The buck drops here: free and Free culture

I was watching Network, a movie that was released (unleashed?) into the world the same year I was.
I have heard it mentioned quite often in the context of critical journalism and rising tension because of an an anaemic and malnourishing production by popular culture. It is a very strong movie when it comes to pointing out the inertia of established media megacorps that will keep running despite the mold-to-gold ratio going from 1:20 to 20:1.

Anyone who has seen my podcast list will know that I consume quite a lot of audio for the price of zero. But I would like to debate this price and whether all parameters are taken into account when applying the market forces to the formula.

And, of course, with this page being what it is, I will also tell you what I think is awesome.

Being a Danish citizen, I pay a national TV license. This covers access to the national TV channels, radio – access by internet included.
Now: Danish Radio is an interesting beast in itself – as I suppose all national broadcasting services are, a mash of history, traditions, transitions and rumor; as is common, it was the only TV channel offered here for a long time, and it had a hard time trying to renew itself. In a play upon the abbreviation, DR was referred to as Dampradioen (the steampowered radio). This impression seems to linger, but DR has made a great effort towards being a modern system – offering a number of digital TV channels with a strong range of programs – and on the radio side, the shows are released as an impressive array of MP3 podcasts with RSS feeds. I am quite pleased with that. I also find it appealing that we, the Danish people, this language minority, pay for the creation of these things and make them available to everyone who understands the language.

Elsewhere in the cultural spectrum we find the other TV channels, for which I pay considerably more. The international channels that provide us with evil crap like Survivor shows, talent shows, cheap sitcoms and the like. To get access to these channels to see movies, we have paid a substantial sum. So I have changed the default subscription that came with my apartment and now pay a quarter of what I used to, cutting around $50 off that bill.
I find that there is a tendency for me to lose interest in TV, to be honest. Perhaps it is just because the children leave me with few hours to spare, and I need something that lets me do other things as well. TV requires a lot of attention, if it is going to be worthwhile.
As I mentioned in my audiobooks article, I had started listening to audiobooks back when we had the dog. As I also mentioned there: I encourage that you donate to these people who give you all these good things for free. As I said, I have changed my subscription service, because they were feeding me crap. I do not intend to spend less – I intend to spend it right! So what I want to do is give some donations to the people providing me with hours and hours of enlightening entertainment. I also want to encourage you to do the same.

Okay, so – into the meat of the story, as they say. As those who know me and this site will know, I am into science, technology, literature and international politics. This focus makes for quite a spectrum, I know. I will start with what I assume will be of more general interest.

To The Best Of Our Knowledge (website, RSS feed) is the first great example. Okay: If you are a quick-fix infojunkie, these are too long – every episode is an hour – but if you are willing and able to listen, it will be a great reward. There are two shows, one centered around culture and more current events, another of a more philosophical nature. They did an excellent Alan Turing episode, a genuinely brilliant feature on the apocalypse with a discussion spanning from the Mayan calendar over a discussion of the cold war to a great interview with Slavoj Žižek. Another great one was an anniversary feature on the life and work of Marshall McLuhan. These are just a few examples of this show getting into culture, education, politics; the show is extremely well done, and it will suck many hours from the life of a podcast addict if you start going through the archives…
Compared to other shows, this one is a somewhat – if not somber, then certainly serious show, But it is solid and intelligent, and never disappointed with anything but the realisation that it is actually hard to find time to listen to them all.
Donations can be made on the Donate page.

Radio Litopia (website, RSS feed) is the next recommendation. This extremely intelligent literary podcast can only be recommended.
It is actually several shows. The primary one is Litopia After Dark, hosted by literary agent Peter Cox. The show covers news in writing, literature and the publishing world – and is rather entertainiFreang. Another show is The Debriefer, in which lawyer and writer Donna Ballman addresses current legal issues in the publishing industry as well as emerging trends in media and copyright. Between The Lines is an interview show in which Peter Cox talks to authors about their background and their works. Open House is a show where listeners and writers who participate in the site forums, the Litopia Colony, can call in and talk, along with a number of word games – intelligent and highly entertaining. Finally, on a more serious note (despite the name) – The Naked Book, a show hosted by Philip Jones, the deputy editor of the magazine The Bookseller. This goes into challenges of the bookpublishing industry – e-books and DRM, selfpub, agency model, the future of bookstores and the like. Interesting for those interested.
All in all, it is fair to say that these shows are intelligent, entertaining and insightful. Their discussions, both serious and humorous, are something I always enjoy listening to.
Instructions for making donations can be found on the Litopia Donate page.

