Some more things I’ve discovered since coming to Riyadh to work…including one rediscovery. This will probably seem like the iTunes love affair entry, to be honest.
1. iTunes – I am sure most people who read this blog know about iTunes. A lot of folks who never log onto the Internet know about iTunes. iTunes has been an important element of maintaining my connection with the USA. Although music is the key and most well known category of media available on iTunes, there is so much more. You can get televsion shows, movies, news programs, video blogs, audio books, language lessions…the list continues. Yes, there are things one can criticize about iTunes – the fidelity of the music, the missing artists, the often dismissive and condescending customer support – but, the convenience of it all tends to overcome the limitations. Sort of like PCs over Macs – yeah, the Macs are better quality, but the PCs give me what I need 90% of the time at a much lower cost. I gave up on my love affair with music fidelity when I got married, got kids, and realized the money I was spending on high-end stereo equipment would go a long way toward paying for school clothes for the kids. If I ever get rich, that might change. For now, however, iTunes is more than adequate and offers plenty of ways to acquire legal media. One important note: It is NOT necessary to own an iPod to enjoy what iTunes has available. The desktop client is free and can be downloaded, installed, and run on just about any computer that runs Windows or MacOS. I am unsure if it is available for the various shades of Unix or not.
2. Podcasts – Not everything on iTunes costs money. Among the free content are podcasts covering almost every possible subject in which one might cultivate an interest. Fan of NPR and its various programs? No problem. iTunes hosts nearly every show distributed via the NPR and PRI networks. Want to learn a foreign language? Excellent. A huge number of language learning podcasts exists in all major languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese, etc.), as well as many less prevalent languages (Tagalog, for example). Interested in religion? Plenty about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism. Sexuality? Yep. Etiquette? Yep. One of my very favorites is America Abroad a monthly podcast from PRI, which provides an in-depth look at the effects and condition of American foreign policy throughout the world. Yes, these podcasts are available at the source, in most cases; but, iTunes provides a central location for acquiring hundreds, perhaps thousands, of podcasts – much simpler and easier than having to go to each website or blog to acquire them. Podcasts are in .mp3 format and can be played on just about any media player, which hosts .mp3 format.
3. iTunes University – I don’t know which I like or use more, the podcasts available on iTunes or the college level courses available via iTunes University. Like the podcasts, the material in iTunes University is free, and there is a treasure trove of material covering practically any subject you might want to know more about from an academic point of view. Currently, I am listening to a complete semester, grad-level, course in Middle East history, taught by Dr. Graham Leonard at East Tennessee State University. The course contains the lecture content, as well as several video lessons associated with the subject. While smaller schools offer a lot material, many of the courses are offered by major universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, et cetera. These are great to listen to in the car during a commute or a road trip or while working in the shop or around the house. I cannot recommend this material highly enough. The courses are in .mp3 format and can be played on just about any media player, which hosts .mp3 format.
4. I hate being fat. Now, you might be sitting there going, “Well, duh.” Fair enough. Or, maybe not. Some people are more than happy with their weight and physical condition. But, I hate the tight clothes, the belly shoving up against the table top in a booth, the breathlessness after climbing a set of stairs. This is the major motivator behind my current weight-loss and success (48 pounds as of this writing). I HATE BEING FAT!!. While never a very talented athlete, except as a swimmer, I was an athlete during high school, and as an adult I used to swim a strong, daily 1/4-mile and/or run 3 1/2 miles/day. In my late-20s and early-30s, I was in GREAT shape. Then, I let myself get fat. I am responsible for it. No one else. Adverstisers did not force me to eat all the crap they sell. Nobody used a cattle prod to pry me from my chair to go back for 2nds or 3rds or to pile on portion sizes large enough to feed an elementary school. Carl’s Jr. didn’t cram Western Bacon Double Cheeseburgers down my gullet. Nope. I did it. So, now, it is up to me to get rid of it. Nobody else can do it for me. Not my wife. Not my kids. Not Oprah. Not Dr. Phil. Not Weight Watchers (though I use their program and recommend it). Not some personal trainer who helps celebrities stay stick thin and under-nourished. I, alone, am responsible for my physical condition. I, alone, can get back to a healthy weight that will lessen my risk of heart attack, stroke, or diabetes. I, alone, can get up off my ass and move for 30-60 minutes 4-7 times/week. And, that is what I am doing. Because I hate being fat.
5. The Outlaws – This is my rediscovery. No, I am not talking about the platinum country album of the 70s, which included Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Coulter, and Tompall Glaser – though a most excellent offering. No. I am talking about the Southern Rock band of the same period, out of Tampa, Florida. One of my favorite bands from my early adult years, I had sort of forgotten about them until last month when I just happened across them on iTunes. They’re one of those bands whose songs you hear then attribute them to some other band – unless you’re a fan. For me, they epitomize Southern Rock: a blend of the more mainstream sound of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the edginess of Molly Hatchett, mixed with an overt acknowledgement of the country roots that influenced ALL Southern Rock bands. Some of their better known songs are: There Goes Another Love Song, Ghost Riders in the Sky (their biggest hit), Green Grass and High Tides (the song that first led me to them), Stick Around for Rock and Roll, You Are The Show, Hurry Sundown, and Take It Anyway You Want It. Most folks will be fine with a “best of” album. If you only want to try a couple of songs, go with Ghost Riders and Green Grass. But, I highly recommend giving these guys a listen.