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!

NPR Playback

An excellent podcast for those interested in history.

Last October, National Public Radio (NPR) began a new monthly series called Playback. Each month, the show explores the stories that were making news on NPR 25 years before.

NPR PlaybackI’d heard commercials for the podcast on the other NPR podcasts I listen to, but never got around to checking this one out. This past week, I found NPR Playback on iTunes and subscribed.

The show is hosted by Kerry Thompson. She introduces segments with a few facts and plays actual news stories and interviews from those days. Some segments include current-day interviews with NPR reporters who were covering the story back then. Each monthly 20- to 30-minute episode is an amazing look back at the past, brought into perspective by the events that came afterward.

For me, however, I think it’s more interesting. 25 years ago, I was just getting out of college, starting my new and independent life. News was going on around me, but I was only 21 and how many 21-year-olds really think much about world events? Playback brings these events back to the forefront of my memory and gives me the information I need to think about them as an adult with a more fine-tuned sense of what’s going on in the world, what’s wrong, and what’s right. I can think about these events the way I would have if I’d been 46 back then. It’s helping me understand what the world was like in the early 80s and why it has become what it is today.

I can’t say enough positive things about this podcast. If you’re interested in history and world events, give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

You can learn more on the NPR Playback page of the NPR Podcast Directory, on NPR.org.

Harry Potter Fever

I’m done.

I’ll admit it: I’m a Harry Potter fan. I think the books are well-written and entertaining. And I think the movies are extremely well done, faithful to the books in such a way to satisfactorily bring the author’s scenes to life.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)I’ll admit this, too: I ordered the final Harry Potter book three months ago. I ordered it from Amazon.com with another item, chose free shipping, and waited. I wasn’t in a rush. I just wanted my collection complete. Amazon shipped the other item immediately and put my HP order on hold until it was time to ship it.

Last week, Amazon sent me an e-mail suggesting that I upgrade shipping so I’d get the book on its publication date. I wasn’t in a hurry to get the book so I ignored the e-mail.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Meanwhile, I was listening to the Slate Political Gabfast podcast. One of the staff mentioned that the audio books for Harry Potter were excellent. Since I didn’t remember much of the sixth Harry Potter book, I figured I’d try it as an audio book. I ordered it from Amazon.com. They gave me a free trial to Amazon Prime. Free 2-day shipping for a month (when I’ll cancel to avoid the outrageous $79 annual fee). I figured the audio book would arrive before the printed book. I could listen to book 6 and read book 7.

I got an e-mail from Amazon.com on Thursday to let me know that my HP book had shipped. I could expect it by July 26. Fine. I was in no hurry.

So imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox yesterday — two days after being told the book had shipped — and the book was in there. On the publication date. With free shipping. And the darn thing had cost me less than $20 — about half the retail price. Not bad.

So now I faced a dilemma.: read the book right away or wait until after listening to the Book 6 audio, which still hadn’t arrived.

Yesterday afternoon, after a pleasant day Jeeping on dirt roads and an even more pleasant shower, I cracked open the 700+ page final book of the Harry Potter series. The reason I didn’t wait: I was afraid that someone would spoil it for me by telling me the end.

I was 1/3 finished when I went to bed at about 10 PM last night. This morning, I got right back into it with my breakfast. By 12:30 PM, I was finished.

I won’t tell the ending. In my opinion, anyone who does is a major-league asshole. That includes the people who ripped off copies before they were released and published them on the Web. It also includes the reviewers for the New York Times who released plot points in a review the day before the book was released.

I will say that the ending works. That’s it.

I think J.K. Rowling has done a fine job on this series. Although a lot of the books were a bit longer than they needed to be, I think that gave readers — especially those who can’t crank through a 700+ page book in 8 hours — more for their money. It helped them stay in the fantasy world of Harry Potter and his friends for just a little bit longer.

Is the whole Harry Potter thing worth the ridiculous hype? In my opinion, no.

But then again, in today’s world, people seem anxious to grab on to any hype they can. It’s better to latch on to Harry Potter’s struggle against evil than Paris Hilton’s short prison stay — or to stand in line for an iPhone.

Isn’t it?