Freakonomics Radio (website, RSS feed) is a podcast which came as a spinoff of the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Their tagline is ‘exploring the hidden side of everything’, which means that they usually go into some sort of economic or consumption theme which, on the outside, seems to make little sense or to react differently than you would expect, but when explored makes more sense. A recent episode named The Cobra Effect refers to what happens when you make a prize scheme for fighting pests or problems, and people react soundly with the opposite result. The title refers to a concept in Delhi, where people were rewarded for killing cobras and bringing them in. The results were that people actually started breeding cobras – they actually speak of cobra farms – and when the plan ended, there were actually no change to that population at all. A good episode was on conspicuous conservation – a trend where personal consumption is used mostly to brand oneself; they measure the significantly higher popularity of the highly recognizable Toyota Prius compared to other hybrid cars end mention a trend in certain areas of putting solar cells on the roof on the side of the house facing the street – not because it is the sunniest side, but because it is visible!
As with all of the WNYC productions, it is extremely polished. Like Radiolab, the show weaves interview with commentary. The hosts are intelligent, educated and definitely worth listening to. The shows vary in length – some are shorter and are fit in as a component of the show Marketplace.
You can support this and the other WNYC shows by donating on the WNYC donation page.

StarTalk Radio (website, RSS feed)  As mentioned in the opening of this article, there is an incredible amount of extremely cheap crap sold extremely expensively in this world. Pop in every sense of the word.
I believe then increasing disgust with this means is the reason for the trend of the rockstar scientists. I suppose that this is not exactly new, but in recent years there has been an increasing focus on a number of high-profile scientists. The most famous example would probably be Stephen Hawking, in part because of his unique situation as someone who has overcome a severely challenging physical situation to become one of the leading scientists in the world. Carl Sagan is famous for his television shows, Richard Feynman for his lectures on physics, Bill Nye as a broad science communicator.
Interestingly, I was unaware of a lot of these people until I came across the Symphony of Science, which managed to convey some very strong feelings about scientific discovery.
One of the most charismatic scientists would be astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. After I first became aware of him, he seems to turn up everywhere! Frankly, I sometimes wonder how he manages to get any work done when he turns up on talk shows, debates, news. And I recently came across Star Talk Radio.
Star Talk Radio is a good combination of entertainment and an introduction to topics on space exploration. Dr. Tyson will take in experts and discuss subjects like sending humans into space, black holes, cataloging the stars and similar topics. Occasionally he will invite actors – he interviewed Morgan Freeman on his TV show on space, Whoopi Goldberg on science interest and recently Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton on the science of Star Trek and the reason they got interested in space.
It is a lively show, and the host is eager to share his broad knowledge. As he is quoted in the Symphony of Science, sometimes you hear scientific discoveries that make you want to go out and shake people in the streets and yell “Have you heard this!?”

Work in progress.

‘casts in the description queue:

Stuff you should know podcasts
Skeptically Speaking
Radiolab
On The Media
Critical Wit

Conceptual layers of society

Kim Rasmussen has made me think of layers of society.

Many of the people in the circles I frequent are high-volume consumers of Ted Talks and podcasts like Radiolab, Freakanomics, To the best of our knowledge, Stuff To Blow Your Mind, Skeptically Speaking and a truckload of technology casts – just to mention a few examples. There is a huge load of such programs of educational entertainment.
I find that this occasionally leads to a mental disconnect where I mention things to people in passing – things that completely blew my mind when I learned about it. A recent example was a conversation I was having where I said “it is like that Dawkins thing about considering your childhood memories, where the remarkable thing is that all of your cells have been replaced over the years, so no part of your body was actually part of this memory, even if you remember experiencing it physically” – and then I continued – until I stopped, because I realised that the person I was talking to was having a mental expansion experience.

