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Try to put podcasts in your life

Podcasting can be described in many ways.

From the perspective of the way it works, it is on-demand audio through the internet. It can be anything: someone’s opinion such as a lecture or an insight, a casual conversation, a radio show, a review of a book or movie or someone trying to be a DJ. There is lots of variety for any taste.

I think a more interesting perspective of podcasting is about what it makes possible. For me, it allows to find the time to listen to something interesting that engages my brain while doing some repetitive or boring task such as a chore, cleaning, cooking, shopping, of course lab work or even walking and taking photos. There is often plenty of brain power to engage with something else during such activities. And the ease by which it can be achieved is close to a sufficiently advanced technology to be indistinguishable from magic.

Speaking of magic, one of the most life changing effects of having the internet in my pocket is the ability to call international friends for free while in the same low brain engagement situations as above. But there are times when people are not available to talk or when more of my attention is needed. For these cases, listening to podcasts feels like cheating the universal equaliser - time, by allowing me to do something interesting that I would otherwise not have time for.

Your smartphone must have a podcast player. I use Overcast, but it doesn't matter what you use as much as to use something. Finding interesting podcasts is part of the fun so I recommend to spend some time to explore what is available. So give it a try and search for something new and interesting to learn. I provide a list of what I find interesting in the end.

This post is about two other interesting additions to what you can listen: youtube videos and text files. Just in case the podcast directory is not enough for you.

You first need a service that allows to make a podcast for free by linking to sound files (a podcast is effectively an rss feed with audio files). Huffduffer is such a service, you just need to sign up, create a unique feed name, and link to audio files. The audio files need to be hosted somewhere but if you make this for yourself they only need to be hosted until downloaded to the podcast client. So the easiest tool to use is dropbox public links. Just right click on an audio file in Dropbox and paste the public link to the Huffduffer account. Obviously you can use a tool like Hazel to schedule deletion of old sound files so there is one less thing to worry about.

Update 160315: Even easier is overcast's new upload feature. You need to be a paying customer, but it is 1. not much, 2. worth it, 3. support for the developer.

Update 160517: the easiest of all, the huffduffer browser plugin will auto convert to MP3 and host any YouTube video, and make a podcast entry based on the YouTube title, it works like magic.

Here is how to create audio files

Youtube

There are sites eg1 eg2 that will convert a youtube video to audio, which you then download and put in Dropbox. The process takes a while and cannot be fully automated so it is mostly worth it for long video files, such as lectures and interviews. I spend a 20 min block every weekend or so to make a bunch of such files and upload to Huffduffer.

Text files

This is even more geeky. You can get a Mac to speak a text file, and record that speech to an audio file. Which then gets put to Huffduffer.

Automator workflow

Here is an Automator script that will speak the clipboard text into an audio file. If my instapaper list gets too long, I convert some of the text to audio. The computerised voice takes some getting used to, but for non-technical text it works great.

Ninja version

Here is a function to put in your .bashrc file, that will do the same on all text files in a mac folder, and make separate audio files.

function txt2mp4 {
ls *.txt | awk -F '.' '{print "say -f "$0" -o "$1".m4a --file-format=m4af --progress"}' | bash
}

List of podcasts to try

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