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Podcast for Teachers – Techpod


Podcast for Teachers recently celebrated their 50th episode. This podcast is produced out of Fordham University’s Regional Educational Technology Center in New York City and co-hosted by Mark Gura and Kathy King. It offers a witty and edgy look at news, trends, and innovations in the world of educational technology. I only recently stumbled across this great podcast after hearing an interview with Mark and Kathy on Podcast411. I learn several new things every episode, and I am slowly working my way back through their earlier episodes.

This podcast is a must for any teacher who uses technology in the classroom (which is basically every teacher these days). This show has become incredibly popular. In addition to thousands of downloads (I recently heard on the podcast that there are 400,000 subscribers worldwide), the show is broadcast on two internet radio stations. Every teacher should give this show a listen!

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September 6, 2006 Posted by | Education, Music, podcast | Leave a comment

New iTunes innovations


Fall is fast approaching, and that means new product announcements from Apple. I have written about some of Apple’s new developments earlier on my blog–you can find my previous posts here and here. Apple is set to make some new announcements in mid-September, and the word is that a new iPod Video is likely to be announced. The biggest anticipated new development for iTunes is downloadable movies. These movies are expected to be priced at $9.99 or $14.99. Either of these price points seem too high–one can go to Wal-Mart and pick up the same movie at a higher resolution and with special features on DVD, and people wth even a little tecnical knowledge can convert their existing DVDs to iPod format already. The convenience factor of direct iPod movie downloads will likely rack up a lot of sales for Apple (and the movie industry), however.

Some of the expected movie release titles for iTunes include American Psycho, Dogma, Cold Mountain, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Chicken Little.  You can find a complete list here.
Apple is notorious for keeping their new products under wraps, and the new Pod is no exception. The AppleInsider recently reported on some new features supposedly coming from Apple this month. :

Although the semi-official word out of Apple Americas is that invitations to the event have “not been sent” out, a seemingly inadvertent leak out of Apple Europe last week pinned the affair for Tuesday, September 12. It will be hosted by Jobs in a yet-to-be disclosed California location and beamed via satellite throughout the world.

Jobs will have much to talk about during the event, sources familiar with the chief executive’s plans have said, including new iMacs and a much-anticipated update to the iPod nano. But the real push, they say, will be tied to the big screen.

After what has seemed like nearly two years of rampart speculation and unbridled enthusiasm on the part of its fans, the Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is ready to introduce its al la carte feature film download service as part of iTunes.

Though slightly battered in his negotiations with major motion picture studios, Jobs is expected to announce that flicks from at least one major studio will be immediately available for download starting at just $9.99 a pop. In very much the same way national television networks elected to join the iTunes video bandwagon after some initial hesitation, additional studios are likely to follow suit in the coming months.

This is great news for Apple and for iPod fans. Movies downloads are the next logical step after music video and TV show downloads. There are also rumors of an iTunes jukebox and a new 23 inch widescreen iMac. A video-enable AirPort Express base station is also rumored to be announced. It is also anticipated that the new Core 2 Duo chips will be added to Apple’s current desktop and laptop offerings.

It is widely speculated that the new iPod with video will contain a much larger screen. Here is a widely circulated “leaked” image of a new iPod video screen. Who knows if this is actually for real.

In related news, DRM problems with Sony audio from the iTunes music store have been reported. Apparently some tracks from Sony artists are being prevented from being downloaded. Read more on this subject on Kim Cameron’s recent post.

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September 5, 2006 Posted by | iTunes, Tech, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Educational uses of Google Maps


The Google Maps Mania blog recently did a post on the educational uses of Google Maps and Google Earth. For those who have not experimented with these services, Google Maps is Google’s web-based mapping program (similar to MapQuest or Yahoo! Maps), and Google Earth is a desktop-based program (that still uses the internet) that combines various satellite maps to create a highly detailed rendering of the entire planet.

Both of these programs have numerous applications in the world of education. Here is a link to an MP3 from EdTechTalk.com discussing uses of Google Maps in the classroom. It is amazing to think about how this technology can potentially change the classroom. Even the early Yahoo! Maps or MapQuest versions made a huge difference in the accessibility and usefulness of mapping technologies. I remember plotting out my path from airport to hotel to audition site and back with MapQuest and printing it into a packet. This seemed amazing at the time, and programs like the current Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, and Google Earth take it even further.

Here is a recent post from TechLearning.com on using Google Maps mashups in the classroom. This is a really interesting listing of some current mashups. All of these mashups are interesting, but be sure to check out the New York City Interactive Transit Map and the Gmaps pedometer.

