Snow Induced Hiatus

I was just warming up to record the intro and other bits to finish off last night’s episode so I could post it on schedule when the power flickered three times and then cut out. As of late this morning when I left to brave the Metro to see if circumstances at the day job were any better, we still had no power. We had been listening to the local AM news station all morning for word of restoration but our pathologically incompetent power company has been conspicuously silent.

Roads were reasonably clear on the drive out of the neighborhood with only one traffic light out on my short trip to the nearby Metro station. There were however many trees and branches down in the area. I called our local power company before I left to report our outage. I was not greeted with any sort of information on the extent of the power losses or an ETA on restoration. Checking there site now from work, our area of the county was hit the worst with just about one out of every two customers served having no power. Pepco is still assessing the damage, having already reported what they describe as “major system-wide outages”, but still hasn’t posted any ETAs as of yet.

I can’t help but wonder at the quality of repairs after the major power loss this time last year. I know rationally that downed trees and branches pretty much trump anything they could have done in the way of making the system in the area more robust or in the preparations for the storm. All that being said, images of chewing gum and twist ties on the poles keep dancing through my head.

Unless we got extraordinarily lucky, this week’s feature cast will be postponed until next week. Apologies to Jill Reilly James and Sarah Stierch who spoke at Wiki X DC and I already told that I’d be releasing their talks as part of this Wednesday’s episode. It cannot be helped.

If the power outage continues into the weekend, it will also make missing my third news cast in a row pretty likely. That also cannot be helped as I cannot do the reading and research necessary to prepare for news shows without power and hence Internet access.

Unless power is miraculously restored before this evening, the outage will also jeopardize the release of episode six of my other podcast, too. If my co-host and producer, John Taylor Williams, still has power we may be able to make shift. I’ll coordinate with him as the day progress to see if at least one podcast can be salvaged this week.

I’ll post as I can with updates and I appreciated your patience with this act of nature.

Update: I should have made clear that we are all safe and warm despite the power loss.  We learned after the extended outage during last year’s blizzard and were well prepared.  We have a kerosene space heater with two tanks worth of fuel, various Coleman camping implements with fresh batteries and cooking fuel, and packed our perishables into coolers filled with snow out on the deck within thirty minutes of losing power.  We also have a power inverter for charging gadgets as a last resort, mostly for the benefit of the kids who aren’t nearly so accepting of enforced quiet reading time all day and night.

Happy Birthday, Firefox

My admiration for the Mozilla project, as exemplified by its work on Firefox, is plain for all to see. All the same, I want to once again wish Firefox a happy birthday. Hard to believe it is only six years old though understandable it seems longer to me since I started using it well before the 1.0 release.

Mozilla was established more than 10 years ago as a non-profit organization with a mission to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web. Six years ago, Mozilla released Firefox 1.0 offering people a better Web experience.

Today, Firefox is available in more than 70 languages and offers an easy way for people to enjoy rich Web experiences. Nearly a quarter of Internet users choose Firefox as their trusted ambassador to the Web. More than 150 million people choose Firefox Add-ons to customize their Web experience.

Firefox’s commitment to both open web standards and an excellent online experience is why I have remained loyal for more than its official six year span. You can see my birthday wish from last year, sentiments that have only grown stronger since.

If Firefox 4 is any indication, my loyalty is pretty much guaranteed for the foreseeable future.

Happy 6th Birthday Firefox! Mozilla

Update on Podcast Feed and Audio Changes on October 3rd

Since I posted my original announcement there has been one change for the better to the plan. I mentioned that chapter marks would be disappearing from the enhanced feed due to an apparent lack of tools under Linux for setting chapter marks on an AAC/MP4 encoded audio file. I was very pleased to be proven wrong on this point today.

Listener, friend and some time code collaborator Jay posted a comment with a pointer to the mp4v2 project at Google Code. One of the utilities in that project, mp4chaps, can consume a plain text file and set chapter marks on an existing audio file. I’ve done some minimal testing and it looks like it should be trivial to enhance my encoding script to include this step. Even better, I can very easily extract the time offsets and text from my note taking format for the show streamlining my overall production process just a little bit further.

So come Sunday the 3rd, the only effect of the cut over will be a one time re-download of old episodes in the feeds. I am thrilled that my change to using Linux and all open source and free software for producing the show will be virtually unnoticeable from the outside. That may seem like an odd sentiment but remember that it isn’t a priority at all for me to convince anyone else to adopt open source or free software.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are plenty of practical advantages in addition to the matters of principle that inform my own choice. I just think it makes more sense to have low drama conversations about relative merits, to provide a good example free of the usual zealotry, and ultimately respect everyone else’s choice to use whatever they wish.

