Saturday, November 19, 2022

Stuck waiting? Doing mindless chores? Don't be frustrated or bored: Fire up a podcast & learn or just be entertained.


When your body must be present, but your mind isn't engaged... 


Not everything we do requires our full mental engagement. Whether it's a "mindless" chore or an unavoidable waiting period, it can be boring or downright frustrating to find yourself stuck "killing time" with your brain disengaged. What's the solution? For me, it's podcasts! 

Here are some perfect opportunities to tamp down your boredom or impatience and crank up your mental engagement with podcasts: 
  • Waiting in line at the bank or shopping
  • Waiting for a ride
  • Travelling on a bus, train or plane
  • Slogging through traffic while driving to work, running errands or on a road trip
  • Exercising
  • Showering, shaving, putting on makeup and generally getting ready for your day
  • Doing household chores or yard work 
  • Cooking or cleaning up after the meal
I find that doing any of the above while listening to podcasts makes the time pass much more quickly. And since most podcasts are designed as pure listening experiences (no video screen needed), I'm free to use my eyes to pay attention to traffic or shaving or my tool/chores or whatever.  Best of all, depending on the podcast I'm listening to, I come away from the otherwise boring experience having learned something new or useful. 

Say "No" to YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and other algorithm-driven time wasters.


A typical response to mindless work or waiting is to click through Facebook posts or the algorithm-driven freak shows that are served up by TikTok or YouTube. Sure, these can help you pass the time. But they are a kind of mental candy, engaging your brain in a quick and often stimulating way, but leaving you hungry when the engagement is over. Wouldn't it be better to spend these little bursts of down time learning something useful or digging deeper into one of your interests?

Who's in charge: A mindless algorithm or your own conscious choices?

Say "Yes" to your podcasts & your content stream on your schedule.


Podcasts are the answer to dealing with mental "downtime." They give you your own custom-tailored content stream which you can access at your own pace and on your own schedule. Specifically: 
  • You can pause them when you need to switch your attention to your otherwise boring chore and then pick them up later. 
  • If you miss something because your chore needs you for a few minutes, you can easily "rewind" the podcast and go back and repeat what you missed.
  • You can listen to them at high speed, without chipmunk voices, but with the pauses and spaces squeezed out. (See the settings in your podcast player or this on Google Podcasts' "Podcast Controls" from PC Mag, for details.)
  • You can save them for later and even binge listen to a whole series you may have missed.  
  • With today's smart speakers (Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.) you can do all of the above completely hands free while you move around your house. 
  • Using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay you can start or continue listening to your Google Podcasts (and most other podcast apps) while you drive. 

How to Get Started 


Are you new to podcasts? Here's an easy way to get started: 
  1. Get the Google Podcasts app. It's easy to use, it's free and it leverages Google's powerful search capabilities to unearth all kinds of brilliant and crazy podcasts. Get it here: 
  2. Decide on one or more topics you want to learn about or subject areas you might find simply find entertaining. For example, comedy podcasts are among the most popular. But so are podcasts that provide "how to"  info, political analysis, tech updates/analyses and business/market news.  
  3. Search your chosen topic using Google Podcasts' search function and see what comes up.
  4. Review the brief descriptions of the podcasts that turned up in the search. 
  5. If something looks good you can either subscribe (almost always for free) to get automatic updates of that podcast or "test drive" the podcast by playing a few episodes to see if you want to commit to the subscription.
    (Note: Most podcasts are free and supported by ads. Rarely, I'm told, a podcast is only available behind a paywall. I can't confirm that, since I've never paid for a podcast. Re: ads... it's easy to fast forward through the ads if they are obnoxious.)
Pro Tip: One of my favorite features of Google Podcasts is the ability to download podcasts and store them, then sequence them in a custom playlist. This way when you're offline you can play these without incurring any data charges for downloads. This can be especially useful when you're waiting for an appointment somewhere deep within a building or some other location where there is no cell service.

For your consideration: That's a actually a podcast?!?


Podcasts: Plenty of topics to choose from...

