Top 10 Podcasts of 2017

Podtrac’s ranking of top podcasts (below) for 2017 is based on average U.S. downloads per episode across all listening devices for episodes posted in 2017. I have to say however, after listening to each of the podcasts below, as much as I enjoyed each and every one, (especially  S-Town) I have to say that I still disagree and Up and Vanished is by far, hands down, the absolute BEST podcast of all time. I dare to say, even better than Serial! I’m guessing it’s not on this list because it started in 2016 — but it did run for two full years… so technically, the second season was new in 2017. Certainly it got more downloads. Check it out! 

Visit our Top 20 Podcasts of 2017 ranking 

#1. S-Town

S-town.pngS-Town is a new podcast from Serial and This American Life, hosted by Brian Reed, about a man named John who despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks Brian to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But when someone else ends up dead, the search for the truth leads to a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.

 

#2. Dirty John

Dirty john.pngDebra Newell is a successful interior designer. She meets John Meehan, a handsome man who seems to check all the boxes: attentive, available, just back from a year in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders. But her family doesn’t like John, and they get entangled in an increasingly complex web of love, deception, forgiveness, denial, and ultimately, survival. Reported and hosted by Christopher Goffard from the L.A. Times.

 

#3. Pod Save America

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Four former aides to President Obama — Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor — are joined by journalists, politicians, comedians, and activists for a freewheeling conversation about politics, the press and the challenges posed by the Trump presidency.

#4. The Daily

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This moment demands an explanation. This show is on a mission to find it. Only what you want to know, none of what you don’t. Hosted by Michael Barbaro. Powered by New York Times journalism. Twenty minutes a day, five days a week, ready by 6 a.m.

#5. Up First

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NPR’s Up First is the news you need to start your day. The biggest stories and ideas — from politics to pop culture — in 10 minutes. Hosted by Rachel Martin, David Greene and Steve Inskeep, with reporting and analysis from NPR News. Available weekdays by 6 a.m. ET. 

#6. Ear Hustle

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Ear Hustle brings you stories of life inside prison, shared and produced by those living it. The podcast is a partnership between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Nigel Poor, a Bay Area artist. The team works in San Quentin’s media lab to produce stories that are sometimes difficult, often funny and always honest, offering a nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.

#7. 30 For 30

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Original audio documentaries and more from the makers of the acclaimed 30 for 30 series. Sports stories like you’ve never heard before.

#8. Rough Translation

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How are the things we’re talking about being talked about somewhere else in the world? From a Ukrainian battlefield to a Somali prison cell, an Indian yoga studio and a Syrian refugee’s first date, host Gregory Warner tells stories that follow familiar conversations into unfamiliar territory. At a time when the world seems small but it’s as hard as ever to escape our echo chambers, Rough Translation takes you places.

#9. Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations

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Awaken, discover and connect to the deeper meaning of the world around you with SuperSoul. Hear Oprah’s personal selection of her interviews with thought-leaders, best-selling authors, spiritual luminaries, as well as health and wellness experts. All designed to light you up, guide you through life’s big questions and help bring you one step closer to your best self.

#10. Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked

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Spooked features true-life supernatural stories, told firsthand by people who can barely believe it happened themselves. Be afraid. Created in the dark of night, by Snap Judgment and WNYC Studios. 

 

 

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The best Podcast of all time! Yes, even better than Serial.

Lately, there has been much written about 2018 being the year of the podcast. Even Google is creating a new app so that anyone can publish a local news story.

My absolute favorite podcast of all time is  Up and Vanished  a true-crime documentary.

Up and Vanished Best Podcast of all time!If you haven’t yet listened, do yourself a favor and download the series right away, its free! Up and Vanished is an investigative podcast that explores the unsolved disappearance of Georgia beauty queen and high school teacher, Tara Grinstead. The 11-year-old cold case is the largest case file in the history of Georgia. Follow along as host Payne Lindsey, a film director turned investigator, examines old case evidence and re-interviews persons of interest to crack the case and determine happened to Tara Grinstead. The podcast has so many unexpected twists and turns as listeners are on the edge of their seats as Payne digs up more and more new evidence by reviewing old leads and uncovering new ones. Up and Vanished quickly expanded from a planned six-episode season to a final count of 24 episodes with numerous bonus episodes. As the people of Ocilla, Georgia began talking about the case again, new leads and stories emerged. In February 2017, the GBI arrested two suspects for Grinstead’s murder.