In many ways this is what happens when a politician says that there are fairly simple solutions to piracy or child pornography like, say, DNS-blocking. Since this is clearly useless, the conversation completely disconnects my brain between the starting point and an actual solution.
Same thing happens when a teacher is associating freely and comes to the epiphany that it is actually a question of making the children engage in the learning the same way as when they play video games. So I pull out maybe 15 podcast episodes discussing this, or I say ‘Since this is already being done, we should probably focus more on…’ leaving the other person disconnected.

I am not trying to guru myself here, I just have this experience frequently – and I find that this makes it difficult for me to discuss things with a lot of people who actually have an executive role where I have only just grasped the basic principles behind it.

Open source snobbery or why awesome is almost, but not quite enough

So I have a dilemma with what I use as my computing platform. It is a silly thing, but I suspect that others experience a similar thing, and that makes it something worth considering. It is a technical issue mixed with, or undermined by, aesthetics.

I have been a Linux user for a number of years – in various incarnations. I started out as a Red Hat user – back then I dual-booted between Windows and Red Hat, partly because getting a working internet connection was a challenge. I changed to Mandrake Linux which was impressive enough to let me change entirely. After that I tried out a large number of Linux distributions as well as variations of the BSDs. I settled on Slackware with Slackware 10.0 and enjoyed the Slackware philosophy: You can set up this system to do and be anything. I learned to rewrite the boot scripts, recompile the kernel to only support the hardware I owned but do that well. It was a great satisfaction.

However, with my two most recent laptops, both Thinkpads, I have experienced difficulties with wireless as well as power management. It seems they have the same issues with suspend, and the wireless connection is consistently dropping. The first aspect I have found an explanation for and solution to, but not the latter.
As a result, I have had to leave Slackware and look elsewhere for the most fitting system   for this old X32. And this leads me to an embarrassing problem with making an appropriate choice.

I guess it comes down to a perception of hierarchy. Plainly, everyone will agree that Slackware is a distribution for Linux users who know their way around the basic Linux system, simply because if you don’t, you are not going to get an installation that is usable.
What this means is that Slackware is an endgame distribution. If one looks at the mailing lists, people have been using Slackware for ages, and people who end up with Slackware are going to stay there.
However, if you have to become a refugee from Slackware, the original Linux distribution, it is going to be an extremely ambivalent process. Because you already made it all the way.

I am using Fedora 16, the Lxde respin. And actually, this is a lovely distribution. It is lightweight, it is up to date, it will do the nice things you want without too much customisation. However, it goes through a lot of stuff before it is ready to log in, and I have no way of gettng a feel for the system. And it gives the distinct impression that one is not supposed to. A lot of stuff works automagically on this system, and it does seem a bit sensitive to tampering. I should not neglect to mention that one can get quite spoiled using a system which will do a lot automatically compared to a distribution where one has to do a lot of work before using it will be smooth and simple…

Now of course, the most marketed hobbyist distribution is Ubuntu. But that is a mainstream beginners’ distribution with a questionable approach to community and going for the mindshare. Leaving aside that Gnome3 and Unity will not run on my hardware, Ubuntu simply does not appeal to me. While Linux Mint is considerably more appealing visually and when it comes to functionality – I just downloaded their new Lxde release, and it works quite well – but I always get bugs with these Ubuntu derivatives, and somehow a couple of lines of terminal output will always peek out. If one is running an OS where this is intentional, that is not a problem, but with these, it just looks sloppy. I can also choose to see it the way that they can’t be bothered to support the older hardware I have chosen to buy. This does not make it more appealing.