To show you the wide range of podcasts that are available, I did a quick Google Podcasts search using a bunch of different search terms. Here's a sample of what I found: 

A Few of My Favorite Podcasts



Here are my six absolute favorite podcasts: 
  • Up First from NPR - Provides context for major news you'll hear about later in the day
  • NPR News Now - A quick, 5 minute summary of the latest news, updated hourly, 24/7
  • This Week in Google (Audio) A huge, rambling discussion (2 - 3 hours!) about Google and all things related to the web and smart home with Leo Laporte and my favorite feisty tech geeks
  • Marketplace - An interesting daily summary of business & marketplace news for regular people
  • Left, Right & Center - A balanced analysis/debate of the week's top political topics
  • PBS Newshour - Segments - A collection of brief, individual segments (audio only) from PBS' nightly Newshour [Also available: PBS NewsHour - Full Show]
And I also enjoy these podcasts:
  • This Week in Tech (Audio) "...  top tech journalists and pundits in a roundtable discussion of the latest trends in tech." 
  • The Audio Long Read "... a selection of the Guardian’s long reads... including in-depth writing from around the world on immigration, crime, business, the arts and much more."
  • Marketplace Tech "... demystifies the digital economy in less than 10 minutes."
  • On the Media "... [This] Peabody Award-winning... podcast is your guide to examining how the media sausage is made."
  • The Good News Podcast "... your thrice weekly reminder that not all news is bad."
  • The New Yorker Radio Hour "... The New Yorker’s award-winning writers, editors and artists ... present a weekly mix of profiles, storytelling, and insightful conversations about the issues that matter."

Actually, just about everybody's got a podcast!


It's amazing how many television shows, radio shows and YouTube programs, which would normally  require you to sit and stare at a screen, are also available as in-your-ears, downloadable podcasts to use on-the-go! In addition to the PBS NewsHour (as noted above), many regular ABC, NBC, and CBS news programs are available as audio podcasts. Even such venerable network offerings as Face the Nation, Meet the PressThis Week with George Stephanopoulos and 60 Minutes can be downloaded to your podcast player.  And if you are a regular NPR listener, like I am, you'll be pleased to know that almost all NPR programs, even some of your local station content, are available as discrete podcasts.

What I've shared above are just examples. And they might not interest you. But you need only name a topic and there's probably a podcast out there that deals with it. See for yourself: Just go to Google Podcasts and search for topic, subject or whatever that might interest you. You'll be surprised what you find. 

Conclusion


Remember: When you're faced with mental downtime, the choice is yours. Will you get sucked into mindlessly thumbing through Facebook posts or the algorithm-driven freak shows served up by TikTok, YouTube and the like? Or will you make the decision to listen to stuff that you hand pick for yourself to enlighten or entertain you on your own terms? 

Take charge! And enjoy.

Related Articles


Thanks, DALL-E! 

This image of a smart speaker, which I used in the intro graphic in this article, was generated by the DALL-E AI art generator which is now available for free for anyone to use. While I don't remember exactly what I asked DALL-E to generate, it went something like this: "smiley face, smart speaker, cartoon." I got several results and finally settled on the one above. Pretty cool, eh? AndI owe ZERO ROYALTIES for using it!  You can learn more about DALL-E here

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Too confused to VOTE? Get fast, accurate info on local candidates, issues & where/how to vote.


This article will help you:
  1. Quickly get accurate info on any candidate or issue that is on your ballot. (i.e., Eliminate confusion about the candidate or issue.)
  2. Quickly find out how and where to vote in your particular voting jurisdiction. (i.e., Eliminate logistical confusion about casting your ballot.)
So if you feel stuck in a state of "analysis paralysis" or logistical overwhelm about the upcoming election, you can use the tools below to get unstuck! 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Worth the Money: My Top 5 Paid Android Apps

What makes an app worth paying for? 

