Using Amazon Kindle Fire HD’s as Registration Terminals

Even though I’m not working on CONGO as much anymore, I’m still helping out with registration at a couple events, and I’m always looking for better tools and gear to use. I originally designed registration to use cheap, network bootable PC’s, but that was so 15 years ago. The new hotness are small, inexpensive tablets. So could you put together a registration environment using some cheap tablets? Sure.

I’m helping an event that’s using EventBrite for registration services. I’d helped out at a different event about a year ago, and was impressed with the tools Eventbrite offered. The best part was the Eventbrite Organizer, a mobile app for IOS and Android that basically gave you a live dashboard, but also allowed super-fast checkins using a QR code scan. Think of scanning a boarding pass when boarding an airplane. The process is very similar.

The only drawback was, I needed a series of tablets that were roughly the same (bringing batches of workstations that are all different is a sure way to headaches). I didn’t think buying a stack of iPads was going to make sense, and el cheapo tablets from ebay and amazon are sketchy.

3 Kindle Fires being configured as registration terminals
I saw a deal come across Woot for Amazon Fire HD 7″ Tablets for… $33. Each. After digging around on the net, it looked like it was possible to load non-amazon software on these, it just took a little bit of jiggling. I’ve rooted Android tablets before, but it’s not a pleasant experience. I was seeing documentation that allowed for the Play store to be activated without a lot of yak shaving, so I decided to go all in.

I ordered 3 of the tablets, and they arrived a few days later.

First impressions – these are really nice. The design and polish is excellent, they fit well in the hand, and have exceptional screens. They have excellent battery life, and front and rear facing cameras. For $33, there’s not much to go wrong with here.

Here’s the steps I went through to get them up to ‘useable’ status.

  • First, charge them up, natch. They have great batteries, and the entire upgrade process and installation can happen on battery, but really, just get ’em charged.
  • Next, power up and log into your Amazon account. All the Fires have to be tied to an amazon login. Using the same one on each is fine (Amazon supports many Kindles per account).
  • Continuously go into the System settings (swipe down from the top) and select Device Information -> System Update. There’s a good 6 full OS updates that have to happen to bring your device up to FireOS 5.3.x or later. This can take upwards of an hour and a lot of reboots, but at the end, you’ll have a fully upgraded device.
  • Next, we’re going need to install APK’s that are not ‘blessed’, so you have to tell the Fire to accept them. Go into settings -> Security settings and check the switch that says “Allow third party apps”
  • Download and install a file manager. I used ES-File Explorer, which is very popular, but I’ve seen others say “don’t use this it doesn’t work”. I suspect the ‘not working’ has since been fixed. It’s worked fine on 3 devices so far.
  • Next, pull down the APK’s via the Fire’s Silk Browser. Go to this thread on the XDA Developers forum and click on each of the APK links, and download the files, in order, from top to bottom.
  • Once they’re downloaded, start up the ES File Explorer, and navigate to the Downloads folder. You’ll see 4 APK’s there. Click on the them from RIGHT TO LEFT (which will install the ‘oldest’ one first, and the Play store last.
  • After each of the APK’s is installed, launch the Play store, log in with your Google account, and you are all set.

Now that the Fire can install third party apps via the Play store, all we needed to do is install Eventbrite Manager, and log into it with an access-limited login we created just for this event (we’re going to allow general joe schmoes to check people in, and having access to refunds, people’s personal infromation, etc – didn’t seem like a good idea. So a generic Eventbrite login that ONLY allows for checkins was created, and that’s what we logged the tablets into.

I also picked up a handful of desk mounts with really strong gooseneck stalks. Because we’re going to be scanning receipts via the rear camera, the tablet needs to be held off the desk easily.

And we’re done! The Eventbrite Manager app syncs the attendee list whenever it’s connected to the internet. So we can go ahead and check in people super-fast (with a very satisfying BADEEP whenever a successful scan happens), and not have to rely on hotel internet connectivity (which can be notoriously sketchy). At the end of the day, we have a full record of everyone who has checked in and when.

Know what’s no fun? Smartphone failure while travelling.

Last week I was in California for a big tech summit my employer throws every 2 years. It’s a pretty big deal, with 3 days of presentations, workshops, tech demos, and interesting keynotes. I had a great time, met many of my coworkers I only know through voices on conference calls, and generally learned a ton.

