Saturday, May 11, 2024

A Frank Zappa Sampler: Meet My Favorite Musical Genius

For me, listening to most jazz/rock/blues music is like riding a fairly smooth roller coaster. You close your eyes and travel along with the musicians: up, down and around. In contrast, listening to Frank Zappa's stuff is like riding on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland: You're frequently surprised by quick turns, sharp and steep drops and gentle climbs to peaks with breathtaking views. It's definitely not laid-back, easy listening... but it can be an exciting, rewarding trip! 

"In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works; he also produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist... His work is characterized by nonconformity, improvisation sound experimentation, musical virtuosity and satire of American culture..."

But what good is it to talk about music? To know Zappa's stuff you have to pop in your earbuds, get comfortable, close your eyes and just enjoy the ride. Here's my curated playlist to get you started. (Watch the videos if you must, but I think it's better to just close your eyes and listen.)

Zappa's music is undeniably brilliant! However, his lyrics sometimes (though not often) express opinions that I do not personally endorse. So I encourage you to do as I do and disregard any offense that might bubble up within you in response to his more challenging lyrical witticisms. For me, the genius of his music always outweighs any minor feelings of being offended by his social satire. (Often, however, the lyrics are funny as hell!! So let yourself enjoy them.)

Individual Works

Step into Zappa's world with his unique take on the Allman Brothers' favorite, Whipping Post.

Then move on to the gentle beauty and intensity of Zappa's own Blessed Relief (Outtake Version).

Next, engage the high intensity jazz/rock composition, The Purple Lagoon, from one of my favorite albums, Zappa In New York 

Finally, travel back in time to hear one of Zappa's earlier, less approachable, but brave and engaging pieces, Inca Roads



The samples above are just the tip of a HUGE Zappa iceberg of music! Below is a list of some albums that, together, demonstrate Zappa's range and sheer genius. Check them out and explore his legacy for yourself. 

Frank Zappa Official YouTube Channel 

Zappa's official YouTube Channel is an incredible compendium of stuff assembled for Zappa super fans. Here you'll find videos with rare concert footage, playlists, music videos and much more. I hope you spend some time there exploring the full power of Zappa's genius. Enjoy!

Go to the Frank Zappa YouTube Channel

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

10 of My Most-Accessed Items at Internet Archive

Recently I was contacted by someone who had found one of my audio podcasts at the Internet Archive. She asked if she could use excerpts from the audio Do What You Fear and Grow Stronger for a YouTube production. Of course I agreed... and happily! The whole idea of sharing this stuff is to put it out into the universe and hope it does some good somewhere. And while I have uploaded over 90 items to the Archive, I find that some of them are downloaded and used more than others. Below are some of the top 10 items accessed there. If you're looking for a little inspiration, you just might find it in one of these. Enjoy!

(Caveat: All these podcasts were created over 14 years ago. Some of the materials or links referenced in them may no longer be available.) 

πŸ‘‰ Do What You Fear and Grow Stronger [12 1/2 min audio]

This podcast includes inspirational quotations, war stories, a little philosophy and some practical challenges to help individuals and teams push through fear & grow stronger.

πŸ‘‰ Accept What Is [17 min audio]

This was designed to help individuals and teams discover the power of accepting the reality of a difficult situation in order to handle it effectively. 

How can you become happier? In this archived podcast I share 10 specific actions that I’ve taken to create more happiness in my life.

πŸ‘‰ Practice Mindfulness [22 min audio]

This audio is designed to help individuals and teams expand upon their inherent power of mindfulness — the practice of bringing your full awareness into the present moment.

This is a FREE 132-page PDF version of the book. The title is self-explanatory!

πŸ‘‰ Learn to Be Optimistic, Learn to Succeed. [9 1/2 min audio]

Cognitive therapy works because it helps you change your explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic, and the change is permanent. It gives you a set of cognitive skills for talking to yourself when you fail. This audio will help you get started making that change.

This is my eclectic compilation of practical PM tools, thought-provoking PM essays and suggestions for helping individual project managers and their teams stay sane while delivering good quality finished products. It consists of 54 Chapters, most of which were originally published as blog posts through my websites and hadn't ever before been released in book form.

This Quick Start Guide is designed to help you plan and manage your first project using the PM Minimalist approach, as detailed in the The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock Your Projects!

This brief video provides real-world examples to distinguish between authority & responsibility. And it makes the argument that by finding a good balance between the two, we can improve the quality of life at home, at work and in all of society.  

