Category Archives: Reading & books

10 favorite podcasts that you might just find addictive

podcastEvery day, I walk. I walk to keep fit. I walk because I have two dogs. I walk because I love to walk. I walk because I have a #FitBit, and I must reach my 10,000 steps a day — I just must. That’s all. But I also walk because I love listening to podcasts. Podcasts of books. Podcasts of news shows. Podcasts of comedy. Podcasts of drama. Podcasts of documentaries. I’ve been listening to podcasts for years and years. Over the past few years, the choices are so much greater. It’s so much easier to subscribe. And the quality is so excellent.

Here’s my top 10 list. As you can see, they skew heavily in favor of the BBC, because, well, I’m still a Brit. And the podcasts they produce are that good.

Continue reading 10 favorite podcasts that you might just find addictive

Walking to work life balance — thanks #FitBit, #Audible, #Withings, and #LoseIt

At Friend2Friend we’re shortly to be launching a very complex LinkedIn API integration on behalf of LinkedIn and Samsung, in our capacity as a leading Certified Developer Partner. Called “How Do You Match Up,” the campaign is designed to build awareness for the Samsung Knox phone.

Samsung "How Do You Match Up"
Samsung “How Do You Match Up”

One of the actions in the app is to ask visitors for tips on how they manage work/life balance. Presumably this aligns with the brand messaging for the Knox phone, which works as a personal and a work phone.  In testing the app, I naturally had to think of an answer, and that got me to appreciate the way technology has helped in whole new ways for me this year.

I was an early adopter of the #FitBit. I bought one almost as soon as it came out, and happily fell in and out of activity with it, regularly reaching 10,000 steps a day. But I did it alone.fitbit

2014 welcomed a whole new FitBit regimen.  With a small group of friends and family, I am now part of a FitBit ladder, where we regularly Taunt and Cheer who is at the top of the weekly walking list.  Having the FitBit, in combination with the ladder, has wholly changed my approach to my day. Small changes, like parking further away and always taking the stairs. One of our ladder actually empties the dishwasher one item at a time to get more steps….and wears it on her bath towel so as not to miss early morning steps. That’s some psychology at work.

But it has also encouraged huge changes, like my daily commute is now two hours of walking at what has been referred to as “a jaunty pace” for the round trip between home and Caltrain. At first this was a challenge, but now less so. I’ve discovered the family can wait an extra hour until I get home for me to cook dinner. And, actually, they can also shop well under instructions, and cook, so it’s even ready when I get home.

It’s all about psychology.  It’s amazing the difference ‘counting’ makes. And counting with friends is so much more fun. When I have done a studly 20,000 steps a day, I am cock-a-hoop. No doubt irritatingly so.

This has all added up to a huge difference in balancing work and life.  Instead of going to the gym, I walk and listen to books. I think about the day, and my plans. I make phone calls. I schedule appointments. I think of ideas for what to do this summer with the family. And I delegate parts of the running of the family to my capable teenagers. In combination with Audible’s impressive range of books, the walks are both invigorating for the mind, and the body. Finding the time is fun and welcome. And, finally, having linked together FitBit’s app with the Withings scale and LoseIt, I’ve also said goodbye to 15lbs since January.

This is wearable tech at its best.

Yes. The return of a storytelling indeed.

Yes. The return of a storytelling indeed.

So delighted to read this in the New York Times today. Audio books rock, and are not just for old people. But be sure to pick the ‘voice’ very, very carefully. Listen to the entire sample. You’re going to be ‘living’ with that voice for hours on end, so you’d better not find it in the least bit grating. Personally, I’m working through the slightly more dense members of the Guardian’s 1,000 “Must Read” books as audio books. Last weekend’s hikes allowed me to finish A Passage to India, narrated by Sam Dastor. Joyfully done. Bring it on,!

I’m starting to get TV on my own terms

Back in 2009, I wrote about how I wanted ‘movies on my own terms.’ I came across that blog recently.  I was pleased that things have got better, but I realize that we still have a way to go.

An update on the ‘hardware’ sitch… I still have TiVo and Amazon hooked up together. But now, purchasing is vastly improved, and I can instantly download from my Amazon account to the TiVo and have it appear in the list of shows to watch. Check.

I still have a Mac Mini attached to my TV via a video cable. I control that Mac Mini through screen share.  Yes, I realize I could buy AppleTV to do this, but actually having a ‘full’ Macintosh available is cool. I can stream photo slideshows in a screensaver while listening to Spotify music.  I can easily play DVDs of old family videos. It’s fun.

