Regular readers of the Dudes’ blog will know that when we cover a conference, we rarely waste time on talking about the actual presentations. Those who were there saw them; those who were not can download them; and those who really don’t care don’t want to hear about them! So as ever, we’ll be using ASHA as the backdrop to topics of a much more global nature. We’re also keenly aware that as well as having regular readers, we also have some very irregular ones who choose us precisely because we’re a little like the really bad singers who try out for American Idol – off-key, off task, and off their heads.
Traveling to a conference is always an integral part of the whole experience. Flight delays, crying babies, crazy cab drivers, ending up in the wrong city – or country  – are not to be seen as “bad things” but life-enhancing events that can being hours of pleasure in their retelling over a few drinks in the bar with friends. So to make such expeditions more bearable, most folks have strategies for coping. In my case, it’s a book and my iPod. Except that three months ago, someone stole “my precious” along with my Starbucks card. If there’s ever a crime that cries out for at least felony status – and possibly the death penalty – it’s that of depriving someone of their iPod and Starbucks card . And traveling to a conference without access to music and podcasts is pretty close to cruel and unusual punishment.
Typical ASHA Session
So a week ago, I bought myself a “new” iPod, and I say “new” in parenthesis because the Classic pod is now a rare example of a fossilized technology. The latest 6th generation (version 2) device is fundamentally exactly the same as the original except for a larger hard drive (160GB) and thinner case, it’s the same as it was back in 2001. Yes, that’s 2001 – over 12 years ago, which is positively prehistoric for technology. No WiFi, no apps, no BlueTooth, no touch screen, just a physical hard drive on which you store media files and then play them. That’s about it.
What makes this happen is that there is no competition in this category. If you want a portable music player with lots of memory for songs, the iPod Classic is your only choice. This is why, of course, there have been no changes – there’s no need to modify a product that has a monopoly position. Without the forces of natural selection working on it, the Pod has not evolved. I guess you can use cloud-based systems these days but I still count such technology as less portable because you need access to a wireless connection. No, what I want is to have my huge music collection available to me everywhere, 24/7/365.
A bonus to the pod is the ability to be able to load up with podcasts. As the world of wireless access expands, the idea of downloading a file to a hard drive for later use seems old-fashioned to the Technorati, but as I said, 24/7/365 and everywhere is what an iPod offers.
Which leads me on to recommendations for podcasts. What does this Dudes listen to? Well, here’s a list of things you might want to try:
1. A Way With Words: Described as, “an upbeat and lively hour-long public radio show about language examined through history, culture, and family,” co-hosts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett talk with callers from around the world about slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and speaking and writing well. They settle disputes, play word quizzes, and discuss language news and controversies. You may be surprised by its popularity – it’s heard by more than a quarter-million listeners each week over the air and by podcast.
2. A Word In Your Ear: Roly Sussex is an Emeritus Professor from the University of Queensland in Australia and has been talking about language to the radio listeners of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for over 15 years. It’s a great opportunity to get a flavor of how Australian English differs from other variations.
3. In Our Time: Hosted by the UK’s Melvyn Bragg, I recommend this because it’s possibly the ONLY show where you hear academics talk about… well, almost anything! The last few episodes had topics like “Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” “Ordinary Language Philosophy,” “The Book of Common Prayer, “ “The Corn Laws,” “Pascal,” “The Mamluks” and “Exoplanets.” So if you want to know a little about a lot (instead of a lot about a little) then this is well worth your time.
4. Skepticality: This is a show dedicated to the promotion of science and critical thinking. It’s really about evidence-based practice without actually using the words “evidence-based practice” in the title, and it regularly takes on pseudoscience, superstition, and con artists of all shapes and sizes.