This essay is designed to help you see the origins of the strong feelings of the people you are arguing with. And it provides some suggestions for improving your interactions with those whose politics and religious views may be far different from your own. 

See everything I've uploaded to Internet Archives (94 items!) & click the link in the item's "Description" to go directly to any of them.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

On AI Authorship: What's the meaning of this?

In this article I'm sharing the results of my experimenting with the AI authoring tool ChatGPT. It was a fascinating process and I'm still thinking about the meaning of it all. And I encourage you to follow along below and think about it too, since our AI writing partners and our AI partners in so many other creative endeavors are starting to show up everywhere!  As you read the samples below, consider:
  • What or who should be given credit for the authorship of these works? 
  • Are these works as valuable as they might be if they had been created by a clearly identified, individual human author?
  • What are some appropriate uses of the AI tools that created them?
  • Since ChatGPT outputs are not subject to copyright, how or when should the inputs that went into shaping a ChatGPT work product be flagged and credited? (Should there be... Can there be... an "audit trail" of the stuff that got "blended" invisibly into the final output?) 

A One-Page Short Story

I asked ChatGPT to create...  “A one-page short story in the style of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Willa Cather.”

In response, ChatGPT wrote (in part): 

"In the serene depths of the forest, where the whispering leaves dance to the rhythm of the wind and the sunlight filters through the canopy like a gentle caress, there lived a solitary soul named Ezra. He was a man of quiet contemplation, finding solace in the simplicity of nature and the company of his thoughts.

Each morning, Ezra would rise with the sun, greeting the dawn with a silent reverence. He would wander through the woods, his feet treading lightly upon the earth, his senses alive to the symphony of life surrounding him. He would pause to admire the delicate beauty of a wildflower, the intricate patterns of a spider's web, the graceful flight of a butterfly.

As he walked, Ezra would often recite verses from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," his voice blending with the rustling leaves and the gentle babble of the nearby brook. He felt a kinship with the poet, a shared reverence for the natural world and a belief in the interconnectedness of all living things.

In the quietude of the forest, Ezra found a refuge from the noise and bustle of the world beyond. Here, amid the towering trees and the cool shade of the underbrush, he felt truly alive, truly at peace. He would lie beneath the branches, his eyes closed, listening to the symphony of nature unfolding around him.

In the distance, he could hear the distant call of a bird, the faint rustle of a squirrel in the branches above. And in those moments, Ezra felt as though he were part of something greater, part of the eternal cycle of life and death that bound all living things together... "

When Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau
& Dr. Seuss are thrown into the AI blender, what gets lost?

A Poem

I asked ChatGPT to create...  “A one-page poem in the style of Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Willa Cather.”

In response, ChatGPT wrote: 

"In quiet woods, where whispers dwell,
Nature's symphony, a tale to tell.
Beneath the towering trees, I roam,
In solitude, I find my home.

Like Thoreau, I seek the simple life,
Far from the city's bustling strife.
In Walden's woods, my soul takes flight,
Embracing nature's gentle might.

Walt Whitman's spirit, strong and free,
Sings in every rustling tree.
I am vast, I contain multitudes,
In nature's arms, my gratitude exudes.

Willa Cather, with her prairie song,
Inspires me to wander long.
Across the plains, beneath the sky,
I find my truth, I find my why.

In Thoreau's woods, Whitman's verse,
Cather's plains, I immerse.
A blend of souls, a harmony,
In nature's embrace, I am truly free."

A Short Story Outline

I asked ChatGPT to create...  "an outline for a short story by Willa Cather, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Dr Seuss about a family traveling across the country."

In response, ChatGPT wrote: [I added only bold, bullets & indents for ease of reading. -MG] 

"Across the Open Road: A Collaborative Outline

Genre: Literary Fiction with a sprinkle of whimsy

Setting: American landscape, spanning various locations as the family travels (think vast plains, bustling cities, hidden valleys)


The Johnson Family:

  • Margaret Johnson: A strong-willed woman inspired by Willa Cather's heroines, yearning for adventure and a deeper connection to the land.
  • William Johnson: A practical man, reminiscent of Thoreau, seeking self-reliance and a simpler life amidst the changing world.
  • Lily Johnson: Their curious and imaginative daughter, channeling Walt Whitman's free spirit and Dr. Seuss's playful touch.