This podcast has received so much media. Its been featured on Dateline, Inside Edition, USA Today, Nancy Grace and many more. Currently there are discussions of making the podcast into a movie.

Follow @UPANDVANISHED Listen to Up and Vanished on Apple Podcasts

 

 

 

 

2018 will be the year of the Podcast. Is it time to add podcasting to your marketing mix?

One of the most popular marketing topics in 2017 was video marketing. Every marketer was thinking about how to incorporate video into their strategies. After all, a picture tells a thousand words right?

With the growing popularity of smart speakers/personal assistants, maybe it’s time to focus on a new tactic – podcasting.

Podcasting is the new blogging – not

I saw the phrase “podcasting is the new blogging” on a news site, and it made me think about the effort we put into our blog writing. Some of us spend hours researching, outlining and writing blogs and columns, laboring over the right words to say in the right way. Is it possible we may be wasting some of our time? Would we be smarter to develop our ideas and share them through a podcast, leaving the writing part (and the cursed “passive voice) fall by the wayside?

There’s no video involved, so we don’t need to look good, and we don’t have to invest in expensive computer equipment for video creation and editing. Podcasting seems like the perfect way to share ideas.

It’s not that simple. Podcasting is not a replacement for good writing – blogs, whitepapers, and ebooks. And it’s not a replacement for video. It’s also not necessarily cheaper or easy to do. But it could be a great addition to your marketing mix if you approach it with the right strategy and mindset.

Tips for getting started with a podcast

As part of the marketing plan for one of my clients, we have decided to develop a podcast. This is a dip into the waters to see if we can build an audience by offering useful content in the market. There are a couple of other podcasts in this market, but none by a vendor and only one other focused on our particular niche. So there’s opportunity, but there’s also the risk that people won’t want to hear from a vendor.

Why did we decide to try a podcast? The team has a wealth of insights and information they want to share. They also have a lot of connections to experts and customers who are willing to share their expertise – we know the content is there. It’s not about peddling products and solutions. The challenge is now figuring out the best way to implement it.

The Globe and Mail article mentioned above noted that podcasting is a labor-intensive process. You have to plan the podcast, record it, edit it, distribute and market it. The article said it could easily take 10-20 hours per episode. We are hoping to start on a small scale, but that amount of time sounds about right.

There’s a lot of information available on how to run a podcast. Here are a few of those suggestions:

Planning the podcast theme

Before you start working on individual shows, you need to decide on an overall theme for your show. Who is the audience and do they listen to podcasts? Can you generate enough of an audience to make the effort worth it? What’s your goal with the podcast? What type of information do you want to share? What pains are you trying to solve? Have your goals and expected performance metrics understood before you start. They may evolve, but you need that starting line.

Hosting

Where will you host the podcast? There are many hosting options available including Blubrry and PodBean. Pretty much all of the hosting services include the ability to share your podcast show on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Maybe you are considering hosting your podcast on your website directly. Think about the size of the files you will not only be storing, but streaming out to your audience. The bandwidth alone might kill your budget. Plus, you don’t have those automatic integrations with iTunes and Google Play – and they are very helpful in getting your podcast available quickly.

Developing a schedule

One very important thing you need to be is consistent. Decide on a schedule that you know you can stick with and then plan out a few months of topics. This will give you time to pull together the content and the guest hosts you want. You can make the schedule available on your website and share it on social media to generate interest.

