/* -- wedding countdown script -- */
In only
Days Hours Minutes Seconds
I will be Mrs. Daniel Tobin!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why I don't Like Podcasts

I found a link to a podcast on "how to make money without a job" via I will teach you to be rich, a new site I just found that has interesting material on personal finance catering to young people (like me!). Obviously, this is a subject I found tremendously interesting. Not because I'm lazy... Ok, not just because I'm lazy, but because I've been interested in the idea of passive income streams, financial independence and working on my own for a while now.

I'm listening to this podcast as I write this, and it seems interesting as far as it goes. There's a lot of good information there. And that's definitely an advantage - I can listen to it while doing other things, something I couldn't do with the same information if it were just a blog post or other written form. Plus, I'm a little more of an auditory learner than visual, so the concepts get through to me better than stuff I've read.

Still, on the whole I tend to avoid podcasts unless the topic is extremely interesting to me (like this one was). There are 2 main reasons for this. The first one is that speech is a slow medium. There is only so fast the podcaster can speak, and this is definitely slower than I could read the same information if it were presented in written form. Hence, listening to a podcast is much more of a time commitment than reading a blog post. In my junior year, we tested a virtual lecture for one of our classes, and the software we used had the option of listening at double speed. This made the speaker sound like a chipmunk but we got the information in half the time, and it didn't really detract from the quality of the experience. That might be a method to resolve this problem.

The second and, in my opinion, the more important reason is that a podcast is a broadcast information product. Granted, you can choose whether to listen to it, and when to do so, but once you've given that initial consent, the content and pacing is entirely up to the broadcaster. In this podcast, for example, Steve spends a good deal of time talking about why working on your own and developing passive income streams is less risky than a traditional job. This is something I already agree with, and would have been happy with hearing a lot less about. But there was no easy way for me to skip the stuff I didn't need to get to the good stuff that was later in the show. Yes, I could skip ahead, but there was no way of knowing when he would stop talking background and start talking detail. I might miss something important, and I'd have to fiddle to get to the right spot, and it'd be clunky.

On the other hand, in a written medium, I could skim the stuff I didn't need and be able to tell when I got to the spot where I needed to pay more attention. One way to deal with this, especially in longer podcasts, might be to break it up into smaller chunks, like chapters. Right now, this means breaking it up into multiple files. If we could find an audio format that lets you flag chapter breaks within the same file, so you can listen to the whole thing without the overhead of loading, listening, stopping, switching, loading, etc. that is involved with multiple files, that would be a significant improvement.

However, the problem isn't only with longer podcasts. I listened to one yesterday (when I had absolutely nothing better to do) that was less than 5 minutes long. Yet, I didn't get much more value from it than I did from reading the 1 sentence summary of what it was about - and reading the summary only took me 10 seconds. Perhaps that's because part of what I was supposed to get was additional humor, and humor is something I place less value on than useful information. Or maybe I just don't think Merlin Mann is that funny... Either way, I felt at the end that I had wasted my time listening to it. Granted, in my temporarily unemployed state, I wasn't going to put that time to particularly good use anyway, but I would have liked to have been able to waste it my way.

Basically, it's about control of your experience. Listening to this particular podcast was vaguely ironic, because he talked so much about passive income streams helping you take control of your time. At the same time, the very act of listening to the podcast was an act in which I was surrendering control of a decent block of my time to someone else. In this case, I did get enough value from it that I felt it was worth the time I invested. However, there is no easy way to know up front whether this will be the case. And, more often than not, I refuse to make the time investment that listening to a podcast will take. Am I missing good information this way? Probably. Am I certain it is information that I cannot find elsewhere? No, and in fact, I can usually find good written sources for most things I want to learn about.

I guess the reason I don't like podcasts is that when I'm looking for information, I usually have specific questions in mind, and don't want to spend time being talked to about other things before I have my questions answered. This is the major appeal of the internet - I no longer have to wait for the news anchor to get around to the story I'm interested in, I can just look it up, and with blogs, usually find better sources than the MSM. And, I can configure those news sites so the information I am most interested in is easiest to find rather than being cluttered up with stories I don't care about. Better yet, I can set up systems that send me just the news I am interested in, and I don't even have to take the time to go to the news website, and look at their advertising banners. I can plug questions into a search engine until I find specifically the information I was looking for without having to spend a lot of time going through extraneous material.

It seems to me like podcasts are, in effect, going backwards. Once again, they have the broadcaster controlling the experience and doling out the information in the sequence and at the pace that he or she wants, rather than the one I want. And, just like there are people who still watch the news on TV, there will be people who take the time to listen to them. More often than not, though, I won't be one of them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Household cleaning tip

I've read a lot of tips about cleaning with bleach, ammonia, vinegar, baking soda rather than expensive name-brand cleaners. Today I found an article that suggests that bleach diluted with vinegar can actually kill bacterial spores (something just bleach cannot do). A good tip in these times when we're all well aware of the possibility of bioterrorism and anthrax.
"Diluted bleach at an alkaline pH is a relatively poor disinfectant, but acidified diluted bleach will virtually kill anything in 10 to 20 minutes," says Miner. "In the event of an emergency involving Bacillus anthracis spores contaminating such environmental surfaces as counter tops, desk and table tops, and floors, for example, virtually every household has a sporicidal sterilant available in the form of diluted, acidified bleach."