I used to have a Logitech Universal Remote that controlled the whole shebang, but that collapsed, mysteriously, right around the time they launched a new remote. But the price tag was just too steep — around $250.  I can get up off the sofa for a bit longer.

But here’s where we have a long way to go: global entertainment.

I am one of many members of a diaspora. I still love to watch English TV, news, even weather. (Especially weather!) I remain as massively disappointed in the dreck that passes for programming on BBC America as I was back in March 2009.  I can’t be the only one. In fact I know I’m not.  Almost anyone living in the States from anywhere else in the world still wants to stay in touch with entertainment and news from back home.

So why filter it? Why make us jump through hoops to get it unfiltered? Just give it to us. Unchanged. Just like we’re there. That’s what we want. Not filtered through the lens of some American programming team that thinks we want endless episodes of that idiot cook who says ‘fuck’ a lot… whose name I refuse to even remember at this moment.

Which brings me onto Netflix.

Last September, while out in my garden, I was listening to podcasts of the BBC show “Front Row.” The wonderful Mark Lawson talked to Ted Sarandos, head of content for the video on demand service, about the change in how we consume entertainment. The moment the show ended I bought (just a little bit– wish I’d bought more) of Netflix stock.  Here was someone (Ted Sarandos) who talked about the world as an audience for content. Good content. I got the hint (just a hint mind you) that Netflix had its eye on original programming that would work for audiences all over the world. Bring it on.

Indeed in Netflix’s recent earnings reports, Hastings specifically stated:

We haven’t been specific about what country or countries we’re going to expand to. So there’s a number of players in all the major markets and in the smaller markets. They’re all doing good work. I think what we’ve seen with our success in the UK is that there can be very strong players like the BBC iPlayer and LOVEFiLM and Sky and we can still build a very successful business. And so I think the key is having unique content, a great reputation, a good value proposition. And we can succeed and in many cases the competitors can also. So we mostly focus on finding good markets that love content and that will steadily expand in Europe.

Global programming with good content. Yes, the company has made some dumb moves. (Remember Qwikster?) But like Amazon, they’re willing to experiment. And they’re brave.  I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

G.K. Chesterton “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

Today in The Guardian I read this excellent synopsis of a lecture recently given by the author Neil Gaiman “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.”

Everyone should read it.

I am the proud owner of not one, but five Kindles (I think — I’ve lost count). I have bought every version since they first arrived at Amazon. My Kindle has over 150 books (I think — I’ve also lost count). Reading is an integral part of my life. I literally cannot remember a night that I haven’t read before sleep. It would be unthinkable. I experience a mild sense of panic as a good book ends, if I realize I don’t have something perfect queued up.

More recently, I’ve been listening to audio books too — a far more palatable way to re-visit the classics. As Mr Gaiman says, you can ‘kill’ a child’s love of books by pressing ‘the classics’ on them. They’ll hate them. Unless they are truly unusual.

So when someone begs you read Austen or Thomas Hardy, be cautious. Wonderful though they are, they can be indigestible to readers who aren’t quite as classics-fit as they once were, when their minds were supple at college or high school. (If indeed they even were back then.)

Listening to them read well is, however, a joy. This past week, I listened to A Passage to India by EM Forster, read by Sam Dastor. Mr Dastor separated the voices beautifully, though I did find the voice of Miss Quested a little grating. Listening to the book again reminded me of the confused and mixed up relationships between India and Britain, and the utter arrogance and stupidity of the Anglo-Indian communities. Beautifully and gently written. I fell in love with Dr Aziz all over again.

Now I’m well into remembering the courage and sadness of the beautiful Tess in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and read by Simon Vance, who does a pretty decent west country lilt.

Listening to books while you’re walking, exercising, or just doing boring housework is a gift indeed.

Reading is a luxury that everyone should have access to. Reading is like dreaming. It allows our minds to go on journeys to places our bodies are unable to go. So with that in mind, here are few more dreams I’ve read since Christmas that I really enjoyed:

Keep on reading!

How my iPad re-kindled my love affair with my Kindle

I apologize to my Kindle. The nice, light, easy to read Kindle that is now sitting comfortably in my handbag. Being a bit of a nerd, I buy all the new toys. And the Kindle was a must-have. But I soon fell out of love with the nasty keyboard, the lack of a touch interface, the flickery screen. But I did become addicted to the instant books I could get to deal with insomnia.

