Posts Tagged ‘podcasts’

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Podcast Pile-up

May 27, 2014

Vista busy cursor  I am starting to fall way behind with my podcast listening, and I’m blaming the dog. Yes, Tiggy the dog, who cannot be walked at the moment because she is about to have surgery for a cruciate ligament injury. Three or four dog walks a day, totalling anywhere up to a couple of hours translates into around 12-13 hours of prime podcast listening time every week, currently lost to me.

I suppose I could just go for a walk without the dog, or sit at home for the equivalent amount of time, with my earphones in. But I think I would feel odd or silly doing that.

Maybe, I should take up jogging. Now there’s a more promising idea. Tiggy will not be able to go for a proper walk for another 6 weeks while she recovers from surgery, so I definitely need to find some sort of solution. And jogging should have some health benefits for me. The question then is whether I will have to abandon the jogging when Tiggy is ready to resume normal walks. I’ll worry about that when the time comes, I think.

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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:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=qLeMq8782xG2oyVwCB2yXQ&_render=rss&tags=Geek+and+Sundry+ 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:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=qLeMq8782xG2oyVwCB2yXQ&_render=rss&tags=tag1+tag2+tag3

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.


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Podshifter & TWiT: Thank You Lina

January 11, 2010

Vista busy cursor Podcasts from the This Week in Tech (TWiT) network can once again be processed by PodShifter so that they take less time to listen to.

The earlier problems, explanation and plea to Lina Calabria (one of PodShifter’s backers) are documented here and here.

I can only assume that the PodShifter development team have fixed the problem as promised by Lina, in which case I would like to thank Lina for her kind personal intervention, on my own behalf and on behalf of all TWiT listeners who rely on PodShifter to help them shift their way through Leo’s ever increasing stable of podcasts.

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The TWiT Podshifter saga: A plea to Lina

December 24, 2009

Vista busy cursor I am eating humble pie after suggesting that Leo Laporte might have acted deliberately to prevent This Week in Tech (TWiT) network podcasts from being speed-shifted, using the PodShifter service, when dowloaded via iTunes.

It turns out that Leo, or his staff, did take action which prevented PodShifter working on TWiT podcasts, but that was just a side effect. The intention was quite different and entirely innocent. Leo was gracious enough to respond to my earlier post to explain it all.

Specifically, the TWiT RSS feeds were modified by adding a new iTunes feature, the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag which is described here. The tag is there to help podcasters change feed URLs, or deprecate old URLs, without breaking existing iTunes subscriptions. The TWiT feeds have started using this tag to standardise all their feed URLs. Unfortunately, because PodShifter preserves all iTunes tags when it creates the shifted podcast feeds, iTunes just follows the URL in the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag and effectively replaces the shifted podcast feed with the unshifted original feed.

Leo became aware of my post thanks to Lina Calabria of Investling who is one of PodShifter’s backers and had, presumably, been scanning twitter for PodShifter related tweets.

Lina, I have a request for you. Having tried to get my mind around this, this is my take on what should happen next. While I understand that PodShifter (to quote one of your own tweets) respects iTunes tags, that really doesn’t make any sense in the case of the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag. People only use your service because they actively want a speed-shifted version of a given podcast. By preserving that tag you are causing them to get a normal speed podcast and so thwarting their wishes.

PodShifter should not ignore the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag, rather it should use it, if present, to identify the correct URL of the podcast to be shifted. This is in keeping with the spirit of the tag because it resolves issues over changed or deprecated URLs, which is why the tag was introduced in the first place.

Having thus updated the target URL, if applicable, PodShifter should work its speed-shifting magic in the normal way but NOT then pass on the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag. There is no need, because the purpose of that tag will already have been realised in the updating of the URL prior to shifting.

That way, the benefit of the tag is not lost (and in that sense it is still “respected”) and the end user still gets a shifted podcast to listen to, which is what they were trying to achieve. So everyone wins.

So what do you say, Lina? Could PodShifter customers have this change as a XMAS present? Please bear in mind that right now it only seems to be affecting TWiT, but Leo may just be quick off the mark. As more podcasters discover the use of the new tag the more PodShifter users will find their podcasts delivered unshifted and the vast majority will be at a loss to understand why or to do anything about it.

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Screw you, Leo, I’m back up to speed with my podcasts!

December 23, 2009

Vista busy cursor This is the second post on the spin that I find myself having a pop at Leo Laporte.  It’s in no way personal.  I admire Leo greatly and enjoy listening to most of the This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcasts.