So once I’m loaded up with book , music, and podcasts, my pre-flight check for any conference includes making sure I have all the kit necessary to let me spend a day going to sessions and keeping notes on anything that takes my fancy, but without needing to carry a bag around. So for the curious, here’s what I usually end up with:
Conference Kit – portable
Going clockwise from 12:00 o’clock:
1. A 3.5″ x 5.5″ Moleskine Reporter’s Notebook. It’s small enough to fit into a jacket pocket – or even the back pocket of your jeans – so it counts as portable. Designed to be held in one hand so you can just flip upwards from page to page, this is much easier than the more common right/left flip of a standard notebook. The back cover includes a small pocket that can hold several essential “Speech Dude” business cards.
2. Motorola Droid 3 for Twitter, SMS, and maybe the occasional photograph. It’s smaller than the Moleskine so fits into another pocket.
3. Monteverde Invincia Stylus fountain pen. Not only incredibly stylish with a matte black body, a shiny black nib, and black ink, the end of the barrel has a conductive tip so I can use it on my Droid (or any tablet) as an electronic pen.
4. Cross Sauvage Azurite Blue Crocodile fountain pen. It’s just a beautiful pen and writes smoothly on ink-friendly paper. Sure you can use a freebie ballpoint that you picked up in the exhibition hall but that doesn’t say “stylish” or “chic.” It’s also a heavy pen so you feel like you are actually holding something of value.
5. Cross Torero Bordeaux Red Crocodile fountain pen. This one I keep loaded with red ink – something called Syrah from a company called Diamine – so I can contrast it with the blue of the Sauvage. This one is also a solid, heavy pen and one that I use quite a lot.
6. A 5.5″ x 8.5″ Rhodia Webnotebook with ink-friendly 90-gram ivory paper and 96 sheets of ruled lines. Not something you can slip in your pocket but you can lose it behind an iPad and it weighs less. And unlike most tablets, you don’t need to worry about charging it or dropping it – it’s very robust!
These low-tech solutions might seem a little dated, but what I find is that I can write, draw, and scribble numbers faster with pen and paper than I can with a piece of technology – and that includes my indispensable laptop. The other thing that writing-things-down does is to force me to look at stuff for a second time and then summarize information in a document on my computer. If I were to take notes straight onto my laptop or tablet (both of which I’ve tried) there’s a 95% chance I won’t look at them again! So the process of transcribing my notes is beneficial for me.
Late at the end of Day 1, the Dudes ended up at the bar in the Hyatt Regency drinking some rather tasty and markedly citrusy Anti-Hero IPA. We’d never heard of it as it’s a local Chicago brew from Revolution Brewing but the concept of “Anti-Hero” struck us as interesting – in the same way that Arrogant Bastard seemed apposite at the ASHA 2011 Convention in San Diego. All we have to decide now is which of us is which!
 After a long trip by train from Germany to Switzerland, I rolled into my destination hotel, the Holiday Inn in Geneva to find that strangely I was not registered. What I had failed to realize was that I was, in fact, checked in to the Holiday Inn in Thiory, France, not Switzerland. Fortunately this is classed as a Geneva Airport hotel because it’s just a few miles over the border and a cab ride got me there eventually. Nevertheless, it’s my one example of turning up in the wrong country. Still more fascinating was that the driver came from Spain and spoke no English – just a little French – and I speak no Spanish – just a little French. So between us we managed to have a rather interesting conversation in a type of Frenglish that L’ Académie française would have sent us to the guillotine for using.
 Another twist of the knife is that my card was one of the first gold cards ever issued by Starbucks. A friend’s sister works in Starbuck’s corporate marketing department so sent me one as a freebie over 10 years ago. Losing this card is like losing a little piece of history so even though I was able to cancel the auto-loading of the card, it’s the sentimental value that I miss.
 I’m plowing through Neal Stephenson’s technothriller Reamde, a hefty hardback version with 1,056 pages. It’s really quite entertaining but it’s almost like trying to read three novels rather than one. I’m getting close to my annual target of 52 books per year but I’m going to have to pick a few shorter ones to get back on track!