always, thanks for listening. More later.

Mac Cowboys

Maria Speaks Episode 30: Mac Cowboys.

Join me and a bunch of other Mac geeks for a dude ranch mini-vacation.

Transcript:

Welcome to WickenburgA few months ago, I started thinking about how cool it would be to have a computer conference here in Wickenburg, at my favorite guest ranch: Rancho de los Caballeros. Los Caballeros is not only the nicest dude ranch in this Dude Ranch Capital of Arizona, but it has the most interesting activities and the absolute best restaurant.

The idea was to invite a bunch of authors and let each of them do three or four sessions over a five-day period. The sessions would be in the morning and there would be all kinds of activities in the afternoon, like horseback riding, golf, shopping trips into town, Jeep tours, and, of course, helicopter rides. The people who came would have a lot of fun, learn a lot, and have a great opportunity to network with other Mac users. For some people, it could even be considered a business trip. Best of all, I could introduce people to Wickenburg, the little town I live in and often blog about.

The event would be called Mac Cowboys because of the western dude ranch theme.

Now in case you don’t know, I’m a busy person. It took me nearly forever to talk to the ranch people and crunch the numbers to see what the trip would cost. It looked feasible, so I set a date in early December, before the busy Christmas holidays. Then I got a list of possible author/speakers from one of my editors at Peachpit and invited them to attend.

I guess everyone is just as busy as I am. None of them could attend. I hope that it’s nothing I should be taking personally.

Desert SceneSo rather than give up the whole thing, I decided to restructure the event. I shortened it from five days to four. I cut the speakers from five to one. I cut the sessions from 12 to just two and made them more discussion based, giving all the participants a chance to share what they knew and ask everyone questions. I arranged the activities so all participants could go together, giving everyone an opportunity to network like crazy outside the meeting rooms. Then, with greatly reduced costs, I recalculated the per-person cost. The numbers I came up with were certainly within reason for a 4-day, all inclusive weekend at a luxury dude ranch.

Now I’m taking it public, offering it to the readers of my blog, podcast listeners, and the folks who buy Mac books from Peachpit Press.

Please understand that this isn’t a typical computer conference.

For a moment, think of the last computer conference you attended. You know, the one in the big conference hall with thousands of attendees shuffling around a show floor with shopping bags. The one with overcrowded dark classrooms with bad sound systems and speakers telling you more about whatever it is they’re trying to sell than something you really want to learn about. The one where you paid to get into the conference hall, you paid to sit through seminars, you paid to stay in a hotel, and you paid to eat disappointing meals. The one with uncomfortable free shuttles or long walks from your hotel to the conference hall. The one where your only entertainment were demos on the show floor or sad vendor parties with bad food and expensive alcohol.

Now wipe those ugly thoughts right from your mind.

Wickenburg SunsetMac Cowboys is a mini-vacation first: a four-day, three-night stay with luxury accommodations at a ranch that can only accommodate about a hundred and fifty people at once. You get yourself to Phoenix Sky Harbor airport or Wickenburg and just about everything else is paid for — ground transportation to and from the ranch, hotel room, three meals a day, horseback riding, golf, Jeep tour, helicopter tour, swimming, tennis, nature hikes — all kinds of activities. There’s even free wi-fi access in certain hotspots throughout the ranch. All you pay for is alcoholic beverages and extras like skeet shooting or golf cart or club rental.

I’ve set aside three short hours a day on the two middle days for official business stuff: a pair of conference sessions where you can learn more about using your Mac. One session covers Mac OS X topics. The other covers Web publishing topics. And there will be plenty of informal sessions among participants to pick brains and get burning questions answered.

And if you’re wondering what December is like in Wickenburg, AZ, imagine 60° to 70° F sunny days — often without a cloud in the sky. Weather won’t keep you inside during the day. Sure, at night it gets cold, but it also gets dark. And you have to rest sometime.

Sound good? I think so — and I do this stuff all the time.

This first Mac Cowboys event, which is scheduled for December 7th through 10th, 2006, is a test of my idea. If it works out on this small scale, it should work out on a larger scale with more speakers and more guests. If it ever outgrows Los Cab or I feel like trying someplace new, I can take it on the road to another ranch. I’d like to do it once or twice a year, just to keep life interesting.

So consider this your formal invitation. Come on out to Wickenburg and be a Mac Cowboy for a few days.

Want more information? Check out the Mac Cowboys Web site at maccowboys.com.