Category Archives: Tech

What’s in My Podcast Player and Why

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I’ve abandoned traditional radio (too many ads and repetitive playlists) and am in the process of abandoning Sirius XM radio (repetitive playlists, poor sound quality, and insufferable disc jockeys on the alt. country (Outlaw Radio)  channel).  As a result, when I’m on the road I rely largely on Spotify for my music, and podcasts for other content.  Here is a list of the podcasts I currently subscribe to (I use Downcast as my podcast app; there are plenty of good options), and a brief description of why.

podcastlist

Mac Geek Gab.  This is part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts, and I listen to it without fail every week.  Along with Mac Power Users and select episodes of This American Life, it is a workout staple.  To use a book analogy, it’s hard sci-fi, as opposed to space opera, and I’ve probably learned more under the hood tech-related stuff from hosts Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun than anyone else.

Mac Power Users.  Another part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts.  Hosts David Sparks and Katie Floyd have captured lightning in a bottle with this format, and everyone benefits.  It’s not “hard sci-fi” like Mac Geek Gab, but it’s great “space opera,” which has broader appeal.  I feel like I’m discussing tech with friends every episode.  It is the number one resource for Mac and iOS users, from beginner to expert, seeking to increase their knowledge and skill set.

Clockwise.  The third part of my holy trinity of tech podcasts.  Jason Snell, Dan Moren and two guests discuss four tech topics each episode, in 30 minutes or less.  I find the topical matter to the pretty consistent with the things I am reading or thinking about, I like the fact that I can listen to an entire episode in 30 minutes, and I love the roundtable format.

Invisibilia.  It’s between seasons at the moment (I really wish podcasts wouldn’t have seasons), but when it was releasing new episodes, a new episode of this podcast about “the invisible forces that shape human behavior” was a moment of celebration.  It’s hard to succinctly describe, but this podcast is simply wonderful. Hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel are delightful.  There was a moment in the How to Become Batman episode, after they talked about some amazing things done by some amazing people who happen to be blind, when Alix Spiegel said this:

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They should do an episode about why that line affected me so much.  I was in the middle of my workout, walking down a country road near the farm.  Without hesitation, I stopped, caught between the competing desires to dance and sob, and danced for a moment.  It was pure joy, and to this day I’m not sure why.

This American Life.   No discussion of podcasting and no subscription list can be complete without including the grandfather of all podcasts, hosted by Ira Glass.  If I were to compile a list of my 10 favorite podcast episodes ever, I’m reasonably certain 9 would be from This American Life (the 10th being the Batman episode of Invisibilia).  I listen to most, but not all, of the new episodes and I separately use the This American Life app to find and listen to older shows.  If you want an introduction to the wonder of podcasts, start with House on Loon Lake.

Mystery Show.  This is another fantastic new podcast.  The concept (finding random but interesting mini-mysteries and solving them in an online Scooby Doo fashion) is perfect, as is host Starlee Kine.  It has the best theme music ever, and every episode uses a mystery as a launching pad for all sorts of discovery. The episode about Jake Gyllenhaal’s height should win whatever the Emmy-equivalent is for podcasting.

Criminal.  Criminal is another “shorter” podcast, hosted by the aptly named Phoebe Judge, with episodes running in the 20 or so minute range.  It’s not a typical crime show; it’s more about people who have done something wrong, had something wrong done to them, or been caught up in between the two.  For example, a recent story about the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona was great, but not just for the obvious reasons.  I listened to the new episode on my morning workout today, about murder ballads.

Serial.  Like everyone else, I was blown away by this podcast and followed its unraveling of a 1999 murder with a cyber-microscope.  It was compelling stuff and Sarah Koenig, who also works on This American Life, is a great host.  If you haven’t heard it, you should start binge-listening right now and cancel all your plans for the next few days.  I hope season 2 will be as good, but it’s got some big shoes to fill.  For those wondering, I think Adnan probably did it, but there seem to be a lot of questions about exactly what happened and when.

Reply All.  Self-described as “a show about the internet,” this shortish  (20 to 30 minutes) podcast, hosted by Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, can be about almost anything.  Recent shows about a swindler turned good citizen and the battle over a boring Facebook group were both excellent.  I’m very interested in the new tech support stories feature they have started.

StoryCorps.  StoryCorps “travels the country collecting stories of everyday people.”  I don’t listen to every episode, but I listen to many of them, and some of them are excellent.  For example, a recent episode on the Americans with Disabilities Act was wonderful (the Grove Norwood/Ricky Boone story will make your day).

Note: Once my Sirius XM radio subscription expires (and it will not be renewed), I’ll add subscriptions to some of the NPR shows I still listen to via satellite radio (Diane Rehm,  Marketplace,  On Point, Radio Times, and others).

