Opinion

A Podcast To Give You The Creeps

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Halloween is quickly approaching, and for those that enjoy good ghost stories or creepy tales both old and new are in for a treat rather than trick. If you’re looking for a vast chilling mixture of horrifying true stories and bizarre historic folklore to go with the autumn weather, check out the Lore Podcast by Aaron Mahnke.

A bi-weekly podcast established in March of 2015, each episode of Lore features a small collection of short stories from master storyteller, writer, and producer Aaron Mahnke. Each episode is centered around an eerie theme that Aaron artfully crafts. I’m only about 30 episodes in at the time of this post, and one of my favorite episodes so far is one of the first episodes of the entire series Dinner at the Afterglow about the history and haunting stories surrounding a limestone monument on an island near Vancouver Island in Canada.

This is a great evergreen podcast, meaning you can enjoy listening to these episodes anytime of any year and not just around Halloween time. If listening to podcasts isn’t your thing, but you still want to experience the frightful tales of Aaron Mahnke, you can watch the stories unfold on his Amazon Prime series of the same name, now in its second season. You can also enjoy these dreadful tales the old fashioned way, through written word with the World of Lore books.

Have you already listened Lore? What’s your favorite episode? Got a podcast recommendation? Let me know in the comments down below!

On Wireless Headphones

 Photo by Aaron Yoo, CC BY-ND 2.0

Photo by Aaron Yoo, CC BY-ND 2.0

Earlier this week the batteries on my bluetooth headphones died and a funny thing happened: it reminded me why I prefer bluetooth headphones over wired headphones. Many people may think the batteries running out on headphones would be a large red mark in the "con" column when comparing them to their wired brethren, but I count batteries as a large "pro." Why? Because it had been five days since I charged my headphones - they lasted so long that I forgot.

The Freedom of Wireless

I cannot see myself going back to wired headphones for my smartphone ever again. The convenience and freedom given from bluetooth just cannot be matched with wired headphones. Bluetooth allows for maximum connection distance of approximately 30 feet without wires. That's a 30-foot radius of freedom where I can leave my phone in one place and walk around the apartment, my work desk, or anywhere else for that matter without worrying about whether my phone will get pulled off whatever surface I set it on. I don't need to worry about headphone wires getting tangled in my pocket when they're not in use because I can wear my bluetooth headset around the base of my neck all day. With automatic pairing, all I need to do is turn my bluetooth headphones on and they immediately connect to my phone. I don't need to dig my phone out of my pocket to plug in my headphones when I want to listen to something.

Just minutes after pulling out my backup pair of headphones which I keep for listening in on virtual meetings on my work laptop, I began to resent the restrictions the two or three feet of cordage I needed to manage and be conscious of at all time. Attempting to put my phone anywhere with the cable attached was an awkward ordeal, and the cables hanging down from my ears to my phone like some audio umbilical cord just made me more distracted. My forearm and hands constantly bumped the cabling and, when I needed to move around, I need to be wary of the armrests for my chair or the corners of my desk for fear of getting my headphone cable hooked and the earbuds torn off of my head or phone pulled out of my pocket.

The main criticism I hear from people is that getting a set of bluetooth headphones just means remembering to charge yet another device. Sure, much like how knives don't need reloading, wired headphones don't need recharging. However, the sacrifice in mobility and agility isn't enough for me to justify using wired headphones again. Plus, unless I'm listening to something nonstop for at least 6 hours, recharging my headphones is not enough of an inconvenience, if it can even be considered one. I typically go for days without charging my headphones after normal use, and, when I do need to give them some extra juice, a short 10 to 15 minutes on a USB cable will give them enough power to get me through the remainder of any day. With the increasing prevalence of USB-C and wireless Qi charging for smartphones and other devices, it is only a matter of time before charging a wireless headset becomes less of an issue.

My Headphones

I have a pair of LG HBS-750 bluetooth headphones. The kind that look like a tech necklace of sorts. Previously, I owned bluetooth headsets like those from Jabra or Jawbone - the kind that hang off one ear, made you look like cyborg when viewed from one angle, and made you look like some crazy person having a conversation with yourself when viewed from another. I used them so I could listen to podcasts, but after their inevitable malfunctioning from use and wear, I needed to move on to another, more robust model.