Recently, I have installed Chakra and Arch – they both had some boot issues I could not track down. They would boot, but they would be probing the hardware for so long that it was pointless. I tried FreeBSD, GhostBSD and PC-BSD – they give a strange boot freeze error. The Red Hat Enterprise/CentOS/Scientific Linux family will not accept my machine because it has to go with PAE – which my CPU does not. Since this is an older machine, I am not even going to attempt to make Gentoo play on it. It would take me a week to build a usable system on this old iron. Dragora, while interesting as a Free-as-in-freedom-FSF-approved take on Slackware, simply won’t give me a good X.org implementation.
I mention these because they are respectable systems. Arch, FreeBSD and RHEL are distributions for technologists. Fedora gets a few bonus points as a member of the Red Hat family with a healthy dose of community.

Long story short, I feel a bit like a phony, and the more I use this, I feel less of the feeling that made me happy about running an open source craftsman’s OS. For the time being, I will stick with Fedora. I have Debian Live sitting on a USB stick next to me – Debian is a respectable community tool. A bit of work would be needed to really get into it. When I used Debian way back, it seemed very elaborate, but powerful.

The quest continues…

Newsbeuter – RSS reader with good podcast features

I have recently become aware of an RSS reader called Newsbeuter. It is quite different from the tools I usually use for the task, so some observations are in order.

RSS – Really Simple Syndication – is a way of getting updates about a site or service. I use RSS feeds for two distinctly different things.
First, I use the feeds for site updates, which I do for two reasons. One is for friends and people I know and respect who update their weblogs and the like, or magazines. It is good to be on top of things. The other side of that is that I receive updates to software I use, applications like Uget, for instance, which I package for Slackware.
The second major thing is podcasts & podiobooks. Ever since we got a dog and I had to walk endless miles with him – and later on with our son – I have been listening to a lot of podcasts and podiobooks. The latter is an audiobook released as a podcast – as in chapters released one by one.

Now, there is a truckload of RSS readers. The principles are simple – an RSS file is basically an XML file. But the application is done differently. For my particular purposes, most programs for the task have been a frustrating acquaintance. Until recently I was using the plugin Newsfox with Firefox, but I have discovered an even better tool: Newsbeuter.

Newsbeuter screenshot

Newsbeuter video
Newsbeuter video



As you see, there are two sides to using Newsbeuter as a podcatcher – there is the main Newsbeuter interface, and if you are going to download files from it, you enqueue them for download and access the Podbeuter application (which is packed with Newsbeuter). Podbeuter will work as a download manager.
To be honest, Podbeuter is really very good – as a download manager. Frankly, if I could find a way to push download links to Podbeuter, I would use it as my main download manager for all other kinds of files, too! In the background, it uses Curl for the download.
Newsbeuter is quite well-documented at the website documentation section, but primarily you will need the files config and urls, which I put in ~/.newsbeuter:

Config – here is my config file:

# Newsbeuter config file.
# To be placed in ~/.newsbeuter or ~/.config/newsbeuter
always-display-description	true
auto-reload			yes
browser				firefox
cleanup-on-quit			yes
download-retries		10
download-timeout		20
refresh-on-startup		yes
reload-time			10
download-path			~/Downloads
max-downloads			2

Is is probably fairly self-explanatory, but I go into the reasons for the setup in the video.

– and of course the urls file. You can  probably guess what it contains. Here is my urls file – basically just a link list.

Broken Sea – a fanfic site

 A new addition to my original audiobook article, I would like to mention Broken Sea.

This site is dedicated to fan fiction, the genre where the author sets the story in an established universe. An example of this is A Different Point of View, a serialised audiobook from the viewpoint of a Star Wars stormtrooper.
This is a contested issue from time to time because of the copyright issues, but here we have Broken Sea, a site apparently dedicated to a wide range of fan fiction.
I have not listened to all of it, for several reasons. First, there is an insane amount of audio, they have really been hugely productive. But also, the authors set some of the stories on the background of shows I have never heard of. An example is Logan’s Run, a show a lot people have said good things about, but I have no idea…
What I can say is that I have listened to the Dr. Who show, and that is very well done. While I only really got into the Tom Baker version of the Doctor, I liked the show, and this audio show certainly fits well in that atmosphere.
Another show I caught was Gaia, a show set in the Star Trek universe. Of course, one would expect to find Trekkies on a site like this… the show is well-written and well-performed, and I find that the characters are quite balanced and interestingly diverse. Gaia is a zoo ship working as a sort of ark to prevent ecological disaster wiping out the Earth species, a situation the Earth has recently been recovering from.
While I have not had time to listen to the others yet, I noted Battlestar GalacticaX-filesTwilight Zone and Planet of the Apes. Already with this list – about half of the shows – I would have enough audio to last me for a very long time,  even if I took a break from podcasts.