There are three criteria that make me willing to shell out a little cash for an app:

  • It's really good at what it does. That is, it's powerful, efficient, does something unique/amazing or it's a real time saver.
  • I use it a lot and I don't want to be distracted by ads! Maybe I'm spoiled by years of ad-free media streaming and browser ad-blockers, but seeing ads in an app that I frequently use drives me nuts! So I'm glad to pay a reasonable fee to remove the ad clutter.
  • I want to support the app's developers. After all, if I don't want them to monetize their app with ads and they have created an app that I really value, then I have a moral obligation to see that they somehow get paid for their work!

The apps described below meet all three of these criteria. If you're an Android user, you should consider them. (FYI, Apple users: a couple of these are also available for iOS.)

AccuWeather Premium 

Screenshot of AccuWeather Premium listing at Google Play Store

This is my always-on app. I use it several times a day to track outdoor conditions and help me decide when to exercise, how to dress/sunscreen for the weather, when to plan/postpone errands, etc. And I find their predictions to be extremely accurate, so they truly live up to their name! Their Play Store listing summarizes: 

"[AccuWeather provides]... Live weather forecasts including:

  • MinuteCast® forecasts for Minute by Minute® precipitation updates [Note: In my experience these are amazingly accurate! I have timed many outdoor exercise sessions down to the minute between rain events by using these. -- MG]
  • Local weather including severe weather alerts, temperature, precipitation, and allergy outlooks for your day 
  • WinterCast™: winter weather forecasts giving you advanced warnings of snowfall probabilities and accumulation
  • Daily forecasts include rain probability, cloud coverage, wind, live radar, air quality index, snowfall, and even UV index
  • Advanced weather radar gives you up to the minute views of storm tracking, snow, rain, ice, temperature changes, and much more
  • RealFeel® & RealFeel Shade Temperature™ technology helping you get a better sense of how the weather actually feels... "

The Google Play Store listing provides lots more details. Apple users please note that the app is also available at the Apple App Store

Bitdefender Mobile Security 

Screenshot: Bitdefender Mobile app from Google Play Store

It's this simple. I have installed Bitdefender on each of our Android devices to help protect them. With a single yearly subscription you can install the app on as many devices and for as many users as you wish. (I got a 50% discount for the first year at $7.99.) Currently I have the app running on 10 devices (3 phones, 5 tablets & 2 Chromebooks) belonging to my wife and me. I manage these through the separate, but free, Bitdefender Central app. 

From their Play Store listing:  

"...Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus is the most powerful antivirus app for Android. It protects your smartphone and tablet against viruses, malware and online threats and keeps your private information secure from hackers... Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android - 5 TIMES winner of AV-Test’s “Best Android Security Product” (2021, 2020, 2017, 2016, 2015). Try it free for the first 14 days."

Bitdefender Central is a "free management tool for all your Bitdefender security products..."  Bitdefender Central places your local and network cyber security at your fingertips. Use it to control security for all your Bitdefender-protected devices... With Bitdefender Central you can:

  • Install Bitdefender protection on all your devices
  • Manage security and protect your kids online
  • Scan, clean and optimize any device remotely
  • Get instant notification whenever Bitdefender detects a threat
  • Quickly access your activity dashboard
  • Receive security updates for your devices 24/7

The Google Play Store listing provides lots more details. Apple users please note that the app is also available at the Apple App Store

CloudPlayer Platinum 

Screenshot: CloudPlayer Platinum app from Google Play Store

I use this app several times a day to stream my own MP3 music files, for free, from their storage locations on my various cloud drives to my earbuds, smart speakers, etc. (See details about my process here: "Replacing Google Play Music: How I Store & Stream 22 GB of My Own Music (MP3s) for a One-Time Cost of $7.99")

Here's a summary from their Play Store listing, my bold added: 

"CloudPlayer is a revolutionary music player that puts you in control of your music, no matter where it's stored. Use it as an offline music player or link your Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive [Google Drive is supported for existing users only, not new users] to create a giant cloud jukebox for all your music. Stream or download from your cloud accounts for offline playback. Enjoy built-in cloud playlist back-up & sync, Chromecast support, hi-fidelity FLAC & ALAC lossless sound, gapless playback, 10-band EQ, Android Wear & Android Auto support and more."