I've owned this particular pair from LG for going on two years, and I don't know why I would ever go back to wired headphones when I'm on the go again. This pair is comfortable, light, hardly noticeable after I tuck them underneath the collar of my button-up over-shirt, and always quickly accessible when I want to listen to something. The battery life is fantastic. I use them several hours a day, and even after keeping them on standby because I forgot to turn them off when I'm not using them, I usually go three days or more without needing to put them on a charger. Even when they do need a charge, a quick 10 to 20 minutes on a micro USB cable will give them enough charge for me to finish my day.

The weakest part of them from my experience is their poor call quality. I can listen to phone calls with reasonable clarity, but when attempting to have a conversation through them I get comments 98% from the person on the other end that it's hard to understand me or that I sound far away.

Overall I'm impressed with these headphones. Considering I bought them at around $70 a couple of years ago and they're still operating to this day after daily use, this pair of headphones definitely earned every penny of their worth.

Edge Case

I understand I'm probably an edge case when it comes to headphones and audio. A majority of the audio content I listen to are podcasts or audiobooks, with actual music making up a small portion of my overall listening time. Due to most of my audio experience being spoken word, overall quality is not as much of an important factor to me as an audiophile.

My want for gadgets and other tech keeps me interested in chasing the dragon of the next cool device, and I'm currently on the lookout for my next pair of bluetooth headphones. I think you should be too. With the rising trend of smartphones without a headphone jack, with the iPhone 7/8/X and now the Pixel 2 just to name a few, bluetooth headphones will be gaining in popularity regardless of where your loyalty may lie.

Book Review: The Art of Social Media

I just blazed through The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users, the latest book from Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick regarding online social presence. I believe this should be on any current Social Media Marketer/Analyst/Strategist's reading list. Even though I've used the major social media platforms discussed in the book for years (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.), I still walked away with some great insights on how I can enhance my usage across these various platforms.

Tons of Tips

This book is packed with hundreds of social media tips (123 to be exact). These tips range from just basics in social media to help establish your brand (picking a screen name, what kind of pictures to use for your profile, etc.) to using advanced features of specific platforms (e.g. Chapter 8 - How To Run Google+ Hangouts on Air).

In addition, Guy and Peg give a plethora of online web services and tools that can be used to provide interesting or entertaining content (Chapter 2 - Feed the Content Monster) or help in publishing posts to multiple platforms and streamlining or scheduling posts to different social media outlets. There are also a number of online tools that can enhance the usage of a specific platform, such as Twubs for tracking Twitter hashtags or Tiberr for increasing exposure of one's blog post. I even used Guy's graphic tool service, Canva, mentioned in the book to create a quick and easy graphic for this review.

Some Criticisms

Most of the information found in this book is very useful, but as Guy and Peg point out, "No matter how smart you are, best practices always change, because the platforms change how their sites work." Technology moves fast and iterates quickly, and the same can be applied directly to social media. If you're going to read this book, read it soon and quickly, because even though this book was published in December of 2014 it's starting to become outdated. For example, Guy mentions how to "Use Comments and +1s to Run Polls [on Google+]." However, Google added a built-in polling feature to Google Plus in October of 2014, so there's no longer a need to use the workaround of adding comments to a post and use the +1s as "votes" in his example.

My own personal tip: if you're going to read this book, get the eBook version from Amazon or the book's website. The eBook contains hundreds of useful URLs to the services and examples listed throughout the book, and you can quickly jump to the example or resource provided with a quick click of the mouse or tap of the finger. I do not recommend reading the physical dead-tree version like I did. Although I could Google many of the tools Guy and Peg mention in their book, it still left me with frustrations of not being able pull up several examples while reading. The screenshots and pictures were sometimes difficult to make out in the printed examples as well.
 

The Bottom Line...

All in all, whether you're just starting out in social media or perceive yourself as a seasoned veteran in the social arena, this quick and easy read contains plenty of useful nuggets to extract and help you increase your online presence.

Update: As Guy points out in the comments, physical book readers can got here to find a digital document containing all of the URLs listed in the book.

