Tag Archive | "Music"

Screen Time in School, and at Home, and at Friends’ Houses, and in the Car…

We knew it was coming. In this day and age, it was inevitable. My kids’ elementary school has now extended internet access to all students, and they are allowing the kids to bring in various technological devices to be used at school. My oldest daughter is required (not in so many words, but you know how that is–she’ll be the only one without her own and have to use the school’s old ones that don’t work well…) to have a tablet of some sort to do her work and research during some classes.

I think it’s great and necessary for kids to be learning how to effectively use technology at an early age. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen time for kids extends to all screens, not just TVs and watching movie. At least, it used to. The AAP has recently changed the wording in many of it’s web pages and articles to say parents should limit “entertainment media.” Some documents do still make it sound like the AAP holds to the 2 hour limit for all screen time.

Personally, I’m not a screen time control freak. Some days, my kids will do their online math for school, play a few educational computer games, and later watch a movie. This amounts to more than two hours of screen time total. Other days, they are busy with active types of activities and don’t see a screen at all. If I feel like we’re getting a little out of balance (happened a few times this summer), then I will just encourage them to play more board games instead of have a movie night or something.

Educational media, and even TV, can be beneficial for kids. Also, parents can help kids learn important life skills by helping kids develop healthy TV habits. Now that I can’t depend on the fact that the kids are pretty much screen free at school, though, I’m going to have to do a little more research into the effects of screen time on kids, and I’m going to pay a little closer attention to how our screen time schedules work out this year. Especially, because a lot of older kids’ home work has to be done on the computer, which could result in hours of sitting in a chair staring at a screen.

The entertainment media limit isn’t so much a problem for us, because during the school year we are too busy to get even a little time for entertainment media, much less two hours a day. But total screen time is a different story, and if you combine the educational and entertainment media, that could mean that many kids are spending hours and hours a day staring at screens.

Here are a few things we do in our family to limit screen time:

  • One day a week is a family and fun day for us, and we try to avoid technology and focus on being together. For our family, Sunday works best because we go visit cousins and do other activities that already set the tone for a technology-free, good-old-fashioned-fun day.
  • We don’t allow watching movies in the car unless we’re on a long road trip. However, we aren’t screen free any more now that the kids bring their little devices almost everywhere we go. We may have to make some changes there.
  • We try to keep the kids busy with other stuff — sports, music lessons, helping with dinner, and other hands-on activities.
  • We involve the kids in making decisions and setting appropriate limits on screen time.

How does your family keep screen time sanity?

Source: About.com

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Ways to Cut the Cost of Musical Instruments

trumpet“Mom, I want to be a trumpet player.”

I clearly remember the day I heard the words. Our son was nine years old, and so far in his young life his interest in playing an instrument consisted of banging on our piano about five minutes every month or so, but now he was telling us (with total conviction) that he was going to master the trumpet. Later my husband quietly told me, “Don’t worry. This too shall pass.”

But it did not and for the next several weeks we heard a lot about trumpets and his friends with trumpets. The fact that he stuck to the same topic for more than two weeks convinced us that he was serious about wanting to learn. We certainly did not want to discourage him from showing an interest in music. So we decided to make the investment and get him a trumpet, even though we were on a very tight budget.

Over Night Success? Not Hardly

After looking at all of our the choices (mind you, this was early internet years) we did manage to give our son a trumpet, which he happily blew on for about a month and not so happily for another month. After that, there was silence, despite our efforts to encourage him to play.

My husband then decided that he would learn to play, explaining that it had always been something he wanted to do. I think it had more to do with his inability to stand seeing our investment sitting, ignored in the corner. However, showing complete enthusiasm, he took a stab at it. That also lasted about a month and like many other things that end up as dust collectors, so did the trumpet.

Six Years Later

About six years later (out of the blue) our son showed a renewed interest in his trumpet, to the point of returning to his music lessons, playing daily and attending summer band camp. He later played in his school’s marching band and loved it. Looking back, as difficult as it was to afford the trumpet, I am glad we did it. It contributed to his happiness.

Moral of the Story?

If you are on the fence about buying your child an instrument because of the cost involved and the fear that they will lose interest, my professionally untrained parental advice is to try to work it into the budget. Worst case scenario? When you hand it to them they’ll say, “A trumpet? Oh yeah, I changed my mind. I really want to be a professional soccer player.” Remember, you can always sell it.

In the article, “Cut the Cost of Musical Instruments,” I offer tips on how to decide if you should rent or buy an instrument for your child and ways to find affordable instruments.

Source: About.com

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Pandora to Ditch 40-hour Listening Cap on Free Mobile Music Streaming

Good news for Pandora listeners. That 40-hour-per-month listening cap that was announced back in February is being lifted so you can start enjoying unlimited music streaming once again starting on September 1st.

