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Hear me from Mongolia

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My free music has been used all over the Internet since 2004, so I usually don't point out new sites or podcasts that feature it. However, this one is worth an exception: Yakky Man's "Chewin' the Yak" podcast is, as far as I know, the first site to make use of my tunes from Mongolia!

Back in October I mentioned two of my favourite podcasts, which I listen to every time there's a new episode. Now there's another.

CBC's "Age of Persuasion" is in its second season as a radio program, but only this year is it also available as an official podcast. (If you hunt around, there were some rogue ways to get subscribe to it podcast-style last year.) It's Terry O'Reilly's excellent documentary series about marketing and advertising.

It's interesting enough that even my 12-year-old daughter listened to it whenever she could last year—which is something to say about a show on advertising. I recommend you give it a try too.

If you'd like some other stuff to listen to, last week we released our first episode of Inside Home Recording for 2011, my co-host Dave Chick appeared on the now-annual audio recording podcaster roundtable, and I was also guest co-cost on the Canadian Podcast Buffet with Bob Goyetche and Mark Blevis.

Back in 2007 and 2008, my then–co-host Paul and I at Inside Home Recording (IHR) regularly appeared on Leo Laporte's Lab With Leo TV show, made here in Vancouver. My final couple of 2008 segments are now available online, and are still useful:

The Lab #187 had me talking with Leo about MIDI drums, featuring a Yamaha DTXpress electronic kit I borrowed from a couple of friends:

Episode #190 focused instead on different types of headphones for use in the studio and with iPods and other devices, including in-ear monitors from Etymotic and Shure, open-back headphones from Sennheiser and AKG, and closed-back reference monitors from Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and Ultrasone:

More info at the IHR site...

If my podcast Inside Home Recording is going to lose a Podcast Award to another Education nominee, I can't object that it's something as high-falutin' as The History of Rome. Right now it's covering the Interregnum of the late third century A.D.

Thank you to everyone who voted for us. I think it was a pretty close result. Ubi concordia, ibi victoria.

Sometime early in 2011, I will be forced to end my nearly-five-year stint co-hosting Inside Home Recording (IHR), the longest-running podcast about recording music and audio in your home or project studio. The reason is obvious: I'll most likely be dead from cancer by the end of the year, and we're trying to smooth the transition on the show.

My co-host Dave Chick and I have just posted our final 2010 episode, IHR #85 (also available in MP3 format), and it includes a guest segment by Hens Zimmmerman of the Netherlands, as well as my batch of suggestions for good home-recording Christmas gifts under $200. We ask our listeners what the podcast should do once I'm off the air too.

Today is also the last chance for us to get votes for the 2010 Podcast Awards. I'd appreciate if you could vote (even if you already have—you can do it once a day), since it will be my final opportunity to win one, and this is the first year that IHR has even reached the nomination stage.

While Inside Home Recording is a lot of work and doesn't pay at all, I've enjoyed doing it. As with any instructional task, I've learned at least as much as I've taught since joining founder and original host (and now my friend) Paul Garay on the program in 2006. As with many other things, I wish I could keep going.

Podcast AwardsThank you, everyone, for nominating my long-running podcast Inside Home Recording for this year's Podcast Awards in the Education category. This is the first time in the six years of the awards that we've reached the voting stage, so I'll now ask you to vote for us at

UPDATE: It turns out you can vote once per day, per person. So, uh, please do that.

Simply visit the voting site and click the radio button for Inside Home Recording in the Education category (part-way down in the left column). Then, if you wish, vote for any other podcasts you like in other categories (one winner each category), look at the page to make sure every vote is the way you want it, fill out your basic info at the bottom to avoid duplicates and spammers, and click Submit. (You'll need to verify your vote with an email link.) If you have friends who'd like to vote for us too, please let them know.

The deadline for votes is the end of Wednesday, December 15, next week. Results will be announced shortly after that date at a live online event. I'll be crass and remind you that because of my health, this will very likely be my last chance to accept a Podcast Award: the rewards will still be around next year, but I'm likely not to be.

Dave Chick and I are recording IHR #85 this week, so it will be out before Christmas, and with any luck before the voting deadline too. Again, thanks for the nominations, and thanks again in advance for your votes. We're excited!