As for that Book 6 Audio…I look forward to hearing it. If it’s half as good as the Slate podcaster claims, I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Twitter Spam

Turning a fun thing into more marketing crap.

I’ve been using Twitter for about two months now. It’s part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, other people have also been using it — for their own selfish purposes.

How I Use Twitter

I start up my main Mac and Twitterific automatically appears. I use it to scroll back to see what the folks I’ve been following have been up to for the past few hours. Sometimes, their tweets include links to interesting articles on the Web. Other times, they give me ideas for articles or stories or just things to think about. And other times, they’re just plain boring. Let’s face it — we can’t all be interesting all of the time.

I tweet throughout the day while I’m working. I also have something set up somewhere (I forgot now) that automatically posts a tweet whenever I post a blog entry. That’s all automated, which is a good thing. On a good day, I can put out 5 or more entries.

I like the reassuring tweet and ping sound when a new tweet comes in on Twitterific. I work alone at my desk with only Alex the Bird (in the next room) and Jack the Dog (under my desk) for company. While Alex does plenty of talking, none of it is very meaningful. Getting tweets from people I follow is like hearing from the outside world. I may be physically alone, but there are people out there doing stuff and thinking about things and they’ve made me part of their world by tweeting. Andy’s doing his computer and hacking stuff all over the U.K. Miraz is raising her dogs while working at a desk in New Zealand, not much different from mine, 20 hours into the future. Leanne is practicing her saxophone, doing gigs, and teaching at a college. Mignon is researching and recording podcasts and getting interviewed. Mike, the good dad, is doing stuff with his kid and making plans for the next addition to his family. It’s digital but it’s live and real and it gives me company throughout the day. And, in more than a few instances, I’ve actually learned things from these people, most of whom are complete strangers to me.

I also tweet when I’m out and about. When I invested in my Treo, I also invested, for the first time ever, in a text messaging plan. I get up to 250 text messages a month. That might not seem like a lot to the folks who text to their friends and family members throughout the day, but to me, it’s a ton. So I post tweets via telephone. (I also use my Treo to post photos to my TumbleLog when I happen to see something interesting or funny.) For example, I tweeted whenever possible during my recent Alaska vacation and maybe — just maybe — I gave a few folks some ideas of what to see or do if they ever head up there.

Enter the Opportunists

If you use Twitter regularly, you’ve likely gotten e-mail messages from Twitter telling you that you have a new friend and offering a link to that “friend’s” tweets on the Twitter Web site.

At first, you might feel flattered — here’s a stranger that wants to keep track of what you’re doing. You might decide to thank him or her (or it — sometimes gender is unknown — by making him/her/it your friend.

But stop! Wait! Do your homework.

I’ve discovered that more than a few Twitter users don’t give a damn about anyone else’s tweets. All they want to do is suck other Twitter users into following their tweets. And their tweets are full of self-promotional bull or plain old advertisements.

Take, for example, PersonX. I won’t use this person’s name because, until recently, I was following her tweets and she may still follow mine. I didn’t realize it at the time, but PersonX had at least 3 Twitter accounts. It should have tipped me off when all three became my friends at the same time. Two of the accounts — I’ll call them AccountY and AccountZ — were for informational “services” posted as tweets. One, for example, provided quotes from literature. I can’t remember what the other one did — I didn’t stick with it long. PersonX’s tweets were all about how popular AccountY and AccountZ were getting. Or, if they weren’t getting popular, they were musings about why they were being ignored. It was pretty obvious that this person’s accounts were solely to promote herself and these useless services.

One particularly popular Twitter member tweets throughout the day with the latest on who he’s interviewing and what cool new product he’s been allowed to play with. Then, later in the day, he releases a bunch of @name responses to the people who have tweeted directly to him all day. Reading a dozen of these in a row — especially when you’re not following the tweets of the person he’s responding to — is a real bore. Thank heaven Twitter only allows 140 characters. I could see a person like this filling the bandwidth with one-sided personal conversations that no one else cares about.

A few other people I’ve followed in the past just tweet links to articles they’ve written or promotional material. Someone who’s curious might follow these links and, thus, waste a bunch of time reading ads. There are quite a few of these people out there. More than there should be.

All this, in my opinion, is Twitter spam.