The cap announced six months ago was actually the second one Pandora put in place in order to cope with increasing royalty costs. CFO Mike Herring said that other cost-controlling techniques like skip limits have allowed the company to lift the listening cap, and improved relationships with advertisers mean that those unlimited free listening hours can still be monetized.

  • List of apps for music streaming

When the second cap was announced earlier this year, Herring noted that listening usage dropped by around 10 percent. While he doesn’t expect a massive spike in listening hours once the cap is removed for the second time, usage is hoped to increase.

Pandora is one of the top Internet Radio services online today, but with Apple’s iTunes Radio moving into its territory along with other popular music streaming services like Songza, and even paid apps like Spotify and Rdio, it’s unclear whether or not Pandora will be able to keep its top spot among the competition.

Photo © Pandora Media, Inc.

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Paul McCartney Joins iHeartRadio Music Festival

The iHeartRadio Music Festival just upped the stakes in the world of streaming audio with the addition of former Beatle Paul McCartney to this year’s festival lineup. The event, slated to happen in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday September 20 and 21, already boasts a who’s who of talent including: Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, The Band Perry, Katy Perry, Elton John, Queen + Adam Lambert, Chris Brown, Keith Urban and others. (Photo: Oli Gill, Creative Commons)

This is the third year for the iHeartRadio Music Festival. It will be originate from the MGM Grand Arena and be heard on Clear Channel radio stations and online through iHeartRadio.

More: 2013 iHeartRadio Music Festival Announces Lineup, Expanded Venue

Source: About.com

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George Benson - Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole

George Benson Gets Inspiration

George Benson - Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole

Last week, I told you I was checking out the new George Benson tribute to Nat King Cole called Inspiration. This week, I’m done checking it out and inviting you to check-in on my review. If 50s and 60s jazz vocals are your bag, you’ll dig this set. Georgie sounds mahvalous!

Enjoy the jazz.



Album Cover Photo Courtesy of Concord Music Group

Source: About.com

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R.I.P. Faye Hunter – This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Let’s Active – “Waters Part”


First off, I apologize in advance if I tend to spotlight ’80s artists from North Carolina a bit more often than demographically appropriate. However, perhaps residents of other U.S. states and other nations who may be reading this will be willing to cut me a little slack given the relative dearth of things to be proud of lately coming out of my home state. Of course, I’m speaking chiefly in a social and political sense there, as North Carolina has always boasted and continues to boast some of the finest artists in the world across a variety of media. So that brings us back to the music quickly enough, I suppose.

This week I’m spotlighting some fine ’80s college rock with a bit of a heavy heart, as sometimes also happens on this site. Back on July 21, 2013, the music world and the state of North Carolina lost a major contributor to the early alternative music scene in former Let’s Active bassist Faye Hunter. Following some years of personal difficulty and physical decline, Hunter apparently took her own life – leaving this world just a few miles away from Winston-Salem, where she and Let’s Active leader Mitch Easter worked together 30 years ago bringing so much joy into it. Even though it’s becoming more common every year for ’80s music artists to join the ever-growing ranks of those departed too soon, it’s still always a blow to anyone even marginally inspired by the music they made.

As I’ve admitted on this site more than once, many of the great jangle pop bands of the ’80s would have remained unknown to me far longer than they were without the influence of a friend of mine from down the street where I grew up in semi-rural Buncombe County. I realized the other day when reading over some old material on this site that I’ve failed previously to mention him by name. I won’t drop any last names in an attempt to protect the innocent (and guilty), but Scott was one of a few friends of mine back in the day who had his finger on the pulse of indie rock of this ilk. Because of him (and generally only because of him), I developed a working knowledge of the array of North Carolina bands that emerged in the wake and vein of the developing legend known as R.E.M. So I probably first heard about Let’s Active during the late ’80s, which was after Hunter had made her impact on the band – an impact felt strongly on its first two records, 1983′s EP Afoot and 1984′s Cypress. Since then, of course, I’ve had plenty of years to enjoy the work of Easter’s seminal band, and even though he is far better known as R.E.M.’s early producer than as an accomplished musician in his own right, the output of Let’s Active plays a central role in ’80s music history. 1984′s “Waters Part” languidly spotlights the easygoing yet urgent nature of Easter as a songwriter and lead vocalist. The jangly guitars certainly make themselves prominently known but never seem to be merely gimmicks, which is an important distinction in the early years of R.E.M.’s massive impact on underground rock. Cypress was the last Let’s Active album to feature Hunter as a full-time member, but her keen sense of contrast and the significance of sonic shading leave an imprint all over this early alternative classic. For those who knew her over the years, Hunter will surely continue to maintain a presence – despite her untimely and now-permanent physical absence.