Sean, Derek, and Paul, musical elvesLast night my friend and former podcast co-host Paul Garay (who plays piano) and his wife Kelly held a little pre-Christmas party at their house in the Silver Ridge neighbourhood of Maple Ridge, near the snowy peaks of Golden Ears east of Vancouver. A few friends and family dropped by, including my pal and bandmate Sean Dillon (guitar), and Paul's cohorts Renée Cook and Steve Bulat (violin and guitar), to add to my slightly mad drumming skillz. My daughters, Paul's children, and other kids dropped in, plus my in-laws (who live down the road) and parents came too.

We planned a Christmas carol jam session in Paul's basement, where he'd set up a drum kit and PA system. Sean brought his Stratocaster and amp, I brought my snare drum and some extra percussion to share around, plus my bass and amp for someone to use.

We called ourselves the Maple Ridge Three, and since it was in Paul Garay's house, the session became "Rated PG with the Maple Ridge Three." For the first few songs, our featured guests Renée brought her violin, and Steve had his acoustic guitar, though we never ended up using it since he took up the Fender bass instead.

The songs

Guess what? You can hear what we played, because I also brought my Zoom H4 audio recorder, which I simply plopped on a shelf and let run for an hour or so. Here's what we hacked together, without any rehearsal, planning, or any real idea of where we were going with the tunes. All are MP3 files you can play on any modern device (composers are in parentheses):

  1. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (Traditional, public domain)* - 4:20, 6.4 MB
  2. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Johnny Marks) - 5:14, 7.5 MB
  3. "Silver Bells" (Jay Livingston and Ray Evans) - 6:47, 9.6 MB
  4. "Secret Agent Man" (Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan) - 2:47, 4.1 MB
  5. "Jingle Bells" (James Pierpoint, now public domain)* - 5:27, 7.8 MB
  6. "Nights on Silver Ridge" (Dillon, Garay, Miller)* - 3:04, 4.5 MB
  7. "Roxanne" (Sting) - 7:16, 10.3 MB
  8. "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" (Bill Withers) - 5:33, 7.9 MB
  9. "The Bed's Too Big Without You" (Sting) - 4:29, 6.4 MB
  10. "One-Minute Coffee Break Blues" (Dillon, Garay, Miller)* - 0:56, 1.6 MB
  11. "The Thrill is Gone" (Rick Darnell and Roy Hawkins) - 5:42, 8.1 MB

Sure, we veer away from Christmas tunes pretty quickly, the performances are fairly sloppy (especially vocals, where we forget most of the lyrics), there's occasional blip-bzzt-bzzt crosstalk from a nearby cell phone, and much of the time we're not even sure what song we're playing until we're well into it. But there are some nice moments. I particularly recommend our original jazzy instrumental "Nights on Silver Ridge," our Latin-influenced take on the Police's "Roxanne" (at the end, you can hear Sean call out my parents for their excellent dancing), and Paul's soulful reading of Bill Withers's "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone."

The four *asterisked songs are fully free, podsafe, and share-able MP3s using a Creative Commons Attribution license: since they're either public domain or our own compositions, you can do whatever you like with the recordings, as long as you note who wrote and performed them. The other tracks remain someone else's copyright as compositions, so they're in more of a grey area. Enjoy, but please don't try to make money with them or anything.

The musicians

The Maple Ridge Three are:

  • Paul Garay - keyboard (piano, organ, etc.), vocals
  • Sean Dillon - guitar, vocals
  • Derek K. Miller - drums, vocals

Our guests:

  • Renée Cook - violin (tracks 1 and 2)
  • Steve Bulat - electric bass (tracks 3, 4, and 5)
  • Various kids and relatives - tambourine, shakers, cowbell, triangle, background vocals, dancing

Techie nerd details

These recordings are completely live off the floor, in the order we played them, recorded to 320 kbps stereo MP3 using the default equalization on the Zoom H4, which was positioned on a shelf at about head-height for a sitting audience member in Paul's basement.