In that vein, taking a hard line on producing only Ogg Vorbis and flac encoded audio is incompatible with my views. I think it is far better to keep offering the choice I have always offered (as long as the relevant patent holders make that feasible anyway) and be available to discuss rationally and quietly how unencumbered formats compare to their encumbered counterparts.

CD and Book Giveaways

I’ve mentioned a couple of items I am giving away on the podcast but also wanted to take a moment and share some details here on the blog.

When I interviewed Randy Chertkow of Beatnik Turtle, he gave my one of a handful of CDs he had with him, all of which bore a special offer code powered by his new service, The CD is “Shamrock”, the band’s RPM entry from a couple of years ago. All of the tracks are wonderfully rocked up versions of public domain Irish folk and pub songs. The idea behind is to turn the increasingly disposable container for digital media, the CD, into a social game. You are encouraged to pass participating discs on to your friends and as you do so, you can track to where the disc is traveling. There is a free bonus download track you get from the site on receiving a disc as an incentive to participate.

I figured the best way I can help Randy with his beta test is to share this disc with my listeners and readers. If you are interested in receiving this disc, just drop me a note letting me know. That’s it, just email me. I do however only have the one disc so if more than one of you write me, I will randomly pick one person. I’ll wait until the end of the month to give everyone a chance to write in.

The other thing I am giving away are signed copies of the first two volumes of Ed Piskro’s wonderful graphic novel, “Wizzywig“. Since I bought these myself and got Ed to sign them when I met him for our recent interview, I am asking a little more from you if you want them. I will ship these signed editions to the next person who qualifies for a custom nerd merit badge. That is, the next person who donates twenty dollars or more or who signs up for any of the monthly donations options will get these books in addition to their merit badge. If you already have a merit badge, you can still get the books by making the qualifying donation, I’ll just send you the books without the badge. There is no deadline to get the books, just the fact that I only have one set, so as soon as someone snags them, they’re gone. I’ll post an update as soon as they are spoken for.

Updated: Listener Steve was the first to send in a qualifying donation so he will receive the signed books.

Appearance on Technorama

The other podcast on which I participated for their Dragon*con wrap up, Technorama, just posted that episode. We gathered in the lobby of the Westin over beers to share our thoughts and experiences of this year’s con as well as other random memories of podcaster gatherings past.

Links to all the other participants are over at Technorama–Cian, Liz, MadMarv, and Clinton Alvord. This was a great way to wind down the con, with new friends and old. I want to thank Chuck and Kreg for including me and am glad that they returned to Dragon*Con this year and had just as good a time, maybe even more so, than last year.

Appearance on View from the Quad

I mentioned this guest appearance in my wrap up. Cian almost immediately afterwards posted the very episode in which I appeared alongside a bunch of the other tech podcasters at Dragon*Con this past Labor Day weekend.

The roundtable is just one part of the episode. Cian and Liz share some impressions from the floor of the con, an interview with a giant Jayne Cobb hat, and a brief but fun interview with Edward James Olmos.

Well worth the listen, go check it out. And thanks, Cian, for including me.

Dragon*Con 2010, Day 2

The feeling of compressed time persisted into the second day of the convention. The way my commitments were stacked throughout the day, it made more sense than yesterday. I did manage to get into the dealer room and see a little bit before I had to move on. I also got away from the con hotels for a nice, lengthy dinner with friends.

Immediately after my volunteer shift this morning, I moderated the Creative Commons and legal issues panel. I was extremely happy to be joined once again by Randy Chertkow of Beatnik Turtle and Courtney Perry. We were joined by Brian Ibbott of Coverville who was more than glad to share his experiences working with collection societies to legally use the cover songs he shares in his show. Once again I was surprised, and delighted, that the conversation with the audience ran right up to the time limit and clearly could have gone on unabated for another half an hour. I want to thank my panelists once again and everyone who came out to learn more about the topic.

The big event for today was the Parsec Awards. I have to give massive credit to the steering committee and the MCs, George Hrab and Christiana Ellis. The show was tightly run, a joy to attend. The category for which I was a finalist was won by Skeptoid which is hosted and produced by Brian Dunning. The category was packed with awesome shows amongst whom I was honored and delighted to be counted–Skepticality, the 365 Days of Astronomy, and the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe as well as Skeptoid.

I did not make it out to the TWiT/Sword and Laser meetup as planned and I apologize to anyone who was there and looking for me. That is often the way cons go in my experience. Even with a simple plan, things change, conversations run long. You often choose to capitalize on time with people you only get to see infrequently.