Miner recommends first diluting one cup of household bleach in one gallon of water and then adding one cup of white vinegar.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I learnt Latin! (Or "why I want to home-school")

Learning Latin has been something I've wanted to do for a long time. I didn't have the option in high school, and didn't have the time in college to take a class in it. A couple of different times, I looked for online resources to help me learn on my own. I looked at Wheelock's Latin, and beginning Latin textbooks. And I always ended up giving up within a couple of chapters/lessons, etc. because it seemed like what they were talking about was already over my head - declensions, conjugations, etc. It was obvious this stuff was important, but no one ever explained why. I didn't know enough to gain a foothold into the mountain of grammar that everyone started with.

Then today I found this site: Latin 1: The Easy Way (via Del.icio.us). She has 9 lessons that serve as an introduction to Latin. But she didn't start with explaining the various declensions to me - she showed me a sentence and what it meant, and then showed me other sentences. I could see the variations, and they made sense. Suddenly I had a hook into the language - it clicked!

Obviously, I don't know Latin just by reading through her 9 lessons. There will be lots more practice and reading and I will probably go back to the standard textbooks and work through them. But, I will be able to make headway with them only because I now know what it's all about, and it's because I found a resource that worked with my way of learning.

And that's exactly why I want to home-school my children when I have them. People learn in different ways, and everyone probably has multiple ways they use to learn different things. If someone wants to learn something but isn't able to, it's probably because (s)he hasn't yet found someone who is able to teach it in the way her brain is geared to understand. That's the fault of the teacher, not the student. If the teacher continues to insist that his/her way of teaching is the right and only way, the student will get frustrated and give up. Children especially, do not have the patience or awareness to try and find other ways to learn what they need to know. If a teacher can't explain something well enough, the child will accept the explanation that it's the student's fault for not being smart enough to understand him or her.

A good teacher will try and explain things in multiple ways to reach students with different methods of learning. However, in a classroom setting, there's only so much time available to cover a given piece of material, and hence there isn't time to ensure that everyone has had it explained to his or her satisfaction. It's inevitable that someone will be left behind, and, if the material is sufficiently fundamental to later studies, those people will have a very hard time keeping up. Even the best teacher doesn't have time to individually instruct every one of his or her students.

A home-schooling parent, on the other hand, has all the time he or she needs to ensure that his/her child masters every topic (s)he needs to. While finances might be a restriction, it is far less of one than the teacher with a class of 20 to 30 students. And certainly, the parent has far fewer (ideally no) bureaucratic hoops to jump through if (s)he wants to try unorthodox teaching methods. If a textbook isn't working, throw it out and find a new one. Build houses of cards to explain geometry. Do chemistry experiments with edible results... Keep trying new things until, one day, you see your child's face light up, and you know they've finally got what you've been trying to teach them.

Sure, school teachers have those moments too, and they find them just as rewarding. Possibly, they find them rewarding enough to make up for the otherwise largely thankless teacher's life. But, like I said, even the best teacher does not have time to do everything (s)he would like to. Imagine the plight of the child who is stuck with a bad teacher! I don't want to play dice with my children's education that way. And, more and more, I wonder why anyone would.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A new meaning to "food pr0n"

A little bit disturbing, but very tasty looking:


Monday, February 13, 2006

We set our wedding date!!!

I've been reading a lot recently about productivity and Getting Things Done. Today I decided to bite the bullet, and work on things rather than continuing to put them off until things settle down.

So, we have a wedding date.

Saturday, November 4th, 2006 @ 12:30 PM
St. Patrick's Church
317 West Pike St
Canonsburg, PA 15317

Lots more to plan, obviously, but it's a start...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The things you hear on Iron Chef America!

"You say 'chocolate', and everyone says 'yum.' Then somebody gets out a fish!"

I still love that show, though. :)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Food Network Tidbits

I watch a lot of the Food Network, mostly because there's rarely anything else good on. It's hard to go wrong with a food show; unless I've seen the particular episode before, I know I'mg oing to learn something. Sometimes it's just that I don't like the particular celebrity chef I've just watched, but mostly I will pick up something new culinary-wise that I didn't know before.

Unfortunately, because I watch these shows so often, I hear a lot of the same things over and over again. This is because the producers feel the need to include educational content into these shows, and they pitch it to the level of the first time viewer. So, here are the things you can expect to hear on a typical Food Network viewing experience.

1) How to make a roux: Heat and mix together some butter and flour in a pan until it gets to a sticky consistency.
2) What's in Worcestershire sauce: everything but the kitchen sink, including soy sauce, anchovies, ginger, garlic, etc....
3) Don't wash your mushrooms - they will get waterlogged and rubbery.
4) It's ok to wash your mushrooms - they don't absorb that much water.
(yes I did hear both those on different shows on the same day)
5) Let your meat rest after it comes out of the oven before you cut into it - this lets the juices spread back through the meat and lets it cook a little bit longer.
6) Only use wines in your cooking that you would drink out of a glass - the flavor concentrates during cooking, so if you don't like it on its own, you won't when you cook with it.
7) Fish shouldn't smell fishy - it should smell fresh, or like the ocean, not"fishy"
8) Crimini mushrooms - they're just baby Portabellos
9) Deep fry in a lot of oil - this way it reatins heat when you add the cold food into it and the food will cook faster, thus absorbing less oil.
10) Salt pasta water - it's your only chance to actually flavor the pasta.

Of course, now that I've decided to write this post, I'm blanking on the tidbits. Go figure...

There'll probably be a Part 2 to this post at some point in the future :)