Audiobooks – a beginner selection

Part of the point of this website – though it may not be as obvious as it was at the beginning – is to discuss literature.
While I have recently had my books on the Russian Liberation Movement returned to me, making this an obvious topic for a future article, there is another thing I have been thinking about doing a feature on.

I started listening to audiobooks when I had a dog. This may seem a curious result, but our dog Pushkin (every literary reference intended) got me walking ten miles a day, and it gets old… at the time I was listening to podcasts like Lugradio and Linux Reality, and Chess Griffin did a Linux Reality episode where he mentioned podiobooks – serialized audiobooks.. I listened to a couple of them – 7th Son by J. C. Hutchins and the outstanding and extremely creepy sci-fi horror story Crescent by Phil Rossi – and have been doing it ever since.
When I was a teenager, I briefly looked into audiobooks and… hated them. At the time, I was entirely unable to deal with the fact that they ran at a pace different from my reading speed. Also, I suspect that this was because the people reading the audiobooks were talking… very… slowly… and… without… variation…
So that wasn’t a winner.. But it has changed. Partly because a book like Crescent has good effects and a narrative style that will keep my attention.

I get the impression that people are getting more into it, along with the popularity of podcasts. I actually see audiobook CDs in the stores nowadays, a sure sign of the time. I suspect this is partially because nearly everyone has an audio player available these days. Even a fairly cheap phone like my Elm has a decent MP3 player and 2 Gigs of storage built in.

But where to start? Well, I have a solid selection. I’ll show you.

Detective stories

From the thriller-plus-entertainment department: Black Jack Justice is a classic hard-boiled, banter-centric series of episodes, where each episode is a finished story.
Jack and his girl detective sidekick Trixie Dixon and a gallery of entertainingly stereotypical characters work their way their way through their cases, aided and obstructed by cops and crooks alike. If you are into old sleuth movies, you will want to listen to these.
Also, they are a good introduction to audiobooks, because they are finished segments, well-read and with good effects.

Though other themes are involved here – but genre mix is probably the case with independent publication more often than mainstream –  Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword is another detective novel set in Chicago in the thirties. Billibub is a dwarf warrior magically transported from his own Tolkien-style universe, ending up in Chicago. After getting his bearings, he starts his own detective agency. The story is a curious mash-up of Billibub’s reflections mixed in with experience from his old world – as in battle axes and elvish ladies – but Tee Morris also manages to wrangle a real detective novel out of it.
The story is published as a podiobook, i.e. a series of recorded chapters.

Sci-Fi and variations

Jake Bible’s Dead Mech is a potent action-packed sci-fi horror novel. The population has been decimated by a zombie infestation. As a result, soldiers go out in giant mechs to fight the zombies, and with good results; however, when a pilot dies in his mech, you suddenly have a zombie mech… and that’s a different story.
If you can’t stand blood and gore, don’t consider this one. If you don’t mind and can take the soldier jargon, this one is for you. You certainly won’t be bored.

It is hard to get around published and bestselling Scott Sigler (more of him in this article) when talking about audio- and particularly Podiobooks. I would actually recommend listening to all of it, but a good place to start is Earthcore. He is tough and talented.

One of the most well-known and appreciated audiobooks ever must be the 7th Son books by J. C. Hutchins. After the assassination of the US president, a group of people with very different backgrounds are captured and brought together, and it is revealed to them that they are actually clones – that their childhood memories are not actually their own, but belonging to the original person, John Alpha, from whom they are cloned – and who has now gone rogue. He is behind the murder of the president and with plans for considerably worse acts.

