audiobooks and podcasts

In any given month my audio listening time on my iPhone is divided into two segments: audiobooks and podcasts. On the tenth of each month I receive my Audible credit and select an audiobook, which I listen through to completion. Since an unabridged audiobook might be anywhere between eight and fifteen hours long, the portion of the month spent listening to audiobooks varies greatly. From the time I finish my audiobook until I receive my next Audible credit I listen to podcasts. I write here regularly about my audiobooks, but I haven’t said much about podcasts. I thought my podcast listening deserved some attention.

podcasts on iPhoneOne of my two favorite podcasts is Word Matters, produced by the good folks at Merriam-Webster. It’s all about language from the perspective of the dictionary. In early August, after their one hundredth episode, they announced they were going to take a break. I thought they would be back after Labor Day, but here it is the end of September and still no new episodes. I’m disappointed.

The other podcast on my top two list is Lexicon Valley, produced by linguist John McWhorter. McWhorter discusses all things linguistic, and since moving to his current podcast home at Booksmart Studios he has delved into matters political as well. Also enjoyable is Lingthusiasm, hosted by linguists Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. They can get fairly academic, but I do like listening to their podcast. Staying in the realm of language, Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl podcast is much lighter weight, but informative and worth listening to.

As a foodie I must of course have my food podcasts. Food Network has its official Food Network Obsessed podcast, and Ellie Krieger has her independent One Real Good Thing podcast. Both are very listenable.

In the realm of religion I am awaiting season two of Amy Frykholm’s In Search Of podcast from The Christian Century. I have just started listening to the Jewish Chutzpod! podcast, appropriate because we are right now in the midst of the High Holy Days.

If I don’t have an audiobook to listen to I have plenty of podcast choices.


Vin Scully

I grew up with Vin Scully. When the Dodgers played their first game in Los Angeles in 1958 I was four years old. The Dodgers signed on with the fifty thousand watt clear channel station KFI 640 to broadcast their games on the radio. So even though we were in Hemet, ninety miles east of Los Angeles, the games came in loud and clear. I learned about baseball from my dad and from Vin Scully. (Vin and my dad were close to the same age. Vin was just a year older, minus a week.)

Vin ScullyWe spent three years in Barstow in the San Bernardino County high desert from 1960 to 1963, my first through fourth grade years. We relied on cable for our television (when cable carried only broadcast stations for the benefit of people in remote areas), and we couldn’t get all the television stations that we got over the air in Hemet. But the KFI radio signal was strong and we had no worries about missing out on Vin calling Dodger games.

After our return to Hemet Dodger baseball was a regular part of our lives in the spring and summer. There were a few games on television but we mostly relied on the radio to hear Vin and his broadcast partner Jerry Doggett give us the play-by-play. We had a table-top radio in the kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, but this was when transistor radios were first coming into vogue and my dad would go about his tasks on a Saturday with one in his shirt pocket listening to the games.

Sandy Koufax threw his perfect game on September 9, 1965. The whole family was in the living room and the television was off. As it became clear what was happening, we hung on to Vin’s every word and were right there until the final out.

When I was growing up our family attended one game at Dodger Stadium. I was as interested in looking at the broadcast booth trying to catch a glimpse of Vin as I was in watching the game on the field.

I left California in 1977 and spent 1978 to 1985 in Central Oklahoma. I have never been a big football fan, but in those days Vin broadcast professional football for NBC. I would watch a football game just to hear Vin’s voice.

In the Bay Area, where I moved in 1985 and where Terry joined me in 1993, I became something of a San Francisco Giants fan. Terry and I rented a house in Mountain View before we bought our home in Gilroy. There was a lot of foliage in the yard and I found doing yard work a pleasant chore when I could listen to Hank Greenwald call a Giants game. But on our visits to Southern California (where we both had family) we tuned in to Vin when we could. On one trip we were staying at the Town Place Suites (as it was then called) in Anaheim. We had our In-n-Out burgers, a bottle of wine, a hot tub, and Vin announcing a Dodger game on television. We both decided that life didn’t get much better than that.

