Posts Tagged ‘Books’


Adding a YouTube show as a Podcast Feed

April 25, 2012

Vista busy cursor  The Sword & Laser podcast  is on the Frogpants network and features Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont talking about sci-fi and fantasy books.  It was audio only for approaching 100 episodes, but recently a video variant was launched as part of Felicia Day’s Geek and Sundry YouTube channel.

I’m used to having the audio episodes delivered weekly to my Android phone over the air using the Doggcatcher podcast app, and hoped I might be able to get the video episodes in the same way. That is, I would like Doggcatcher to alert me automatically to a new episode and have it right there on the phone waiting for me to watch.  But the video episodes, being on YouTube, can only be streamed. They are not for download and not associated with any convenient RSS feed. On the face of it I can’t use Doggcatcher to help me at all. The best I can do is to subscribe on YouTube, to get email reminders. Worse, I am only offered the option to subscribe for the geekandsundry YouTube channel output as a whole, not just the Sword & Laser show.

The good news is that there is a solution of sorts.  Not a complete solution – there is no practical way around the inability to download the shows – but there is a way to use Doggcatcher to manage access to and consumption of the video episodes more or less in the same way as a conventional podcast.

The partial fix involves use of Yahoo Pipes. Yes, it still exists.  Thankfully, the implementation is trivial as explained below. And I didn’t even have to create a new Pipe –  I found an existing Pipe which does exactly what I need. The Pipe in question is “YouTube tags to RSS” by Eric. When the Pipe runs, it takes  a series of keywords as inputs, picks out only those YouTube videos having tags which match the keywords, and presents those videos as an RSS feed.

I found the first episode of the Sword & Laser show on YouTube and picked out all those tags which would not vary from episode to episode (I picked “Geek and Sundry”, “Sword and Laser”,” Veronica Belmont” and “Tom Merritt”), used them with the Pipe and selected “Get as RSS”. I used the URL of the resulting RSS feed to define a new feed on Doggcatcher.

This is the URL: Sword+and+Laser+Veronica+Belmont+Tom+Merritt

(If you copy and paste it make sure you eliminate any stray spaces)

All I can say is that it worked, and the exact same URL should work just as well for anyone. The tagging was clearly right because the only items in the feed were the pilot episode, first episode and bonus interview episode from the new Sword & Laser show, and the three episodes were added to the “downloaded video” queue where they appear together with the normal run of video podcasts.  The only difference is that the Sword & Laser video items are presented as stream only items, reflecting that they are on YouTube not actually downloaded to the phone.  When selected, they open automatically in the YouTube app and play.  This is nearly as good as if they were normal video podcasts except I have to be somewhere with connectivity before I can actually watch them.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this approach somehow magically turns a YouTube show into a genuine podcast. What it does is allow me to use a single app to capture the availability of new material relating to both both true podcasts and YouTube shows, and to launch them both from that same app. This is far more convenient than the alternatives.

The same idea would work with any YouTube show that can be uniquely identified through tags.  You don’t even need to go into Yahoo Pipes as such. You just need to provide the podcatcher app with the right URL.

Start with the URL below:

Replace tag1, tag2, etc with the relevant tags to identify the show.  You can use as many tags as you need.  Just paste the edited URL into Doggcatcher, or other preferred podcatcher app, when setting up a new feed. When it updates the feed, the podcatcher will run the Pipe and pick up any new items.



The Huxin Ting Teahouse in the Diamond Age

November 14, 2007

Books There is no doubt that the venue for Judge Fang’s initial meeting with Dr X in Neal Stephenson‘s “The Diamond Age” (Bantam, 1995) is the Huxin Ting teahouse in the bazaar area of Old Shanghai.

huxin ting teahouse shanghai china

The book may be set in a dystopian future where people’s lives have been transformed (mostly for the worse) by nanotechnology, but it’s clearly one in which the famous 18th century teahouse remains intact. There really aren’t any other 2-storey teahouses in Old Shanghai rising out of lakes, accessed by zig-zag bridges with 9 bends and close to a Ming dynasty garden.

The name Huxin Ting is more prosaic than it sounds. It simply means “mid-lake pavilion”. The zig-zag bridge is called Jiu Qu Qiao, the Bridge of Nine Turnings, and is indeed supposed to stop evil spirits on the basis they can’t turn corners – a bit like an American car.

