Beaded Badge Lanyards

My friend Dawn also works in IT. We both have had badges to wear at work, and we both attend conferences, where you also wear badges. Mostly the badges are on fiber-lanyards, and whether you’re at a jeans-and-t-shirt SF con, or IT moss agate, green-blue ceramic beads, sterling silver beadsconference, you look like a dork. And if you’re wearing business wear, a lanyard pretty much destroys your professional look. small image of a glass-and-stone beaded lanyardDawn, a beader, has come up with a nifty alternative: beaded badge lanyards. Dawn hand-makes and custom designs necklaces using a variety of natural precious and semi-precious stones, glass, crystal, and metal beads. The necklaces can be easily, and quickly transformed into badge lanyards, and then back to a necklace again. You can even purchase (or commission) matching bracelets and earrings. What’s cool is that there are a number of different lanyard-and-badge-holder styles, including one with a retractor for swipe cards. She makes eye-glass chains too.

Do go look at Dawn’s Etsy store, and her Flickr pages. There’s something for every taste, style, and budget, and it’s not too soon for your holiday shopping.

Bloggers As Public Intellectuals

I’m blogging another panel I heard at L.A.Con IV; this one was on blogging.

Speaker(s): MaryAnn Johanson, Phil Plait, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Kevin Drum, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Cory Doctorow (Moderator).

H.L. Mencken, Edmund Wilson, I.F. Stone, Germaine Greer, Gertrude Stein, Hannah Arendt all gained prominence as American public intellectuals through newspaper columns and books of collected essays. Is the Blogosphere spawning a contemporary generation of important public thinkers? Who are the ones you can’t afford to miss? What are they saying?

The panelists introduced themselves, and spoke a little bit about their reactions to being described as “public intellectuals,” and their impressions about the intellectuals they were associated with. Kevin Drum referred to a recent article in Mother Jones News which compared bloggers and nineteenth century pamphlet writers. This idea is not new. Patrick Nielsen Hayden suggested that I. F. Stone, particularly with respect to Stone’s I. F. Stone Weekly, might be considered a proto-blogger. MaryAnn Johanson described one of the virtues of blogging as “no corporate gate keepers telling us what we can and can not say” (this is unfortunately increasingly not the case).

Cory Doctorow discussed the idea of blogging as “terse,” with respect to BoingBoing, because the content is driven by the constraints of RSS. Readers of BoingBoing increasingly read it via an RSS reader, so that terse content is more effective. Doctorow is essentially talking about the Economics of Attention. BoingBoing might be competing for a reader’s attention along side a thousand or three other blogs; terse, specific, effective subjects and descriptions are thus more effective at grabbing attention. This is much like the idea behind much journalism; that the shape of the column or article is like an inverted pyramid; the basic information is neatly, effectively, presented at the base of the pyramid, preferably in an attention-grabbing way, and increasingly, the information is increasingly less important so that the tip of the pyramid, and the end of the post, has unimportant details.

MaryAnn Johanson spoke about “blogs as conversations,” and about the fact that the underlying software tools, the blogging systems, ease writing because “the software takes care of it for me.”

Teresa Nielsen Hayden picked up on the idea of the blog as conversation and observed that “if you [blog] using the classic, closed, essay form, you leave your reader no place or point to comment.” This led to a discussion of post length, which, again, relates to an economics of attention. Several panelists commented on the importance of voice, and the idea that blogs are personality driven. Phil Plait mentioned PZ Myer’s Pharyngula, an an example, and Cory Doctorow mentioned Fafblog.

MaryAnn Johanson closed by observing that Cory Doctorow had recently finished an 80K word book by using pieces he’d previously posted on BoingBoing as his research fodder; this is an instance of the blog as commonplace book. Patrick Nielsen Hayden closed by observing that “The uses to which people put your writing is not necessarily what you had in your mind” when you wrote it.

Podcasting Resources

I attended the World Science Fiction Convention, L.A.Con IV, where, among other things, I listened to a panel discussion on pod casting on August 24th. Here’s the official description from the program guide:

Podcasting Science Fiction Speaker(s): Stephen Eley, Evo Terra, John O’Halloran, Paul Fischer (Moderator)

Is there a market for science fiction and fantasy via podcast? Is there even an audience? Can you make money directly or is it just a way to get your material known? If you’re a reader/consumer, is this a good way to find science fiction and just how do you find what you want?

The panel began with an overview of what podcasting is, with some discussion of its virtues. John O’Halloran likes the fact that podcasts are available on demand; the data is available when you want it, primarily because of the use of RSS and other Web services to distribute podcasts. Fischer agreed, emphasizing that it’s what you want, when you want it, and if you decide you don’t want it, you simply stop downloading it. Evo Terra added that if you don’t find what you want in terms of a podcast, then you can create it. He also mentioned the importance of receiving a response from listeners via email or blog comments.

Since many of the audience weren’t yet making or downloading podcasts, a fair amount of time was spent on basic information in terms of locating, listening to, and creating podcasts. You don’t need an iPod to download or play podcasts; the normal file format for a podcast is an MP3 file, playable in iPods and hosts of other MP3 players, on computers, a number of CD-ROM and audio CD players, and of course, MP3s can easily be converted to other audio formats and even burned to an audio CD.