Do Your Homework

It’s easy to prevent yourself from adding self-promotional opportunists as Twitter friends. Just do your homework in advance.

How? Simple. When you get an e-mail message telling you that PersonY has added you as a friend, click the link in the message that displays the person’s most recent tweets. (This will be something like http://twitter.com/username.) Read them. Decide whether this kind of content is something that interests you. If it’s not, ignore him. If it is, add him as a friend.

Removing a Friend

About Me on TwitterIt sounds cruel, but if someone you’ve added as a friend turns out to be someone who posts a lot of crap that you’re not interested in, it’s easy to remove their Tweets from what you see.

There are a few ways to do this. One way is to go to your Twitter home page (http://twitter.com/yourname/) and click the Friends link in the About box on the right side of the page.

This will list all of your friends:

Image

For each friend, you should see at least two links beneath the Friend’s name:

  • Leave username basically ignores the friend for a while by not displaying his links for you.
  • Remove username removes the friend from your list of friends. I’m ruthless, so this is the one I usually pick.

To my knowledge, the friend does not receive an e-mail message saying that you have left or removed him. So you don’t have to worry about insulting him or him bugging you about it.

Oh, and if a Twitter member is obviously using Twitter solely for spam-like communications, do us all a favor and report him. The Twitter team offers a form for assistance; you can use the same form to report a Twitter member’s unacceptable behavior.

I Still Like Twitter, Despite Any Shortcomings

I still like Twitter. It makes me feel as if I’m part of a community, even while I’m sitting alone all day in my office. I’m just very picky about who I follow — I have only 33 Twitter friends as I write this — and I’m quick to turn off the Tweets of the people too quick to promote themselves or their products.

And I think that’s vital for any serious Twitter user.

Four Steps to Get the Most Out of Twitter

Some tips for taking the “yuk” out.

I first heard about Twitter a few months ago on either the MacBreak Weekly or TWiT (This Week in Tech) podcast. (Both highly recommended, by the way.) I immediately checked it out. At first, I thought it was kind of cool, but then I realized that it was nothing more than a gigantic, worldwide chat room. Everyone talking, few people talking to a specific other person, some people even talking in languages other than English (imagine that!), few people saying anything of interest.

Twitter is a micro blogging tool. If you looked at 100 random blog posts from all over the blogoshere, how many of them do you think you’d like? This is the same. Look at 100 random tweets and you’re likely to find very few that are even worth the time it took to read them.

And they’re only up to 140 character long.

First Impressions

Miraz summed it up in a comment on yesterday’s “Reach Out and Meet Someone” post here:

I’m really interested by your previous post and comments here about Twitter. I’d noticed Twitter and found my first, and strong, reaction was Yuk!

The next time I looked was the other day when I thought I should include it in a book I’m writing for community groups. This time I looked and just felt old.

I see it as a monumental waste of time and a triviality, so I find your comments about feeling more connected to people particularly useful.

I felt exactly the same way. Yet people were talking about it and raving, in many cases. So I figured I was probably missing something and decided to give it a closer look.

You Need to Scrape Away the Bull

The main complaint about Twitter is: who really cares about what all these people are doing? What you had for breakfast isn’t very interesting. What you’re watching on TV isn’t interesting either. And why all the cryptic statements? Are you trying to be cool?

But if you could scrape away all the bull and concentrate on the content that may be of real interest to you, Twitter does have some value. I’ve gotten a glimpse of it. Not enough to convince me that it’s good, but enough to make me think that it might be.

Here’s what I did to reach this point. I recommend these steps to anyone who wants to give Twitter a real try.

Step 1: Create a Twitter Account

I’m not going to explain how to do this. You can go to Twitter and follow the instructions online to do it yourself.

I definitely recommend that you choose an appropriate image for your identity there. Something that gives people an idea of what you’re all about. For a while, mine was the same image I currently use for my Gravatar: my helicopter’s back end with hot air balloons in the background. Pretty but not very real. I’ve since switched it to my standard head shot, which I hope to get redone one of these days. Most Twitter users either use a photo or a cartoon for their images. My advice: don’t use established cartoon characters; one of these days, someone’s going to start suing.

