Creating an Alexa skill for my blog

My Alexa can now read my recent blog posts to me—and to you, too!

Creating an Alexa flash briefing skill to accomplish this was much easier than I had expected — not much more than signing up for an Amazon developers account and filling out some forms. There’s no programming involved.

I must admit, the mechanical text to speech voice isn’t ideal. It might make more sense to record myself reading my blog posts, put them on a podcasting service like SoundCloud, and connect that RSS feed to my Alexa skill. That could be a fun experiment.

Btw, your Alexa can read my blog to you, too. Using your Alexa app, you can find my skill by searching for “Brent Logan.” Let me know what you think.

Canadian Podcasting Macho Church

Ever have a few days when everything seems related? Call it convergence.

While cruising by my regular blogs yesterday, I noticed that Church Marketing Sucks asks why men don’t like church. Short answer? It’s not macho.

According to David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, “today’s church culture favors, even expects, participation in intimate, nurturing behavior such as singing, hand-holding, sitting in circles and sharing feelings.”

Booklist expands on Murrow’s recommendations.

Murrow advocates injecting a strong shot of testosterone into the proceedings to restore the masculine spirit to the church. Churches need to provide a more challenging and confrontational approach to religion and spiritual issues instead of concentrating on more traditional — and female-oriented — calls for conformity, control, and ceremony.

Sounds good; I can’t argue with Murrow. Promise Keepers has had great success filling sports arenas with Christian men worshiping in a distinctly “manly” way in “macho” surroundings. I must admit, I’ve never done the wave while waiting for church to start before. At PK events, the speaking is direct and focused on challenging men to live up to their roles in family, church, and society.

Pastor Cavey So today, I cruise by Church Marketing Sucks again and read that The Meeting House has “purge Sundays” where they uninvite the pew sitters. Seriously, it’s get involved or get lost.

Wow! If that isn’t taking a “challenging and confrontational approach” as recommended by Murrow, I don’t know what is. The Meeting House must drip in testosterone.

Imagine my surprise on visiting their web site and reading, “Rather than come to start a new religion, Jesus himself was very clear that he came to call us into a new intimacy of relationship with the Creator of the universe.” What’s up with this “intimacy” and “relationship”? This isn’t the macho, confrontational stance I was expecting. Where’s the “I Want You” recruitment poster with God pointing His finger at me?

To be fair, The Meeting House is also non-traditional in its treatment of women. Read its FAQ on women in church leadership positions. You might find other interesting answers regarding The Meeting House’s decidedly irreligious take on church.

Looking for an explanation? Could it be that The Meeting House is in Canada?

In all seriousness, The Meeting House looks interesting. I discovered a cache of sermon archives in MP3 format with PDF sermon notes and PowerPoint slides. After reading Cracking DaVinci’s Code, I’m interested to hear Pastor Cavey’s take on the issue.

Don’t Spend Money on an MP3 Recording Program

You can download the free Audacity MP3 recorder and save your hard-earned cash.

In a recent podcast/post, I say/write:

Be a “big spender” and pay the $40 or less for an audio recording and editing package. It can be fairly basic. It only needs two features: deleting a portion of the recording and saving it in mp3 format. There are some programs you can download for free and try out.

You can download the free Audacity recorder and save your hard-earned cash. Note that you’ll have to download the free LAME MP3 encoder (hey, I didn’t name it!) to save in MP3 format.

Podcasting? Yeah!

I spoke a couple days ago on why podcasting won’t catch on. Because I like to argue, even if it’s just with myself, here’s why it will.

First, let’s address the logistics of creating a podcast. It’s really not that hard. Be a “big spender” and pay the $40 or less for an audio recording and editing package. It can be fairly basic. It only needs two features: deleting a portion of the recording and saving it in mp3 format. There are some programs you can download for free and try out. That’s what I did for this podcast. Now a podcast won’t require eight takes to perfect. Once through is enough. If you fumble a word or two, just repeat that sentence or paragraph. You can delete the mistakes later.

