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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Circling the audible block...

Two or three years ago I subscribed to There were several reasons to do so at the time. If I recall, the immediate attraction was some promotion in which they gave away their in-house "audio device" (called an Otis) in exchange for a one-year commitment for 12 audio books. But it was also a time when I was commuting by car each week between my home in Beverly, Massachusetts and my job at Rutgers in Newark, New Jersey (a post-9/11 adjustment; I use to fly when it was cheap and convenient to do so). After a month or two I was growing tired of both my CD collection and listening to the same old radio programs. (I was also becoming self-conscious about how it looked to other commuters along the Merritt Turnpike (Route 15) in Connecticut when they saw this bearded, white-haired 50+ year old singing along to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, putting special energy into the "Galileo" and "Scaramouch" bits.) Also, a colleague who did a great deal of commuting suggested I might want to try listening to books I would not otherwise read during the (typically) five-hour drive to and from New Jersey.

I made good use of that initial subscription and actually enjoyed some of the readings. But eventually I found the choice of interesting titles to be limited, and the need to keep driving around the block until the reader completed the current chapter became annoying....

My son picked up the subscription from where I left off, and given the titles I found accumulated in the "My Library" folder at my account he made very good use of it. Since I've been in Belfast for the past year and a half, I really had no reason to visit the site. On my last trip to the States however, I picked up an iPod mini and noticed that the iTunes software had some special download process for the site. Going back to my account page I discovered that I had 12 unused book credits that needed to be used by May 2005 (and I vaguely recall my son telling me that he created his own account).

Looking over the list of titles, I can see a few that would be worth downloading and listening to, but overall the selection is pretty thin for my tastes. What they have built up over the past couple of years are the subscription services to the New York Times, National Public Radio news shows, and a few worthwhile interview shows (e.g., Charlie Rose, Terry Gross). I'm tempted to subscribe to those, but most are easily accessed on the Web. Instead, I've downloaded a number of titles that I might listen to on the iPod during my mile-long daily trek to and from the office in Belfast.

The folks have also posted a number of free "public service" items which can be accessed for no cost. This includes major speeches, testimony at commission hearings, and a series of lectures being given at the Library of Congress on the digital future. Today I listened to the first of these, a lecture given by David Weinberger on November 15 last. Weinberger is affiliated with Harvard's internet center and the author of several books and articles on contemporary 'online' life. I had not heard of Weinberger before, although he is obviously well known among bloggers (he was introduced as a 'key advisor' for the now famous Howard Dean campaign blog, although he plays down that role). But after listening to his relatively short and entertaining presentation, I plan to read as much of his work as I can possibly access. During the lecture he kept making references to some visuals, thus highlighting one of the obvious drawbacks to an posting of such things, but I later discovered a C-SPAN link to the same lecture that can be viewed with RealPlayer online.

I hope to post comments on -- and reactions to -- the Weinberger lecture over the next few days, and I'm looking forward to listening to (or viewing) the other lectures from that series in the near future. If they're anything like the Weinberger presentation, they'll be worth the time it takes for me to keep walking around the block....
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