The Google Earth Blog also has some great information on educational uses for the program:

It is close to the end of summer in the northern hemisphere. Many kids are heading back to school after a summer break. For those of you who are educators and have thought, or heard, that Google Earth would make a good tool for geography lessons – let me suggest you look closer. Google Earth (GE) is not only a great tool for geography – it is a tool for tying all kinds of information to location. When you first load GE you have a wealth of information available at your fingertips. Thousands of aerial and satellite photos, dozens of layers of information: city names, country borders, airport locations, road maps, National Geographic content, volcanoes, and more. Since Google Earth is an intuitive and fun tool, I believe you could use it as a visualization and educational tool for almost any subject. Once students prepare their own content, GE can be used to present their work – or even share their work with the world.

Check out the complete post here.

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September 5, 2006 Posted by | Education, Tech, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Get your books from Google for free

Google recently announced that they are making out-of-copyright books available as free PDF downloads via Google Book Search. See this Technorati post for more information. Here are some of the books curently available:

Ferriar’s The Bibliomania
A futurist from 1881’s 1931: A Glance at the Twentieth Century
Aesop’s Fables
Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Abbott’s Flatland
Hugo’s Marion De Lorme
Dunant’s Eine Erinnerung an Solferino
Bolívar’s Proclamas
Dante’s Inferno

(information quoted from this Official Google Blog post)

For the complete works of Shakespeare, visit this page from Google.

Several major titles (lke Frankenstein) are not available yet, but the list will be growing all the time. I think back to literature classes I took in college and think of the $200 I spent on Dante, Homer, and other classic authors each quarter. What a great thing this would have been for me, and what a useful thing this will be for students now and in the future (all of these books on your laptop).

September 4, 2006 Posted by | Education, General, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments

E-mail tips from Glenn Wolsey


Merlin Mann of 43 Folders clued me in to this recent post by 14 year old New Zealand blogger Glenn Wolsey. Dealing with e-mail is becoming more and more difficult over time, and it is probably going to get worse rather than better. Even excluding spam (of which I get at least 50 a day), sorting, categorizing, and responding to e-mail is taking up more and more of a person’s working day. How can we deal with this mess?

Glenn’s first tip is really great: stop checking your mail every minute or two. I get into this habit in front of the computer. I have my web mail program open in a Firefox tab and am constantly checking my mail. Resist the urge to stop what you are working on and answer each incoming e-mail. Instead, set aside a little time every hour or two to answer and deal with incoming e-mails. It is similar to using the phone.

Glenn writes about using a three folder system for organizing e-mail: Follow-Up, Interesting & To Do. I have always had a hard time organizing my e-mails this way. I either delete the trash, immediately respond, or make a note in my to do list to respond later. If I read an e-mail and just make a mental note to respond later I almost always lose track of the e-mail.

Merlin Mann has covered similar organizational methods on his very useful blog. Visit his Inbox Zero series of posts–you’ll be sure to get some new ideas.

September 4, 2006 Posted by | organizing, Tech, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

SuprGlu your digital life together


A really interesting meta idea that just caught my attention is SuprGlu. This is a really interesting new Web 2.0 service that allows you to pull much of your digital content floating around into one page. You give SuprGlu some blogs (Blogger, Xanga, LiveJournal), photo sharing sites (Flickr), and social bookmarking sites (del.icio.us, Simpy, Digg) that you use. Give SuprGlu your user name (no passwords required) and the service will pull your content from all of these sites and serve it up in a template of your choice. Basically, you create your own really stylish meta-blog with all of this information. The SuprGlu page even allows comments for each individual post. It really is a new blog created out of the content from your various sites. The Flickr and del.icio.us content is even given a blog post title by SuprGlu. Very slick!

It may not sound as cool as it actually is–you really need to check it out for yourself. Here is my SuprGlu page:

http://jasonheath.suprglu.com/

As you can see, SuprGlu gives you your own unique URL that can be accessed by anyone. Rather than visiting Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, Digg, and del.icio.us, people can go to this one page and see all of this content neatly rolled into one page.

SuprGlu gives you a decent variety of templates. This is a new service, and I hope they continue to expand and add more features. I would like a little more in the way of customization (although you can edit the CSS) and to be able to pull in other feeds as well. It would be really neat to create a page from a group of bloggers, or material from me and my fiancee, for example.

All of the information that SuprGlu is from publicly accessible RSS feeds. It is kind of scary to realize how much data about a person is freely available once one starts using services like Flickr and del.icio.us!

September 3, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Hall for the Nashville Symphony


The Nashville Symphony is set to open its new $120 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center this fall. This orchestra has really turned itself around in the past several years–it is now one of the fastest growing orchestras in the United States.