Thursday night I was in the San Francisco offices, getting ready to head to the airport. I had 4 hours until my flight was scheduled to leave, and while in a meeting, I noticed my Moto X Pure (aka ‘Style’) phone reboots itself. “Okay, no worries, probably an update in progress. NBD.”

I went back to my meeting, and glanced at the phone again 10 minutes later. Looked like it was rebooting again. “Hmmm…. shouldn’t do that, but… okay…”

Half an hour later and continuous reboots, I was beginning to get worried. The pattern was the same. Boot, Optimizing apps, starting apps, reboot. Something was definitely wrong.

A little googling found me an article that describes the Moto X doing this sometimes when either an app gets corrupted, or there’s problems in the cache. Using instructions on the net I reset the cache from the bootloader, and let it try to boot again.

Nope, stuck in the loop again.

I was beginning to get very concerned. Traveling without a working phone, to echo a great movie… “Possible… but not recommended!”

In the end, I had to pull the ripcord, and do a full factory reset. Time until getting on the plane? 3 hours, with a half hour drive to the airport. This is the first time I’ve had to wipe and reload my phone from scratch as far as I can remember (we’re going back to Treo days here), at least where that sort of reload didn’t also involve replacing the phone completely.

In the end, it worked. The unit was able to do a factory reset, came up, did a few updates, and was back online with my normal account. It didn’t automatically reinstall all the apps (which I found a bit odd), so I had to manually tell Play to re-install the critical pieces I needed (including the authentication tool I use for work).

I was able to be on the road and mostly operational inside an hour, and made my flight just fine. I’ll credit my rabid use of 1Password for helping me get all my accounts re-connected.

Naturally, there’s still a few things that are out of whack. I spent a year twiddling that install to make the menus line up nicely, or set my backgrounds just so, etc, so post-reload, it sort of feels like a new phone, but really isn’t.

Now I’m on another trip, this time to Utah, and my phone is happily keeping me company. Alas, I’m finding all the little bits I haven’t reinstalled, such as all my local cached music in Spotify – something that would have been helpful on this flight But, that’s something to set up once I’m back in the hotel.

Internet Addiction is Killing Your Photography

There’s a wonderful post over on Petapixel (What? You’re not following them already? Get on that… seriously, they’re awesome, whether you’re a photographer or not)..Un petit coin de paradis...

Wait, what i was saying? Oh, right, the post. The post is about how internet addiction is destroying creativity. The author talks specifically about how it relates to photography, but the general case is true…

What I’m getting at in the headline is that the Internet is most likely the cause of your impotence when it comes to productivity. How many people pick up their smartphones and check something online or in an app in the morning, instead of picking up a camera and capturing a sunrise?

I bet 99% of us look at a smartphone before anything else in the morning. If only your first thought out of bed was “What photo will I capture today?” think about how much more you would achieve.

And he’s absolutely right.

Over the last couple weeks (and through being sick with a head cold the last 5 days), I’ve found myself almost breathlessly refreshing news.google.com and my Feedly page or whatever just to keep up the constant stream of input. And when I felt like doing something, it would have to compete with the information overload I was getting off the net. How can creativity thrive under this kind of mental onslaught?

I’m going to try and change things up. Move politics out of my “must check once an hour” need. Stop refreshing feedly to get the latest DailyWTF. I’m not a big social media wank, so Facebook, Twitter, etc are not my main distractions, so I can’t really put this under “i’m quitting social media for a while”. It’s more “I need to set priorities a little. This is not healthy for me.”

In the past I’ve done little life adjustments like this, and whether they stick long term or not, they do shift the balance a little, and nudging yourself out of a well worn groove isn’t a bad thing, even if it means things are a little shaky until a new smoother path is found.

Soylent’s New Flavors and My Weekend at a Con

This past weekend I made my yearly mecca to Arisia, the big SF / Fantasy convention in Boston. I’ve been going to Arisia for almost 25 years now, sometimes as a staff member, sometimes as a volunteer, but I haven’t missed an event since 1990, so it’s sort of ritual now.