On the other side of following serendipity, I had not expected to catch George Hrab’s live show. After a full day of volunteering before heading to the Parsecs and dinner, I didn’t think I’d have the energy to make it. I’m glad I did. George is a consummate pro and his show was both rocking and hilarious.

Parsec Finalist

Three years ago, my podcast won a Parsec Award for the technology category. The following year that category along with several others was eliminated. They were part of a short lived experiment in broadening the focus of the Parsecs to podcasts other than those sharing, promoting or discussing speculative fiction. I can respect the restoration of the awards’ original remit. I assumed that while I could support my favorite eligible podcasts and podcasters that would be it for my own direct participation. Not that I can complain, being able to boast that I won the only Parsec for technology podcasts there ever was or will be.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a couple of months back that someone nominated my podcast for this year’s Parsecs. The category to which my show was submitted is Best Fact Behind the Fiction Podcast. I can see that, given my book reviews, interviews of select authors (well, mostly Cory Doctorow), and essays on tropes and elements of science fiction that overlap strongly with my interests in technology. When submissions closed, I was one of fifteen nominees.

I diligently assembled my ten minute audio submission and fired it off well ahead of the deadline. Given the eligibility time frame for episodes allowable for inclusion, I selected my Hacker as a Hero essay, my interview with Cory at Philcon, and my copyright panel at Dragon*Con last year. My submission for the 2007 Parsecs included my very first interview with Cory so it felt right to include one of my subsequent interviews this time out.

So far, that common thread has proven lucky. The finalists for this year’s Parsecs were released last night and I found out I was one of the five to make it for my category. My show is in excellent company and I can honestly say I would be very happy to see any of the other four finalists take home the Parsec.

Getting past the initial surprise of being nominated and the pleasant realization my submission will go on to be judged on the merits of its content, its quality and how well it fits the category, I am starting to see this as a touchstone for the show. I think I was well on my way to finding my voice three years ago but my writing and production were still rough compared to how they’ve grown since. Regardless of whether I win or get to cheer for one of my fellow finalists, I am very proud of my work. I am especially proud of how it has matured in just these past few years, let alone the full five plus years I’ve been casting my voice out into the wild vastness of the internet.

My thanks to the fine folks who organize and run the Parsecs and the best of luck to my cohorts in my category and all of the fine, inspiringly creative authors and podcasters in all of the other categories as well. See you all at Dragon*Con in just a few short weeks!

June Update on Supporting the Podcast and Blog (Updated)

In the continuing spirit of transparency, here are some quick hits on the variety of means I have been exploring to financially support the podcast and blog.

My participation with AdBard in June was once again disappointing. The numbers were consistent with May, earning about half what I did in the first couple of months. That’s right around two dollars for the month. I am still well shy of earning enough for a pay out. Worse, the maximum numbers projected are down which makes me wonder if my site has been pushed down by stronger numbers among other publishers. I used to receive a link to the total rankings but haven’t in the last couple of reports. At all events, even a couple of dollars this past month is a couple of dollars I wouldn’t have made otherwise. I am open to my earnings strengthening again though I recognize that is a vague challenge to tackle when my preferred approach is to focus first and foremost on the quality of material I share.

June was the first full month I’ve been using Flattr. I have been very pleased with my earnings and the growth over the part of May I was participating in Flattr’s beta. My earnings in June almost doubled tripled which roughly more than tracks with the number of posts available for flattring each month. I earned a bit over eight euros almost fourteen euro, up from around five the month prior. I don’t have a good sense of how the user base has been growing since Flattr started giving the original beta testers invites. I hope that growth is strong and continues, not just for my benefit but to really prove out the model. My intuition is it is succeeding well so far. (Updated after re-reading my dashboard, I had mistaken an upcoming transactions as a future balance. Thanks to Holger’s comments which draw my attention back to the Flattr dashboard yielding the correction in the positive.)

Donations for June tapered off a bit, probably as a consequence of the custom nerd merit badge experiment winding down. News of the badges being produced and delivered really helped draw attention and encourage new donors. At the end of June I had 13 monthly donors whose contributions tallied up to just shy of $50 which pretty much completely covers my recurring costs for the podcast with a small surplus I intend to set aside against travel expenses for technical conferences next year.

There are nineteen badges left out of the original batch, so plenty for anyone interested in learning their own. That also means that after sending out nine more badges, it will be time to start devoting donations from the final ten towards producing the next batch of fifty badges.

I of course also want to again thank everyone who supported me this past month, regardless of what means they chose to do so.  Even the modest success of covering my media hosting and other service fees and being able to set a few dollars aside is pretty incredible to me for a pursuit I undertake solely in my spare time.