Here is a quite from a recent Polyphonic.org story:

Did you hear? They’re building a $120 million symphonic concert hall in Nashville. You read that correctly; it’s not a typo – Nashville, Tennessee. Even more, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra Association owns and operates the 197,000-square-foot neo-classically inspired Symphony Center that maintains the goal of transforming Nashville’s musical landscape and becoming the cultural heart of the city’s downtown area.

Designed by architect David M. Schwarz, acoustician Paul Scarbrough, and Fisher Dachs Associates, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is designed to be one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. In addition to the 1,870-seat Laura Turner Concert Hall, the center will contain a 3,000 square-foot education center, the organization’s administrative offices, numerous musician facilities, and a full commercial kitchen. Another highlight of the new building is a garden and cafe, enclosed by a colonnade which is connected to the west side of the building. The garden will be open to the public throughout the day and during concerts.

Read the entire story (An Orchestral Cinderella Story) here.

Getting a new hall is a huge thing for a symphony orchestra. Although raising the money required for a new hall (usually over $100 million these days) can be a daunting task, it almost always improves the fortunes of the ensemble. Good acoustics, pleasing aesthetic layout, even trivialities like modern restrooms and concessions make a big difference in the audience’s experience. Please the audience and you get people in the seats and donating money. Also, the owners of this hall will be the Nashville Symphony. This is a huge thing for the orchestra. It is very advantageous for an orchestra to own their own hall rather than be a primary renter of a hall.

A hall also cements the orchestra as a more fundamental part of the cultural life of the city. Part of the reason why orchestras like the Florida Philharmonic (see related story) folded is because of the difficulty in identifying with an orchestra that only plays part time in your community.

The Elgin Symphony, of which I am a member, is in the early stages of planning a new hall. I can’t wait to see how that will affect the orchestra’s future when it gets built. Orchestras may not want to admit it, but the facilities are a significant reason why classical audiences come to concerts. Which phrase is more likely?

  • I went to Carnegie Hall!
  • I saw the Moscow Chamber Players play, and they happened to play at Carnegie Hall!

Visit this page and click ‘Listen to the Nashville Symphony‘ to hear the Nashville Symphony Orchestra performing Samuel Barber’s Essay No. 2 under the direction of their artistic advisor, Leonard Slatkin.

Visit this page to see a backstage tour of the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

September 2, 2006 Posted by | Music, Orchestra | 2 Comments

Beta Blogger versus WordPress follow-up


I recently wrote a post (WordPress.com versus the new Blogger) in which I compared the feature sets of the new Beta Blogger with the freely hosted blogs available on WordPress.com, and also what new features are being rolled out in the new Beta Blogger.

This recent post from the Googolians blog makes some interesting points regarding whether to move our old blog to Beta Blogger or not. It sounds like problems have surfaced with logging in, template corruption, and scarily, lost blogs. Apparently some users who have acted on the option to convert their blog to Beta Blogger (most Blogger are not yet presented with this option) have had their blog disappear! The Real Blogger Status Beta blog also has a list of some general design deficiencies which my cause you to think twice about migrating your blog.

This is an early beta version of what one hopes will become a solid service, so hopefully these issues will be resolved over the coming weeks. On a positive note, it looks like raw HTML editing is now available in Beta Blogger. I will be looking forward to switching despite the problems if only to get rid of the spinning publishing triangle of death.

A valid idea is being proposed on many blogs, and it is one that I am likely to experiment with. Create a Beta Blogger mirror blog for your regular Blogger blog, and just post your content to both blogs for the time being. This will give you a chance to play around wit the new features (sidebar widgets, categories, etc.) without subjecting yourself to the problems that are surfacing with Beta Blogger.

WordPress, anyone? That still seems like a better choice for most people right now, but time will tell.

September 2, 2006 Posted by | Blogging, Tech, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

Thoughts on double bass strings

Picking the right set of bass strings can be a difficult and expensive process. Experimenting with a variety of brands is the only way to find strings that work for you and your bass, but each set of strings runs $150-200, which limits experimentation. Some (but not most) local luthiers will let you experiment with their old strings, so if you find someone like this, stay on their good side!

I should mention before getting into my string descriptions that I am a classical bassist, and what I use is not generally considered good for jazz and bluegrass styles of playing. For example, most jazz players I know consider Pirastro Obligatos to be the only acceptable jazz strings Pirastro makes, while classical players tend to favor many different types of Pirastro strings. I have not done much playing on gut strings, so I have not offered any opinions on these strings. It would be smart to do some research before buying gut strings since a set can easily approach $400.