It is an odd feeling to be “reading” a book (I’m listening to the audiobook) that describes an exotic location I have visited in the last few months and can picture very clearly in my mind. The story is set in Shanghai and its environs, some real and some imagined, and the author had already recalled many familiar Shanghai locations to mind – the Bund and the banks of the Huangpu river, Pudong with its spectacular array of skyscrapers – but the treatment of the Huxing Ting teahouse is rather more intimate and tries harder to capture the character of the place.

He does rather over-romanticise it. The building itself is genuine, old and unspoilt but when I was there in April of this year the surrounding bazaar was noisy, crowded with tourists and more like something out of Disneyland than offering any sense of genuine Chinese cultural heritage.

The adjoining Ming dynasty gardens are the Yuyuan gardens.

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Influences strange & Mr Norrell

October 18, 2007

Books It is most curious, but I am starting to wonder whether the writing style so characteristic of Susanna Clarke’s epic tale of gentleman magicians in the 19th Century, “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” (Bloomsbury 2004), might not be starting to have an extraordinary effect on me. Indeed, it seems strangely infectious.

Of course, it is entirely appropriate that such a worthy novel, relating magical happenings in the early 1800’s, should assist the reader’s sense of immersion in the spirit of the time by adopting appropriate language. I am tempted to describe the style as sanitised Dickensian. It is however altogether more digestible than real works by say Dickens or Austen, and is a little faster-paced. For example, the reader is spared whole chapters describing the appearance of some character of secondary importance (see Footnote 1). Nevertheless, Ms. Clarke’s manner of writing is highly evocative of the classic 19th Century novel.

I have to say that I am becoming quite used to the character of the book, having now completed more than 28 chapters of it. So much so that I scarcely give it a second thought. I cannot, however, help feeling that the book in general, and the writing style in particular, are having an influence on me in ways I cannot master. I might almost be inclined to describe it as a rewiring of the circuits that make up my mind.

Why, this very morning, while driving my daughter to school I made a remark that seemed very ordinary to my ears but occasioned an odd look from her, as if she were beginning to have concerns about my sanity. My remark was this:

“I think, my darling, that you should ensure you have a warm garment with you when you journey to Manchester with your schoolfriends this afternoon. I fear the weather looks set to turn distinctly inclement”.

Her reply of “Yer what? You gone loopy? What’s with the weird lingo?” I found baffling and quite at a tangent, not to mention bordering on the impertinent.

Her observation did though prompt a double-take on my own part. It is not inconceivable that the book is starting to change the very essence of my waking thoughts. It is important to bear in mind that I am not, as might be imagined, reading the book in a conventional manner, holding an object of paper bound in leather and scanned with the eyes. Indeed no. The content of Ms. Clarke’s publication is, rather, being delivered direct to my ears in an audible form for I acquired it as an audiobook, and use the electronic apparatus in my motor vehicle to reproduce it as sound. The narrator is a gentleman named Simon Prebble, whose agreeable voice and manner of delivery are very apt for the task. This is so much the case that I cannot seem to expunge Mr Prebble’s engaging tones from my head. And whenever I write, it is as if I hear his voice dictating the words to me from within my mind, and spoken in the language of Ms Clarke’s excellent book.

It has not escaped me that I should complete the aforementioned work as soon as I can manage it, and purchase a quite different audio book, before the effect becomes permanent.

Footnote 1: By way of illustration, in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens obliges the reader to endure an entire chapter dedicated to introducing a single somewhat unsavoury character, Jerry Cruncher, who is of little more than incidental relevance to the plot.

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October 15, 2007

Books is the main sponsor on the TWiT (This Week in Tech) podcast network, the mainstay of my podcast listening schedule, so I’ve been getting audible ads and Leo Laporte‘s audible book picks in my ears several times a day.

All this advertising has taken its toll. I succumbed. I ran out of podcasts the other week so signed up with (us Brits get no choice) to fill the silence while driving to work, etc.

Unlike TWiT listeners in the US you don’t get the option of keeping a free book by cancelling the trial before the first subscription payment is due. In the UK you pay straight away but get 2 book credits in the first month, then one a month thereafter on the basic plan.