[Note to Apple users: It appears that this app is not available for iOS devices. However, the publisher's website has an entire page with topics devoted to "doubleTwist for Mac OSX." I know nothing about the Apple/iOS world, so you'll have to investigate this on your own here. Sorry! -- MG]   

Package Buddy Pro 

Screenshot: Package Buddy Pro app from Google Play Store

I've been using this for years to track all my packages, regardless of shipper, across all my devices (tablets, phone, Chromebook). Just enter the tracking code and (optionally) add your custom name for the shipment and the app picks up all the rest of the info from the web. Open the app to see the updated progress of your shipment. It also keeps a historical record of stuff I've sent/received. Recently I counted well over 100 carriers tracked by these guys! (See the whole list at their Play Store listing). 

[This app does not appear to be available at the Apple App Store.] 

PDF converter pro & PDF editor - pdf merge

Screenshot PDF converter pro from Google Play Store

I don't use this often, but when I need it it proves to be a real powerhouse for manipulating, converting and generally doing anything you want with PDFs. Their Play Store listing summarizes (I've substantially edited for brevity --MG)

"PDF Converter & PDF Editor is very comprehensive tool to perform various operations on PDF files: 

  • Convert Word (or Doc) files to PDF file 
  • Convert JPG Image to PDF file 
  • Convert a html webpage into PDF and save for later
  • Merge/Combine PDF documents into a single one.
  • Split PDF file into smaller units.
  • Encrypt your PDF file & add password protection
  • Remove password from a file
  • Delete selected pages
  • Extract selected pages (and extract graphics)
  • Add a watermark to your file
  • Rotate selected pages of a file
  • Compress (reduce size) of a PDF document

[This app does not appear to be available at the Apple App Store, though there are many PDF editors and converters listed there. For more on what's out there for your iOS device, see techradar's "Best PDF reader for Mac 2022: Free and paid" or iGeeksblog's Best PDF editors for iPhone and iPad in 2022 [Reviewed]

Conclusion

Over the years I've paid for many more apps than the above five. Some of those I've bought are oddball, esoteric or have proven to be not so useful over time. I decided to share the apps above, however, because each is powerful, a good value and can be valuable for almost anyone! So I hereby endorse them as being worth the small purchase price they ask from their users. If you need any of the capabilities they provide, I highly recommend you check them out! 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Project Management: "A Technology of Manifestation"

(Sometimes it takes someone on the outside looking in to provide you with that “whack on the side of the head” that changes the meaning of what you are doing. Such was the case with this simple email from a student.)

A while back I taught an online class based on my book, The Project Management Minimalist. After the class I received this email from one of the attendees: 

“Thank you for your class, ‘Become a Project Management Minimalist!’ The practical tools and skills-in-attitude you teach are a source of inspiration and clarity for me. As a young project manager with a passion for social impact, I’m clear that the tools you share will help me become an effective presence for my community and teams. Project management as you teach it is truly a technology of manifestation! — Best Wishes, Soheil Majd

As you might imagine, I’m always glad to get good feedback from a class participant. Most of the time, when I teach one of these online classes, I feel a bit like The Maytag Repairman: I’m fairly sure I provided a useful product, but I seldom hear much feedback from the attendees. 

But beyond the fact that someone took the trouble to thank me, Soheil’s email really stuck with me. I found myself going back and reading it several times, largely because of the unusual perspective he expressed about the session.

Here are some of his unexpected insights that stuck with me:

“… practical tools and skills-in-attitude… are a source of inspiration and clarity…”

Now I am well aware that my classes focus on practical tools and skills. That’s no accident. I value the practical and the useful above all else. I’ve always believed that all the esoteric and complex PM theory is of absolutely no value if isn’t embraced and easily put to use. So, the litmus test for me of any PM tool or practice is “Is this practical and useful in the real world?”