Plot Outline:

Part 1: The Call of the Open Road

  • Unease Sets In: The Johnsons, despite their comfortable life, feel a growing restlessness. Margaret longs for wide-open spaces, William craves a life less tethered to material possessions, and Lily yearns for grand adventures.
  • A Spontaneous Decision: Fueled by a shared desire for change, the Johnsons impulsively sell their belongings and purchase a well-worn RV, christening it "The Wanderlust."
  • Farewell, Dear City: With mixed emotions, they leave the familiarity of their city life behind, embarking on a journey across the vast American landscape.

Part 2: Encounters and Explorations

  • Willa's Whispers: As they traverse the Great Plains, Margaret feels a kinship with Cather's heroines, drawing strength and inspiration from the rugged beauty of the land. She finds solace in solitude and connects with the spirit of the pioneers.
  • Thoreau's Tranquility: William seeks moments of reflection and self-reliance, inspired by Thoreau's writings. He finds peace in simple living, connecting with nature through camping, stargazing, and quiet contemplation.
  • Whitman's Wonders: Lily, with her boundless curiosity, embraces the Walt Whitmanesque spirit of inclusivity and wonder. She celebrates the diversity of people and places they encounter, collecting stories and experiences like colorful threads in a tapestry.
  • Seussian Surprises: Along the way, they stumble upon quirky towns, eccentric characters, and fantastical situations, reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's whimsical worlds. These encounters add a touch of magic and humor to their journey.

Part 3: Growth and Transformation

  • Facing Challenges: The family encounters obstacles – breakdowns, detours, and disagreements – forcing them to rely on each other and adapt to their ever-changing circumstances.
  • Finding Their Rhythms: As they adjust to their nomadic lifestyle, each member discovers new strengths and perspectives. Margaret learns to embrace spontaneity, William finds joy in connection, and Lily develops resilience and resourcefulness.
  • The Heart of Home: Despite the allure of new experiences, they realize that "home" is not a place, but the love and shared journey they create together.

Part 4: The Road Less Traveled

  • A Crossroads: Reaching a breathtaking vista, the Johnsons contemplate their future. Do they continue their nomadic adventure, settle in a new place, or return to their old life?
  • An Open Ending: The story concludes without a definitive answer, leaving the reader to ponder the characters' choices and the enduring power of exploration, self-discovery, and the ever-evolving American landscape.

Additional Notes:

  • Each author's style and themes can be subtly woven into the narrative, creating a unique literary tapestry.
  • Consider incorporating elements of nature, Americana, and the changing social landscape of the chosen time period.
  • The fantastical elements inspired by Dr. Seuss should be sprinkled sparingly, adding whimsy without overshadowing the core themes.
  • This outline is just a starting point, feel free to adjust it to fit your creative vision!"


As you can see from the examples above, any human writer who is working with a powerful AI partner like ChatGPT is able to "hit the ground running" and will quickly end up far ahead (at least in terms of volume of output) of his non-AI-using competitors. But is this really what we want? 

Today, when an article is published, it is common practice to attribute it to a particular named author or authors. In this way not only do authors get credit but readers are able to dig into an author's other works and learn about their credentials, biases, areas of expertise, etc. 

In contrast, in a world where many authors' works are blended and pureed we are in grave danger of individual identities being lost and "audit trails" becoming impossible to discern. In such a world, the main casualty becomes truth itself. 

So it seems to me that we, as readers, have this duty:

When we read something (AI-generated or not!) we need to push hard to learn the sources used to create it. Only then can we judge its true value... and the value of its "truth."


[Note: I generated the unique, copyright-free image above of the two android "authors" here: ]

Saturday, February 17, 2024

11 Apps I Use Almost Every Day


 Icons shown: Google Home, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, Spiral Player, Pocket, Keep Notes, Brave Browser, Pluto TV, Google News, AntennaPod

So... What's an app, anyway?

It's easy to take apps for granted. Typically they are tight, highly-focused applications (i.e., "apps") that help us accomplish particular chores in a user-friendly way. Wikipedia defines an app as, "...  a software program that's designed to perform a specific function directly for the user or, in some cases, for another software program." Mobile apps are often hardware-specific and designed to run on particular mobile devices while web apps are designed to run inside web browsers that might be working anywhere on the web. 

The key: While we may sometimes experiment with apps that seem interesting or perform exotic functions, the apps that matter most to us are the ones we rely on every day to achieve specific goals. In other words, we don't run apps for the sake of running apps; we run apps to get stuff done that is important to us. 

My Everyday Essential Apps

I just asked my smart phone's "Settings" to list my installed apps. It replied: "List all 161 apps?" Yikes! I only use about a dozen on a regular basis! Apparently my habit of installing apps to "check them out" should be matched with a habit of uninstalling ones I don't use. (Note to self: Scanning this list, I see a bunch I don't remember ever using. Time to do an "app inventory/sort/remove!")

