The Saint of Dry Creek

I’ve mentioned the StoryCorps podcast a time or two before.  I listen to podcasts all the time when working out, and occasionally in the car.

I continue to think the StoryCorps podcast, whose mission “is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives,” is a national treasure.  I’ve gotten to the point that I only listen to it when getting my workout on lightly traveled country roads, so people won’t wonder why the old, bearded man is running down the road with tears in his eyes.

Occasionally, the StoryCorps crew will create an animation for one of the interviews.  They use the actual interview and create very clever animations to help tell the story.  Here is an example of one, in which a farmer in the 1950s demonstrates that back then, as now, there are progressive people beyond the city limits.

 

What’s in My Podcast Player and Why

podcastslistento

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 Swell Completely Changed My Listening Habits and Brought Me Back to Podcasts

I have been all over the board on podcasting.  At first, I thought it was way too much work for way too little return.  Then I started doing one, and I realized I was right.  Later, I did the EELS show with Dave and Mike.  That was great fun, but I didn’t have to do the back-end work.

Over time, my I lost my podcast mojo,  So I sort of forgot about podcasting for a long while.

Until I tried a new app.  Swell Radio.

swellapp

The story I read described Swell as the Pandora of podcasts.  That was appealing to me, because I have found the hardest part- and in fact the deal-stopper for me- of podcast consumption is trying to find stuff you want to listen to, while avoiding the universe of stuff you don’t.

Swell claims to make that easy, with an algorithm that learns what you like, based on what you listen to, for how long, and a very Pandora-like thumbs up button.  I started using it in my truck, on the way to and from work, and on the longer drives to the farm and back.  In what seemed like an instant, I was hearing content I really enjoyed.  Over time, the selections got even better.

I’ve listened to many more podcasts in the past month than I did in my other 639 months combined.  Sure, part of it is that there are more choices now than in the past (NPR, for example, puts out a ton of great content ).  I actually listened to (almost) an entire 90-minute (!) episode of TWIT while driving back from the farm.  Swell has a very handy and necessary 30-second skip feature, which allows you to skip the ads and the Android topics.

Think I’m kidding about how much I like this app?  I haven’t turned on XM radio in my truck in over two weeks and I haven’t listened to anything else in my shop in almost a month.  This weekend, I listened to a great podcast about flow while putting together the best workbench, desk, awesome piece of furniture ever.

Words cannot describe how much I love this
Words cannot describe how much I love this

My only complaint so far with Swell is that it doesn’t have Clockwise, which is my favorite podcast by a considerable margin.  Come on guys, get your excellent podcast on Swell.  Update: It’s there, after all.

Yes, I tried Stitcher.  I actually spent an hour or so searching for and adding podcasts that seemed interesting.  It was OK, but it still seemed too hard.  Swell makes it much easier to get up and listening, and I like the interface and experience better.

So, I’m into podcasts, once again.  This time with feeling.

Podcasting Live in Second Life

SL_001 Just when I thought it could never happen, Dave and Mike have enticed me back into Second Life, this time to record an episode of our Extraordinary Everyday Lives Show from Second Life.  Please accept this invitation to join us at 10:00 PM, central time (8:00 PM SL time), Wednesday, December 19.  Dave has more details.

Here’s the SLURL for the location.  Come by and participate, or just watch.  It’s up to you.

As I have noted before, I relinquished my Second Life account months ago, having become generally bored with the experience.  But after talking to Dave and Mike about their recent experiences in Second Life, I was beginning to wonder if I had been hasty in my decision.  When we decided to podcast from Second Life, I decided to give it another whirl.  I met up with Dave last night, and I have to say that the experience in general seems faster and smoother.  And the voice chat works really well.

My Second Life name is Times Short, and I hope to see you in world tomorrow night.

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Are Podcasts Really Just a Guy Thing?

Jonathan Skillings posts over on C|Net today that a survey has indicated that 78% of those who have ever listened to a podcast are male? Could that be right? Is podcasting really just a guy thing?

First of all, I wonder what the numbers are for music buying in general. I have no empirical data to cite, but over my 45 years it has been my experience that guys are generally, for whatever reason, more into music than women. My wife listens to the radio all the time in the car and she’s been married to a musician/songwriter/music nut for 12 years, but she doesn’t care enough about music to go out and buy a CD. In fact, I don’t believe she has bought a CD for herself since I’ve known her. Her friends are mostly the same way as far as I can tell. Most of my non-musician male friends buy at least a couple of CDs a year. Some many more.