But I do have a genuine gripe, and it has to do with his blocking of the PodShifter web application when used with TWiT podcasts.  [Author’s note added 24/12/09: since posting this an innocent explanation has come to light – see the comments to this post including response from Leo] Podshifter is a tool that speeds up podcasts, to help podcast listeners get through more of them in the available listening time. Podshifter changes the tempo of the audio while preserving pitch, so that Leo and his co-hosts don’t end up sounding like something from Alvin & the Chipmunks.

It is very use to use. If you have already subscribed to the original podcast in iTunes, you right-click to copy the podcast URL then paste it into the box on the podshifter.com home page.  Next choose a target tempo;  I usually opt for 1.2x or 1.4x the speed of the original.  Click the “shift it” button and the tempo-adjusted podcast is created with a new URL which is displayed for adding to your preferred podcatching software.  Or you can just click the link to have it added automatically to iTunes.

Note that you can’t in general download each new podshifted episode straight away, because it takes a while for PodShifter’s servers to carry out the audio processing from the time that the original episode is first published.  No doubt some heavyweight Digital Signal Processing is required, probably involving Fourier Transforms.

Ironically, I first heard of Podshifter on a TWiT podcast, the Daily Giz Wiz.  Co-host Dick DeBartolo read out a listener’s letter which mentioned it.  I recall Dick and Leo having a good laugh about it, deliberately speaking very fast or very slowly, in a  mock effort to trick anyone listening to a podshifted version.  But Leo also immediately spotted the threat posed by PodShifter. Downloads of podshifted podcasts would not count towards the iTunes official TWiT podcast download numbers which drive Leo’s advertising revenue.  Ouch!

I saw that as Leo’s problem.  For my part, I valued the saving in time.  I have a lot of podcasts on my subscription list, many of them from the TWiT network, and only so much time in which to enjoy them.  Even after reluctant pruning of the least essential listening, I was still struggling to fit my podcasts and audible books in, and my audible.com credits were starting to mount up.  PodShifter made a big difference. Even  just sticking to 1.2x freed up 20% listening time and some podcasts are perfectly listenable at 1.4x.

It is surprising how well the human ear tolerates the speeding up effect. I guess we can listen to and absorb the spoken voice at much higher speeds than people normally speak.  We can’t ask Leo and friends to speak (and think) faster but we can keep up quite comfortably when a machine does the speeding up for them.  I tend not to go beyond 1.4x because it starts to become less comfortable and I don’t want my podcast listening to become hard work.  Some podcasts really can’t be sped up much because of the gabbling co-hosts. You can listen to Leo quite effortlessly at 2x or more thanks to his polished radio voice, but Gina Trapani on This Week in Google naturally speaks like a machine gun out of control and 1.2x is the absolute limit for TWiG.

The Podshift Party had been doing the business for me for a number of weeks when Leo decided to step in and spoil the fun. I guess he felt he had to try to limit the erosion of his official download numbers.   It looks like TWiT has done a behind the scenes deal with iTunes so that URLs pointing at shifted versions of TWiT podcasts get replaced automatically by the official unshifted podcast streams.  No warning.  It just happened.   I had copied the latest batch of podcasts to my phone one morning and started to listen on my car journey to work. The theme tunes were playing at the right speed.  Very odd. And the voices sounded plodding.  Back at home I checked iTunes and discovered the URL substitution.  I tried creating new podshifted streams.  In all cases shifted TWiT podcasts were replaced by the URL for the original unshifted stream. Other podcasts were not affected.

Happily I found a work-around, using a desktop podcatcher application called HappyFish. It accepts PodShifter URLs for TWiT podcasts without substituting for the originals.  I am back up to speed.

Now I understand Leo’s concern about PodShifter but I think he’s wrong on a couple of counts.  The first is that he is guilty of the same “put the genie back in the bottle” thinking that he berates “Old Media” for, and Rupert Murdoch in particular.  You can’t fight innovation with protectionism.  Blocking PodShifter on iTunes is an example of Murdoch Mentality and it doesn’t work.  He would have done better to work with both PodShifter and his advertisers to get the Podshifter TWiT stats counting towards the advertising totals.