  • Sample or download “Waters Part” here.
  • Compare prices on Let’s Active CDs here.
  • Top R.E.M. Songs of the ’80s
  • Top U.S. Regional Music Scenes of the ’80s
Album Cover Image Courtesy of I.R.S. Records
Source: About.com

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When Monetary Policy Gets Comic Relief in Musical Form…

What do you get when you combine country-music legend Merle Haggard with the economic concept of moral hazard (other than perhaps a passed-out Merle Haggard)? You get Merle Hazard, a Nashville finance professional who just happens to moonlight as an economics-themed country singer. His latest,um, single, if you will, is entitled “The Great Unwind,” and it’s all about the potential effects of the Fed’s “tapering” of expansionary monetary policy that we’ve been talking about for a while. You can listen to the song and read some insightful commentary on the matter from top economists here.
Source: About.com

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How We Built an Advanced Live and Streaming Event Solution on a Shoestring Budget

Every company needs it, and every marketer dreads it – the All Hands Call. Though it seems simple enough to bring everyone together to share corporate results, messaging and updates, it can get pretty complicated behind the scenes to mix a room full of people in a live event with a large team dialed into a collaboration bridge (video / web and voice) while ensuring that everyone has a quality experience.
When we built our room, I had the same needs that most of you probably have too. I needed a solution that was:

  • Easy to use and train people on
  • Easily accessible to internal and external participants
  • A high quality experience
  • Easy to build out quickly and flexible to add to over time
  • Extremely cost effective

With that simple task in mind, I went about pulling together a solution to hold effective meetings that would include a quality online and live experience. Luckily at Avaya, we have several technology solutions that allow us to create great online conferencing experiences. Just for fun, we have rotated through several of the various solutions we have available, and I’m happy to say we have had success with all three of our major conferencing applications using this setup, including Avaya Aura Conferencing, Avaya Scopia and Avaya Live Engage. (Each has unique strengths depending on what you want to accomplish in your meeting – but more about that in a future blog post!).
When holding a meeting, there are 4 things you need to think about at the same time:

  1. Audio from the person presenting, which needs to be crisp and clear
  2. Presenting content, usually in the form of slides
  3. Video of the person presenting, which needs to accommodate for their movement and feel natural
  4. Someone to moderating the meeting, ensure that the audio, video, presentation are broadcasting properly, and that participants are well managed, muted, unmuted, etc.

As a musician, the audio piece came to me the most naturally, so I attacked that first. Here is a high level overview of the install we chose. (Don’t let this diagram scare you! It’s actually quite simple).


First we had speakers; a projector and a screen mounted in the room and placed a mixer and amplifier in a small AV area to get sound to the room.

To capture sound in the room, my solution was to use wireless lapel and handheld microphones in the presentation room, and put all of the receivers in a smaller AV area. The wireless receivers connect to an 8 channel mixer. The secret ingredient in the mixer is having an Aux channel. The Auxiliary channel is used to control what is sent out to the audio bridge, while the main faders are saved to control what is sent out in the live room. This means that I can put music out from an iPOD on the room, but not broadcast it onto the audio bridge or vice versa. (See below).


The magic that makes this all work is a very cool Avaya Conference phone called the B179. It has a breakout box option which allows you to send high-quality audio feeds directly through a phone line. I use the Auxiliary send from the mixer to feed audio to the conference phone.

Here is the phone and breakout box – the black cable sends the audio in from the mixer, the white cable sends audio out from the bridge to the mixer. (IMPORTANT – for the mixer channel that carries the audio out from the phone, you MUST keep the auxiliary send knob for that channel at zero. Otherwise, you will end up feeding audio from the bridge back into the bridge. Nobody will like what that sounds like!!!)


And here it is attached to the mixer.


Now that we have audio to and from the phone, everyone on the bridge can hear any audio we send them from the mixer, and anyone in the room can hear the microphones in the room and everyone on the bridge. Perfect!

Regardless of whether you choose Avaya Aura Conferencing or Avaya Scopia to handle your meeting, you are going to dial in your audio to the meeting using the B179 conference phone. Now all of the audio for the meeting is going to come in via the audio bridge. (Instead of using a conference phone, you could use a PC to capture sound from the mixer and send it to the conference. I find that the phone setup provides me with excellent audio quality, allows me to put the conference in lecture mode if I have noisy participants and offers a lot of flexibility without supervision, your preference may vary).

With audio out of the way, it’s time to tackle our last 3 elements:

  • Presenting content, usually in the form of slides
  • Video of the person presenting, which needs to accommodate for their movement and feel natural
  • Someone to moderating the meeting, ensure that the audio, video, presentation are broadcasting properly, and that participants are well managed, muted, unmuted, etc.

It is very difficult (though not impossible) for one person to effectively handle all of these things while presenting to a large live audience. To make it easier, I split these tasks across 2 laptops – one that presents content, and one that is manned by the moderator. The result is something that looks like this:


PC #1 remains at the front of the room and is connected to the room projector. It is also logged into the conferencing application we are using, and is presenting the slides via the web to remote collaborators as well. The PC is under the control of the presenter, who advances slides using a wireless presenter.