Podfly.net, a boutique podcasting company that helps companies create podcasts, includes show notes you need for each show:

  • A compelling show title
  • A subtitle
  • A description paragraph
  • Time-stamped key takeaways
  • Links and mentions
  • Tweetables

To script or not to script

There’s a lot of discussion on whether you should script your podcast or not – and what scripting actually means. You could write your script out word for word, ensuring you cover everything you need to. This works when you are doing the show on your own or with an internal team, but if you are interviewing or talking with an expert or client, you can’t script the conversation word for word. You need to think about how you’ll sound when you script word for word. Think about some of the webinars you’ve attended and how stilted they sound – those people are reading off a script.

Reading off a script doesn’t have to sound bad, but it will take practice to make the conversation sound natural. Another option is scripting a complete outline but leave the actual discussion be natural. An outline ensures you are covering all your points and it gives you a consistent structure for the show. The most conversational approach is a flexible, rough list of bullet points around a theme or topic.

You don’t have to stick to one approach only, but it’s important to be aware of each style and what you need to do to prepare. (The Podcast Host provides lots of guidance on scripting, where I found this information)

Engage your listeners outside the podcast

Don’t think of a podcast as the only way to engage with your listeners. To help you build a loyal audience, think about how you can leverage social media to build and continue the conversations you have on your podcast. Consider a Facebook Group and create a Twitter hashtag or specific account to grow the conversation.

Promotion and distribution

Make sure you are promoting and talking about your Podcast on your website – links on the homepage,  blog post summaries of episodes with a link to the podcast, LinkedIn company page notifications, and updates, LinkedIn posts from the host and guest hosts summarizing the conversation and linking to the full podcast are also helpful. Give your guest hosts a way to promote the podcast as well and request the audience sign up for notifications of upcoming episodes so you can email them.

You might also want to consider getting set up with Alexa Skills to have your podcast showing up on Amazon for the Echo or Show.

There are visual components

Although a podcast is audio only, there is some artwork you need for your podcast to brand it. You may decide to brand it closely to your company brand or to keep it completely separate. Make sure you know what you need and make it look professional.

The equipment and software required

You can’t do a podcast with some investment in software and equipment. I think you can start with some inexpensive options and build from there. For recording and mixing, Audacity is a free open source tool that’s pretty easy to use (I’ve used it to add music to the opening of a podcast and to edit out dead zones that don’t add value).

Clear audio is critical. If you are recording a podcast where everyone isn’t in the same space, you want to be sure everyone’s audio and internet connection are solid. For regular hosts, you should have special microphones that improve the quality of your audio. Here’s a post that gives you a range of microphone options.

Finding the ROI in a podcast

Can you determine the ROI of a podcast? The answer depends on the purpose of your podcast. You can offer advertising spots in your podcast, have sponsors and do other advertising tactics that will bring in revenue for your podcast.

IAB did some research on podcast revenues in 2016 and indicated that US ad revenues for podcasts were expected to hit over $220 million in 2017. The latest stats aren’t out to see if we hit that target, but we know it will be up from the $119 million in 2016.

Advertisers need to know they are getting something for their money. Analytics around listeners become important to have, so make sure wherever you host and distribute your podcast includes a way to track audience engagement.

Of course, analytics are important regardless of whether you are trying to determine ROI. You want to know the number of subscribers, how many listened to each podcast, how much of the podcast they listened, and other key statistics.

My take

I am excited to start developing a podcast with my client. But I have no misconceptions about the work that is required to create a compelling story that our identified audience will want to listen to on a regular basis. I also know the budget is not high; we will start small with the financial investment. The sound quality is critical, the topics and conversations even more critical.

I’ll let you know how it works out and what lessons we learn after being active a few months. Until then, share your experiences in the comments. Any advice you can give someone starting up a podcast or looking to grow one in place?

Editor’s note: for more on the pros and cons of audio content on Alexa, check out Jon Reed’s How to get a halfway decent tech news Flash Briefing from Alexa – tips for enterprise readers. This article was first posted in Diginomica.com

 Image credit – Broadcast © fotomek – Fotolia.com

Nintendo Announces A Surprise ‘Pokémon’ Direct For Tomorrow Ahead Of E3

Nintendo Announces A Surprise 'Pokémon' Direct For Tomorrow Ahead Of E3

Well I’ll say this, you never really have any idea what Nintendo is thinking.