I messed up straight away. The book I chose for my first download was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson but hadn’t realised it was the abridged version until after I’d spent my credit. It turns out that by convention books listed on audible are abridged unless the website explicitly states they’re unabridged. I really can’t be doing with abridged books. I rang up expecting to be put through to a soulless call-centre, but found myself talking to a charming gentleman. No background call-centre hubbub – he might have been speaking from his kitchen. Maybe he was, except he had a computer to hand. When I explained my mistake and that I hadn’t completed the download, he reversed the “purchase” there and then, and gave me my credit back.

That’s the good. The bad is the very annoying DRM. Audiobooks from audible come as “.aa” files, not mp3s. You can only play them on supported devices such as PCs and iPods. You are allowed to burn them to CD but that uncompresses the audio, so the typical book gets spread over many CDs. The idea was to let my wife use some of my credits to listen to books in the car, but she is not an iPod person. I’d hoped to burn the audiobook files in compressed (mp3) format as the CD player in my car (and I think her’s) can play them. But the DRM put paid to that. Luckily I was able to bring my son’s old defunct iPod back from the grave. More on that in another post.

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Review: The City of Dreaming Books

September 24, 2007

Book Review This is where my review begins. Walter Moers is truly possessed of the Orm, that mysterious connection with a higher literary plane which distinguishes transcendental writing from quotidian prose.

How does someone, anyone come up with an idea so unlikely but which comes off so spectacularly? The setting for The City of Dreaming Books, my dear readers, is the fantasy world of Zamonia, but the book is not a fairy tale. The main protagonist and narrator is an author named Optimus Yarnspinner, a Lindworm (a dinosaur, basically) from Lindworm Castle, but the book is not really for children. If you do not have a knowledge of and interest in books, literature, literary forms, literary devices, authors or the world of publishing, much of this book will be lost on you. But then, you would not be a reader at all, dear or otherwise, if you had no interest in books.

The eponymous city is Bookholm, where Optimus travels in search of the author of a manuscript, given to him by his late authorial godfather, which no-one can read without being taken on a journey of joy and fulfilment no other written work could hope to engender. An author who has found the legendary Orm.

Bookholm is a city of authors, publishers, antiquarian booksellers, literary agents and critics. A place where aspiring authors go to seek their fame and fortune, but where failure could condemn them to the poets’ graveyard, to dwell in fetid holes in the ground and earn a pittance writing ditties and odes for passing tourists.

At Bookholm Optimus meets representatives of Zamonia’s diverse species such as Nocturnomaths, Ugglies, Hogglings, Shark Grubs and Vulpheads. He learns about the Golden List of valuable books and the armed, armoured and dangerous Bookhunters who scour the labyrinthine catacombs below Bookholm in search of rare and ancient first editions that will make them wealthy beyond measure; of the most famous Bookhunter of them all, Colophonius Regenschein, who is presumed lost in the catacombs, a victim of the rumoured but unseen Shadow King who rules the vast complex of subterranean caverns.

It is to the catacombs that the story takes the ingenuous Optimus, to a series of encounters with Hazardous books, Bookhunters, Booklings in their Leather Grotto and finally Shadowhall where he is presented with the opportunity to acquire the Orm himself.

What stuns me most of all about this book is that Walters Moers’ original was written in German. (Officially, Moers was himself merely the translator of the real original text, by Yarnspinner, from Zamonian into German). All the same, that it could have ended up in English without the merest hint that it had ever been in any other language is as much a testament to the extraordinary ingenuity and skill of the English translator (John Brownjohn) as the book itself is to the creative talent of Moers. I think the Orm must have a permanent residence in both of them.

The City of Dreaming Books

You can take The City of Dreaming Books in many ways; a fantasy for the not so young, a witty parody on the literary world and the sorts of people who inhabit it, a playful treatise on literary tricks and devices, an exercise in getting your readers to identify with an innocent but plucky dinosaur with authorial pretensions or just a deeply charming and enjoyable book to fall in love with. Moers is cartoonist as well as writer, and his distinctive illustrations help bring the quirky denizens of Bookholm to life.

This is a book like no other I can begin to compare it to, except maybe some of Moers’ other works. He is on his own and if only one author can lay claim to the Orm, my money is on Walter, dear readers. But now this is where my review ends.


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