So my question is: are the numbers for podcasting different from the numbers for music as a whole or merely representative of the numbers for music as a whole?

I can add two podcast-specific points. First, the only people I know who actually own an iPod are both women. While I have no idea if they listen to podcasts, they have the gear to do so, which puts them at the musical frontier of my little world. Second, 3 of the 4 people who have ever commented to me in the real world about my podcast have been women. And all of them wanted to know how to listen over the internet- without having to download something into a computer program and then move it to a music player. Again, I think most people want easy and clicking the play button is easier than downloading and moving. Especially when you listen at a computer. And I bet more podcasts are listened to at a computer than in the car (again, I have no empirical data; this is just my hunch).

So I don’t think podcasting is only a guy thing. I hope not. Either way, the generation of very tech savvy girls that are growing up here in my house, in my neighborhood and the world will have something to say about that one day. If podcasting becomes a permanent part of our culture, I believe that “girl power” will have a lot to do with it.

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Exactly How to Make a Podcast

podcastingNow that I’ve moved from doubter to cautious believer with respect to podcasting, it’s time to pull back the sheets and show non-geeks exactly how to make one. I have tried several ways and this is what I’ve settled on.

Step One: Gather the songs you want to include in your podcast.

Always be aware of the elephant. I tend to pick songs by new bands that, hopefully, will appreciate the exposure or songs by artists that I hope are cool enough not to care if I use one of their songs. I also add links to places listeners can buy the records and encourage them to do so during the podcast.

I pick songs by browsing through my MP3 collection and adding potential choices to a Playlist I cleverly call PC (for podcast, not personal computer or political correctness). I have tried all the major and many minor music players and the one I use for my large music library is Media Center. I’m sure others will work too, but I haven’t used them for this purpose. After I have selected some possible songs, I go back and weed the list down to 6-8 songs, less if I’m going to talk more and more if I’m going to talk less. That way, the podcast will be around a half hour long, which is what I currently shoot for.

Once I get the PC Playlist down to the number of songs I want, I copy those songs to another folder on my computer (I call this folder PC Holder and keep it on my Desktop for easy access). I do this because I don’t want to accidently edit or delete a song from my music collection when I am creating my podcast. Media Center makes this very simple: Open your Playlist, select all the songs with your mouse (press shift and page down from the top song) , right click on the highlighted songs and select Library Tools>Copy Disk Files (not Move Disk Files). In the pop-up box navigate to the target folder (in my case, the PC Holder folder) and click OK.

If you use another music player, you can figure out your own system for selecting and relocating the MP3s you want to include in your podcast. The important thing is that at the end of Step 1 you have selected the MP3s you want to play and copied them into your podcast folder.

Step Two: Import your MP3s into your podcast program.

Once we have the MP3s ready, we have to combine them into a single sound file and add the voice files (announcements, discussion, etc.) that will be part of the podcast. I use and highly recommend Audacity for this purpose. It’s free and relatively easy to use. If you don’t have it, download and install it.

Once you’ve installed Audacity, open it and select File>New (see the menu near the top of the program window) to start a new podcast project. Now let’s import the MP3s from our folder. Select Project>Import Audio, then navigate to the folder where you stored your MP3s, select them with your mouse (again, press shift and page down from the top file to select them all) and click Open. The MP3s will be imported into Audacity and will show up as sound files in the program window. On the left of the Audacity window is a column that shows the name of the MP3 song file and has several buttons, including Mute and Solo. The Solo button allows you to listen to the files one at a time to be sure the file imported correctly and sounds good (Click that button and then the Play button near the top of the program window).

Step Three: Record the voice files

Now it’s time to record the talking part of the podcast. I record a voice file to open the show, a separate voice file discussing and introducing each song (except that the opening voice file doubles as the introduction for the first song) and a voice file to close the show. You have to to separate files so you can move them to the correct place in the sound file (more on that below).

Once you have your microphone connected and turned on (here’s a help page for that), recording the voice files in Audacity is as simple as clicking on the red Record button near the top left of the program window and talking into the microphone (be sure to click the Stop button when your done). The first time, you’ll have to experiment a little by recording test files and then playing them back (click the Solo button to the left of the voice file and then the Play button near the top of the window) to get the right volume on the voice files. Audacity has an amplify feature- select the sound file with your mouse by left clicking at one end of the sound file (the blue wavy lines, 2 per song, in the middle of the window) and moving the mouse to the other side of the sound file, then select Effect>Amplify, choose the desired level of amplification and click OK. This works sometimes, but it’s better to get the microphone levels right from the start.

