Friday, April 28, 2006

Downloading Audiobooks From Randolph Library

I have often used books on tape and more recently books on CD, buying them or borrowing them from the library to play in the car on road trips. I have also used them at home while doing some chore that doesn't take much attention. A couple of times I have forgotten to go to the library until the morning I'm leaving on a trip and, since the library doesn't open till 9:00, I've had to leave without my "book on tape". No more! Now, in just a couple of minutes, I can download a new book via the Randolph Library online!

As of May 1 2006 any Randolph resident, landowner, or person who works in Randolph can go to the library (you must go in person) and register to participate in the program. You will need an already established eMail account (anywhere) but if you're reading this it's pretty likely you already have one. After that, it's a simple matter of logging into your account, browsing the titles available, selecting one to download, and down it comes!

You will be able to play them back from your Microsoft Windows based home computer because the included Windows Media Player can play the .wma file type that these are recorded in. If you have a PDA that can play .wma files *and* you have enough storage room on the PDA to download the book files into then you can play them on your PDA. Any PDA using the Windows Mobile or Windows CE operating system from Microsoft and others that have licensed use of a .wma audio codec from Microsoft will be able to play .wma files. Most manufacturers of MP3 players have licensed .wma codecs from Microsoft and can play .wma files.

If you want to play the audio books from your PDA through your car's stereo system, buy an inexpensive device from radio shack that looks like a cassette tape with a wire attached. You plug the wire into the PDA or MP3 player head phone jack, pop the "tape" end into your car's cassette tape player and viola! the book plays through your car stereo. If you don't have a tape player in the car there are other ways of connecting the two devices. Note that Apple has a format that competes with .wma and has so far (this is being written 4/2006) refused to include a .wma codec in it's very popular IPod music players.

.wma files are capable of being managed by digital rights software that can put limits on their use. After downloading a book from the library and before you disconnect from the Internet, you "open" the book on your computer (using Windows Media Player). The player will then, over the Internet, acquire a license. According to the Randolph Library site, " The license allows you to listen to the audiobook for 21 days and to copy it to two additional portable listening devices". When the 21 days are up you will still have the file but your player will not be able to open it. According to Leanna Povilaitis, Assistant Director of the library, "the audiobook license can be renewed once and it will play for another 21 days.".

Click here to go to the Randolph Library site and find information on this great new service.

Happy listening and thank you Randolph Library!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Podcasts - Internet Radio and TV on Demand

When I retired I was determined I would stay current with new developments in Information Technology. Of course, retirement also meant I would begin to catch up on all those "around the home" projects I had been putting off for years. Some of those projects involved mindless labor like stripping wallpaper off the wall and painting it afterward and doing my own yard work. Podcasts have allowed me to keep my mind active, stay current on technology events and futures, and get the mindless projects done with a minimum of pain.

An excellent definition and explanation of podcasts can be found on Wikipedia at but I'll give you a short version here. If your cable TV provider offers "Movies On Demand" you're already familiar with the concept. A Podcast is audio or video content on demand over the Internet. Of course the techies got there first so early podcast "shows" have been predominantly on technical topics and that suited me just fine.

At this point some of you are saying "Hey, I've been able to download voice, video, and music files over the Internet since almost day one, what makes Podcasts so different?". The answer is a technology called Real Simple Syndication (RSS). RSS has been used for some time to syndicate (distribute) text from web sites and web logs (blogs). With the right receiving software (known as a NewsReader) on your PC, RSS lets you "subscribe" to a "feed" of new information from a web site or blog. This way you don't have to keep going back to multiple originating sites to see if there is anything new. The new stuff just shows up from each site you subscribe to "aggregated" in your newsreader on your desktop when any of them add new content. For a more in depth discussion of RSS and newsreaders see

Of course, to listen to an audio RSS feed or watch a video RSS feed you need software and hardware different than a text newsreader. In my case Apple's ITunes multimedia player takes the place of the newsreader. Yes, ITunes is free (you can download it from Apple's web site) and there is a version that runs on Windows. If you go to a website that offers podcasts and click on the RSS icon they will have on the page that offers the podcasts you will get a URL (like the text you type in to go to a website). You then highlight that URL and "edit/copy" it. You then start up ITunes, go (on ITunes main menu) to "Advanced", "Subscribe to Podcast", and, in the popup window, paste the URL you copied and click "ok". You have now subscribed to the current and future podcasts offered by that site from that "RSS stream". ITunes will automatically download them as they become available and you can either use ITunes to play them on your computer OR, if you have an IPod, you can tell ITunes to download them automatically to the IPod next time you connect it to your computer.

This technology has enabled me to "keep up" - I listen to the latest technology news and discussions while getting my "mindless chores" done. The very best site I have found for information Technology discussions is ITConversations which is part of There are literally thousands of "shows" to choose from in dozens of "channels". You can mark the ones you want to download to ITunes and/or your Ipod by adding them to your own personal queue on the ITConversations site. Your personal queue has its own RSS icon. I clicked on it, fed the URL it gave me to ITunes (as described above) and BINGO anything I drop into my personal queue on ITConversations winds up on my IPod! The amazing part of this is the content on ITConversations includes recorded sessions from conferences that my former employer paid thousands of dollars for me to attend back in my working days! In the latest batch of available podcasts on www.ITConversations.Com is their first video podcast and since my IPod is a video model, it works just fine. Of course, video makes it a little difficult to work on chores at the same time but hey, maybe I raked enough today.

Try it, you'll like it!