Since making the decision to make Soylent a part of my diet, I’ve waxed and waned on how much I take in. Soylent regularly changes the ‘mix’ in it’s products, so that has impacted this as well.  The original version wasn’t particularly exciting, but did fill my belly.

A few weeks ago, Soylent announced 2 new flavors for their ‘2.0’ premixed drink. I’ve been enjoying the premix bottles for 6 months already, and the opportunity to have some new flavors for Arisia seemed like a great plan.  I’d tried the ‘coffiest’ flavor, but wasn’t impressed (I like my coffee super-sweet, and coffiest was bitterer than I like).

Soylent "ready to drink" food bottles, in all 4 flavors
Soylent “ready to drink” food bottles, in all 4 flavors

I ordered 2 case (one of Cacao and one of Nectar – 12 bottles each), and they arrived in time for the con. My plan was to cover half my food intake for the event just via Soylent.

Here’s my take on the new flavors. Note that nutritionally, these are no different than the stock 2.0 bottles. They’re just flavored.

  • Nectar – A subtle taste change. My partner thinks it tastes like rose water – a slightly sweet, flowery taste. Better than the stock 2.0 flavor (which is somewhat like a think vanilla shake), but not “MMMM, this is GREAT!”.
  • Cacao – This may turn into my new favorite drink. It has a rich chocolate taste – essentially a bottle of thick chocolate milk. I’m still trying to get past feeling guilty about chugging down a small chocolate milkshake, but this is one heck of a lot better for me than a Five Guys shake (and still only 400 calories).  The trick is thinking of these as ‘food’.  So not something I’m going to have WITH a burger, but INSTEAD of a burger.

Traditionally, keeping well fed at a convention is a challenge.  Hotel food tends to be expensive, and taking time out in the middle of an event to go get a meal can be frustrating.  It’s easy to fall back on cheetos and Dr Pepper, which does no one any good.  Having what amounts to the caloric equivalent of a Subway sandwich at hand, and requiring only the time it takes to chug down the bottle (I drink mine all at once) is pretty awesome.

I think the only thing we noticed is that you have to think of the Soylent bottles as food.  NOT drink.  Both of us found we needed lots of water or similar even though we had just downed 12oz of liquid.

Overall though, it was an excellent experience.  We stayed fed, it was tasty, and we didn’t need to spend major bucks on buying food, or making a mess mixing our own powders (like you do with Soylent 1.x). Highly recommended!

What I Did on my Winter Vacation.

My employer does a ‘shutdown’ twice a year; once over Christmas break, and once around July 4th. This year has been great schedule wise because of what days Christmas and New Years fall on, so there’s a lot of free time.

I decided that it was time to move forward on a project I’ve been thinking about for months. Building a workbench in my office. The goal is to be able to work on electronics, drones, and other stuff without crufting up the kitchen table.

I live in a relatively small 2br house. By US standards, it’s very small (about 900sq ft). Since I’m working from home full time, I’ve been using the second bedroom as an office – it had previously been set up as a guest / kid sleeping room with a loft bed that’s out of the way when I’m officing. I decided to use a similar design approach to building out the workbench. The room is only 11’x7′, so fitting in a spare bed, my standup desk, a workbench, bookshelves, and some storage required some creative thinking.

My office before I started work on the new desk.
Office before work started on the new desk.

The first step natch was clearing out my working desk and hardware so I had space to work. Fortunately I keep my bedroom pretty clutter free, so it was just a matter of moving things down the hall. Then construction began.

I used a similar design to the loft bed, just not quite as hefty. On the loft I used 2×6 boards, but for the desk, I just used 2×4’s. Using a magnetic stud locator, I found the wooden studs in the walls, cut the boards to length, and used 3.5″ deck screws to attach the supporting studs to the walls. I guess the best term for these are ledger boards, since they’ll be supporting the ends of the joists. Anyway, the idea is the desk it attached directly to the wall studs, so no legs needed. It’s custom fit to the room.

Halfway through the build
Halfway through the build

Once the ledger boards were screwed in place (14 screws went in, and I hit the studs on every try. Booyah), I used aluminum hangers to put the joists in. These attached directly to the ledger boards and gave good support to the 2×4’s under the surface of the desk. I had to be careful about spacing due to where the ledger boards were attached to the studs. I needed at least 2 2×4’s under each ‘slice’ of 18″ plywood to support it cleanly.