While most companies would like to save all their news for E3 which kicks off in a week, Nintendo has just revealed that they have…something to share ahead of that. They’ve just announced that there will be a Pokémon Direct presentation tomorrow, June 6th, at 10 AM ET.

There are literally no other details other than the fact that it will be eight minutes long and feature “Pokémon News,” whatever that means.

The one item everyone’s mind is immediately racing to is the possible announcement of Pokémon Stars, the long-teased “third” game in the Pokémon Sun and Moon duo, the Pokémon Yellow to its Red and Blue. There have been rumors about Stars for ages, and Nintendo has recently been rolling out stars-themed hints suggesting the game was on the way, but it’s entirely possible the reveal could be tomorrow.

The biggest question about Stars is not about whether or not it exists (everyone is convinced that it does at this point), but whether it will be coming to the Switch instead of just the 3DS. A month or two ago I might have said no, given how supportive Nintendo was continuing to be of the 3DS’s independence. But in the weeks since, we have seen two big handheld franchises, Monster Hunter and Fire Emblem, announce plans for Switch games, and Pokémon seems like the last and most important domino still to fall.

Pokemon Stars?

Nintendo

Pokemon Stars?

It’s hard to understate just how big of a deal a fully-fledged Pokémon game would be on the Switch, even if it was just a “director’s cut” of existing games like Sun and Moon. Nintendo allowing a full Pokémon game to be on hardware that is not a dedicated handheld would be unprecedented, and would be a clear signal that the Switch is the future and the 3DS is about to mosey off into the sunset. While that may seem obvious, that’s definitely not something that Nintendo has made explicit so far.

This early Direct ahead of E3 might tease the concept of Stars and give some cursory details about it, and perhaps reveal that as part of Nintendo’s E3 Treehouse, that the game will be able to be played by press and fans, and will be featured on their various streams.

Of course, given that we’re all expecting this to be a Pokémon Starsannouncement, perhaps this is something else entirely, given that it’s easy to guess wrong about Nintendo’s intentions. Maybe it’s yet another Pokémon mobile game. Maybe it’s Pokémon GO’s long-awaited Legendary Pokémon arrival for summer. But Stars is still probably the best bet.

Twenty four hours until we know what’s going on. Stay tuned.

Turning Landfill Into Black Gold

Turning Landfill Into Black Gold

You may feel good when you put your empty soda bottle in the recycling bin, but traditional recycling is a highly inefficient process. Because there isn’t much of an infrastructure for recycling plastics other than PET–the plastic found in soda bottles–plastic is a hard thing to get rid of. In 2012, there were 32 million tons of plastic waste generated in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Only 9 percent of that waste was recovered for recycling.

PK Clean thinks it has the answer. The four-year-old startup based in Salt Lake City wants to end landfilled waste by recycling it back into oil, says CEO Priyanka Bakaya. The company’s process, known as catalytic depolymerization, converts plastic waste into fuel. This has been tried before with limited success–the process can be expensive and unreliable–but Bakaya is confident her design is a breakthrough and “quantum leap over anything previously attempted in the space,” she says. It also “allows us to substantially bring down costs to ensure commercial viability.”

In 2010, she set up a pilot plant in Pune, India, in which she ironed out the kinks in the process. Bakaya then met Benjamin Coates, a Chemical Engineering PhD, and the two decided to found PK Clean and build a U.S. plant.

Last summer, using savings and money from contests, including $20,000 from the Cartier Women’s Initiative, they built their first commercial-scale plant in Salt Lake City. When operating at capacity, the plant turns 20,000 pounds of waste into 2,500 gallons of fuel that can be sold to refineries. Their goal is to sell plants to other recyclers, with the potential to work directly with industrial companies producing mass waste. “We realize we first have to get started in the U.S., but the long-term vision is a huge market overseas in developing countries,” says Bakaya. That’s a lot of soda bottles.

CIA is spying on us through our Samsung smart TVs

Wikileaks has just published a whole bunch of documents in which it claims to outline CIA’s hacking methodologies. The documents, which have reached the organization’ website under the category name Vault 7, are said to include over 7,000 files and yet, Wikileaks has promised more soon.