While you’re in your account settings, be sure to create a one-line (they really mean about six-word) bio of yourself. It appears when someone goes to your Twitter page. Set your time zone, enter the full URL for your Web site or blog, and just provide the needed info. If you don’t want to be on the public timeline, there’s a box you can check. I wouldn’t check it unless you’re worried about stalkers or some other crazy thing. After all, there is a slight chance that you might impress someone reading the public timeline (whoever that might be) enough to make a new friend.

Step 2: Download and Install a Tweeting Tool

I cannot over emphasize the importance of this step. Sure, you can keep your Twitter home page open and refresh it once in a while to see what’s new. But there are better ways to get involved with Twitter.

For a while, I used a Dashboard widget to compose and send my tweets. This was convenient; press F12, fill in a form, press Return, and press F12 again to get back to work. This added my tweets to Twitter, but did not display the tweets of my friends.

TwitterificThen I discovered Twitterific. Frankly, I can’t imagine using Twitter without this little application. (Now calm down, folks. You can use the Comments link or form at the bottom of this post to tell me why your favorite Twitter tool is better.) It features a resizable window that captures and displays not only your tweets, but the tweets of all the Twitter users that you follow. There are a variety of notification options with and without sound. And, best of all, there’s a tiny form at the bottom of the window that you can use to enter your own tweets.

Twitterific has just one problem — and it doesn’t affect me at all: it requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later. Yes, it’s a Mac-only application. (I’m relying on the PC folks reading this to use the Comments link or form to tell us what they’re using. Let’s hope they don’t let us down.)

Twitter also works with instant messaging and I’m pretty sure you can use your IM client (iChat, MSN, AOL, etc.) to interact with Twitter. But since this article’s intention isn’t to explain all the different ways you can use Twitter, I’ll let you explore that option on your own.

And Twitter does work with text messaging on a cell phone. But if you enable and regularly use that feature, you really need to get a life.

Step 3: Find People to Follow

You don’t want to monitor the public timeline. Trust me: it’s a waste of time. You want to follow the tweets of a select group of people. People that you select.

There are a few ways you can find people to follow:

  • Ask your friends, family members, and work associates if they have Twitter accounts. If they don’t, use the Invite form on your Twitter account to invite them. Be sure to use the extra note field to explain what this is all about. You might want to point them to an article about Twitter (like this one?) or a favorable review. The people you invite should be people that spend a lot of time in front of a computer connected to the Internet, so tweeting will be easy and convenient for them.
  • Track down the Twitter accounts of famous people you want to follow. Believe it or not, Barack Obama has a Twitter account. (I don’t follow him.) So does Stephen Colbert. (I do follow him.) Now, obviously, these people have better things to do with their time than send tweets out into the blogosphere, so their tweets are likely composed by their staff and have some kind of marketing value. Obama’s is strictly campaign stuff. Colbert’s is a bunch of typical Colbert-style one-liners. These are just examples. I’m sure plenty of celebs have Twitter accounts, if you’re into the celeb thing.
  • Check the blogs you follow. Quite a few bloggers have Twitter accounts. If you like the blogger’s blog, then you might like his tweets. I found a number of interesting people to follow this way.

Make these people your “Friends” — that’s Twitter’s term for the people you follow. Doing that is easy; just go to their Twitter timeline and click an Add link under Actions.

If someone makes you a friend, he’ll be listed under your followers. It’s always nice to add them as friends, too. It might give you insight as to why they added you. And you can always “Leave” them if you decide you don’t like their tweets.

Which brings up the next point. Once in a while, you’ll discover that you really don’t like the tweets of one of your “friends.” (I really feel a need to put that in quotes since the people you follow might not be real friends.) Just go to your Twitter page, view your list of friends. and click a Leave link under his name/icon. I did this just the other day when I decided that one of my “friends” was getting a bit too political for my taste. (No, I don’t want to sign your online petition, thank you.) Click of a link and I don’t have to hear from him anymore.

Step 4: Post Tweets

Even if you have no followers, you should make it a habit to post tweets on a somewhat regular basis. I’m not saying you need to do it daily or hourly or weekly or every ten minutes. I’m saying you should do it at least occasionally, when you have something to say.

I tend to tweet when I sit down to start a project or finish one up. This morning, I tweeted about going down to feed my horses and about a new article posted on my site. When this article is finished and posted, I’ll tweet about it and provide a link.