In any case, I'm here to share the apps that I find indispensable and use almost everyday... sometimes many times a day. These are

Google Home - The Google Home app is the command center to keep all our smart devices coordinated. We have eight Google Home (now called "Nest Audio") smart speakers arranged all over our house, so we can pretty much yell "Hey, Google..." from wherever we happen to be and activate one of them to do work for us. My wife and I both use these smart speakers many times per hour to set timers, give us weather reports for anywhere on the planet, answer all sorts of search queries, play news reports/podcasts and carry out verbal instructions to control our 40 plus Smart Home devices such as smart plugs, WiFi-enabled light bulbs and TV.   (Here's a deep dive into how we control and use all our smart home devices:  Smart speaker not useful? Give it more smart things to control! )

Google News feed - This one is addictive! A simple swipe right on my Android phone continually refreshes a never ending bunch of news articles. So I have to be careful with this, since it can suck me into hours of news consumption! What makes it so addictive is that over the years Google has learned what my interests are. So most of the articles the feed shows me are likely to capture my time and attention. (For more info, see: Apple version. Android/Google Play store version.)

Brave Browser - It blocks ads! Period. I repeat: the Brave browser blocks ads! So your browsing experience with Brave is fast and private and uninterrupted by annoying ads. According to the Brave Community, "Brave is fully open source, unlike other Chromium browsers that are managed by a company: Chrome, Edge, Vivaldi, Opera." And it's available on all your devices: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS.  Learn more here at the Brave browser website.  

Keep Notes - Think "yellow stickies" or note cards. Keep Notes allows you to take notes, make lists and attach links, photos and other files to each of them. Keep Notes can be color-coded and are synchronized and easily searchable across all your devices. So when you make a change in a note on your tablet it's immediately reflected on your phone or computer. My wife and I have a shared Keep note that is our shopping list. When we run out of something we either add it directly to the Shopping list on one of our phones or tablets or simply yell at one of our Google Home (Nest) smart speakers or tap our phone's Google Assistant, telling it to add the item to the Shopping list. Then when we're out shopping we simply check off items as we put them in our cart. Since the list is updated immediately, we both know what's left on our shopping scavenger hunt! I also have Keep Notes which track my car and other home maintenance chores, noting the dates that I completed them, dated reminders to perform them again next time and any relevant details like the service person phone number, serial numbers, etc. Finally, all of my documents, including this blog post, start out as rough ideas dictated into a Keep Note using Google's voice typing keyboard

AntennaPod - There are currently millions of podcasts available on all kinds of topics. I use AntennaPod to search for and subscribe to those that are of interest to me. The app collects the published titles of available episodes and allows me to pick and choose which ones I stream immediately or download for offline use. Listings include audio or video podcasts. But I almost always choose audio so I can do chores or exercise while listening.

Gmail -  It's been nearly 20 years since Google introduced this powerful free email service. Over the years it has become more flexible and powerful, allowing tagging, sorting, forwarding, message chaining, blocking and many other options to help you manage your email.  If you're not using it you really should consider trying it. In fact, many people have several Gmail accounts, using one with family and friends, one with vendors and one for professional contacts. After all, it's free to get an account and, at minimum, you can use it with all those product registration sites which require an email address and could potentially bomb you with Spam. Gmail has wonderful spam guards that will keep most of that stuff out of your sight. (See: "What's So Great About Gmail?" wherein Lifewire explains...  - )

Pocket - If you're like me, there are times when you run across an article that looks interesting but you don't have the time to read it immediately. This is where Pocket comes in. In fact, I use it to help me sort my Google News feed. If it's an article I want to read later, I pop it open from the news feed, click the share option and send it to Pocket. Later, when I have the time, I can either read the article in text form or listen to it as Pocket's automated voice reads it aloud while my hands and eyes are busy doing other things.

Google Drive - If you have Gmail (see above), you automatically have 15 GBs of free storage space available on all your devices, in the cloud, from Google. And by using Google Docs or Sheets or Slides (available online via your Google Drive) you can create documents that can be shared with other people. I use my Google Drive to share all sorts of personal documents, business documents and agendas, etc. created by my fellow Indivisible activists. Because it's in the cloud, anyone can collaborate with you on a document and edit from anywhere on the planet. This kind of collaboration can actually change history. (See "How Google Docs Became a Key Tool for Social Justice" )

Google Maps - Just look at this feature-laden description from WikiPedia, "Google Maps is a web mapping platform and consumer application offered by Google. It offers satellite imagery, aerial photography, street maps, 360° interactive panoramic views of streets (Street View), real-time traffic conditions, and route planning for traveling by foot, car, bike, air (in beta) and public transportation. As of 2020, Google Maps was being used by over one billion people every month around the world." I use Google Maps to analyze all my trips to unfamiliar locations, to check out traffic and alternate routes and to navigate, in real time, while driving. It's my constant travel companion!