According to the documents inside Vault 7, the CIA was able to hack iOS and Android smartphones in a multitude of ways, What’s more, a program called ‘Weeping Angel’ let CIA operatives listen in on citizens using the microphones of their Smart TVs.

Coming from anyone else, such claims would be instantly shouted down as ridiculous and maybe even delusional., However, it is Wikileaks we are talking about here. The organization has built quite a fearsome reputation for itself over the course of the years. The Vault 7 documents could very well be real and contain documents that are in fact relevant to the CIA.

WikiLeaks says Samsung smart TVs were hacked to enable spying on consumers.

In a trove of documents released Tuesday, WikiLeaks included code that it says shows the CIA worked with U.K. intelligence officials to turn microphones in TVs into listening devices.

Samsung smart TVs have microphones so viewers can make voice commands, such as requests for movie recommendations. The commands typically aren’t transmitted outside the home unless users activate the feature. If the TV is off, there’s no listening being done.

But WikiLeaks claims that documents it obtained show that through a program called Weeping Angel, the target TV appears to be off when it is actually on — and listening.

WikiLeaks says the audio goes to a covert CIA server rather than a party authorized by Samsung. In such cases, audio isn’t limited to TV commands but could include everyday conversations.

The totality of the information, code-named “Vault7,” included more than 8,700 documents and files. WikiLeaks, in a press release announcing the documents, said the CIA “lost control” of its vast array of hacking and spying tools. “The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive,” WikiLeaks said.

In an unusual move, WikiLeaks said it was withholding some secrets inside the documents. Among them, it said it had withheld details of tens of thousands of “CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States.”

Other tools in the CIA’s arsenal target PCs running Microsoft’s Windows system, according to WikiLeaks, which says many of the attacks are in the form of viruses designed to spread through CDs and USB drives.

WikiLeaks also says the CIA was also targeting control systems used by cars and trucks. Although WikiLeaks didn’t have details on how that might be used, it said the capability might allow the CIA to “engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”

The authenticity of the documents published by Wikileaks has yet to be confirmed. In a statement to CBS News, CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said, “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.”

Jake Williams of security firm Rendition Infosec said the extensive references to operation security in the documents released by Wikileaks suggest they came from a government source. “I can’t fathom anyone fabricated that amount of operational security concern,” he said. “It rings true to me.”

Microsoft said it was aware of the reports and was looking into them. Apple and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement, General Motors said it would be premature to comment on the documents, including their authenticity. But GM added that it knew of no injuries or death resulting from the hacking of a vehicle.

Samsung issued a statement saying, “Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung. We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.”

Meanwhile, the data dump also questions the vast and sweeping powers possessed by the US spy agency. Breaking into smartphones? listening in from the television? Well, I am quite sure no one is going to like this kind of intrusiveness into their personal lives, national security quite apart.

After all, the cast majority of citizens are innocent and these tactics, even when used under the guise of national security, violate the right to privacy of a huge number of US citizens — who are probably not going to be all to happy about this piece of news.

As far as the intent of the leak is concerned, Wikileaks said that it wanted to spark off a public debate over the matter.

The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Although, the source could also be the person/people who have provided Wikileaks with these documents. Meanwhile, with President Trump — who doesn’t pay particular attention to mainstream media let alone websites –in the White House, chances of anything major happening to change the status quo is pretty low.

Shared from Mudit Mohilay

Using the Scientific Method to Pick the Best US President

Scientific Method to Pick the U.S. President

Why don’t we use some scientific method to choose the president of the country?

Scholars ponder better ways to elect a president

Scholars ponder better ways to elect a president

Scholars ponder better ways to elect a president. National popular vote, alternate voting methods debated at MIT conference.

