Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New (to me) Technologies

  My son Ben got an Amazon Kindle for Christmas last year. The Kindle fire is a tablet device that is specifically designed to display eBooks and movies purchased from Amazon. Most chess eBooks are nothing more than PDF versions of the print copy. For example, in a fit of nostalgia I recently purchased the entire run a magagine I subscribed tp years ago, the 1988-2000 Inside Chess on a DVD in ‘searchable PDF format’. The entire format is unwieldy. Each issue is in an individual PDF and must be opened separately. The PDFs themselves are blurry as if they were scanned in and on some of the pages I can see the imprint of the previous page. It was a disappointing experience.

  When Tim Brennan published his Tactics Time Kindle eBook I was sorely tempted to get it since I enjoy his Tactics Time ChessBase product so much. Tim has a handle on the new capabilities that can be obtained from chess eBooks. His eBooks puzzles have the answers on the next screen (instead of at the back of the book) and provide an internet link to the game the puzzle came from. I knew from Tim’s promotional materials that there are Kindle readers for PC’s and tablets but I was still lazy about getting the book though it only cost 4.99. But Tim borrowed a tack from most of the successful drug dealers I’ve known and offered a free eBook with 300 very basic puzzles. Before you think I'm knocking Tim or drug dealers, I would point out that I've also used the 'free taste' technique by waiving the entry fee in the last 3 chess tournaments I've held on National Chess Day.

  I had some spare time on Saturday and downloaded the free book as well as the Kindle reader for my PC and iPod. Tim’s eBook is well designed for the medium and while I don’t especially care for the Kindle interface and the lack of physical contact with a book, I’m sure it will grow on me just like typing email on my iPod and Windows 7 and Windows XP and Windows 95 and DOS. I was impressed enough to buy the Tactics Time eBook and another one for 99 cents called ’Chess Patzer to Master – How an Everyday Joe does it’ by Paul Powell. It is a short little book by a National Master with a handful of his games and some generic practical advice about how to go about improving practical results. At 99 cents, it is a nice little read but if I had to pay more than five dollars for a printed copy I would feel cheated. The problem I see with all the digital chess books on Kindle is the lack of an interactive game board to play over the moves, but I have no doubt it will be solved in due time. The great thing I see about eBooks is that since the publishing cost is minimal, authors with new publishing ideas like Tim and Paul Powell only have to invest time and effort to publish and sell their books and the chess public can decide whether they will be unknown authors or join Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Pandolfini on the top shelf of prolific chess authors.

  While I’ve dipped my toe in the eBook pool, I’ve jumped headfirst into the deep waters of another newish technology, the podcast. I’m in the habit of listening to the local sports station KXNO on my drive into work and while at work, I’ll either listen to music on my iPod’s Rhapsody application or sports from KXNO, Chicago’s WSCR, or New York’s WFAN. The only podcast I’d downloaded was Joel Osteen’s weekly inspirational message but when I heard Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King mention his podcast during a radio interview, I decided to try to find it on my iPod and sure enough there it was. Peter King’s NFL podcast was on every Monday or Tuesday for the first half of the football season and contained a couple of interviews with players, executives, or coaches. It was a good show to look forward to but in December it started showing up later and later in the week and then the last week in December was missed and another week was missed in January and then the podcast ended without even a Super Bowl wrap up show. That underlines the big problem with podcasts as opposed to radio: radio stations have to broadcast, but podcasters don’t have to stick to any schedule even if they are a nationally known brand like Sports Illustrated.

  There aren’t any chess podcasts on iTunes that have been updated in the past year and I'm certain there is a niche for one, but there is plenty of chess content on YouTube that can be subscribed to for free and if you insist on paying, there are regular programs on the Internet Chess Club or I subscribed to Daniel King’s power play channel and been treated to the GM’s analysis of the game of the day from the recently held Candidates Tournament in London. Given that a chess podcast needs to have an animated board of some type to show games, YouTube may be a better medium for chess podcasts then iTunes but I suspect it's the ads that draw the chess content providers to YouTube because iTunes doesn’t allow ads. Most podcasts on iTunes are used to promote other products by the publisher while YouTube publishers generate revenue by ads.

  Despite the lack of chess content on iTunes, there is plenty of sports content and I’ve found four other sports podcasts that I enjoy. Every Wednesday I get legendary sportswriter Frank Deford’s three minute segment from National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program. Deford’s commentaries are short but dependable and very interesting.

  To take the place of Peter King’s on-again off-again NFL podcast, I’ve subscribed to the Rich Eisen Podcast. Rich Eisen is the lead anchor for the NFL Network and understandably gets the top players and executives as guests. The podcast is on only once or twice a week (and sometimes not at all) which is too infrequent for my taste but when it is on it is generally at least an hour and a half long.

  An infrequent but excellent podcast is 'Inside Sports Illustrated'. Every week or two or three, host Richard Deitsch interviews a SI writer to talk about an upcoming story in the magazine and share some insights on the subject. Lance Armstrong, the 2014 Winter Games, and the 20th anniversary of the dream team were the subjects of some recent podcasts. Occasionally Deitsch does an interview with a sports celebrity. Last year there was an hour long interview with Al Michaels and yesterday I was treated to a half hour interview with Mr T. who talked about his wrestling experiences, playing Clubber Lang in Rocky III, and being a bodyguard for Leon Spinks and Muhammad Ali. This podcast is so excellent I wish it could be heard on a regular basis.

  By far my favorite podcast is the CBS Eye on Basketball podcast, where the CBS NBA bloggers Zach Harper and Matt Moore spend anywhere from a half hour to an hour each weekday talking pro hoops. They go over the previous night’s games, the upcoming night’s games, and whatever else is going on in the world of the NBA. Earlier in the season they spent a lot of time discussing the soap opera that has become the Los Angeles Lakers season and the last month was devoted to the Miami Heat’s near record winning streak, but in between they discussed the year’s top rookies, playoff scenarios, and pay special attention to players that normally escape national attention like J.R. Smith of the Knicks, JaVale McGee of the Nuggets, John Wall of the Wizards, and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pecovic of the Timberwolves. The reason players from the Nuggets and Timberwolves are featured prominently in the podcasts is that Harper is based in Minneapolis and Moore is in Denver. Their intimacy with the nether regions of the NBA provides a nice contrast to most of the other national coverage of the NBA that tend to focus on the top five or six teams and pretend that the other two dozen teams in the league don’t exist. I look forward to this podcast every day and listening to it on my drive home from work makes the hour pass a lot quicker than it did before and I’m learning a lot about basketball.

  Although I’m enjoying the CBS NBA podcast a lot, I may have been better off spending my time paying attention listening to college basketball. After leading my office NCAA tournament pool going into the round of 16, I had five of the final eight teams heading into the round of eight and on Saturday afternoon, the first of my final four selections made it when Syracuse beat Marquette. But then everything went wrong when Ohio State lost to Wichita State, Florida was demolished by Michigan and Duke (my championship pick) looked like a bunch of slow old men in losing to a blazingly fast Louisville team. Despite my miserable weekend, I’m still in the lead of my office pool but can only win if Wichita State beats Louisville and Syracuse beats Michigan on Saturday, which is not very likely. I think that before next year’s ‘March Madness’, I’ll bone up on some February NCAA podcasts.