Christof Laputka brings The Leviathan Chronicles, an elaborate story centering around  a young woman who discovers that she is in fact descendant of an woman who was the first of a group of immortal humans. Fractions of these immortals wage war on each other, while a government agency is also trying to eradicate them.
This serialized audiobook is an extremely polished product with professional voice acting, production and sound effects.

Action/Thriller

Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff won a Parsec Award – the award of excellence in the field of audiobooks/Podiobooks – for his high-paced thriller Number One with a Bullet. In this story, retired hitman Johnny Dane is drawn into a contest setting the world’s best assassins against each other with a group of very wealthy men betting on the outcome.
Nemcoff tells the story with great voices and ever-changing pace.
Update May 2013: Nemcoff has taken these books off of Podiobooks, and I can not seem to find the audiobook anymore. Still, his website links to a selection of his audiobooks. Do consider them – he is a strong action writer.

In his podiobook 65 Below, Basil Sands takes us to Alaska. Retired Marine Marcus Orlando Johnson is confronted with a complex plot for a terrorist plan to unleash an extremely potent biological weapon.
A well-told story with good characters. While this is my favorite Basil Sands book, consider also listening to his Faithful Warrior.
Update September 2012: Basil Sands has taken these books off of Podiobooks, which makes them less free, but not less good, and you would have made a donation anyway, right? The books are available for purchase from basilsands.com.

From a more scientific angle, Bill DeSmedt brings us Singularity, a thriller based on the premise that the Tunguska meteor impact was in fact a tiny black hole now orbiting inside the Earth. There is even a sort of scientific companion to the book explaining the physics. An intelligent read working from an interesting hypothesis.

Horror

I have to say, I would never have expected an audiobook to be scary. I also have to say that Crescent by Phil Rossi had my skin crawling. I often listen to these books while doing something else, but this one had me stopping to listen. The story takes place on Crescent Station. This is a story in space, but there are bad things even there, lurking in the night, wanting to chew on your flesh…
There are good… as in effective… effects in this story. Don’t listen to this if you have a heart condition, but if you like a good horror story, go for this one.

In the same family, but from a different angle, is Where Evil Grows by S. Lawrence Parrish. This is more of a young adult type of serialized novel; it deals with a group of teenagers with their kind of issues – along with a more sinister presence growing at the school. It is somewhat reminiscent of It by Stephen King or Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. It is a solid piece – not chilling like Crescent, but well told and catchy.

Steampunk

Only one recommendation for this category, but a strong one. The Gearheart by Alex White introduces the Seekers, a mysterious order merging mechanics and magic. There is spying and deceit, there are mechanical beings, there are intricate mechanical devices kept running by magical glyphs signed by magician mechanics. Very pure steampunk. Certain things – particularly the order of the Seekers – reminded me of the universe portrayed in the incredibly immersive (and addictive, if it is your thing) video game series Thief.
It is worth taking a look at the interview with Alex White at The Traveler’s Steampunk Blog. He has done the voices – an impressive array of distinctive voices – with his wife, and he has composed and played the featured music himself.
Note that there is also a sequel, Maiden Flight of the Avenger; I recommend listening to The Gearheart first.

Fantasy

Now, I am really not a Fantasy guy. I read the Dragonlance books and Ravenloft and loved them, but apart from that, writers trying to become the next Tolkien who invent their own languages so it all sounds like Celtic Klingons with Old Norse cousins… hard for me.
However, I will recommend two books.
The first, Murder at Avedon Hill by P. G. Holyfield, is a very solid tale – it is like a fantasy version of Name of the Rose: An intelligent monk and his apprentice investigate the death of a local woman employed at the local manor. Secrets and magic. It is well-written and well-told.

Second, The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker – also a fantasy crime novel of sorts. A female police officer is tasked with going undercover to stop the assassin threatening the life of the emperor. Magical beings, murder and political intrigue make this story interesting.