However, the phrase “skills-in-attitude” is a fascinating one! I am conscious that I try to share with my PM newbie students the attitude of “project manager as facilitator.” And I’m also aware that I encourage PM newbies to apply all PM tools and processes gently and respectfully, so as not to get in the way of the smart people on their teams doing their jobs according to their professional best practices. But this phrase, “skills in attitude” was a wonderful leap that Soheil made — a real insight. The PM practice of an attitude of respect and deference toward the professional skills brought by the team, when applied repeatedly to each of the “nuts and bolts” tools I shared, turns out to be essentially a “meta skill.” In other words, it’s truly a “skill in attitude.” Wow! Who knew? 

“… will help me become an effective presence for my community and teams.”

Now translating this concept of “being a presence” in the real-world while inside a whirling, activity-filled project is difficult. The best a new project manager can do is simply be vigilant for opportunities to help… be alert to potential obstacles and remove them… be ready to fight for your team so they can do their work unencumbered by administrivia. I now see that all this translates to “become an effective presence for my community and teams.” Well, said, Soheil!

“Project management as you teach it is truly a technology of manifestation."

Now, to be honest, it is the sentence above that truly blew me away and caused me to re-read Soheil’s email several times. As the years of my life accumulate and the miles traveled on the PM road pile up, I look back on all the folks I’ve tried to guide as they join me on this road. And what stands out above everything I’ve seen and done is that no matter how accurate we are in applying our official PM guidelines… no matter how religiously we apply our official PM best practices… we are in the business of manifestation!! New products, new processes, new events… all of these come into existence as projects. And to the extent that the soft technology (i.e., management practices) of PM support the birth of any of these new entities, they do indeed form a “technology of manifestation.”

Reading Soheil’s insights above, culminating in that incredible vision of PM as technology of manifestation, gave me a bit of a thrill! Think of it! If we practice this pursuit we call PM in an effective way, we manifest visions! Dreams of what might be are transformed into reality by our PM teams!

I’ve always been passionate about teaching my unique PM vision in my own peculiar way. And now thanks to Soheil’s insights, I have been consciously connected to a formerly unseen, yet profound, theme that has been running through this vision all along! Wow! Who knew?

So the next time you’re putting together a project charter or revising a project budget, take a moment and reflect on how you may be a bit like Leonardo. Think about how you might be manifesting a dream!

Thank you, Soheil!

________________________

Addendum: Cleaning Up Elephant Dung & The Thrill of Helping Smart People Make Beautiful Music

While PM at its most transcendent may indeed be seen as a “technology of manifestation,” the PM practitioner should also be ready to grab a broom now and then and do the mundane work of keeping the team’s path clear! (As you’ll see below, this can have its own rewards.)

In my classes, as well as in the occasional interview, I love to make this analogy: A project manager should frequently behave like the guy in the parade who follows the elephants with a shovel, broom and wastebasket.

The project manager… following the elephants?

Picture this: A parade is in motion and features a marching band that will share their uplifting music with the crowd. Preceding the marching band is a beautifully-decorated group of elephants who, unfortunately, have no sense of propriety and release their waste somewhat at random. Now unless this voluminous elephant dung is quickly removed, the marching band may step in it and slip, fall, and ruin their performance.

It comes down to this: No matter how talented the band, they are going to need all the nasty elephant droppings removed from their path so they can keep marching and so their music can ring out and inspire the crowd. Without this humble street cleaner, all their musical talent and rehearsal could end in a discordant trip-and-fall disaster! It’s a dirty job, but an important one — and someone’s gotta do it!

So it is with project management. No matter how talented, how creative, how burn-the-midnight-oil your team is, if they are encumbered by obstacles, all their talent and creativity may never have a chance to shine. They need someone to “sweep the dung” out of their path! And when you, as project manager, are willing to jump in and grab a broom and start cleaning, you are likely to be rewarded with the thrill of seeing your team soar and dazzle with their work products.

The truth is I knew I was a true project manager when I realized that my sense of gratification and pride had shifted from doing great work myself to seeing great work created by a team whose path I had carefully tended.