Once all the joists and ledger boards were done, I laid down 2 strips of sanded plywood, and screwed them down with normal 2″ drywall screws. These are not load bearing, so using the weaker screws was fine – it was just to keep the boards flat and not move around.

The finished project
The finished project

The last touch was adding a kickboard around the top of the desk so things weren’t banging against the painted walls. I also drilled 3 2″ holes in the back of the surface to allow power cords to come up for equipment.

Heightwise, it’s 29″, which matches the older wooden desk I have. I’ll be able to put a plate in to join the two surfaces (I left a 3″ lip under the front)

Some quick lessons learned…

  • Magnetic Stud Finder – I can’t recommend these things enough. They’re dirt simple, inexpensive, and work great for finding nails in walls. Just a big powerful magnet.
  • LED Worklight – I have a set of old halogen lights roughly the same size. I won’t be using them anymore, as these LED lights are very bright, use much less power, and aren’t nearly as hot / dangerous. Really useful to have around.
  • I still love my Ryobi One+ power tools. They’re aging to be sure, and I’ll be replacing my battery packs from NiCd to Li-Ion shortly. I’ve already upgraded the basic drill/driver from the old yellow tool to the new green one, but I’m still using the older jigsaw and circular saw, which were wonderful for this project.

I’ve already used it to work on some home automation equipment, and it’s the right height, setting, and size to make things totally comfortable and useful. I’m looking forward to ramping my projects up again!

What I’m Doing as the World Changes

Given the inevitable dramatic shift to the right that is about to happen in the US government and the associated chaos in the wider social / political circles, I, like many others, feel helpless and adrift. My vote did not help defeat the self-identified anti-truth bigot now on his way to the white house. Now that the elections are over, there’s little I can do directly to prevent him from taking the most powerful office in the world. But while I can’t take power from him directly, what I can do is throw support to his enemies – the voices of reason, logic, civil liberties, and common sense.

Anil Dash has a great article on this :

“Don’t waste a single moment listening to the hand-wringing of the pundit class about Why This Happened, or people on TV talking about What This Means. The most important thing is that we focus on the work that needs to be done now. While so many have been doing what it takes to protect the marginalized and to make society more just, we must increase our urgency on those efforts, even while we grieve over this formidable defeat.”

I am not one of the fat cats who are overjoyed at this turn of events, though I am better off than many, particularly those who are going to be impacted directly by upcoming policy changes and direct action in the next few years. I’ve chosen to donate heavily… give to support those organizations who will carry the fight forward.

To that end, this is a list of the people I’ve chosen to support. I’ve set up monthly repeating donations – I feel that sort of regular, dependable revenue is important

  • Wikipedia – because accurate, globally available information should be a basic human right.
  • NPR – One of the few reliable, unbiased, professional reporting services left in the world
  • EFF – An effective voice in the digital landscape for digital freedoms
  • ACLU – Don’t really need to give reasons here, do i?
  • FeedingAmerica – A very good organization that supports food banks
  • Southern Poverty Law Center – A voice against racism and hate groups

Are there those I’m missing you think I should support? Please comment and let me know.

Edit I’ve added NARAL and Planned Parenthood to the list. Thanks for the recommendations.

Daves Picks : Best Portable Headphones – Brainwavz Delta IEM

I’m going to start sharing some of the things I’ve found on the net that are exceptional finds, buys, whatever. There’s so much crap out there, sometimes it’s hard to find the true gems.

A bit ago I started looking to replace my wired headphones. The requirements were pretty rough:

  • Inexpensive (< $50 would be best)
  • Durable
  • Comfortable
  • Good for long term wear (talking several hours here)
  • Excellent audio range.
  • Doesn’t look like ass

Simple, right? Uh huh.

After going through a couple el cheapo versions (which, I have to admit, told me how BAD headphones could be), and playing with some super-expensive ones (which… were good, but not as comfortable or durable as I had hoped), I started reading reviews for the Brainwavz Delta IEM Noise Isolating Headphones (say that 5 times fast!), and started to get interested.

Brainwavz Delta Red IEM Noise Cancelling Headphones
Brainwavz Delta Red IEM Noise Cancelling Headphones

The price tag certainly is attractive. Brainwavz has ones with remote for $19, but could something that inexpensive really be any good?