Unholy mix

As it may be clear, it is a bit of a challenge to find a category for Underwood and Flinch. While the book has aspects of a horror story – it revolves around a family – Flinch – of servants  to an ancient vampire, Underwood. So, just to make it easier on you: It is a horror-thriller with a solid dose of comedy.

Fan fiction

A new addition to the original article, I would like to mention Broken Sea.
This site is dedicated to fan fiction, the genre where the author sets the story in an established universe. An example of this is A Different Point of View, a serialised audiobook from the viewpoint of a Star Wars stormtrooper.
This is a contested issue from time to time because of the copyright issues, but here we have Broken Sea, a site apparently dedicated to a wide range of fan fiction.
I have not listened to all of it, for several reasons. First, there is an insane amount of audio, they have really been hugely productive. But also, the authors set some of the stories on the background of shows I have never heard of. An example is Logan’s Run, a show a lot people have said good things about, but I have no idea…
What I can say is that I have listened to the Dr. Who show, and that is very well done. While I only really got into the Tom Baker version of the Doctor, I liked the show, and this audio show certainly fits well in that atmosphere.
Another show I caught was Gaia, a show set in the Star Trek universe. Of course, one would expect to find Trekkies on a site like this… the show is well-written and well-performed, and I find that the characters are quite balanced and interestingly diverse. Gaia is a zoo ship working as a sort of ark to prevent ecological disaster wiping out the Earth species, a situation the Earth has recently been recovering from.
While I have not had time to listen to the others yet, I noted Battlestar Galactica, X-files, Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes. Already with this list – about half of the shows – I would have enough audio to last me for a very long time,  even if I took a break from podcasts.
I will update this section when I have listened to more of the shows.

I should not neglect to say: These deeply talented people have made these stories available to us. Consider giving them a contribution. Most of them have versions of their works for sale, sometimes in print, sometimes ebooks, sometimes higher-quality recordings.

The unrespecting gentleman

I feel it is in its place to comment on the Open Respect initiative by Jono Bacon, because I believe that Jono has all the right intentions – but there are some concepts in this which are problematic.
The essence of Open Respect is to encourage an exchange of ideas and opinions in, to quote, a respectful manner.

First, Jono’s statement:

  • Respect is not judging people based upon their genetic or social attributes, but instead the quality and content of their discourse.
  • Respect is not just civility in communication, but also respecting other people for making their own choices, even if you disagree with them.
  • Respect is sharing opinions so a mutual understanding of principles is understood, but then giving others the freedom to pursue their own paths without fear of persecution by those who have made different decisions or have different definitions of freedom and openness.
  • Respect is engaging in honest, open and polite debate with the goal of enriching each others perspectives, not for the purpose of proving each wrong.
  • Respect is understanding that others often pour their heart and souls into their work, and being sensitive of this emotional connection to their work, particularly in times of critique

Source: OpenRespect.org

Now, the issue he is addressing here and in a previous blog post is as old as debate itself, but is perhaps – probably – aggravated by the internet troll mentality, the online literary equivalent of road rage; some issues simply inflame people. Many reasons for this, and I could discuss that as well and get flamed to a crisp.
Part of what makes this particular initiative problematic is that respect is actually ambiguous, as is made clear in the responses to his blogpost. An example of this is a comment by Fab, known by listeners of the Linux Outlaws podcast; Fab comments that in his view, respect is something you earn. And I dare say that when Jono uses the term, he talks about respectful behavior in the sense of politeness. What he does not address is the fact that people who do not have a civil tone in a debate, online or personally, simply do not respect the person they talk to. As in, they feel a personal disrespect for the person they are debating with.

Frankly, I hear a lot of voices on the net – people I simply do not have any respect for. People I think are wrong in their interpretations, naïve in their views and repulsive in their morals. But what is that to me? It is, of course, the dilemma of a gentleman that one of the most uncivilized things to do is telling people they are impolite.

When there is a debate, criticizing people has nothing to do with respect, and I find it clutters things to bring that up. I write this piece to say that Jono is going about this the wrong way – partly because I believe such an initiative is futile, whatever the intentions, partly because I find his choice of title unfortunate – but at the same time, I have a personal respect for Jono for the work with Lugradio and for doing his Severed Fifth project to draw some conclusions about the strength of Creative Commons and the community around his music. And so, a critique would be the decent thing to do, because that is part of the debate.