Giants fandom was a short-lived. When Terry and I moved to Hemet in 2015 we rediscovered the Dodger blue in our veins. For our television, telephone, and internet we selected (what was then) Verizon, even though the Dodger games were only on (what was then) Time-Warner Cable, just because TWC had such a bad reputation. Vin had by that time gone mostly to television, and he was only doing home games. But the first three innings of the games he did were always a simulcast, so we got to hear him regularly on the radio.

Vin’s final season before retirement was 2016. By this time Spectrum had bought Time Warner Cable and allowed KTLA Channel 5 to carry his last few games. So we got to see his final home game at Dodger stadium and the last broadcast of his career in San Francisco.

It was quite the ride, Vin, and we love you for it.

Rest in peace and rise in glory.

photo credit: Floatjon. cropped. Creative Commons License 3.0.


reading the New York Times

When we lived in Gilroy Terry and I subscribed to the print edition of the New York Times on the weekend. That ended when I was laid off in 2014. However, I continued to receive the book review separately in the mail.

When we moved to Hemet in 2015, I thought about getting weekend home delivery of the Times again. But we were getting seven-day delivery of both The Los Angeles Times and the Press-Enterprise (a newspaper which I delivered when I was young) and between the two that was a lot of newspaper, especially on Sundays. I didn’t see the point of adding yet another Sunday paper.

NY TimesBut then the pandemic hit along with a change in ownership of both newspapers. This coincided with a general decline in the health of the print newspapers. Our Sunday papers became smaller. At the same time, I was getting tired of the unreliable arrival of the New York Times Book Review by the United States Postal Service. Since the Times was offering home delivery for half price for the first year I signed up for Friday through Sunday delivery.

I won’t go into detail about the difficulty that I had subscribing. Suffice it to say that it had to do with an ancient, out-of-date email address they had on file. It took two phone calls and both agents escalating the problem, but they resolved the matter and we are now getting The New York Times three days a week.

I’m glad to have their excellent national news and business coverage, and even happier to have their quality arts and entertainment coverage. But most of all I’m delighted that I don’t need to wonder about when my book review will show up.


the demise of Entertainment Weekly

The magazine business is not what it once was. There has been a lot of consolidation in the industry and magazines have ceased publication of their print editions.

Our favorite cooking magazine for many years was Cooking Light. It was one of many magazines that Time Inc. published. Time Inc., however, wanted it to close out its business and sold all of its magazines to Meredith Corporation, known for magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal. Meredith sold off magazines like Time and Sports Illustrated that didn’t fit its lifestyle niche. Other magazines it shut down, including Cooking Light. For some reason I didn’t receive notice of the shutdown, and it was only several months later that I said to myself, “Hey, we haven’t gotten a Cooking Light for a while!” I did an online search and quickly found out why. (Meredith has since revived Cooking Light in a sort of overpriced quarterly zombie form without the extensive test kitchen and writing staff that caused them to shut it down in the first place.)

Entertaiment Weekly postcardOne of the Time Inc. publications that Meredith kept was Entertainment Weekly, a magazine that Terry and I have subscribed to for many years. However, last October Dotdash, a company controlled by media maven Barry Diller, bought Meredith and all of its magazines, creating Dotdash Meredith. In February the new company announced that Entertainment Weekly, along with Eating Well, Health, and Parents would cease print publication and exist only online. Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel said in a memo to employees, “We have said from the beginning, buying Meredith was about buying brands, not magazines or websites.”

The final issue of EW was the April edition. (Oddly, Entertainment Weekly kept that name even after it went monthly.) Production was nearly complete on that issue when Vogel made the announcement, so the end of the road merited only a single obtuse mention on the back page compilation of trending topics.