I’m here to tell you – they are. Easily one of the top 5 headphones I’ve ever owned, they’re rock solid in their build, come with a tough zippered carrying case to hold the headphones and the spare silicon earpieces, and sound magnificent. They have excellent range – the highs and lows are crisp and strong across all volumes. The cord is long enough that even plugged into my laptop, it doesn’t get tangled. And they are COMFORTABLE. I can (and have) worn them for 3-4 hours at a stretch and I don’t get sore ear canals or other discomfort. Volume wise, they can keep up with me just fine… I don’t feel like at low levels I have to crank them to hear the full range of what I’m listening to, and when I really want to blast things out, they step up to the task just fine!

So, if you’re looking for affordable, top quality ear buds, I can say with some confidence the Brainwavz Delta IEM headphones will do well by you!

Dashcam Catches Tire Blowout on Mass Pike

(“You won’t believe what happens next!”)

I’ve been interested in getting a dashcam for my car(s) for a while, and when Woot had a had an Armorall Dashcam up for $29, I decided to give it a try. The verdict? This thing is worth about as much as I paid for it. Yes, it records video and audio. Yes it datestamps it. Yes it turns on and off automatically when I start the car, and yes it loops data on the MicroSD card just fine. Other than that, I can’t find a lot to recommend it. The field of view is narrow, the interface is painfully obtuse, and the mirror mount is… weird. Works, but weird.

Anyway. What did happen though was while driving to work this morning, a trailer in front of me had a tire blowout. The sound was funny, a squeaky whoosh (as opposed to a bang), and I missed seeing it happen (it’s at 7:53:17 in the video). I only understood what was going on when I saw smoke and bits of tire flying off the trailer. I backed off and put my my 4-way flashers for folks behind me, and let the guy pull over to the side. The wheel was pretty wrecked, and the sparks and tire debris were pretty dramatic.

If this had actually damaged my car or something more serious had happened, having the recording to show my insurance company and/or police would have been a huge win. But that’s what dashcams are all about, right?

And getting really cool videos like this. 🙂

Revisiting Tethering

For the longest time I was stuck in a weird no-mans land regarding WiFi Tethering on my cell phone. I’m referring here to the practice of enabling a hot spot on the phone so other devices, such as a laptop, can share the data connection the phone is using. This is super-handy when in an area that either has no Wifi service, or the service is sketchy as hell.

Problem is, I had an Unlimited data plan with AT&T. And with that unlimited plan, hotspot service was not available.

A year or two ago I made the change and moved my data service to a family plan with a shared data pool. 5 gig a month spread over 4 phones. We haven’t come anywhere near that limit, even with some heavy duty usage, so all in all, a good choice. What I forgot though, was that by going to a metered billing structure, I was able to start using tethered mode.

My cell phone is a Moto X, aka a Moto X Pure Style.

Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
I’m deliriously happy with it, so setting it up as a Wifi Hotspot would just bring it to a new level of functionality.

Enabling it was easy. I was initially worried about performance, but after connecting to it with my laptop and running Speedtest, the numbers are pretty good.
Working from my laptop over the tethered connection is just like sitting at home. I’ll need to set up a better “show how much data I’m using” mechanism, but right now, this is pretty cool.

Jeep Build Log

As noted in my post “Finding the Balance in Toys and Escape“, I’ve acquired a lovely 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ, which I’ve taken to calling “Ol Yeller”, for obvious reasons.  I’ve managed to connect with some wicked smaht folks over on the Wrangler TJ Forum, and they’ve been giving me great advice for fixing and upgrading this thing.

I’ve started a build log  where I’ll be posting pics, chatting about mechanicals, and probably going over all the points where I screw this up.  Feel free to browse along and be amused.

Lars Anderson Museum Best in Show
Lars Anderson Museum Best in Show

One last bit.  I took Ol Yeller to the Lars Anderson Museum for one of their lawn events (this one on American cars) and… I won Best Jeep in Show!  Go me!  Course, um, I was the only Jeep.  But hey, I’ll take it!