Should the United States choose its president through the Electoral College, as it does now, or through another method, such as a national popular vote? And how should people be allowed to register and vote? Those questions formed the dual focal points of a spirited conference on election systems. “One person, one vote should be the norm of a modern democracy,” said John Koza, the Stanford University computer scientist who is a leader of the group National Popular Vote, which aims to elect presidents through a popular vote. By contrast, as Koza pointed out, the structure of the Electoral College, which allocates each state’s electoral votes according to its number of congressmen, including senators, means that voters in smaller states have far more electors per capita than do voters in big states. Koza also criticized the Electoral College system for creating campaigns in which candidates fixate on issues that most directly concern swing-state voters. On average, Koza said, “We have a system that’s ignoring four out of five voters in the country.”

Backed in part by the efforts of the National Popular Vote group, eight states — California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia have all passed into law the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. In the terms of that agreement, those states have pledged to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, as soon as the number of states joining the compact collectively hold at least 270 Electoral College votes, the minimum number needed to win the presidency.

The popular-vote movement had both supporters and opponents among the panelists. The concept “conforms with the popularly held conception of fairness,” said Alexander Keyssar, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, who supports the idea.

However, Alexander Belenky, a professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said the idea ignored the “will of the states,” and suggested that if any changes were necessary, state officials should examine ways of allotting electoral votes proportionately.

“Almost any state can be changed into a battleground by its state legislators,” Belenky said.

Other scholars challenged that reasoning, however. “States do not have a will,” said Jack Rakove, a historian and legal scholar from Stanford. That said, Rakove also thinks that even if enough states pass legislation to join the compact, it will face heavy legal and legislative obstacles. While popular-vote advocates cite a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the steel industry as a precedent for the legality of interstate compacts, Rakove suggested that ruling was unlikely to be a robust precedent.

“The idea that this is going to escape a challenge in Congress is utterly [wrong],” Rakove said. “Whatever the prior jurisprudence is, it’s not going to affect this Supreme Court or any Supreme Court. This is clearly a change of constitutional dimensions, done by compact or not.”

Pick one candidate, or rank them?

The event — titled “Does the Current Presidential Election System Serve America Well?” — featured almost 20 speakers, and took place in MIT’s Bartos Theater.

Several speakers discussed alternate ways that voters could choose candidates on ballots: Instead of just selecting one candidate, for instance, voters could rank them, or rate them on a numerical scale.

Eric Maskin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from Harvard, gave a keynote talk exploring ways to avoid elections — such as the presidential elections from 1992 through 2000 — in which the winner receives only a plurality of the vote, and not an outright majority. One option Maskin finds valuable, attributed to the French Enlightenment thinker Condorcet, asks voters to rank candidates, and then selects as a winner the one candidate who would beat all others in the rankings on a head-to-head basis.

“Voters under the current system are really not providing enough information about what they really want,” Maskin said.

Arnold Barnett, the George Eastman Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, presented a modification of the U.S. system in which Electoral College votes would be awarded by multiplying each state’s popular-vote percentage by its number of electoral votes — which he said would also give candidates incentive to campaign nationally.

“The candidates would rediscover the way to San Jose — and to Fort Worth, and to Brooklyn, and to Chicago,” Barnett said.

The wave of voter ID laws

Two of the seven panels at the event focused on the wave of voter-registration laws that have been passed in 33 states across the country. Many of them require voters to present photo identification at the polling place; some studies have shown that around 10 percent of the population does not possess such identification.

The topic is the subject of bitter political dispute at the moment; Republicans have largely enacted the laws, which Democrats charge are intended to keep Democratic-leaning citizens from voting.

Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, a former Justice Department official and a central figure in the effort to enact voter-identification laws, presented a summary of the current legal status of the laws in many key states. In Pennsylvania and South Carolina, for instance, judges have ruled that the statutes are legal, but cannot be implemented in time to apply to the 2012 election. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2008, also upheld a 2007 Indiana law requiring photo ID.

According to Von Spakovsky, the Indiana law “has not prevented anyone from voting in the state,” and the lack of legal challenges to the way the state’s law has been administered in practice demonstrates its validity.

Vikram Amar, a law professor at the University of California at Davis, said there was an “uncomfortable partisan pattern” to the voter-registration laws — even accounting for the fact that, as Von Spakovsky pointed out, liberal U.S. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens voted to uphold the Indiana law. Amar also suggested that it would take time to assess the empirical evidence about the effect the laws are having on particular blocs of voters.