My wish for you, project manager, is that you become comfortable with a broom and learn to thrill at your marching band’s great music!

[Note: This essay was published as part of the #PMFlashBlog event “What does project management mean to me?” Learn more here: Free e-Book “What Project Management Means to Me” from #PMFlashBlog Authors]

________________________

The above article is an excerpt from Part 1 (The Meaning of Project Management) from my book WORTH SHARING: Essays & Tools to Help Project Managers & Their Teams. Other essays in that Part of the book include: The Project Manager as Plate-Spinning Juggler & The Origins of My PM Minimalism: It’s Not Merely Simple-Minded... It’s About PM Essences. In all, this book contains 300+ pages & 54 chapters. And while you can buy a hard-copy or Kindle version of this book on Amazon I have also made it available absolutely FREE -- 300+ pages & 54 chapters in PDF format -- at Internet Archive.]

Better yet, you can get all my best creations (audio, video, texts & tools) in my Favorites collection at Internet Archive. Download any or all of them for free. Enjoy!



Monday, July 18, 2022

Secure, Fast & Customizable: Why I Ditched My Windows PC for a Hot Rod Chromebook

Go to Phandroid Article: "The Incredible Asus Chromebook Flip CX5..."

Overview


In this article I explain why, after over 40 years using personal computers (mostly Windows-based), I  switched to a powerhouse Chromebook. And I'm loving it! If you're in a hurry (and you're willing to skip my carefully-crafted prose😞) you can skim through the stuff in bold to find the big ideas. Or you can just scroll down to one of these main sections:
  • After 30 years, enough with Windows, already!
  • Chromebooks dominate in education because they're powerful & easy to use.
  • Chromebooks are REALLY secure.
  • Chromebooks are fast! (Thanks to the ChromeOS.)
  • Chromebooks are customizable.
  • Buyer beware! It may be cheap, but when does that low-cost Chromebook expire?
  • My Chromebook: Part of a Powerful Ecosystem of Google Tools
  • Final Thoughts: How 40 Years of Personal Computing Has Led Me to a Chromebook
  • Bonus Tip: Don't throw away that old Windows PC or Mac. You might be able to make it a Chromebook!
[FYI: This article contains over 60 links to references for further research. Enjoy!]
______________________________________________________

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Screwed up projects? Here's a PM Minimalist quick fix strategy!

The PM Minimalist Quick Start Checklist: Helping You Solve Your PM Puzzle!

Budget overruns, schedule delays, unsatisfied customers, low quality deliverables... Whether it's a DIY project at home or a complex new initiative for your organization these symptoms of poor project management (PM) are the same. But you don't need PMP certification or extensive training in project management to address these problems and make sure your projects run smoothly.  In fact, you can make substantial improvements with a quick and easy-to-use one page checklist! 

When I first introduced the PM Minimalist approach I developed this checklist so that PM newbies could ease themselves into taking charge of their projects. Check out the article below, from my PM Resources Archives website, for details. It will help you unscramble your project puzzles and make the pieces fit!

NOTE Regarding Updated Links

You might find a few "dead links" to the free PM Minimalist tools referenced in the archived article linked below. Some of the stuff has moved since this was first published. Not to worry! Below is an updated list of links where you can download all the documents from my PM Minimalist collection at Internet Archive as free PDFs, including the entire PM Minimalist book

Click the image below to go to the archived article & video overview. 

Go to article Applying PM Minimalism: Manage Your Project with a One-Page Checklist!"


Interested in more PM tools, videos and lots of other free stuff? 
Enjoy!



Thursday, May 26, 2022

Taking Care of Yourself: Some Tools & Tips from the Archives

 

This article is for the work-weary professional, manager or anyone else who feels swamped, is always getting interrupted and who feels like screaming in frustration! The selections below are from my collection Inspirations: Optimize Your Attitude, Maximize Your Results. These three are hand-picked to inspire you to take care of yourself, reclaim your humanity, enhance your job satisfaction and find some peace of mind.

Set and respect "office hours."


