Top of the Podcast Queue

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I've been an enthusiastic podcast listener for many years, but several months ago I noticed myself falling way behind on my queue. Part of it was that I had accumulated too many podcast subscriptions. But my subscription list had grown a bit stale as well. I find that I can "like" a podcast, but still accumulate a backlog of unplayed episodes for subconscious reasons. And more backlogs are the last thing I need in my life.

It was time to shake things up.

So I let some old favorites go and injected a bunch of new shows. They weren't all winners, but I did find some new favorites that I now devour as soon as they pop up in my queue.

The Daily

Podcasts from traditional media companies often feel like half-assed side projects. The Daily, a new podcast from The New York Times, is something different. It's a 15-minute show that runs five days a week. Host Michael Barbaro covers the top stories of the day, pulling in Times journalists from various specialized beats to dive deeper into specific topics.

I've tried the "here's what you need to know today" genre in the past, and it's never stuck. It's hard to find a balance between too high level to be useful or so in the weeds that it gets too tedious to keep up with daily. The Daily nails this balance perfectly and packages everything up with great pacing and sound design. It never feels like too little or too much.

My favorite episode so far: Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 (today!)

Crimetown

Crimetown from Gimlet Media is a fresh take on the true crime genre that sets itself apart from the crowd of Serial wannabes. The show devotes a full season to the crime culture of a single city.

Season 1 focuses on Providence, R.I., which has a colorful history of organized crime and political corruption. As someone who grew up just over the Massachusetts border from Rhode Island during during the heyday of Buddy Cianci and the Patriarca crime family, I was going to devour this no matter what. But it's extremely well done, and I will continue to listen even when the show moves on to other cities that are less near and dear to me.

Hosts Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier are accomplished documentarians and do a stellar job at blending narration, first-person interviews, and archival audio into a tight and engaging format. They've also partnered with the local newspaper of record, The Providence Journal, to make a rich set of archival photos and documents available on their website as a companion to each episode.

My favorite episode so far: The Making of a Mayor.

Pod Save the World

I was in early on Keepin' It 1600, The Ringer's breakout political podcast featuring former Obama adminstration staffers Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor, Jon Lovett, and Dan Pfeiffer. Following the election, Favreau, Vietor, and Lovett parted ways with The Ringer and launched their own company, Crooked Media, with a more overtly activist mission.

Pod Save America, their debut podcast, rebooted the Keepin' It 1600 format of banter about the latest Trump administration antics and short interviews with journalists and political figures. It was quickly followed by a second show, Pod Save the World, with Vietor, Obama's former national security spokesman, doing one-on-one interviews with foreign policy experts.

I've really enjoyed Pod Save the World's more focused format and the opportunity to hear in-depth perspectives from key players from the Obama administration who are now free to speak more candidly about thorny policy topics like Benghazi and the Iran nuclear deal. It's less of a show about politics than it is a behind the scenes look at how our government conducts itself internationally.

My favorite episode so far: Secret Iran Talks with Jake Sullivan.

How I Built This

How I Built This is an NPR podcast that features interviews with entrepreneurs about the ups and downs of creating something. This format is harder than it sounds to pull off, since it's easy for successful entrepreneurs to come across with a smug "here's how I was smarter than everyone else" tone. How I Build This has managed to avoid this so far.

Host Guy Raz has turned the microphone on a diverse set of entrepreneurs, ranging from larger than life personalities like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban, founders of quintessential Silicon Valley startups like Instagram, Airbnb, and Lyft, and less conventional success stories like Angie's List and Melissa and Doug. An aspect that I've found very inspiring is the guests' candor about the challenges and setbacks they encountered along the way. It's easy to think of every successful company as an overnight success, but it's surprising how many faced near death experiences along the way.

My favorite episode so far: Airbnb: Joe Gebbia.

My Accidental Video Editing Application Bake Off

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I would describe my video editing expertise level as "jack of all applications, master of none." I have the most experience with Adobe Premiere. I've used it a bit for work videos, most often in collaboration with others who did the hard stuff. I even took an introductory Premiere class a couple of years back. I took extensive notes that I refer to from time to time, but very little of what I learned in the class became muscle memory for me thanks to infrequent use.

I've also used Final Cut Pro X and its predecessors for basic edits over the years. And more recently, I've played around with iMovie on the iPad for some quick videos for family and social media.

As I set out to make more videos, it's important for me to settle on a video editing application that I can master over time. If the process of editing videos becomes faster and more natural, I'll do it more. But setting on an application to use has been trickier than expected.

Adobe Premiere CC

Going in, Adobe Premiere seemed like a rather obvious choice. It's widely used by both professionals and serious amateurs. I have some baseline experience with it. It will help me the most in my day job and make it easy to collaborate with others. And as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, it also serves as a great "gateway drug" to other powerful applications like Adobe After Effects.

There's only one problem: I don't enjoy using Adobe Premiere. I have this problem with other Adobe applications as well. They are very powerful, and they are often the de facto standard for certain types of creative work. But they are also often clunky and slow to use. It's nothing I can't muddle my way through, particularly if I'm getting paid to do it. But life is too short to spend personal leisure time fighting with software that isn't fun to use.

Nonetheless, I tried to power through these reservations late last year. I started an Adobe Premiere Skillshare class over the holidays that, in addition to giving me a general refresher, provided some good pointers on how to organize the Premiere user interface in ways that were more intuitive for me. OK, I thought, I can bend this thing to my will and make it fun.