The only production I did was split the one long MP3 into individual uncompressed AIFF-format song files, trim out in-between chatter using Rogue Amoeba's lovely, minimalist Fission sound editor, and convert them to MP3 again via iTunes. Despite having the live limiter and a low-cut filter running on the H4 recorder, I did have the levels for the built-in stereo microphones set slightly too hot, so there's a bit of distortion here and there.

The band portrait comes courtesy of JibJab's Elf Yourself.

CBC logoThe last time I was on the radio with CBC's Stephen Quinn, in November 2008, I already knew that my cancer treatments weren't really shrinking my tumours, but I still had many other options to try. I was basically optimistic that I'd live a few years more yet. And I was right. Here I am.

But what prompted Stephen to come to my house and interview me again yesterday is that I no longer have a few years. I probably don't even have a couple. As he put it, I'm not blogging about living with cancer anymore; I'm writing about dying of it. So he and I chatted for about 40 minutes, and he edited that down into a much shorter piece that was broadcast this morning on "The Early Edition," CBC Radio One's very popular Vancouver morning drive-time radio show. Our dog Lucy made a brief guest appearance.

If you missed it (I did—it was 6:15 a.m.!), I've posted audio files for you to hear: the edited interview (3.7 MB MP3 file, about 7 and a half minutes long) that went out today, and the full unedited version (18.4 MB MP3 file, almost 40 minutes) that includes more than half an hour of extra material. The music you hear at the beginning of the broadcast edit is my instrumental mix of my song "You're the Big Sky" (grab the 4.5 MP3 file if you like) from 2006.

Both versions of the interview are © 2010 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Podcast AwardsI know it's been awhile since we posted a show, and we will have a new episode of my long-running podcast Inside Home Recording tomorrow (Saturday, November 20), but my co-host Dave Chick and I need to get this out right away: please go to today and nominate IHR (our URL is for a Podcast Award in these two categories:

  • Best Produced (we hope!)
  • Education

Why today? Well, the nomination deadline is Sunday, November 21, this weekend. And of course, add in your other favourite podcasts in the other categories.

UPDATE: Here's the new episode, featuring modes, musical mental archaeology, Pro Tools 9, moving the IHR forums, and more.

If we do get nominated, we'll remind you to vote when that time comes too. And watch for IHR #84 tomorrow...

The Brawny Towel of religions

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Brawny Paper Towels, 2002The latest episodes of my two favourite podcasts reinforce why I like them so much.

First, Planet Money #219 asks, would you rather live on $70,000 USD a year today (a middle-class living), or $70,000 USD a year in 1900 (when it would have made you stupefyingly rich)? My answer is easy: since I have both diabetes and cancer, I'll take now, since no matter how much money I had, in 1900 I'd be dead. Your answer might not be so obvious, though if you like air conditioning and the easy ability to travel and communicate, you'll probably make a similar choice.

My reason for liking episode #75 of Reasonable Doubts comes down to one quote: "Hinduism is like the Brawny Towel of religions—it can really soak up and absorb just about anything." (The episode is actually about Buddhism.)

I don't listen to as many podcasts as I used to, even though I am the co-host of a reasonably popular one, and also have an occasionally-updated largely musical one of my own. From 2005 through 2007 in particular, I devoured podcasts, listening in the morning while getting the kids ready for school, on the commute to and from work, sometimes at work, while driving in the car or shopping or waiting in line, while falling asleep at night, and even in hospital when I was recovering from surgery.

There are many reasons my listening habits have changed. Since I've been on medical leave for cancer treatment, I'm not commuting, and I'm also not often working on non-language right-brain stuff (such as editing images) that doesn't interfere with spoken-word podcasts. Now that I have an iPhone and an iPad, when I have time to kill either at home or out running errands, I'm more likely to fire up Twitter or a web browser or a game than to listen to a podcast.

And, because of my newfound cancer-driven appreciation for the little things in everyday life, when I go for a walk around the neighbourhood (often with the dog), I usually leave the earphones at home, and simply listen to the sounds around me.

Making a show un-missable

So while I still have quite a few podcasts in my iTunes subscription list, I miss a lot of episodes and delete many of them unheard. There are two shows I never miss, though: National Public Radio's Planet Money, and the indie show Reasonable Doubts. (Though I don't catch every episode, I also listen to almost every release—ahem—of Savage Love, after a recommendation a couple of years ago from my wife, and CBC's Spark is a regular too.)

