Context-Dependent Memory

Jon Udell recently wrote about his experiences with context-dependent memory associated with his podcast listening while bike riding. He explains it thusly.

I’ve noticed a weird synaesthesia effect. When I first listened to Jim Gray’s discussion of asynchrony I was at mile 23 of this route. When I listened to it again and transcribed the quote for my blog, I saw that landscape again. It works the other way too. If I repeat a route, I remember what I heard along the way.

I’m glad to know that someone else has experienced this, and in particular, in association with podcast listening. It happens to me all the time too. So the world I walk in has now become the index for audible information that my brain has stored. Jon concludes:

I can’t decide what’s more strange or wonderful: the fact that I have an URL that points to mile 23 of that route, or the fact that an important idea from Jim Gray is waiting for me when I get there.

That’s a pretty damn cool thought. Thanks Jon!

After the Flood

In a recent post, I pointed you to an article written by a paramedic couple that were trapped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They were featured recently on This American Life. The episode is in the 2005 archives in Real Audio format, under episode number 296, entitled “After the Flood”.

It’s disturbing and angering, but there are great moments of true humanity as well. And we find out from another interviewee about the true mission of the “armed thugs” moving about the Convention Center. It is well worth listening to and spending some time contemplating.

How to Stream an MP3 Download

Streaming sucks, at least when it’s your only option. I mean, who wants to be tied to a wire when you could otherwise be walking around with the MP3 in your pocket? But sometimes you want to listen to an MP3 right away, without having to wait for the download to finish first. Well, in Winamp or xmms, you can just open the URL of the MP3 and it’ll play as it downloads. Hence, you’re streaming it. But I don’t recommend this method—it doesn’t give you enough control, like having the MP3 on your hard disk once you’re done.

Rather, in Linux, start the download with wget and then open the partially-downloaded file in xmms. You can play it as normal, as long as the downloading stays ahead of the listening. This works because Linux allows you to read a file as it’s being written. It does the Right Thing (TM). If you need to skip around in the file as it’s playing, you might have to quit and restart xmms, though.

Lance Anderson’s Magic

Lance Anderson’s recent Verge of the Fringe stories are brewing with the brilliant series entitled “The Pakistan Files”. Download the mp3s and hear Lance tell the tale of “The Twin Towers, The FBI and Goofballs” that suddenly showed up in his life, and just as suddenly, disappeared. If it happened to him, maybe it could happen to any one of us…

Before I Discovered Podcasting

Right before I discovered or understood podcasting, I came across this November 23, 2004 Engadget article entitled How-To: BroadCatching using RSS + BitTorrent to automatically download TV shows. Essentially, the article explains how one could use the RSS feeds from BitTorrent TV sites to automatically receive TV shows of one’s choosing as they become available for download. At the time, it thought the idea was brilliant.

The word “podcast” isn’t mentioned in the article, but it does appear in the comments. I was probably only a few days away from understanding the whole RSS / Enclosure miracle of podcasting. The first podcast I ever listened to was the November 11, 2004 episode of Evil Genius Chronicles. But I don’t think I understood what it was until a few episodes later.

Since that time, I haven’t ever made use of RSS for catching TV shows, but I have become an active podcatcher of audio content. And Evil Genius Chronicles is still my top show.

A Secret Chinese Language

Here’s a very interesting interview of Lisa See, a journalist and culturalist, who went to a remote part of China to investigate a secret, ancient language used only by women known as Nü Shu 女书. It is the story of well-to-do women who spent their whole lives in isolation in upper-story bedrooms. They developed this language to secretly explore their inner lives and to communicate to other women in similar isolation.

It is a fascinating look at an obscure part of Chinese history and culture.

Spell Check, Anyone?

I bought a Don Williams CD from a fairly mainstream music store here in Beijing. It looked okay, had holograms in all the right places, and even had a silver ingot inside the see-through spine, bearing the name of the record label: “Bailey”. When I actually opened the package and turned the disc over, the recorded surface was all pitted and didn’t look right. So I wasn’t surprised when my CD player couldn’t read the Table of Contents. Fortunately, my computer’s CD player was able to read it without problems. But here’s the most interesting bit. The warning that goes around the outer label of the disc reads as follows:


As a former Social Studies teacher of mine used to say, “I kid you not.” Spell check, anyone? Nope, not in China. I guess what I bought wasn’t legitimate after all. The music’s great, though.

An old recording of my Grandpa

Here’s a little gem from my audio collection. Actually, I found it in my Dad’s collection of LPs. It’s a self-recorded record, not an LP, but I otherwise don’t know how to classify it. It’s much thicker than a commercial LP, a slightly different colour (not as shiny), and only recorded on one side. LPs are recorded at 33⅓ rpm, and singles at 45 rpm. Well, when I played this back, I had to go to the highest setting on my record player—78 rpm. The record sleeve carried the only marking of the contents—my Grandpa’s name.

The recording is a 3-minute mini-sermon that my Grandpa probably delivered on the radio (CJNB, perhaps) back in his radio preaching days. He talks about Revival and Canadian society, and the responsibility that Christians have in doing God’s work. He starts with the exhortation, “Revival is a matter of everyone sharing the load in God’s work…”.

Unfortunately, there is no date marked on the recording. Given the subject matter, the language used, and the availability of cassette tapes in recent decades, I would place the recording in the 1970s at the latest, but even the 1960s would be a possibility.

It is interesting to note that my Grandpa’s voice on the recording is much higher in pitch than I am used to. Of course, I realize that the recording process and the playback process probably took place at different speeds, thus affecting the pitch that I heard. In fact, as I was cleaning up the digitized audio, I reduced the speed (and hence the pitch) of the audio by 3% to make it sound most natural in terms of my perception of my Grandpa’s pitch and the likely rate of speech.

Here is the audio to give you a sense of what my Grandpa sounded like back when he was younger. We have a Johnson family reunion taking place this summer, so I welcome my family who have come here to download this. I’ll see you guys soon.

Berthuld Thomas Johnson, on Revival (2:59, 1.3 MB)

[Rev. Bert Johnson at the microphone]

Update: Thanks to my Aunt Wendy for providing this picture. It’s wonderful! And, discussion in the comments to this post seems to suggest that the recording is more likely from the 1950s. Wow! Thanks, everyone, for commenting.