The second point relates to a comment Leo made in the most recent episode of TWiG.  He suggested podcast consumption numbers had stopped rising because with the proliferation of podcasts people couldn’t easily find new ones they’d like to listen to.  Too much out there to find the right podcast for you.  He saw it as a search problem. I disagree.  From the perspective of a dedicated podcast listener I can tell Leo that I get plenty of “leads” for interesting new podcasts just from listening to the existing ones.  That’s not the problem.  It’s just that I’m maxed out on available listening time.  You can only spend so much time driving to work, walking the dog or at the gym.  After establishing a list of favourite podcast subscriptions you tend to stick to it.  I don’t try out any more new podcasts, however tempting, because I struggle to find time for the ones I already subscribe to.

The irony is that PodShifter is actually a potential solution to that problem.  An opportunity to achieve an expansion in the size of the podcast market.  So listen up, Leo.  Don’t try to kill PodShifter.  You’d do better to give them a helping hand.  They could be your best bet for getting your business growing again.

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This iPhoneless Life #3 – Podcasts: Playback

March 16, 2009

iPod This is the third in a short series, documenting my experiments using a Windows Mobile 6 device (an HTC TyTN II) as combined phone and media player, in the manner of an iPhone. In the previous post, I explained how I managed to still use iTunes for podcast capture but then pass the baton to Windows Media Player 11 to get the podcasts synced to the WM6 phone.

The attention now turns to the playback experience. WMP on the PC may have succeeded in transferring the right podcasts onto the phone, but what is it like using the HTC device as an iPhone (or iPod) replacement for podcast listening purposes?

First off, could I get them to play in the right order? You might think I’m being a bit fussy but I want my podcasts to play in the order in which they were downloaded by iTunes. Most of the time it’s not important, but it can be an issue with daily podcasts. I don’t want to be presented with Friday’s Dail Giz Wiz before I’ve heard Thursday’s. Same sort of thing with daily news items. It is obviously confusing to hear the follow-up story before the podcast which broke a news item.

Getting the playback order right had not been trivial even when I was using an iPod. I had iTunes automatically sync the podcasts to my iPod, but for correct playback purposes I had to set up two playlists. I had a Smart Playlist on iTunes called “Latest Podcasts” which was defined so as to display the podcasts in the correct “date added” order. I then had another playlist called “podcasts” on the iPod. With the iPod docked, I would highlight and copy the items from “Latest Podcasts” on iTunes to “podcasts” on the iPod. Provided I listened to my podcasts using the “podcasts” playlist the correct running order would be preserved. I also had the option to make changes to the running order to suit personal preferences (for example, if I were desperate to hear the next episode of “Security Now!” or whatever) before undocking the iPod.

You can get something similar on WM6, but not quite in the same way. Remember the Auto Playlist dialog box from post #2 of this series?

There is a further useful criterion you can add by clicking on a green plus sign. Choose “Sort by” then on “click to set” and select “Date Added”. This does the trick, or at least nearly does it.

If you recall, we had to define two paths for locating podcasts as downloaded by iTunes. One had “downloads” in the pathname and one didn’t. Unfortunately, using the Auto Playlist “Sort by” criteria you can only get the sort order right for each of these paths separately. So the first batch of podcasts (from “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Podcasts”) will play in the right order, and then the second batch (from “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Downloads\Podcasts”) will play in the right order. But there is no way to define an overall running order for the complete set of podcasts. However, all is not lost as we shall see.

After syncing, the Auto Playlist is copied (and synchronised) to the phone. New podcasts are added and any podcasts which had been deleted on iTunes are removed. Note that it is safest to have WMP on the phone closed during the syncing operation, otherwise the removal of deleted podcasts can fail. On my HTC it is quite easy to see whether (pocket) WMP is running and to close it down, because there is a handy task manager utility accessible from the Today page. Windows Mobile users who don’t have a utility like that will have to use Start > Settings > System > Memory > Running Programs to check whether “Windows Media” is running and if need be select it and click “Stop” to shut it down.

On opening WMP on the phone and selecting “Library…” from the “Menu” option the following view appears:

Clicking on “My Playlists” (where “clicking” is my shorthand for normal use of the stylus) should bring up this screen:

In practice, this doesn’t always happen, which is a minor annoyance. It depends on whether the phone is “looking” for playlists in its built-in memory or on the storage card.  If the latter then it will find the “podcasts” playlist and all will be well. If not, there would be no playlists showing under “My Playlists”. In that situation, select the Library view again, “click” on the “Library” drop-down (in the menu bar, next to the magnifying glass icon) and ensure “Storage Card” is selected.

Click on the “podcasts” playlist to bring up a listing of your podcasts, which if you are lucky will already be in the right order.