This excerpt from The Project Management Minimalist is a short pep talk and set of practical guidelines that will help you set aside uninterruptible office hours so you can be more productive and get into that "flow" state in which we all do our best work. 
 
Check out the book excerpt.

Leverage your signature strengths.


There is much happiness, emotional satisfaction and, arguably, higher-quality output to be had when you are doing what you are purpose-built to do.  Are you leveraging your "signature strengths?"  Learn more in this excerpt from The Project Management Minimalist.


Check out the book excerpt.

Is it time to go "off the grid?"


Ever feel like running away and simply disappearing for a while? Getting lost, going completely off the grid, can be one of the most energy-renewing, creativity-enhancing and simply joyful things you can do!  This article from the archives makes the case for doing so.  


Check out the article.


Get The Project Management Minimalist from Amazon or as a free PDF.

If you find the preceding samples to be valuable, why not go a little deeper. Specifically:

Enjoy! 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Music to Get Lost In: A Brief Introduction to Jam Bands


What's a jam band?


I like all kinds of music: blues, rock, psychedelic, R&B, jazz and ocassionally even folk/bluegrass and their offshoots. And I especially like long, well-developed performances that I can get lost in -- the kind of music that musicians love playing as they engage a melody and soar side by side like the Blue Angels in tight formation and then diverge into solo musical loops and barrel rolls, eventually converging back at the melody where they started. This kind of musical aerobatics is the domain of the jam band. 

In introducing its comprehensive and always-growing list of jam bands, Wikipedia summarizes:  "Jam band performances often feature extended musical improvisation ('jams') over rhythmic grooves and chord patterns, and long sets of music that cross genre boundaries."  

Elsewhere, Wikipedia traces jam band origins: "The jam-band musical style spawned from the psychedelic rock movement of the 1960s. The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band became notable for their live improvisational jams and regular touring schedules, which continued into the 1990s." Wikipedia also identifies the "stylistic origins" of jam bands to include:  jazz, folk, country, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, jazz fusion, blues, rock, and Southern rock. In fact, many jam band tracks (songs) seem to slide effortlessly among several of these musical genres within the same piece. 

(Rather not read my wise & wonderful background info? Then scroll down & start listening.)

What's so great about jam band music?

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Review -- "Flashing Back: Coming of Age in the American 1960s"

Amazon Listing for Flashing Back: Coming of Age in the American 1960s

[Note: As a baby boomer and a survivor of the 1960s, I found this to be one of the most powerful and authentic books I've ever read. Below is my heartfelt review & recommendation. - Mike G.]

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The wall on which the prophets wrote is cracking at the seams..." - from King Crimson's "Epitaph," 1969

The 1960s were a swirling maelstrom of assassinated heroes, civil rights and racial strife, and the draft turning young men too young to vote (or even needing to shave every day) into cannon fodder, compelling them to kill and die in an unpopular war for reasons still unfathomable. The walls on which our prophets wrote cracked and crumbled as we discovered our institutions victimizing us rather than serving us. An entire generation called “bullshit” on the whole thing. Finding ourselves groping along an uncharted path, we tried to figure out what was going on and how we could survive. We got high. We protested and raised hell in the streets, and at our family dinner tables. Our new, over-amplified music blasted our ideals at deafening levels, a unifying force too loud to ignore. We hit the road partying, leaving the draft, the war, and Ward Cleaver’s America in our rear-view mirror. This disaffected population demographic coalesced into a counterculture of alienated youth with long hair, weird clothes, and loud music: the hippie-freaks. It was indeed a long, strange trip. It was also a passionate trip, a trip motivated by a genuine search for justice, freedom, truth, spirit, and personal authenticity. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Become an armchair expatriate with these 55 video series that'll take you out of the U.S. & around the world!

These video series shown above will take you on regular trips to South Africa, Australia, England, Greek island of Corfu and India!