How to Find Great New Music, with Spotify

I keep hearing my fellow Mac enthusiasts raving about the “For You” tab in Apple Music, and how music discovery is so much better in Apple Music than in Spotify.  I get it, we’re Apple fans, we are supposed to be excited about new Apple hardware and apps.  And I suppose if someone forced me to speak kindly of the mishmash that is iTunes and is bolted on new addition, music discovery would be the second thing I’d mention (the first thing being the very real benefit of combining, on both the desktop and your mobile device, your streaming music and your owned music).  But I have to say, I hear a lot of people trying very hard to convince themselves that they like Apple Music.

Let’s take a look at music discovery within Apple Music and Spotify.  For this experiment, we’ll focus on discovering music I don’t know about already, as opposed to other similar music already in my library.

First, let’s take a look at the “For You” tab.  Here’s the top screen of mine.

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There are only two records in there I haven’t heard (Hound Dog Taylor and Bob Mould), and no artists I’ve never heard of.  I like The Band, but bombastic and heartfelt classic rock ballads is most definitely not one of my genres.

Now, Spotify.

There are three primary ways to discover new music in Spotify.  First, the “Discover” tab under Browse.  Here’s the top of mine.

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I’ve heard of all those artists too, but I’ve only heard two of the records listed (Otis Gibbs and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash).  All of these are clearly within my preferred genres.

Second, there’s the new “Discover Weekly” playlist.  Here’s my current one.

 

Of those 30 songs, I’d previously heard only four of them.  That’s pretty amazing, and while I don’t love all of them, there’s a lot of good stuff to be mined from that list.  It’s closer to what I like than any “human curated” playlist I’ve come across while trying to work my way through the corn maze that is Apple Music.

Finally, there’s the most fun and rewarding way to find new music on Spotify. Surfing around the “Related Artists” links.

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I have spent hours surfing around looking for new music this way.  Most of the stuff in Rancho Radio, my “Kent curated” public playlist, was found that way.

Competition is great for consumers.  Apple Music will make Spotify better, and there’s room for both.  But don’t tell me it’s hard to find new music on Spotify, because I have a thousand or so tracks in my various playlists that say otherwise.

Maybe Apple Music will become the best music service out there.  But let’s be honest.  The announcement at WWDC was a disjointed disaster, and the app is confusing and hard to use.  I’m hoping it will get better (though I’ve been hoping iTunes will get better for years), but there’s a lot of work to be done.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with Spotify.

Song Ideas Workflow for Songwriters

Song ideas are like dreams: you have to write them down right away, or you will forget them.  I can’t count the number of song ideas I’ve had while driving, that were lost before I got to a place I could write them down.  For example, a few weeks ago while driving home from the farm I noticed, not for the first time, that just about every car I passed had two occupants.  A guy driving, and a girl in the passenger seat.  An idea for a light-hearted, hopefully funny song started to percolate.  The hook was something along the lines of “all these cats with all these cuties, they must be pirates with all that booty.”   [NOTE: I will use this line eventually so don’t steal it!]  I had parts of two verses, a chorus and the beginning of a melody in my head, but everything but the hook was forgotten before I got around to writing it down.

All of this got me thinking, again not for the first time, about a way to capture song ideas before they are lost.  I needed a way to capture a few lines, a hummed melody, or maybe just a concept.  Here is what I came up with.

Using the indispensable and highly recommended iOS app Workflow, I created a “Normal” workflow (this will make sense when you see the app) that does the following:

  1.  “Record[s] Audio” at “Normal” quality (because all we are doing is capturing information), beginning “On Tap” and finishing “On Tap.”
  2.  saves the recorded audio to the “Song Ideas” folder in my Dropbox.

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Then I  created a Hazel rule on my Mac to monitor that Dropbox folder and move any incoming files to the “Song Ideas” subfolder in the “Music Creation” folder on my Mac.  This rule also sets a green color label on the file, so I’ll know it came via this workflow.

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Finally, I added this workflow, called “Song Ideas,” to the home screen on my iPhone via the Sharing> Add to Home Screen function within the Workflow app.  Now it sits on the first page on my iPhone home screen, for easy access while driving.

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This workflow allows me to quickly record and save any song ideas I have, from anywhere and in very close to real-time.  While I created it specifically for songwriting, you could use this workflow to save and manage just about any information.

Mac Power Users

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I joined David Sparks and Katie Floyd on the latest episode of one of my very favorite podcasts, Mac Power Users.

Anyone who has asked me for help setting up their new Mac or transitioning from the horror of Windows to the wonder of Mac knows that one of the first things I do is show the initiate how to listen to podcasts and subscribe to Mac Power Users.  It’s a must-listen for all Mac users, from beginner to expert.

We had a great discussion about integrating your Mac into a Windows corporate environment, and other Mac-related topics.

