Podcasts Galore

I took a spin through the iTunes podcast directory tonight looking for something for my dad to put on his iPod Shuffle to listen to on his commute. I was amazed at how many new shows there are. You can learn half a dozen languages, get news from the New York Times, CNN, NPR, ABC and PBS, and hear a satirical weekly presidential radio address. You can also now get video casts of the latest Strongbad email, Best Week Ever clips and Digital Life TV. You may notice that there are a lot more professionals publishing podcasts now. It didn't start out that way, but I don't think it's a bad thing. More good, free content is great for everyone. The little guy with a great show can still make it big much easier than in conventional radio.

If you haven't recently, take a look in the podcast directory and see what you can find. Here are some of my recent favorites.

The Ricky Gervais Show - The creators of The Office, Ricky Gervaise and Steve Merchant, team up with the infamous Karl Pilkington chat for half an hour. The show has caused genuine laughter-induced pain for me and Sara.

The Official They Might Be Giants Podcast - My favorite band. Bar none. They've been giving away free music since the early 80s with their dial-a-song service. Podcasting is a perfect fit for them. I'm listening to the first episode now. There are some very fun, strange songs on it. They're songs that could not and should not make it onto an albumn, but I'm loving it.

KCRW's Le Show - Harry Shearer, of The Simpsons and various Christopher Guest movies, podcasts his very funny and infomative weekly radio show.

The Onion Radio News - Satirical news, like The Onion, but in one minitute radio segments.

Escape Pod & Spaceship Radio - These are both shows for stories. They're mostly sci-fi.

That's what I've been listening to recently. Once I've heard some of the shows I just subscribed to, I'll try to post some thoughts about them.

If the groundhog can do it, so can I

It seems I have been hiding out, as alluded to in the subject of this post. I guess that's what happens when at least half of your readers think you are hell-bound (literally). I'm still a little wary of posting, but if I'm not careful, I'll end up like an even more twisted and paranoid version of Dave Chappelle. (I'm already starting to sympathize with his "everyone was out to get my money/fame" story--is that a bad sign?)

Anyway, before I end up dancing with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, here are the Top 5 Random Thoughts and Happenings of Sara Ferguson. Enjoy.

1. Yesterday, I joined the ranks of regular people everywhere: I bought a cell phone. Danny and I were trying to hold out for a really cheap plan (translation: free), but it seems that is not happening. Instead of lowering rates, the companies keep adding features. While it would be cool for my phone to bake a pizza while dialing, I would not pay $10 extra dollars per month for this 'convenience'. But when Emma became sick last week (see number 2), I decided that her sitter should be able to find me quickly. Unfortunately, that means everyone else can, too. (Another reason I had not yet purchased a phone.) I can remember arriving back at Truman for my senior year and seeing all of these alien bodies (freshmen) glued to their phones. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone. By the time we began in youth ministry, every middle-schooler was carrying a phone and text-messaging their current love interest. Does the fact that I am still bothered by this make me old?

2. Emma has been sick. For those of you who don't know, Emma is our four-year-old daughter. She is normally an intelligent, active and funny little girl, but for five days in a row she was a permanent fixture on our couch. She didn't make nonsensical knock-knock jokes ("Who's there? Orange? Orange who? Orange knock-knock"); didn't smile; didn't speak; didn't eat, etc. It was a very quiet and sad time. But now she is back. How do I know, you may ask? Well, for one, she has reinstated the required 'copycat' mode at dinner; she is also chowing down on her preschool Valentine's Day party candy.

3. I am sick and tired of the war. And Bush. And his cronies. And I am so sick and tired of it all that I am not going to say anything else about it. See Danny's earlier post
for more. Or, for a less serious look, see this.

4. Having two part-time jobs is much like having one full-time job. Why it took five months to figure this out, I have no idea. I am currently working as a desktop publisher for our church, putting out weekly bulletins and newsletters and a monthly newsletter, complete with articles I write. To this I have added administrative and direct care duties at Willow Creek Group Homes, three homes for people with mental disabilities owned by my friend Jeanie. I work two days during the week writing reports about the consumers' (residents') goals so that they can continue to recieve their Medicaid funding. I also work overnight on Tuesdays at a home with three women who are high-functioning mentally disabled. After emailing and visiting the library (and sometimes doing yoga), we enjoy the priveleges of Tuesday night TV together, namely, American Idol. It is one of the highlights of my week to hear them laugh hysterically and say, "Why is she on TV? She can't even sing?". Why indeed?

5. Anne Lamott has got to be one of my favorite authors ever. She speaks about life and faith in terms I understand: sarcasm, doubt and inexplicable hope. I have enjoyed her collecions of essays for several years now (Traveling Mercies being my favorite), but have just recently begun her library of novels. Although I could never write with as much truth and attention to detail as her, she makes me want to.

Here's to staying above ground, for a few days at least.

Bush confessed to a felony on national TV

As you probably know, George W. Bush has admitted to authorizing the NSA to listen in on phone conversations of US citizens without a court order. The first authorization came in 2002 and he had reauthorized it 30 time. In 2004, one of the reauthorizations almost didn't happen when James Comey, then deputy attorney general, refused to sign on.

That prompted two of Bush's senior aides - Andrew Card Jr., his chief of staff, and Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel and now the attorney general - to make an emergency visit to John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to try to persuade him to give his authorization, as required by White House procedures for the program.