Apple Shows Ominous Power in U2 Release

iTunes Store - iPad_MBP_iPhone Apple's September 9th keynote ended with a concert from rock band U2 and the announcement that the band's latest album, Songs of Innocence, would be released for free on iTunes. What Apple somewhat touched upon, but didn't really mention, was that the album would be added automatically to every iTunes user's library whether the user wanted the album. When I first learned about this publicity move, I immediately checked the Music app on my iPad. Sure enough, there was U2's album sitting in my library, ready to be downloaded from Apple's servers. This move caused quite a stir online, yielding both positive and negative reactions, but mostly negative. The response was so strong that Apple created a support page with a step-by-step process on how to remove the album from one's iTunes library.

Apple Spilled U2 in my iTunes

I'm not really a fan of U2. They made some good singles, but I never actively sought out to listen to one of their albums in the past, and I probably won't in the future. When I first found Apple had spilled U2 in my iTunes, I didn't think too much of it. It was added to my iTunes cloud, and I could download it later whenever I want what whatever Apple device I choose. I enjoy free music and frequently check the Google Play Store, Amazon, and iTunes for new free music downloads. It helps me explore my musical tastes and branch out to find new artists. When Apple gave me a free album from what, in my opinion, is a moderately good artist I thought "Ok, free music. Great." If I didn't like some songs, I would just do what I do with every other song I don't like: I delete it from my library. No harm, no foul. Then I reflected upon the stunt Apple pulled with this U2 album a little more.

Apple Put U2 in my iTunes

I'm sure Apple had the best intentions in mind. CEO Tim Cook and even former CEO and the late Steve Jobs repeated that Apple has a passion for music, so releasing a brand new album exclusively on iTunes from the same band which Apple designed a special edition iPod for made sense. It's clear that Apple loves U2, and Apple wanted to share that love by giving U2's music to their users. Of course, Apple gets the side-effect of being able to tout that U2's album release is the largest in history at the same time. I imagine it's easy to say that when you force an album into the libraries of approximately 800+ million iTunes accounts. This action has broader implications, in my opinion.

What I can't get past, despite Apple's best intentions, is that Apple forced something on me and millions of other people without our consent. One quick look at Twitter shows confusion, anger, and feelings of an invasion of privacy at having this unknown U2 and their music mysteriously appear on people's iPhones, iPads, and iTunes libraries. Many didn't know it was the work of the very same company that sold them the products they use to listen to music, which Apple apparently paid upwards of $100 million to bring this album to everyone for free. Some people will brush this off as a case of others wining about getting something they didn't want for free, but I don't believe we should be so quick to dismiss this issue.

Harmless Intentions, Ominous Repercussions

This whole conundrum could have been easily avoided if Apple simply made the album free to download from iTunes and publicizing the album's availability instead of taking the short route and putting the album directly onto everyone's iTunes library. Even meaning the best, Apple has shown a potentially darker side of controlling an entire ecosystem and what power that holds. In this case, it was a harmless musical album - an album Apple was able to push out, virtually instantaneously, to millions of iTunes accounts world wide. Many of those that received this album had preferences set on their devices in such a way that the music was automatically downloaded to the device. Apple demonstrated its ability to put data on millions of devices regardless of customer consent whenever Apple wanted. This data could be anything from music, video, a much needed iOS software update, or even an app all because Apple deems it necessary be it for security, marketing, or whatever reason Apple wants. The implications, to me, are quite chilling.

Do I believe Apple has ill intentions to abuse this type of power? No. I hope Apple actually learned a valuable lesson about forcing something on their users and makes more careful, responsible decisions in the future. I do believe this is the biggest PR incident to happen with Apple since the Maps app fiasco in iOS 6 or the Antennagate debacle with the iPhone 4, but most of the press is missing the ramifications this forced album release shows: Apple can put whatever they want on your Apple-branded device, whenever they want. This ultimately leads to the question of, "How much does one trust Apple to make the right decisions from here on out?" Personally, I still hold a great deal of trust in Apple and hope they continue on with a responsible focus on security, quality, and integrity of their products.

What do you think about Apple's actions of placing this album in to your iTunes library? Is it no big deal? Are you concerned? Let me know in the comments down below!