It is, of course, a question of basic decency. It is a question of addressing a debate in a civilized fashion. I would want to do so to people I hold in great esteem, and I would want to do so with people in whom I find little to respect. In the end, it is a question of respect – for yourself. And one would do well to consider when a debate is actually needed; often enough, these debates can look like the unstoppable heading towards the immovable with no sort of agreement on the horizon except, in the very best of cases, agreeing to disagree.

And why do I find the futile? Consider a sign beside a trashcan saying “Please put trash in the trashcan”. My old workplace was always cluttered with such signs until I tore them all down. Those who will be civilized about it will be civilized about it – is a sign going to make any difference to the others? I feel that Jono has made a digital signpost trying to ask people not to be unpleasant. The results are predictable.

Kimai

Today, in the business area: Time tracking. Kimai.

The Kimai project originated from Germany, which is also evident in some of the default values you encounter along the way – but to comment on first glance: You are asked whether you prefer an installation in English or in German.

There are several aspects of time tracking. On one hand, there is measuring the time – how much time has been spent on what; second, there is how much time it has taken to work on a specific task, perhaps as part of a larger project. Maybe there are more people we need to track, but they still may work on the same project. And maybe this is one of several projects associated with a client we would like to wrest some money out of.
Kimai is a web client allowing individual users to log in. You select a customer and a project – and a task to track time for.

There are two ways of doing this.
One way is to simply use this as a notepad for time you have already registered – and a calculator to report on how much has been registered so you know how much to squeeze the client for.
The other is to push the huge green button on the interface – and it will start a stop watch. Now, doing that like this is clever; it is tied to a web-based system. That means that if you need to use another computer to do this work – or the copier, fax, scanner or hangglider – the clock will keep ticking, and once you come back, you can log in and stop the clock. It will register the hours you have spent on the task. This also means that if you have to do client services while on vacation by the hot, sandy beach, you can still go to your local internet café, log in, start your timer, help out your client, quit it – and your home accountant can log in to collect the cash from the client, and your colleagues can log in to see what has been done on the job.

Now, your home accountant doesn’t have to go that far to collect, because Kimai will create a timetrack report, and even an invoice for the client. Kimai doesn’t really do accounting, so it is simply a question of converting the relevant billable time to an invoice, and your accounting system – and we will be covering the very promising Phreebooks soon – will do the rest.

There is one issue we have come across, and a potential feature – both of which have been taken up in the development forums: First, there is a bit of confusion when you are in a different timezone from your Kimai installation, because while the installation will show local time in the interface, it will use server time in the tracked time and report. And while this will not change the time spent, it may place billable time on a different date from what you – and, more importantly, your client – has experienced. This is a real issue in a world where your system hosting is not necessarily on the same continent as you – and with a company spanning many time zones, this would be an issue. After addressing this on the forums, it seems that it is a recurring request – and a fix has been committed to be included in the upcoming release. As a completely web-based operation, we have submitted a feature suggestion: That since this system is tied into the user, it might be practical to associate a per-user time zone. Consider a law firm with a branch in New York, Houston and San Francisco. In this case, it would be useful for every Kimai user to have an associated time zone. Also, it is possible to create groups for users, and a suggestion for this issue could be to create a group for varying offices; of course, this would require multiple-group membership as an option, since one would still need to be in the accountant group, even if registered as part of the Houston group.
From the category of not-too-serious-but-nice-to-have, it should be mentioned that when you create a customer, there are no additional fields beside the customer’s name/identifier. We have submitted a feature request to make it possible to add more info on the clients in order to make it a lightweight CRM, partly because of the invoice feature.

Kimai will not let you work on the same project for several clients. While we will agree that this is not the most obvious combination, it has been done in situations where a cooperation agreement is place, and various clients will pay for different aspects of a project. Of course, this is something one can work around. This is not a project management system, but a time tracker with integrated reporting and invoicing.