Be particular about the content of your tweets. Try to limit yourself to tweets that people might actually be interested in. Okay, you had eggs for breakfast. But don’t tweet about it unless you fetched those eggs out of a henhouse and the rooster tried to kill you or you cooked them in a microwave, causing them to explode all over the inside and start a fire. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration. But you know what I mean. Something interesting.

You can make all your tweets self-promotional, but I assure you that you’ll have very few followers — unless, of course, you’re famous and people want to read about your latest book, movie, radio show, interview, podcast, etc. I admit that my tweeting about articles as they are released has an element of self-promotion to it, but I’d like to think that some people might want to check out some of what I’m writing about. After all, if you were using Twitter, wouldn’t you be slightly interested in an article about it?

Remember, Twitter limits you to 140 characters per tweet. Don’t feel as if you have to fill them. It automatically converts long URLs to short ones (using tinyurl), so don’t worry about URLs taking up all your characters. Just keep it short and sweet.

As for writing style, Grammar Girl wrote an excellent style guide for tweets, “Grammar Girl’s Strunk & Twite: An Unofficial Twitter Style Guide.” Read it and use it. Please.

The Twitter Virus

I first read the phrase Twitter virus yesterday. At first, I thought it was some kind of real computer virus. But apparently, it refers to a person’s active involvement in Twitter — in other words, tweeting the moments of your day all day every day.

A certain amount of Twitter virus is vital to using Twitter and attracting and keeping followers. But if you’ve got it too bad — like a certain person I follow who tweeted from his cell phone about being stuck in traffic waiting at a railroad crossing this morning — you probably want to take a step back and think hard about your involvement.

While a tool like Twitterific makes participating in Twitter extremely easy, don’t get carried away. The people who follow you don’t need (or probably want) every detail of your life.

Try It

Twitter is also a social networking tool. I participate because I find it interesting to see what other people do and think throughout their day. I leave the Twitterific window open — I have a 20″ monitor, so there’s enough real estate for it — and peek at it once in a while. And then I tweet when I have something to say. It’s pretty effortless and it certainly doesn’t take much out of my day.

Now you know what I do with Twitter and how you can make it a worthwhile experiment. Don’t be shy. Try it. It’s all free and, if you don’t catch the virus, you can quit it at any time.

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.

Born Again into a Living Hope?

I find a Bible reference in a weird place and look it up.

This morning, while having breakfast with Mike, he pulled out an aviation catalog I’d never seen before. It’s evidently a company completing with Sporty’s and Aircraft Spruce to sell pilot supplies and aircraft parts. A slick catalog with color photos and a clean layout.

But on the cover, in small type, was a cryptic code: 1 Peter 1:3-5.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never read the Bible, but I know a Bible reference when I see one. I whipped out my PowerBook and did a Google search for the reference, wondering what Bible verse would apply to aviation. I wound up on a page of BibleGateway.com, an excellent source of Bible text, with multiple versions all searchable by verse or text. Here’s what the Standard English version had to say about this reference.

Born Again to a Living Hope
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

I don’t know about you, but I find references to the end of days on the cover of an aviation catalog a bit over the top. Disturbing, in fact. So disturbing, I find I don’t want to order anything from the company who published the catalog.

On a related note, I was listening to Bill Maher’s HBO show yesterday. I subscribe to the podcast (we don’t get HBO) and I find it fascinating to hear so many viewpoints about what’s going on in politics and the world. In the most recent episode, someone said, “Didn’t Jesus say the truth will set you free?” He was talking about the current administration’s lies regarding Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. Evidently, some right-wing conservative told the Tillman family that they’d feel better about their son’s death if they were “more Christian.”

I decided I wanted that particular bible quote on my TumbleLog, where I collect quotes. So I looked it up on Google and wound up on the BibleGateway site. (I really do recommend the site if you ever need to check out something in the Bible.) I found the full quote and added the King James version to my TumbleLog:

John 8:32
32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

It interests me how people use the Bible. They pull out passages when they want to send a message, but they completely ignore the simple passages that everyone — even non-believers — find right and good. The truth will make you free — free of lies and the burden of maintaining them. I don’t need to read the Bible or even be a religious person to know and understand that.