Officials with knowledge of the events said that Ashcroft also appeared reluctant to sign on to the continued use of the program, and that the Justice Department's concerns appear to have led in part to the suspension of the program for several months. (International Herald Tribune)

You know you're really encroaching on civil liberties when even John Ashcroft won't go along with you. But what specific law does the warrantless wiretapping break? USC TITLE 18 PART I CHAPTER 19 ยง 371. The penalties for breaking that law:

An offense described in this section is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

If none of this is enough to convince you that the wiretapping is wrong, then maybe Bush's own words will. This is what he said during the campaign in 2004 at Buffalo, NY, two years after he authorized the NSA wiretapping, and over one year before someone blew the whistle on him.

There are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order.

Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.

It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution (CNN).

If that's not a lie, then I've never heard one. He's right about the law and the constitution. This spying does require a court order. If there are people in the US, citizens or visitors, who are talking with al-Qaeda on the phone, then I'm all for the government listening in on what they say. Just get a court order! It's not that hard. That is a limit put on the government to protect our liberty. A court order requires that they have a good reason to suspect the person and that there is a record kept that they asked permission. So when Bush came out with his rhetoric in the State of the Union address about wanting to prevent another attack, he's giving us a red herring. We all want to prevent an attack. Let's do it within the law.

Bush has confessed on national television that he committed multiple felonies. And he lied about it in 2004. I don't want to use the I-word lightly, but need I remind you that our last president was impeached for lying about something far less serious than that?

Newsvine invites

Thanks to Henry I now have a Newsvine account and 20 invites to give out. Newsvine is a news service that's currently in private beta. It looks very promising. If you want an invite, drop me a line.

Best blonde joke

I'm sorry in advance, but this blonde joke is pretty funny. Enjoy.

Emma's computer

Emma has her own computer now. Someone was going to throw away an old Gateway with 256 MB RAM, so I took it and isntalled Edubuntu, the Ubuntu Linux version that is made for kids. So far it's working great. I had to monkey around with it to get the sound working on some of the games, then I just created a user account for her and added icons to the taskbar so it's easy for her to launch her favorite programs. She likes gcomris, tuxpaint, tuxtype, gedit and this page in Firefox. She can type her name. She might learn to type before she learns to read. I still need to get the USB wireless adapter working so I can move it back to her room. This is going to be a good first computer. At this rate I should be able to introduce her to Bash at 6, shell scripting at 7, HTML at 8, PHP at 9, MySQL at 10 and she should be able to get into Stanford or MIT right out of elementary school.

Where comment spam comes from

Ever wondered how the comment spamming jerks do their thing? Here's one of the programs they use:

http://holygrailofadvertising.com

I'm not making this a link because I don't want to give them any help in search rankings, so copy the url and paste it in your address bar. He's even got a video tutorial which proves that you don't have to be smart to run these comment spamming programs:

http://holygrailofadvertising.com/quickvsearchtutorial/intro.html

Here's another one. Flashier site, cheaper program:

manifestingpower.com/seo/seo.html

These bottom feeders waste so much of my time. Reading their descriptions of what they do almost makes me sick.

Fishing

Now these guys know how to fish. I found this video on Snopes.com, and they say it's genuine. I find it hard to believe, but I guess stranger things have happened.

b2evolution Plugins

YouTube plugin - Insert YouTube.com hosted videos into a blog post.
b2media - Easily add images and links for Amazon products.
Democracy Poll - Add a poll to your blog sidebar.
Star Rating Plugin - Let users rate your posts by clicking on stars.
Sideblog - Display another blog in your sidebar.
Most comments - Add a list of posts with the most comments in your sidebar.
Bookmarklet 2 - An alternate version of the stock bookmarklet plugin that adds the link to the body of the post rather than the Link to Url field.

b2media

b2media Plugin in actionPurpose
This plugin gives you an easy way to add images and links for Amazon.com products to your posts. If you get an Amazon Associates ID and enter it in the plugin settings, then you earn a referral fee if someone clicks your link, then buys the product. Mostly, this is just a nice way to add an image to a post or to maintain a blog in your sidebar that shows what movies you're watching.

Installation
Requires b2evolution 1.7 or later

  1. Download this file: _b2media.plugin.txt.
  2. Replace the .txt from the filename with .php and upload it to your b2evolution plugins folder.
  3. In the backoffice, go to Settings > Plugins and find b2media in the list. Click "install".

Usage
The plugin adds a sub-tab to the Tools tab in the b2evolution backoffice. You can search for Amazon products there, but that won't give you the option to add images into a blog post. To get that you need to go to the Write tab, then click on the button below the writing area that says "Amazon". This will pop up a window that looks very similar to the Tools sub-tab, but now when you search, each result has a button labeled "img". Click on that button to add the code to your post.

Amazon Associates Program
You can use the backoffice plugin settings to change the Associate ID that is added into the links. If you want to make a little money with this, then sign up for the Amazon Associates program (it's free), then log into your blog backoffice, go to Settings > Plugins > b2media and replace my ID with yours. If you're not interested in any of that, just leave my ID in there. You may end up adding a few cents toward my daughter's college education.

Sideblog
I like to use this plugin to create a section in my sidebar showing what movies, music and video games I'm consuming. I call it my mediablog. It's actually a separate blog in b2evolution that can be viewed on its own or included in the sidebar of my main blog. If you want to do something like this, then copy the code from this file and add it into your skin. Remember to replace the fives with the number that matches your mediablog.

Misc info
This plugin is based on Jaap's Free Amazon Script. I first released it as a hack for b2evolution 0.9.0.12. Installing it involved putting four files in two different directories. And it still didn't look or work that good. The plugin version is one file and it matches the look and feel of the b2evolution backoffice. I also fixed some bugs.

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