Then I got my iPad. With a Kindle app. Joy.
But about a year later, I have gone back to my Kindle. Why? It’s true. It IS readable in sunlight. It It IS light. I CAN hold it in one hand. All the things Jeff Bezos tells me.
But he’s getting it wrong. But I wouldn’t market it that way. He’s comparison marketing to the iPad. That’s not the point. People will use both. It’s inevitable, and it doesn’t really matter. The real dream he should be weaving is about how the world of books is available, instantly; that you can take your entire library on vacation, in your handbag; that you can get your kids a schoolbook instantly for that chapter they had to read tonight, and left in the classroom; that you can get a free sample of anything, and if you like it, buy it. (How many times have I bought a book that I’ve dropped after the first chapter. Mr Bezos has solved that.)
There are so, so many ways that Kindle is an integral part of my life. Weave the dream, and welcome back Kindle to my bedside table.

My first e-book vacation

I just returned from my first iPad vacation. For the very first time, I took not a single “physical” book. Just an iPad, pre-populated with some yummy literary treats. The outcome? Good, but mostly not so good.

Good because it was easy to pack and lightweight and convenient, and I could bring five books and know that if I didn’t like one I could try another.
Not so good for more reasons: first, I felt compelled to continue to check my e-mail while I was away. Hard not to. It was just a click away. Second, my kids snuck off with my iPad at every opportunity, to indulge in some Angry Bird baiting or heavy duty Facebook action. And finally, I couldn’t take it outside. The screen just doesn’t work in bright sunlight. And the beach? Forget it. I have no problem leaving a tatty paperback and a beach towel behind while I have a quick dip. But not my precious iPad.
So I won’t be doing that again. Unless it’s a solo/grown ups only trip to Florence or similar for the weekend.
Having said that, I’m reading a ton more at home. I’ve gone from reading about two books a month to four or five. I’m loving loving loving downloading Kindle samples. I am astonished at just how much money I am sending Amazon, and how lovingly they take care of me. They are figuring it out.
So I’m now officially fully embracing the e-book world. Just not on the beach.

I take it ALL back — thank you Amazon!

Back in October I ragged about the Kindle. In my defense, it was mostly about the touchy-feely bit of the Kindle. The device itself stunk, IMO.

As a passionate reader (been in the same Book Club for almost 16 years now) I have a highly emotional relationship with books and reading.

As an early adopter of technology, I bought the Kindle as soon as it came out. I had this plan that all my marketing wonk books could travel with me wherever I went, and when I needed to think about something, I could refresh my memory, get ideas, and get down with Seth Godin on demand.

But I really, really couldn’t deal with the Kindle. I hated the screen. It flashed all the time. I poked. I prodded. I lost my place in the book. I couldn’t browse. I pressed buttons too many times while waiting for updates, and went all over the wrong part of town. It made me feel old and stupid.

Then I got me my iPad. And I went away for a few days and forgot to bring my latest book with me (gasp). So I thought I’d test out the reading experience on the iPad and I bought the book I was then reading — along with the rest of the known world — Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Now I had been reading on the iPad lots. I wasn’t JUST playing Bejewelled…. I read loads of newspapers and Web sites on it. But I hadn’t read a book.

And now look at me. Two weeks later, and I’ve now read all three of Stieg’s books in rapid succession. (A Stieg binge if you like.) All on the Kindle App for the iPad.

It’s like crack. It’s an addiction. I can get (almost) any book I want. Instantly. I can dip in and out of books. My library is with me wherever I go. Before I knew it, I’d got the complete works of Shakespeare. I bought two Ian McEwan books within 2 minutes of each other — Solar (don’t miss it) and Comfort of Strangers (unsettling). I bought two more Seth Godin books. I bought the Odyssey for heaven’s sake. I was going book wild!

I wasn’t surprised to hear that Kindle versions of books are now outselling hard cover books. I was fascinated to read about Wiley’s new deal with Amazon for exclusive rights to e-versions of some of its books.

I still find the iPad tiring to read in long spells. But I like that I don’t need a book light now!

So I take it all back. I can be an e-reader. I can. I can. Guess I’m not so old and stupid after all.

Need a seriously good belly laugh?

I just love podcasts. And the BBC, I think, has some of the best out there. A new one I just ‘discovered’ is Friday Night Comedy Night. You can discover it here:

Do yourself a favor and subscribe. You may miss some of the jokes in America, due to the references to such delightful political clowns as Boris Johnson and (better known) Gordon Brown. But nonetheless, it’s worth it. It’s the kind of show that the creakingly un-funny “Wait, wait … don’t tell me” on NPR tries to be, and fails hopelessly.

Last night as I drove home down 280, I seriously needed cheering up. I listened to the latest show and was actually roaring with laughter. Thank you Sandi Toksvig.