Pluto TV - With Pluto TV you can watch a zillion streaming TV channels on your smart phone, tablet, Roku box or simply via your web browser on your PC. Think of it as a giant, free cable service with shows constantly streaming for you to watch. Some shows are also available on demand. 

Spiral Player - "Spiral Player is a cloud & offline music player..." Long ago I ripped a zillion MP3 files from my favorite CDs and uploaded some of them to Google Drive, some to the New Zealand-based Mega online drive, and other cloud storage locations. I use Spiral Player to access and play them all. Sometimes it streams from the cloud and sometimes it plays stuff directly from my device. It plays from folders, albums, or your own custom-made playlists. 

BONUS: YouTube without Ads! - Want to watch YouTube without ads? Then open your Brave Browser (above), make sure you have "Shields Up..." [top right, orange icon/image of lion in Brave Browser] then go to: -- Lotsa videos, No ads!


So these are my everyday, "go to" apps. If you aren't familiar with some of these, I hope you check them out. You may just find, like I have, that they soon become indispensable!  

Saturday, January 20, 2024

A Dozen+ Recommended Podcasts: Loaded with Wisdom "Worth Sharing!"


My Podcast Subscriptions

Audio Podcasts: What's So Great About Them?

I love audio podcasts! They are my on-demand sources of information and wisdom related to current affairs, the marketplace and (my favorite!) new tech developments. I listen to them when I'm exercising, showering/shaving, doing dishes or other chores, driving or simply any time my brain is idling and my hands and my eyes are busy. The great thing about them is that I can stream them from the cloud or download them and listen offline when I'm off the grid. I can also adjust playback speed to listen faster or slower than they were recorded. And, of course, I can rewind, pause and fast-forward as desired. 

The bottom line: Podcasts are powerful user-controlled tools for staying informed, entertained and engaged!

My Favorite Podcasts

Below are my favorite podcasts. I listen to most of these every day. If you're new to podcasts or if you have never heard of these particular ones, I recommend you check them out! The quoted descriptions below are from Google Podcasts. But you can search and subscribe to them from any podcast app you choose. On my Android devices I use and recommend AntennaPod - The Open Podcast Player and PlayTube: Block Ads on Video.) 

  • NPR News Now - "The latest news in five minutes. Updated hourly."
  • Up First - "...the news you need to start your day. The three biggest stories of the day, with reporting and analysis from NPR News — in 10 minutes."
  • Marketplace Tech - "... demystifies the digital economy in less than 10 minutes. We look past the hype and ask tough questions about an industry that’s constantly changing."
  • The Daily (from The New York Times) - "...what the news should sound like. The biggest stories of our time, told by the best journalists in the world."
  • This Week in Google - "Get a big-picture view and detailed analysis of technology topics covering everything you can google."
  • Marketplace - "Every weekday, host Kai Ryssdal helps you make sense of the day’s business and economic news — no econ degree or finance background required."
  • Consider This from NPR - "The hosts of NPR's All Things Considered help you make sense of a major news story and what it means for you, in 15 minutes."
  • Airtalk - (Yes, it's local to Southern CA, but it has listeners all over the world and frequently covers national and world topics.) "Join Larry Mantle weekdays for lively and in-depth discussions of Los Angeles and Southern California news, politics, science, entertainment, the arts and more."
  • TED Talks Daily - "Join host and journalist Elise Hu for thought-provoking ideas on every subject imaginable — from Artificial Intelligence to Zoology, and everything in between."
  • Big Technology Podcast - "The Big Technology Podcast takes you behind the scenes in the tech world featuring interviews with plugged-in insiders and outside agitators."
  • On the Media - "The Peabody Award-winning On the Media podcast is your guide to examining how the media sausage is made."
  • This Week in Tech (audio) - "Join the top tech journalists and pundits in a roundtable discussion of the latest trends in tech." 
  • Left, Right & Center - "Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture."

So these are my favorites. I hope you find some of them to be compelling. Better yet, I hope they inspire you to find your own, unique podcast favorites from some of the millions available. 

Happy listening!