 

Finding the Balance in Toys and Escape

When I was a kid growing up in what most people would call ‘the countryside’ (yes it was New Jersey, but we had horses, cows, hayfields, cornfields, and dirt roads), I had the advantage of being able to hop on whatever toy machine I had that year (snowmobile, ATC, mini bike, whatever), and just… ride.  I could go through the woods, around the fields, over to my friends house, explore new streams… it was pretty much wide open.  My friends and I had made trails between all our houses, and I could be adventurous, finding new paths to local towns or abandoned locations.

Now as a grown adult, I miss those things.  A couple years ago, when my VW Passat was dying, I bought myself a 2012 Jeep Wrangler JK.  It was a beautiful truck, and I took it on fun adventures in the mud and the woods, but… in the end, it just didn’t make sense as my primary vehicle, and I sold it, replacing it with an electric car. I don’t regret this decision, as the Volt has been a wonderful commuter vehicle, and as many say, once you drive full time electric, it’s hard to consider a combustion engine as a primary means of transportation. It just didn’t make sense to drive a Jeep to work every day.

In the midst of this, I was also reconsidering my motorcycles. I had two, my venerable Suzuki GS850 (1976! A Classic!) which I’ve owned since I was 25, and the newer DL650, which I got 5 years ago for more adventurous riding, and perhaps finding an efficient way to get around. Alas, I haven’t ridden either of them in almost 2 years, so they were just taking up space in the garage.

And I missed the Jeep. I missed the woods rides, I missed the fun of having a vehicle to just bang around in, and I missed four wheel drive.

So, I changed things.

I’ve sold both Suzuki bikes. Both went to neighbors – the GS850 has been serviced back into useability and I take great joy in seeing it rumble by. The 650 is going to a close friend as his first bike, and I’m looking forward to it getting a new lease on life.

And I bought another Jeep.

My yeller Jeep
My yeller Jeep
Now, lets be clear here. This is not a ‘new’ Jeep. The JK I mentioned above cost somewhere around $34,000 and was enormous. It was my primary vehicle, and was expensive as heck to drive on a daily basis. I still have my Volt, and that gets me to and from work all on electric. But now I have a lovely 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ I paid $7k for that has almost no rust, and runs beautifully. The previous owner has done a bunch of work on it, adding things I would have added myself, and setting it up for the next steps.

Night before last, I was home and feeling a little quiet and sad… so I hopped in the Jeep and went driving in the night. The doors and top are off it, so it’s wide open. It was the 4th of July, and I drove past fireworks and breezy weather… stopping at the top of a hill and turning off the engine just to listen to the night and distant fireworks. I thought back to the times I did this when I was a kid – I’d take my snowmobile or my ATC out into the woods or fields and just stop… or drive quietly around in the night.

Over the weekend I spent a couple hours with Zach working on it. We fixed a few problems, determined a few other problems, but had some great 1:1 time. Tonight we’re taking the Jeep up to MakeIt to put it up on the lift and do some wheel work. I would never do this with my ‘primary’ ride, but the Jeep is like a big tinkertoy. It’s fun to work on.

Am I reliving my childhood? Sure. Nothing wrong with that. I’m filling a need that my previous Jeep awakened – the want to be out playing in the dirt and woods and having fun. I get some of that hiking, but boy I missed the trailrides and the driving.

How To Determine the Size of an S3 Bucket

This one came up while working on my home network / photo management setup. I’ve set my Synology DS216+ NAS to use Cloud Sync to back up my files to an Amazon S3 bucket (see this post for some more information on using S3 for backups). The problem was it was taking a very long time, and I needed to figure out how much had transferred.

Unfortunately, Amazon has no simple mechanism for determining the size of an S3 bucket. I found a couple posts on StackOverflow showing how to do it, but they seemed overly complex.

While you can get a bucket size using several third party GUI tools, the command line approach is quick and easy. It does require the Amazon Command line Tools to be installed, and access keys generated, but once that’s done, you can quickly query Amazon for just about anything.

Here’s the command I used to determine the size of my bucket. This is on a mac:

$ aws s3 ls s3://BUCKETNAME --recursive | awk '{total+=$3} END{print "total =",total/1024/1024," MB"}'

This will give back something like:

total = 245032  MB

Voila! Time for that command can vary depending on the size of the bucket. For me, with around 20,000 photos stored, it takes about 20 seconds.