I record all of the voice files at one time- by clicking the record button, talking and then clicking the stop button. If you mess up (and you will, often) simply delete the voice file (see the little X in the button area to the left of the song file) and start over.

Step Four: Put the songs and voice files in order

Once you have the song and voice files completed, you have to put them in order. This takes a little time (I wish there was a way to do it automatically, but I haven’t found that feature if it exists). To do this, left click and drag the files into the correct order. Think of the files in the Audacity program window as a ladder, with the first file (normally the introduction voice file) at the top and the last file at the bottom. If dragging the files with your mouse it too hard, you can move a file up or down via the little downward pointing arrow in the button area to the left of the sound file.

Once you have dragged the files to their proper spot on the ladder, you have to move all of them after the first one to the right so the files play sequentially and not all at the same time. To do this, click on (to the right side of, if you have to move it a long way) on the sound file you want to move at the location where you want that file to start and select Project>Align Tracks>Align with Cursor. Normally the location you click is even with the end of the sound file immediately above (so this file will play immediately after the one above it ends).

Again, this takes a little time, and it should be automated, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty quick and easy.

Step Five: Test the soundfile

After aligning the files vertically (for which ones play first) and horizontially (so they play in sequence and not at the same time) click at the beginning of the first (i.e., top) sound file and click the Play button near the top of the window. Listen to the music and voice files and make sure everything is in order and sounds good. If not, reorder or rerecord the necessary files.

Step Six: Save the Audacity project file

Save the project file by selecting File>Save As and navigating to the folder where you want to store your podcast project files. I store mine in a folder in My Documents called RanchoCasts.

Step Seven: Export the combined soundfile

Select File>Export as MP3, name the file (I use ranchocastmmddyy) , navigate to the folder you want to use to store the combined sound file (I use the same one I previously moved the MP3s to) and click Save.

Step Eight: Upload the combined sound file to your server

I have a folder on my server called ranchocast where I upload the combined sound file, which will shortly become my podcast. If you don’t have a server, there are some podcast hosting companies, but I haven’t used them so I can’t comment on how well they work. I use CuteFTP to upload my files, but any FTP program will work.

Step Nine: Create your RSS feed

In order to be accessible by the programs that download and manage podcasts (such as Juice, formerly called iPodder), an RSS feed has to be created. This can be the most difficult part of creating a podcast, but thanks to ListGarden it has been made easy.

ListGarden, which is both brilliant and free, takes the location and name of your sound file and creates, saves and uploads the necessary xml file that will support an RSS feed.

Here are step by step instructions on how to set up a podcast using ListGarden and the sound file you just created and uploaded. ListGarden has some advanced features (like the ability to generate a web page about your podcast) which you may or may not use. The process of setting up ListGarden is easy if you follow the step by step instructions closely- the hardest part is knowing the location of your podcast folder on your server and your name and password for server access. If you forgot your password, you can probably get it from your FTP program with Behind Asterisks. I have to do that all the time.

Step Ten: Publish your podcast feed

Once you have uploaded your music file and used ListGarden to create and upload an xml file, all that’s left is to publish your RSS feed so people can find and access your podcast. I use Feedburner for this and it does a great job. Add the URL to the xml file that ListGarden created and uploaded in Step Nine to the blank on the Feedburner page and you’re on your way.

The URL is different from the server location address you used when configuring ListGarden. The URL is the “http” address that a browser would use to locate that file (for example, http://www.newsome.org/ranchocast/ranchocast.xml)

Once you get your Feedburner feed set up, Feedburner gives you a link- and this is the link you use to direct people to your podcast. My Feedburner podcast page is http://feeds.feedburner.com/ranchocast. One of the cool things about using Feedburner to publish your podcast is that your listeners can click the Listen icon on your feedburner page and listen to the podcast right from that page (without having to install Juice or another podcast manager).

That’s it. If you do a podcast, leave me a note in the Comments. I’ll check it out

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Podcasting Revisited

Ed Bott agrees with my reservations about Podcasting and the real world.

I actually spent some time last night considering doing a Rancho DeNada podcast, but then I remembered that it would take forever to do it, I couldn’t use any music other than my own without risking the wrath of the priority-challenged RIAA, and even if I did, no one I know has the knowledge, hardware or inclination to listen to it.