Acts of Faith, Here’s what Caitlyn Jenner taught me about Jesus.

This opinion piece was written by Josh Cobia, a musician and the pastor of music and community at Resonate Church in Santa Monica, Calif. Posted the Washington Post

When I was a budding 21-year-old, I took a job at a church in Calabasas. It was a brand-new church meeting in a movie theater, and as I relocated to Los Angeles for my first service, I learned the Kardashian family were major supporters of the church from its infancy. At the time I had to Google their names to figure out who this celebrity family was. They had previously attended a much larger church in the area and met a very charismatic and prolific pastor there. He ended up leaving the church, thinking he would never go back to ministry.

It was Bruce Jenner who found this pastor three years later as he was working at Starbucks.

Jenner searched this pastor out and told him that wife Kris had been trying to find him and would love to talk with him. The pastor kindly received the request, and upon meeting, Kris Jenner told the pastor that they wanted to start a new church in their home town of Calabasas with him as the pastor.

If you’re surprised by this, so was I.

It’s a long story, so I’ll keep it short. He accepted.

I was introduced to this pastor as a potential worship leader leading music for the new church. The pastor flew up from Southern California to the Bay Area, where I was living, to come watch me lead worship at my dad’s church, where he serves as a pastor. When we had lunch later, he told me about the vision of his new church. He explained that it was a church designed for everybody, all were welcome, and it was a “come as you are” atmosphere. I was thrilled with this idea, and I hoped and prayed that he would call me about a position. I wasn’t convinced that I nailed the interview, but I was convinced that this was where God wanted me.

Sure enough, the following week, I was asked to come down and lead worship music in a preview service. A week later, I was offered the job. I had also let slip that I had a youth leader background and was great with students. The pastor asked me whether I would take on that role at the church. too, and I told him I would. I was thrilled to be able to work with kids close to my age and teach them about Jesus.

It was only just before that preview service that I learned that the Kardashians/Jenners were an integral part of this nondenominational evangelical church. I couldn’t understand why a family like this would want to help start a church, but I was even more intrigued.

As soon as I moved to Hollywood, I was contacted by Kris Jenner and asked to meet her at her home. I drove up to their larger-than-life mansion in Calabasas in the busted-up Honda I still drive today. She shared that she hoped her young daughters Kendall and Kylie would find God and he would be a huge part of their lives.

I enjoyed going to the Kardashian home over several visits. It was a warm and inviting place. They loved me for who I was, and Kendall and Kylie were always fun to be around. They were so funny and beyond their years. To a starving music student, their kitchen pantry was heaven, and I was not too proud to eat as many Susie Cake cupcakes as could fill my 21-year-old-stomach.

As the church got its start, I quickly fell in love with it. The church was growing, I was growing, my faith was growing, and soon I was able to start the youth group. The youth group initially met on the steps inside the Edwards Calabasas movie theater, and in attendance attracted some of the craziest/most diverse students. There were middle school computer prodigies, One Direction experts and a troublemaker or two, along with Kylie and Kendall, every week. This was the beginning.

At a certain point, I realized that just the Sunday morning experience wouldn’t be enough and asked the group whether there was a house that wouldn’t mind hosting a Wednesday night gathering where we could continue our conversations from Sunday morning. Kendall approached me and told me that we could meet at her house. So I led a youth group at the Kardashian home.

This is the same home you would recognize from the show. On my first visit, I noticed stage lights in every corner as a producer told me I couldn’t enter yet – they were in the middle of a scene.

Here, on the set of a reality-TV show and a family home, I began to have conversations with the celebrity we now know as Caitlyn Jenner before the youth group gathering. We would make small talk as she microwaved a giant plate of spaghetti. Students dropped cupcakes in her pool, and she was stellar enough to tell me not to worry about it. I would later watch her scoop it out of the pool herself. It was a great experience and a formative time for me. I even met my wife here as she volunteered for the youth group.