  • Pirastro Permanent – This is my current favorite string brand. A recent addition to the Pirastro line, they are powerful, medium tension strings that are quite popular on the audition circuit right now. Permanents to me are a great string to start your experimentation. They combine the free and open feeling of lighter gauge strings with the power of heavier gauge strings. They tend to work well on a lot of basses.
  • Pirastro Obligato – These strings are a close second favorite of mine. They are a relatively low tension string with a great deal of flexibility under the hand. You can actually twist the string winding back and forth and feel it move. These are one of the few brands of strings that seem to work well for both classical and jazz playing. The response under the bow is excellent and they have that jazz “growl” when plucked. I have had great success with these strings on a wide variety of basses. They seem to work well on cheap as well as expensive basses. Since they are a lower tension string they can make a tight bass sound more open. If you are looking for a firm feeling under the bow, however, these may not be the best choice.
  • Pirastro Original Flexocor – These strings are a classic favorite for orchestral section players. These do not make good jazz strings – in fact, they are the opposite of what a jazz player is usually looking for. They are a higher tension string with very little pizzicato ring. These strings tend to sound great with the bow. They have that “chocolate” sound prized by arco players, and they blend very well in a section. Since they are a higher tension string it takes more weight and energy to activate them. They can feel stiff under the bow, especially when compared to Permanents or Obligatos. It all depends on the player – some people really like that feeling under the bow. You can put a lot of energy into these strings and they will respond in kind. They are a darker sounding string and are therefor not appropriate for all basses. Also, they tend to sound very good under the ear and less good in a hall.
  • Pirastro Original Flatcrom – These strings are as old school as you can find. They make Original Flexocors look wimpy in comparison. These strings are even higher tension than the Original Flexocor, and they are definitely only for orchestra playing. In my experimentation I have found these strings to sound great on very nice old Italian basses and terrible on just about everything else. They have even more “chocolate” in their sound, but they will only work well on certain basses, and solo or jazz playing would not usually be a good idea on these strings.
  • D’Addario Helicore – These strings exploded in popularity in the mid 1990s, but I don’t see a lot of players using them now. Quality control at D’Addario seems to me to be shakier than it is at Pirastro. I have never broken a Pirastro string while playing, but while using D’Addarios over a three year period I managed to break three A strings. This was while playing arco, not pizzicato! These strings come in an orchestral variety, hybrid variety (good for both pizzicato and arco) and a jazz variety. They also come in light, medium and heavy gauges, so there are more customization options in your set up with these strings than there are with the Pirastro brands. I used two heavy gauge orchestral strings on the G and D strings and heavy gauge hybrids on the A and E strings. This for me was the best set up for my old Lowendal bass. These strings tend to be similar in sound to the Pirastro Permanents. All versions of D’Addario (orchestra, hybrid and jazz) sound brighter to my ear than Permanents, and not in a good way. I don’t see a lot of players on the audition circuit with these strings.
  • Corelli by Savarez – These are some strange strings. They come in light, medium, and heavy gauges, but even the heaviest gauge is extremely light. These strings come in nickel and tungsten varieties. I have only played on the tungsten strings, and I have not been impressed by the results. To my ear they sound light without any substance, and are disappointing to play. I have a hard time recommending them to anyone.
  • Spirocore by Thomastik-Infeld – These strings are extremely popular for jazz bassists, but they can work quite well for classical bassists in some situations. They have a huge, powerful sound with lots of sustain and pizzicato growl. They tend to be difficult to bow, so a player playing primarily arco should consider this when thinking about these strings. They are very bright and clear. Their Wiech string variety is lighter gauge and easier on the hands while still retaining the power of the standard gauge. Many classical players use Spirocore solo strings. They tend to sound extremely bright up close but to sound well-balanced and clear in a hall, and they can cut over an orchestra better than most other brands.

I hope these descriptions will help people looking for strings to make a good decision. I welcome any feedback or suggestions on brands of strings that I did not cover here.

September 1, 2006 Posted by | double bass, Music | 1 Comment

Hurricane Katrina Aid Debacle


A few days ago I wrote a post about the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. John C. Dvorak just brought this article to my attention (see his post here). He writes about a recent article on the inept way in which emergency relief money was handled after Hurricane Katrina:

The donated cash met a different fate. By late October, the State Department had allocated $66 million of the $126 million in international assistance to FEMA, which then granted it to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the nonprofit aid arm of the United Methodist Church. With the funds, UMCOR established Katrina Aid Today, a consortium of nine national aid agencies dedicated to case-management work for Katrina evacuees. But to date, only $13 million has actually been disbursed, and it has been allocated almost exclusively to salaries and training for case workers, not to evacuees.

As for the rest of the funds, some $60 million languished for more than six months in a non-interest-bearing account at the U.S. Treasury. Had the money been placed in Treasury securities, the GAO report notes, their value would have increased by nearly $1 million by the end of February. Instead, inflation meant the funds actually decreased in value as the government stalled.

Read the complete article here.

How could this have been handled so poorly?

September 1, 2006 Posted by | Disaster | Leave a comment