Since we had a year left on our subscription, Terry and I were wondering how the fine folks at Dotdash Meredith would handle that. They kept us wondering until here in mid-April when we finally received a postcard (printed about as cheaply as it could possibly be) telling us that the balance of our subscription would arrive in the form of People magazine. People. Gee, thanks, guys. The card did say that we could request a refund instead, but as I had renewed a couple of times at a highly discounted rate, it hardly seems worth the trouble.

It’s a digital world, but then I am as guilty as anyone of going digital.


Wondrium

You are no doubt aware of my fondness for The Great Courses. For many years I listened to the audio versions of the courses while walking, first on my iPod then on my iPhone. I punctuated these with the occasional DVD set. In the new world of streaming I shifted my focus to that medium. All of it entertaining and educational.

The folks at The Great Courses have done a good job of keeping up with technology and have for a while had a streaming subscription service called The Great Courses Plus. They recently rebranded it as Wondrium, and along with the traditional Great Courses lecture series they offer additional content, including documentaries and other material.

Wondrium logoSince I’m a long-time Great Courses customer they had been pestering me to subscribe to Wonderium. Recently they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was for an annual subscription at an attractively discounted price. I took the bait.

I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been binge watching, but I’ve been doing a lot of watching. I saw a series on the Medici that was fascinating, but which I probably wouldn’t have bought outright. Similarly, I enjoyed a series on self-editing which was focused on fiction. I don’t write fiction so I would not have purchased it, but as part of the subscription it was worth my time. A lecture series on genetics and how people respond to seeing their genetic ancestry results was enlightening. I am currently enjoying the video version of a lecture series I listened to on audio a few years back about the world of the Old Testament. The visual enhancement is nice. And a series I am also watching now about effective written communication is great stuff. It will likely merit its own review here.

Wondrium allows subscribers to download the course guidebook, just as you can when you purchase a set. The only downside compared to purchasing a class from The Great Courses is that if you were to let your subscription lapse you would no longer have access return to a course you had previously watched.

That’s a minor matter compared to the advantages of a Wondrium subscription.


We Need to Talk

We Need to Talk coverWe Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter
Celeste Headlee
Harper Wave (September 19, 2017), 258 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon paperback $12.99

If you have not watched Celeste Headlee’s TED Talk “Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation” skip this blog post and go watch it now. It will be time well spent. It has had over twenty-two million views so far. Really.

This book covers much of the same territory as her TED talk, but in an expanded form. Celeste clearly explains how to have an open conversation with anyone, no matter what their beliefs, without letting your own biases interfere. That is something I find it nearly impossible to do with those who support that blustering individual with the orange hair who currently lives in the White House. But Headlee says we can do it. She has an interesting perspective on this:

quoteThere’s no evidence that people who are aware of their own biases are better able to overcome them than those who are unaware of their biases. And no matter how much thought you give to the issue, you’re probably not aware of all the prejudices that influence your thinking. They’re called unconscious biases for a reason, after all.

She goes on to say:

quoteThe goal of an honest, respectful dialogue is to open our minds,
not to change them.

Wow. Straightforward. Simple. And so difficult.

Celeste is of a mixed-race background, and she directly addresses those issues. Her grandfather was African-American composer William Grant Still and his wife was the pianist Verna Arvey, who was white. Celeste describes the challenges they faced in that marriage. She writes about when they had to drive nonstop from the west coast to the east coast because in those years neither white nor African-American motels would rent them a room.

Headlee is an experienced, skilled interviewer on NPR, yet she honestly describes her own errors and mistakes in interviewing people.

This is a great book on how to have a conversation, but really, if you haven’t seen her TED talk go watch it before reading the book.


familiar voices

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, even our radio listening.

When Terry and I lived in Gilroy our evening listening Monday through Saturday consisted of the internet stream from KCSM, the public radio jazz service in San Mateo. When we moved to Hemet in 2015 we began listening to the jazz stations in Los Angeles and San Diego. I wanted to avoid any nostalgia for the Bay Area.