PC#2 is 10-15 feet back from the front of the room and is logged into the conferencing application. This PC is where a lot of the magic happens, and someone needs to pay attention here during the whole meeting. A high definition webcam picks up and shares video of the presenter. The moderator mutes everyone else’s video, so that the room video is the only thing showing in the video window. If the bridge is kept open, the moderator mutes noisy participants here. The moderator also manages the chat window – providing feedback from those on the bridge to presenters in the room.

One thing to keep in mind with this setup – in order to be heard outside of the room, you must be speaking into a microphone! This setup feels so natural to people in the room, they often feel like they can talk to others on the audio conference as if they are there in the room. As the moderator, it is your job to make sure that you pass along the microphone before questions are posed!

Another benefit to this setup – Avaya Aura Conferencing and Avaya Scopia allow me to record the sessions for later playback / editing. This has made our presentation room a great resource for recording training sessions. Downloading the video also allows me to strip out the audio from the conference, and make it available to others as webcasts. (The B179 phone also accepts SD Cards, and will record the session for you so that you can do this without manipulating video files, which is super cool!).

So there you have it – an AV setup that can easily transfer Avaya Aura Conferencing or Avaya Scopia into a powerful multi-site presentation / training and broadcast system. The entire budget for this project will run you around $4,500, depending on the quality and quantity of the gear that you require, and what you already have installed in your boardroom or training room.

If you already have an Avaya Conferencing solution, you’re 90% of the way to empowering your organization more effectively – and forever eliminating your fear of the dreaded All Hands Call.

Good luck!

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Rdio Takes on Pandora with New Personalized Radio Stations

It’s nice to be able to build and customize your own music playlists according to what you like best, because no one knows your music taste quite like you do, but constantly choosing music manually can be pretty time consuming and not so great for music discovery. And that’s exactly why Rdio launched its new “You FM” feature under its current Stations option, which now provides users with a stream of never ending music that has been custom-tailored to their own music history and listening habits.

If you’re a big Rdio user like me, you can find this new feature by looking for the “Stations” link on the left. Clicking it will pull up all sorts of great new playlists according to what you’ve already listened to on Rdio. And not only that, you’ll also gain access to playlists built according to your Rdio friends’ music listening habits as well.

A lot of web savvy music enthusiasts have already jumped on board with a personalized radio streaming service like Pandora or Songza, and they’ve become pretty popular platforms representing a bit of a shifting trend in the way people choose to listen to music. But now that Rdio offers both the ability to listen to complete albums and enjoy personalized suggestions based on your activity, we can get the best of both worlds now in just one place.

  • 10 great music streaming apps

Photo: Screenshot of Rdio desktop app

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Tonsai Beach, Koh Phi Phi © Lauren Juliff

5 Thai Islands That are Perfect for Students

If you’re planning a Southeast Asia trip this year then you’re probably spending every spare second researching where to go, what to do and, most importantly, what to pack. One region that always features highly on backpackers’ itineraries is the islands of Thailand.

With hundreds of islands to choose from, you’ll certainly be able to find one to suit your tastes. Here are some of my favorites.

For beauty: Koh Phi Phi

Tonsai Beach, Koh Phi Phi © Lauren JuliffFinding fame after the movie The Beach was filmed there, Koh Phi Phi sadly shot back into the news in 2004 after the Boxing Day tsunami devastated much of the island. Now, Koh Phi Phi is well on its way to recovery and is one of the more beautiful islands in Thailand. It has exactly what Thai beaches are most famous for — warm shallow waters, powder soft sand and towering limestone cliffs.

For partying: Koh Phangan

If you’re looking for a good time in Thailand then there’s no better place to drink the night away than in Koh Phangan, home of the Full Moon Party. This world famous beach party lures thousands of backpackers to the island every month, all in search of alcohol, fire, music and glow in the dark paint.

For diving: Koh Tao

Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to SCUBA dive, so if you’ve always wanted to explore the world under our waters then this is one of the best islands on which to get qualified.

For relaxing: Koh Lanta

Not a big partier or in need of some recovery? Koh Lanta is a quiet, untouristed island where you could easily spend weeks lazing on the beach.

For budgets: Koh Chang

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang © Lauren JuliffKoh Chang is one of the cheapest Thai islands and is great if you want to spend a few weeks chilling out and living on $10 a day. The bungalows are cheap and the beer is cold, Bob Marley plays out from every bar and Lonely Beach is one of the prettiest in Thailand.


Which is your favourite Thai island? Which would you like to visit the most in Thailand?


Photos © Lauren Juliff | Student Travel Blog Home

Source: About.com

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