Armchair Expats


My wife and I have spent nearly every evening for the past decade or so as armchair expatriates, leaving America behind and spending hours in other parts of the English-speaking world. We travel by video streaming services to cities, villages and rural areas of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada and pretty much anywhere that English speaking folks have established themselves. We leave behind the bulletproof vests, serial killers, SWAT teams, predator-driven, high-intensity thrillers and cheesy "reality" shows that make up a typical evening of American television. 

Our Viewing Criteria


We have this test question for any new TV series: "Would we want to have dinner with these characters?" If so, we watch a few episodes and ask another question: "Do I feel better after spending time in this series?" As long as we can answer both of these questions in the affirmative, we keep watching the series. But if the episodes start going dark, nasty or generally emulating the "edgy" dreck served up by most American media we instantly drop them and move on.

Looking back over our nightly travels "abroad," we see that the series we spend the most time with share many of these qualities: 
• There are no commercials or ads breaking up the flow (at least there are none after each episode begins).
• The characters are generally good people with reasonably good intentions.
• The characters are pursuing laudable goals and encountering plausible obstacles that they eventually overcome.
• There is little or no violence or gore.
• There is beautiful scenery.
• Our characters are not constantly battling a life-threatening evil or slogging through a dark, dystopian world.
When the series is over we feel better, rather than worse, at having spent time with these characters. In particular, we don't feel ashamed or voyeuristic at having been sucked into something that was mostly negative or merely sensationalistic.

Our Recommended Series


Below is a list of 55 fictional series we have seen and recommend, categorized by the part of the world to which they will take you. The majority of these are from two low-cost sources: Acorn TV ($5.99/month) and PBS Passport ($5/month). A few are from Hulu and Netflix

[Dec 6, '22 Update: We're currently exploring & enjoying Britbox (from BBC & ITV). So far we can recommend these full original series set in England: Cold Feet, As Time Goes By and All Creatures Great & Small (1978 version, 90 episodes!). But you'll find many more contemporary series from BBC and ITV there as well.]

Friday, January 28, 2022

Replacing Google Play Music: How I Store & Stream 22 GB of My Own Music (MP3s) for a One-Time Cost of $7.99

 


Ah, Google Play Music... How I miss you!


Once upon a time, I was a loyal and satisfied Google Play Music customer. I used it to:
  • Upload and store thousands of my own MP3 music files (many pulled from my own CDs) in the cloud.
  • Search for and purchase new music as MP3 files.
  • Stream music to my Android tablet and phone.
  • Save and play my custom playlists offline.
  • Cast music to any combination of my eight Google Home speakers.
  • Stream music from my phone to my Android Auto screen and control playback hands-free while driving.
And all this was free of any monthly costs and free of advertising. The only cost was a one-time purchase fee for new songs or albums from the Google Play store.

And then Google killed Google Play Music and replaced it with YouTube Music, which requires that I pay a monthly fee for doing many of the things that Play Music did for free. Worse, they insert ads where there had been none before!

The bottom line: I decided to figure out how to replicate the old Google Play Music experience using free alternatives. And I'm pleased to say that my new music streaming system works great!

My New Cloud Storage & Streaming System


Here are the key components of my Google Play Music replacement:
Using the components above, I am able to do pretty much everything I was able to do with Google Play Music, including casting music to any cast-enabled device. The only thing missing is the ability to initiate music playing by saying, "Okay Google, play [playlist]..." Instead, I use my phone or tablet as a remote control to begin casting a particular playlist via CloudPlayer. Then, once the playlist has started playing on my Google Home or Nest smart speakers, I can use "Okay Google..." voice commands to stop, pause, rewind, tell me the name of the song that's playing, etc. So for a one-time cost of just $7.99 I get pretty much everything I need from my personal, custom-made, ad-free streaming service. **

(NOTE: If I had a TON of my own music and needed more than 22 GB I could buy 100 GB of storage for just $20/year from Google Drive. But, for now at least, I have plenty of cloud capacity so I'm going to stick with my free 22 GB storage strategy.)

So how can you set up your own service like this? It's easy! Below are the steps.


How to Build Your Own 22GB Cloud Streaming Service for One-Time Fee of $7.99