Here’s the information on the latest show, here’s the iTunes link, and here’s the RSS feed to use to subscribe to the podcast in your podcast app of choice.  I use Downcast.

Give us a listen.

Using Tweetbot and Lists to Make Twitter Useful

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As many of you know, I have been occasionally hot and usually cold on the Twitter experience.  Yes, I share hand-curated links *** to my Twitter followers, but much of that takes only a couple of clicks from within Feedly, my feed reader of choice.  But I have never embraced Twitter as either a consumption or a conversation platform.

*** If you’re interested in tech news and topics, you should consider following me, not because I am so interesting, but because almost all of my tweets are links to tech topics and apps I find interesting.  It’s the best stuff from my very large reading list.

For probably the fifth time, I recently embarked on a project to better understand Twitter, both the bad and the good parts.  Some of this is ongoing, but from a content consumption perspective, I knew I had to filter and divide my Twitter feed, to slow the roll a little so I can find the content I care about.  I decided to do this via a third-party Twitter app and some topical lists.  Eventually, I’ll have more lists and the lists will be fully populated, but here’s where I am so far.

tweetboticonI chose Tweetbot as my third-party app.  There may be better choices out there (if so, please let me know), but I keep reading about Tweetbot, so I decided to give it a try.  Installation is easy, and you can get up and running quickly.  It takes some trial and error to figure out how to manage the columns and how to administer lists from within the app, but it’s not a difficult learning curve.

Next, I decided to start with three lists, on three topics I’m interested in: breaking news, Mac & Apple talk, and Wake Forest sports.

I added some of the obvious candidates to each list, and I tweak the lists as I discover new sources or realize some sources simply regurgitate too much quantity and too little quality (I’m looking at you, Houston Chronicle).  It’s early, but clearly this is a system with potential to work.

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Using lists, I can separate my feed into topics and can manage the content within those topics.  This allows me to better consume content via Twitter, and to be more interactive.  I’ve probably retweeted more in the last week that in the years before, simply because I can see things easier.

I also like the way Tweetbot lets you arrange your columns, and switch to Mentions (so I can reply or retweet if appropriate), Messages (though I really don’t like Twitter Messages as an email substitute), and a search function.

I’ll have more later, but for the moment I’m hopeful that the fifth time will be the charm.

If you’ve already made some good Twitter lists, let me know.  I’ll take a look.

Don’t Get Too Excited About this Outlook on Your Wrist Business

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When the web goes nuts over some new app, device or feature that works, but only for a small portion of the potential universe of users, I wonder if the people going nuts are unaware of the limitation or just ignoring it for headlines.

Such is the case with the new Outlook app that might be able to give you Outlook functionality on your Apple Watch.  First a question:

What percentage of Apple Watch wearing, iPhone enthusiasts choose to use Outlook, and what percentage of such people have to use it because it’s on their locked-down, corporate Windows computer?  I’d say very few of the former and a ton of the latter.  In fact, find me a Mac user who voluntarily chooses to use Outlook, and I’ll devote an entire podcast to learning why.  The large, large majority of iPhone users who use Outlook are doing so because they have to.

And they have to because their companies require it.  And those companies lock-down both their desktop computers and the mobile devices used by their employees.  Which means that a whole lot of the folks who eagerly install the Outlook app on their iPhones and excitedly log-in in anticipation of replying to Outlook emails from their Apple Watch are going to get this:

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So, if you’re on a locked-down corporate system, don’t get too excited about Outlook on your wrist, because it’s probably not going to happen.

Ad Blocking as Social Activism

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“As a user, I’m ecstatic about Content Blockers. Some might say it’s not morally acceptable to block ads, but when publishers reach the point where a single 80 KB article weighs 6 MB, maybe it is time for a wake up call.”

via MacStories.

I’ve used Adblock plus and other ad-blocking solutions for as long as I can remember.  I don’t see a moral issue in any context, but when content providers load up pages with so much excess bloat, there’s no moral issue with blocking them.  To the contrary, I believe there’s a moral imperative to block them in their tracks.

I spend a fair amount of money to avoid ads.  I never watch TV in real-time, so I can skip ads.  I rarely listen to traditional radio.  I skip over ads in my podcasts (though, in fairness and loyalty, I already use many of the products who place ads in the podcasts I listen to).  If there comes a time when some content I like goes away because folks block their ads, oh well.  Figure out a better way to do it.

It’s not that all ads are horrible.  Just most of them.  But there are exceptions.  I will stop fast-forwarding and rewind a Subaru ad on TV.  They are that good.  I’m not getting tracked.  The ads don’t bloat my TV and stall my experience.  They’re just well-made, minimally intrusive and interesting.

Unlike almost all of the repetitive and bloated ads people want to heave upon us on the web.