But it fought back. From a performance standpoint, Adobe Premiere was painful to use on a MacBook Air that, while a few years old, performs perfectly well with everything thing else I throw at it. It went from clunky to unusable when I started experimenting with 4K footage. I'm sure there were some settings I could have tweaked to generate proxy media that my system wouldn't choke on, but I had this sense that there would always be something.

I ended up aborting my Adobe Premiere Skillshare class before completion and switching to a Final Cut Pro class.

Final Cut Pro X

While Adobe Premiere seems to be the choice of many serious video creators, Apple's Final Cut Pro X is still very much in the mix. Apple alienated some of its longtime Final Cut Pro users by making some polarizing changes to the application during a major re-write that released in 2011, but in the process I think they made it more approachable for people who are new to video editing but crave professional features.

I find the user interface much more pleasant, and it performed extremely well on my MacBook Air. This was even the case with the same 4K footage that crippled Premiere on my machine, since Final Cut Pro optimized the footage automatically. Final Cut Pro also seems very adept at performing computationally intensive tasks in the background while ensuring that user experience takes performance precedence.

I made it through to the conclusion of the Skillshare class and put my learnings to use on a fairly intensive family holiday video. Final Cut Pro was fun to use in way that Adobe Premiere never was. I still had to research and learn things along the way, but it was learning to unlock new creative skills versus tinkering to get the application to look and perform in an acceptable manner.

There is a lot of angst these days about how committed Apple is to the professional market (and the Mac in general). I'm not as worried as some, but I still had some reservations about investing a bunch of time and effort into an application with a somewhat less certain future than the Adobe suite. But Final Cut Pro really won me over with its usability and performance.

iMovie for iOS

I'm a heavy user of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The jury is still out on whether iOS represents the future of mainstream computing, but it really feels like the future for creative applications. I find editing photos and videos on the iPad more enjoyable than any other platform. The immersive, tactile nature of iOS on the iPad just feels right.

The big issue is that iOS software applications are just scratching the surface of what is possible and needed on the iPad. RAW photo editing is just now coming into its own on iOS and remains very immature. And there isn't a true professional video editing application for the iPad yet.

That said, Apple has done an amazing job with iMovie on iOS. You are immersed in your content instead of the inscrutable collections of buttons, sliders, and windows you see in traditional video editing applications. It also performs very well, even with 4K footage.

As with many iPad apps, I'm able to sit back on the couch and interact with the application in a more leisurely manner. This is a big deal to me, since I feel like I already spend way too much time hunched over a computer during my work days. It's nice to have a different "having fun with technology" context that doesn't feel like work.

But there are some major drawbacks to iMovie on iOS when compared to an application like Final Cut Pro on the Mac. iMovie works for basic edits, but Final Cut Pro is orders of magnitude more powerful, flexible, and customizable. There is also a rich ecosystem of third party plug-ins and companion applications, along with Apple's own powerful Motion application for motion graphics.

I probably don't need the full power of Final Cut Pro today, but there are many features that interest me greatly, such as the ability to stabilize and color correct footage in post-production. Neither of these things are possible with iMovie on iOS. I'm also very interested in experimenting with different frame rates and with speeding up and slowing down footage. You can do these things with great precision in Final Cut Pro, while iMovie gives you a basic "tortoise and hare" speed slider that is very limited.

Media management is also a challenge with iMovie on the iPad. I need to jump through hoops to import video footage from my Sony RX100 V into the native iOS Photos app. The size and volume of video files also makes them easier to deal with using a traditional file system that isn't automatically synchronized to the cloud.

To Be Continued

Choosing Final Cut Pro X over Adobe Premiere is decision that I feel very good about. I'm still far from an expert on Final Cut Pro, but I've developed some initial keyboard shortcut chops and can perform basic edits relatively quickly. There is part of me that wants to run faster down this path by taking more classes and continuing to develop my Final Cut Pro skills.

But my love for the iPad Pro and delight in using iMovie on iOS pulls me in that direction as well. Limited as it is, it's fun to use. And I'm sure that iMovie, as well as other iOS editing apps, will grow more powerful over time. Who knows, we may even see Final Cut Pro on the iPad someday. So perhaps seeing how creative I can get within the constraints of iOS is a better place to focus.

Will it push me to develop my skills in other areas faster? After all, producing better footage out of the camera will reduce my need for things like stabilization and color correction. Or will the constraints of iOS frustrate me and prevent me from producing videos at the quality level that I aspire to. It's hard to say.

As my next step, I'm going to revisit iMovie on iOS and see if I can make something I'm happy with while keeping things simple. I have a feeling that it will send me running back to Final Cut Pro, but the iPad lover in me hopes I'm wrong.

The Itinerant Printer Rides Again

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Chris Fritton, aka “The Itinerant Printer.” At the time, he was about to set out on a journey to create a series of letterpress prints in shops all over the United States. A mere 730 days, 45,000 miles, 15,000 prints, and 120-plus shops later, he’s still at it.

He’s about to kick off the final leg of his tour, which will take him through my own neck of the woods in the Northeast. To promote the home stretch, he surprised his past IndieGoGo backers with an old school zine with highlights from his past travels. It was a neat way to rekindle the fun of the original campaign.

If surprise hand-printed coolness in your mailbox sounds like fun, you can still get in on some mystery prints from the journey on IndieGoGo. He’s also putting together a coffee table book chronicling the journey that you can bundle in.

You can follow the rest of The Itinerant Printer’s journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.