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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcast 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS

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 http://www.conversationsnetwork.org/ 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!

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