KCSM logoAfter a couple of years, however, I switched back to KCSM. I decided that I could listen without undue melancholy or remorse, and I very much enjoy the evening hosts on the Jazz Oasis. When COVID-19 hit KCSM switched to a syndicated public radio jazz service, and we began listening to the Los Angeles jazz station, KKJZ, again. Evening host Steve Tyrell provided an upbeat mood in the midst of a time of pandemic, even if his music selections were a bit repetitious.

Recently, however, the engineering staff at KCSM figured out how to let the Jazz Oasis hosts prerecord their shows from home. It doesn’t matter that they are not live; hearing their familiar voices in the six-to-nine time slot is delightful and comforting in this stressful time.

The KCSM web site states, “Thanks to the College and our staff, especially engineers Rene Renard, Hanns Ullrich, and Chris Cortez, for helping the music to play on!” Terry and I thank them as well. Thank you, KCSM, for returning some peace and pleasure to our evenings.


oh, that’s very different

Emily LitellaI wrote here not long ago about cutting back on our streaming subscriptions. I dropped Hulu and CBS All Access. That was just before we were all told to stay home except for grocery shopping and medical appointments.

And, of course, the library is closed so that cuts off a source of DVDs for Terry. She asked me to subscribe to Acorn to which I agreed when I saw their thirty day free trial and their very attractive annual rate. (For BritBox fans, I have read that Acorn has a larger selection of shows, both BBC and ITV, and they stream the Lucy Lawless series, My Life is Murder, in which she plays a detective in England, something that Terry wanted to see.)

Given current circumstances I had to rethink dropping Hulu. They do have a great selection: Xena (speaking of Lucy Lawless), seventies comedies such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bob Newhart, quirky series such as The Mindy Project, and originals like the new favorably reviewed mini-series Little Fires Everywhere. So, sipping a Scotch and Crystal Geyser (my standard weeknight drink) on a recent evening I reinstated my subscription. And bless their technological hearts, everything I had stored in the My Stuff section was there and preserved for me. Thank you, Hulu.

So in the words of the marvelous Miss Emily Litella, “Neevvverrr Mind!”


heading downstream

Roku packageTerry and I first got serious about streaming video when CBS announced their CBS All Access streaming service and the launch of Star Trek: Discovery. Before that we had Netflix and Amazon Prime which we accessed via our Blu Ray players. With the launch of CBS All Access we bought a Roku device, since our Blu Ray devices didn’t know about CBS All Access.

We knew that we both had surgeries coming up: Terry with her knee replacement surgery in October 2018 and me with my gastrointestinal surgery that ultimately happened in February of last year. We added Hulu as a streaming service and bought a second Roku device for the bedroom. After my surgery and then my setback, which meant a second stay in the hospital, I added CuriosityStream.

As it turned out, neither of us watched a whole lot of streaming video during our respective recoveries. Star Trek: Discovery was a disappointment, as was the first episode of the much-anticipated Star Trek: Picard earlier this year. After some initial streaming of programs like The Mindy Project and WKRP, I rarely watched anything on Hulu, and in spite of its quality content I watched very little on CuriosityStream.

So this month we did the opposite of cord-cutting. We did some stream-narrowing. I cancelled Hulu and CBS All Access. I also cancelled CuriosityStream, but reinstated it when I got an offer for an absurdly low annual rate. That leaves us with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video along with some free services, including PBS and AllArts, which is pretty darn cool.

That will nearly cover the difference in our higher cable bill as our promotional period comes to an end.


why we still get a print newspaper

At our house we spend a lot of money on our print newspapers. Getting a newspaper delivered has gotten quite expensive in the past couple of years, and we’re spending more than I would like, but we persist.

One reason that we persist is that newspapers are part of our daily routine. We read the Los Angeles Times and the Riverside Press-Enterprise weekday evenings when we put our feet up and enjoy our aperitifs. Another has to do with the cartoon below. Newspapers do a public service in their reporting, even if the newsrooms are severely scaled back from what they once were.

Then there’s the fact that our democracy is in danger. Newspapers can help protect it. That alone is reason enough to subscribe.

cartoon about newspapers