Wherein Dave learns that Podcasts are Kinda Awesome

Face it, I’ve been on the net a long time. Usually by the time some buzzword I’ve heard gets enough attention that I check into it, it turns out the hype doesn’t even remotely match the reality. And thus it’s been for me with Podcasts. You can’t swing a dead cat without hearing someone say “And subscribe to our podcast!!!”

Maybe it’s just my early trauma dealing with downloaded files / iTunes syncing problems / PalmPilot lack of audio, whatever, but I never listened to podcasts, even when a friend would say “Hey, did you hear that podcast by Bubbitah Bingah? Dude was awesome.” “Uh huh, what’s the link to the text of the article again?”

Well, even old dogs can learn new tricks. I’m into the third year of dealing with a 40 minute commute, all along highways, with nothing but XM radio or NPR to listen to, I decided to finally take the plunge and check out podcasts. Herein lies what I’ve learned.

Get a good a podcast app

First things first. You need a way to listen to podcasts. For me the important mechanism would be something that allows for downloads ahead of time (say, over Wifi), and then I could catch up as the week went along. I’m fully wedded to Android now, happily using my Motorola Moto X for gaming, music, mail, calendaring – heck, everything. So a decent Android app was needed. I settled on Podcast Addict. It’s a great app that categorizes all my subscriptions, and lets me download all or some of the episodes ahead of time.

Now all I needed was content

So, what do you want to listen to?

There’s seriously no shortage of podcasts out there. And, frankly, most of them suck. When you have no need to limit your time to a 10 minute slot on a radio show, and can blather on for an hour and a half about navel lint, the field gets crowded pretty quickly.

I recommend starting with things you know – being an NPR addict, these were easy:

RadioLab
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Marketplace
CarTalk
This American Life

But after that, we start getting into things that are related, but you don’t get to hear quite as often.

The Moth
Ted Radio Hour

And then we get into fun stuff. Up until this point, all of that stuff I’d hear on the radio from time to time (either on NPR or on Public Radio Remix – a station I highly recommend, btw). But what about independent stuff? This is what I came to share with you.

First, I have to highly highly recommend Our Fake History. This podcast focuses on deep dives into historical myths, legends, and stories, and digs out what parts of those stories are true and what has been embellished over time. I got completely sucked into their first ‘big’ series, “Was There Really a Trojan War”. I learned more about the Iliad, Greek mythology, and 19th century archeology than I had ever known before. The current series is going into Helen of Troy, and it’s equally fascinating. Highly recommended!

Following along after is Lore. In a similar vein, this podcast talks about history with a sort of dark bent. Vampires, missing persons – where did all these stories come from? It has a darker, more ‘sitting around the fireplace telling stories’ feel, but all of it is well researched and detailed.

Moving off the dark history bit, I also listen to the Petapixel podcast. This series follows the website pretty closely, but has extra commentary and thoughts by Mike “Sharky” James. Great stuff.

One last shout out. My friend Tim pointed me to Welcome to Night Vale. This is the fictional broadcast of a public service radio station in the town of Night Vale. Think of it as a sort of Prairie Home Companion meets HP Lovecraft. It has it’s ups and downs, but has some great moments in it.

So, if you’ve ever thought about fiddling around with podcasts, I recommend getting Podcast Addict (it’s free), anv giving these podcasts a try. There’s lots to be learned.

I went Sailing Again.

Sailing on Boston Harbor
Sailing on Boston Harbor
This afternoon Zach and I took advantage of a Meetup group in Boston to go sailing on the ‘C’est si bon’, a 46ft Formosa out of Marina Bay, south of Boston. I’d sailed with Ralph before, but this was the first time I was able to go with my son Zach. It ended up being awfully hot, and not much wind, but as many have said before me, a bad day out sailing is better than a good day in the office. We had enough wind to take us from Marina Bay all the way to Deer Island and back again over around 5 hours.

We had a great time, and Ralph was as always a wonderful skipper. We had a crew of 6 total, which was just the right number of people, with skills ranging from newbie on up.

I ended up being completely wiped out by the trip, and once I got home, fell into a zombie-like sleep. I’m still sore and worn from 5+ hours on the water, but it was a great day out.