Apple’s free iTunes player, for Mac and Windows is an easy way to locate and play podcasts. Some people prefer the free Mac or Windows application MyPodder from PodCastReady.com, which allows you to find and download podcasts to a variety of media and devices. Other ways of finding podcasts, aside from the usual ‘net sources like word of mouth, or positive mentions on Web logs and Web pages, are dedicated services, like SFFAudio.com, which offers reviews of SF and Fantasy audio in a variety of formats, both online and off. PodcastPickle.com is a searchable directory of podcasts, organized by name, by genre, by language and by popularity.

The following are suggestions, and pointers, for the beginning podcaster, culled from the panel participants and not necessarily attributed:

  • Get a decent microphone. It doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re doing spoken word.
  • iRiver MP3 players like the T30 support voice recording and work with Windows; they’re good enough to use for recording live interviews and spoken word.
  • If you’re recording a group of people, Paul Fischer suggests putting a microphone inside a salad bowl, and have someone point it at the speaker; it’s an inexpensive but effective parabolic microphone.
  • Liberated Syndication is a syndication and hosting service. For a flat monthly fee they provide server space (starting at 100 MB/$5.00) for your actual podcast file, an RSS feed, and an interface to distribute your podcast. LibSyn also works with extant blogs, they charge only for storage, not bandwidth, and provide archive storage so old podcasts are still accessible but don’t affect your monthly storage total.
  • Think about using Skype for phone interviews.
  • Paul Fischer suggests that you listen to your podcast in all the ways you think your audience might; on a computer with speakers, using headphones, in a car, on an MP3 player . . . make sure the sound is OK for each.
  • RSS or some other form of Web service for syndication, which allows listeners to subcribe to your podcast and download it automatically, is crucial. PodPress is a plugin for the WordPress blogging system that takes care of the syndication/RSS feed for you as part of your blog. Feeder is a $29.95 Mac OS X (PowerPC and Universal) application that takes care of creating the RSS feed for your podcast. Feedburner is another alternative.
  • CreativeCommons licenses are an easy way to protect your rights to your content to the extent you feel comfortable about, yet allow listeners to freely download and use your content.
  • Apple’s GarageBand 3 for OS X makes podcast production and editing very easy but do be sure to correctly export the default GarageBand Podcast file to an AIFF, then compressing and converting it to an MP3 file (possibly with QuickTimePro) which is universally usable and listenable instead of the default M4A iPod/ACC/Apple only format. There are some suggestions about how to do that and even an Automator workflow, and a step-by-step-tutorial. Also see Apple’s Podcasting tutorial and Podcasting resources. Audacity for OS X and Windows is an opensource and free alternative.
  • Steven Eley suggests working with some sort of a script, even if it’s only a list of topics, doing multiple takes, then editing. He uses a dog clicker to mark the spot when he knows he has a slip; the sound produced by the clicker creates a distinctive sound wave form in the editing software, making it easy to edit out the error.
  • In general, advice about creating a podcast include the suggestion to talk slowly, and to think of your first podcast as -5, and that your sixth is the one you actually release to the world. Subject-specific podcasts do better; find a niche. Don’t bother with paying for Google text ads; link to other bloggers and podcasters, get listed in the directories, and ask other podcasters to link to you.

Women and WWDC

Dori is unhappy about missing the Webloggers’ dinner. There wasn’t a special invite list; Buzz issued a general invitation back in April. I think I saw it on Brent’s site.I’m sorry Dori wasn’t there; I would have liked to have seen other women bloggers there, or, better still, more women at WWDC. I always have to make a bit of an adjustment when I switch from humanities to technology in terms of the male to female ratio, but this year at WWDC it seems like there are fewer women than there were in 2001 and 2002. There were 300 student scholarships this year, and 3500 attendees total. I never saw another female student; I heard that there was another. Usually there are three or four of us.

A lot of the women I did see work for Apple, so it’s not like there’s a conspiracy to avoid women. I suspect there just aren’t enough women applicants to Computer Science programs in schools, which of course affects the numbers of students applying for WWDC scholarships, and the number of women companies can hire. I’m not sure how to solve that—part of the problem in terms of women majoring in comp sci is that there aren’t enough role models for younger women trying to decide on majors and careers. I also suspect that, because of cultural assumptions, acculturation, and maybe even biological differences in neural structures, women think differently about programming than many men, and women may be drawn to or encouraged to pursue non-engineering roles in technology. Having said that, yes, of course I know brilliant engineers and programmers who are female—I’m just not sure current U.S. educational systems, cultures, and society encourage women to pursue technolgy as a career.

But I also think there are professions that are under represented at technical conferences like WWDC, some of which are more likely to have women engaging in them than others. Women with backgrounds in linguistics, and design, and UI, for instance. There’s more to shipping software than engineering and marketing departments. People always ask, at technical conferences, what I do if I don’t write code. I tell them that I’m a translator, translating between managers, administrators or content experts, and programmers, developers, and engineers. In some places, I’d be described as a “technical liaison.” I also have lots of experience with technical writing, and user-centric testing— I’ve been described as a user advocate. That means that even though I don’t write code (I don’t count scripting languages in this context, though I should probably count Perl) I need to understand the basic principles of writing and organizing and testing code, and I need to understand the underlying technologies and tools, in order to place them in context for others. People like us are at WWDC too, we’re just less noticeable.