Here's why I find both Planet Money and Reasonable Doubts un-missable: They're about the right length and frequency—around 20 minutes several times a week for Planet Money, less than an hour every week or two for Reasonable Doubts—that I can stay caught up without being overwhelmed (a problem for Leo Laporte's ever-increasing and ever-lengthening stable of shows on his TWiT network).

Both of my favourite podcasts are well-structured and excellently produced, telling compelling stories in an interesting format. Most importantly, I learn a lot about subjects that previously didn't interest me much at all: business and religion.

Clarity and economics? Really?

Before Planet Money came along, I found most business journalism about as interesting as a fishing show, or the farm report that used to come on TV before cartoons in the early mornings when I was kid: in other words, so dull it was physically painful. But when the team that would later create the standalone Planet Money podcast produced the "Giant Pool of Money" episode for This American Life in 2008, I was hooked. A single show somehow managed to explain the global economic crisis of that year, and the American housing-market meltdown that triggered it, clearly and concisely, without dumbing the subject down.

Planet Money takes a similar approach to all sorts of topics in economics, global finance, and other business subjects that I'd never normally want to delve into. Yet it fascinates me every time. This week, for instance, I learned about how Brazil changed its currency to stave off runaway inflation in 1994. Yawn, right? Not when the show has a title like "How Four Drinking Buddies Saved Brazil."

Religions explained and criticized

Reasonable Doubts doesn't emerge from a professional radio network like NPR. It's a labour-of-love amateur effort by three academics in Grand Rapids, Michigan (or "the clasp on America's Bible Bra," as they like to call it): philosophy professor Jeremy Beahan, psychologist Luke Galen, and English and mythology teacher David Fletcher. All three were raised as fundamentalist Christians, but found themselves "de-converting" in adulthood. So they bring a particularly well-informed approach to talking about, explaining, and in the end debunking the tenets of various religious traditions.

There are plenty of podcasts about rationalism, skepticism, atheism, humanism, critical thinking, and similar stuff, but many of them spend a lot of time taking apart conspiracy theories, UFOs, New Age woo, ghosts, psychics, and pseudo-medical quackery. Those are all fine, but as an atheist myself since childhood, I find that I don't know much about the religions that influence most people around the world. And the Reasonable Doubts team talks about them: Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox), Islam (Shiite, Sunni, and other sects), Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and more.

It's not just cheap chat and atheist dismissal, either. I've learned about Christian dispensationalism, Buddhist dukkha, and the philosophical debates around determinism and free will, for instance. The hosts are careful to explain the subjects they address as carefully and completely as possible, so that their analysis and criticism make sense. And they're pretty funny in a nerdy white-guy way that appeals to me.

Keep learning

I like these shows for the same reasons I enjoy the science essays and books of Stephen Jay Gould, the TV series of James Burke, or radio programs like "Quirks and Quarks." They teach me things I didn't know before, and point me in interesting directions to learn even more.

In the modern world, we're always encouraged to keep learning for a lifetime. My favourite podcasts make that easy. I'd encourage you to give them a listen too.

My co-host Dave Chick and I have posted the latest episode of our podcast Inside Home Recording, which is number 81. This one features:

  • Listener Paul Hogue talking about the Big Ears Music Festival in Knoxville, TN.
  • Dave and, from the Home Recording Show podcast, Ryan Canestro talking about audio phase.
  • Me discussing the merits of small guitar tube amplifiers.
  • An editorial on whether audio mastering is... a scam?

You can get our show in two formats: Enhanced AAC (with pictures that appear as you play on your iPod, iPhone, iPad, or in iTunes), and audio-only MP3. This is our first episode in a couple of months. Hope you like it—if so, you can subscribe.

Okay, it's alive. I have Movable Type installed and working, and I've turned off the old Blogger FTP publishing service, which itself shuts down permanently later today. The differences between the two versions of my blog are pretty subtle:

Penmachine old and new - May 2010

I also found time last night to publish Episode #80 of Inside Home Recording, the podcast I co-host with Dave Chick. And now that I've re-opened comments, you can leave one if you like, to let me know what you think.