As the Jenner girls grew into careers of their own, there wasn’t a lot of time for the youth group. Kris and the girls stopped coming as regularly on Sunday mornings, as well, although Kylie and I would still joke around when they came for Easter and Christmas services. We moved the youth group from the Jenner home to my wife’s parents’ home and met weekly there. One thing remained, as odd as some of you may now find it…

Caitlyn stuck around.

She was there at church almost every Sunday, sitting in the front row and singing along to every song if he could. She would chat with me before services and make fun of how I wore sandals every day. I used to think that I was wasting her time before the service, Why would this Olympian/reality TV superstar want to talk with me?

But the more I talked with her on Sundays, the more I realized she actually cared about me. She wanted to know what was going on in my career and why I wasn’t preaching yet. I knew her family, I knew her simply as a parent to two girls in my youth group, and she just wanted someone to talk to. So we did just that.

She listened with great intent to the sermons at my church. I could tell she just loved being there. Caitlyn was the one in this family who never went out claiming to be a Christian. Her statement was her attendance at church, week after week, Sunday after Sunday.

I eventually left that church under great terms to help start a new church in Santa Monica. Caitlyn was there my final Sunday and gave me a big hug wishing me well.

News came out a few months later that Caitlyn would no longer identify herself as Bruce Jenner.

My newsfeed is flooded by both enormous support and enormous disappointment. Most of my friends who don’t know Jesus were in support of Caitlyn, proclaiming their acceptance and love for her. Those who did know Jesus were mostly either silent or derogatory.

Today, I can’t help but think how backward that is.

Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a Facebook timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news.

And, Caitlyn has taught me more about Jesus.

Caitlyn taught me to be bold. Jesus was bold enough to overturn tables at his father’s temple, he was bold enough to stand up to the religious leaders of his day and let them know they had it backwards. In the Bible, we see the oppressed overcome the oppressor and the meek become strong. That is the core of the Jesus I know. Jesus came to eat with the people no one would be seen with, to turn the tax collector into an honest man. He came to transform the world.

Caitlyn showed me that life is a journey with many twists and turns. Look back at this person’s story — a major Olympic athlete on the cover of a Wheaties box and a reality-TV star on one of the most bizarre shows about a family on the air. I will tell you that in my limited time in the Jenner/Kardashian home, Caitlyn was the most grounded and sensible person there. Would she claim to know Christ now? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m sure if I asked, she would give me an answer more fully thought out than one I could muster for myself.

What’s more pressing to me is how the church (my tribe) will respond to Caitlyn. The LGBTQ people I know are loving, accepting, beautiful people, and many of them have been so hurt by their church communities that they have left the faith.

Jesus wasn’t one to turn away from those the world had labeled broken. He was the one who would walk toward them with open arms.

2016 Prius new look!

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.58.49 AMSince his arrival about five years ago, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda has pushed for more exciting styling and better driving dynamics in the carmaker’s products.

So with an entirely redesigned version of Toyota’s halo car–the Prius hybrid–set for the 2016 model year, its designers will emphasize styling like never before.

The original styling for the new hybrid was rejected for being too staid, sending those designers back to the drawing board, according to Automotive News (subscription required).

That contributed to a delay of several months in the car’s launch; it was originally intended to go on sale this coming spring, but now that will happen at the end of the year.

The original styling for the new hybrid was rejected for being too staid, sending those designers back to the drawing board, according to Automotive News (subscription required).

That contributed to a delay of several months in the car’s launch; it was originally intended to go on sale this coming spring, but now that will happen at the end of the year.

Toyota wanted to give the Mirai a distinctive look, so none of its styling features will carry over to any other models. Depending on your perspective, that may be a good thing.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.56.49 AM

However, the 2016 Prius will probably feature design themes similar to those of other recent Toyota models, including the 2015 Camry and the recently-updated Prius V and Prius C hybrids.

Toyota hopes a sportier Prius will attract a more diverse array of buyers–but as the brand’s most visible model, it could make or break Toyota’s new styling philosophy.

A little winter spirit for those of us on the east coast!

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