Don’t worry about the microphone. What you have is probably good enough. If not, a reasonable mike is cheap. Plus, a mike on a cord is less likely to pick up the noises from your computer’s hard drive and fan.

Stop whining about writing for the spoken word being hard. Of course it is. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it. Besides, not all podcasts are scripted. Some are the equivalent of public-access cable.

Don’t compare podcasts with blogging. They can be very different beasts.

In fact, there’s a lot of podcasting being done by some unlikely suspects. If podcasting is making audio files available for downloading, talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck already podcast. Click and Clack of Car Talk do it. For that matter, so does my church.

I had argued that podcasting decreases visibility and accountability. It does the exact opposite. Talk shows and sermons that used to disappear forever are available for downloading and listening anytime.

There is programming just made for podcasting. Many live events would make great podcasts. Would you rather hear an interview or read the transcript? Hear a speech or read the transcript? Hear a musical performance or read the sheet music? I think the answer’s clear.

Although it may take longer to listen to a podcast than read a transcript, you can be doing something else at the same time. Those without long commutes can do the dishes, mow the lawn, or jog around the neighborhood. Unlike reading a blog, you can listen to a podcast without being tied to your computer.

Sure, a foreign language podcast is still foreign. But if you’re learning to speak that foreign language, listening to a native speaker could be better than trying to read the blog online.

There was one disadvantage of podcasting I didn’t address before: podcasting is more expensive than blogging; at least it is if anyone’s listening. You have to pay for the bandwidth. But compared with the cost of owning a transmitter capable of blanketing the globe, podcasting is cheap.

Podcasting won’t catch on?! It has already.

Vlogging? That’s a topic for another day…

Update: Save your cash. Read this.

Podcasting? Feh

Podcasting is supposed to be the next wave of blogging. I don’t think so. At least not for me.

Speaking as a blogger, podcasting is hard.

  • Reading text might seem to be a no-brainer, but you haven’t heard how many times it takes me to change my voicemail message.
  • And writing for the spoken word might be easy for Douglas Adams, but it’s not for me. I’m used to having the visual formatting provide some of the meaning. Can you tell by listening that this is a bulleted list?
  • If I were to have a regular podcast, I’d want podcasting equipment such as a better microphone and a studio. You can see why with this podcast. My laptop has a microphone of questionable quality. A soundproof booth could muffle the background noises. I’d want one without glass windows. My kids think I’m strange just for blogging. Imagine what they’d think if I read my blog to the computer every night.
  • I’d need audio editing software that let me cut out my mistakes and insert corrections. That would be better than re-reading the article now eight times. I hate it when the phone rings in the middle of the recording…
  • Also, there’s no easy way to provide web links in a podcast. The transcript for this podcast has a link to Douglas Adams at douglasadams.com. That link is easy to say. What if the URL was 83 characters long and included strange characters? (You can find the tilde above the backtick character to the left of the number one key near the top left of your keyboard, unless you’re in Europe and then it’s…) No thanks.

As a blog reader, listening to a podcast is less convenient.

  • I can’t skim a podcast. Either I listen to it or I don’t. Sure, a podcaster can divide a podcast into multiple, smaller files and provide descriptions for each. Although this would let me avoid some of the junk I don’t want to hear, I still can’t skim the mp3 in my player. (Maybe I need a better mp3 player.)
  • Listening to a podcast takes longer than reading its transcript. Unless there are sound effects, that’s wasted time. After all, not everyone has a long commute.
  • I can’t search for words or phrases within a podcast unless the podcaster provides a transcript on the site. I’ve seen this “feature” touted as an advantage. And maybe it is for the podcaster who doesn’t want visibility or accountability. After all, if I like your podcast or hate it, I can’t easily excerpt it on my blog.
  • Finally, for this list, if I find a podcast in a foreign language, it stays foreign to me. If it was text like a blog, I could use freely available translation tools to read it.

I’ve heard that video logging, or vlogging, is on its way, too. I really don’t think so.

I have a couple of questions:

  1. Why would you download the mp3 when I provided the transcript?
  2. Why do I feel like Andy Rooney?