Another annoyance. WMP does not always pick up the podcast name first time. Quite often the bottom few items will display as “download”.  If you select one of those items and click “Play”, then pause and select “Now Playing” it will take you to what looks like the same playlist (except that strictly speaking it is now the “Now Playing” playlist) and the correct podcast name will now be displayed, and maybe some of the other “download” items will also now be displaying the correct podcast name. It may take a couple of goes to get all the names displayed correctly as in the example above.

This is where you can do some re-ordering to suit your preferences, or to correct errors in the ordering as described above. To do this, select any podcast you want to move and click the up or down arrows at the left side of the lower menu. To check the correct overall order I look at my “Latest Podcasts” Smart Playlist which I can still refer to on iTunes.

Then just select say the top item on the list and click “Play”, and the podcasts will play in order.  You get a graphic (as you would with a recent iPod) and all the obvious controls for navigation, volume, etc.

Once you’ve got the hang of this, it works pretty well and is not specially worse than using an iPod. But WM6 phones started off as PDA+phone combinations and are fundamentally more complex beasts than iPods, which were created as very user-friendly, intuitive devices for playing back music and that was it. For that reason, a WM6 device will not be as slick as an iPod when used for media playback, but it is perfectly livable with.

I’ll go into a few more of the practicalities in part #4.

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This iPhoneless Life #2 – Podcasts: Capture & Sync

March 12, 2009

iPod Having decided to try using my Windows Mobile 6 PDA-phone as a combined mobile phone and media player, in the manner of an iPhone, the first challenge was to turn it into a viable podcast player. I listen to 10 hours of podcasts a week (mostly while commuting in the car). If I couldn’t get my WM6 phone (O2’s rebrand of the HTC TyTN II) to work as a practical podcast playing device then the experiment would be over more or less before it started.

The first and not inconsiderable hurdle is that the Windows equivalent of iTunes, Windows Media Player, offers no support at all for podcasts. That is, there is no mechanism in WMP for subscription to and downloading of podcasts, which means there is no choice but to use other software for podcast capture.

I was casting around for suitable podcast software when I came across the idea of simply continuing to use iTunes. It’s obvious really. While you can’t use iTunes to synchronise podcasts with a WM6 device you can still use it to subscribe to and capture episodes of your chosen podcasts. They still end up in a folder on your PC so why switch to a different, unfamiliar and most likely inferior podcast client? All you then need to do is ensure that WMP includes that folder within its library, so each new podcast episode is available from within WMP as soon as iTunes has delivered it. You can then use WMP to synchronise the podcasts with your WM6 phone.

I noted that iTunes downloads all podcasts to the C:\Users\username\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Podcasts folder, where “username” refers to your chosen Windows user account name. Accordingly, that folder needs to be “watched” for new content (and deletion of content) by WMP.

This is simple to arrange. In WMP, select the “Add to Library…” option from the Library drop-down menu. This brings up the Add To Library dialog box. Click the “Add…” button then select the iTunes podcast folder.  In fact, you may as well go up a level and select the “iTunes Music” folder, which includes the Podcasts folder, so that all your iTunes music files are available within WMP as well.

The next step is to create an Auto Playlist, which is the WMP equivalent of the iTunes Smart Playlist. Click File > Create Auto Playlist. You then proceed to name the playlist “podcasts” and add filter criteria to select the relevant file locations and file types as shown below:

I first added a set of criteria to pick out all mp3 files whose pathname contained “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Podcasts” so that only audio podcasts would be included in my playlist.  This involves clicking on the topmost green plus sign.  From the drop-down select “More…” then “File Name”, then on “click to set” to enter the partial folder path as shown. Click on the green plus below the filter criterion you have just created, select “File Type” then “click to set” to bring up a drop-down of available file types. Choose mp3.

I recommend also including files from the path “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Downloads\Podcasts” because some podcasts end up stuck there, at least temporarily. To do this click on the “And also include” option and choose “Music in my library”.  This allows you to specify a further set of criteria for inclusion of media files.  Proceed as above but specifying the partial folder path including “Downloads”.

All that is left is to set up the device synchronisation to include the podcasts playlist.  The device itself and the storage card appear on WMP as separate devices.  I synchronise with the “storage card” device.

With the phone connected to the PC via the USB cable, bring up the Sync drop-down menu, click on “storage card” and select “Set Up Sync…”. The following dialog box appears:

You need to ensure that “podcasts” is added to the list of playlists to sync, as shown. You should also use Sync > Storage Card > Advanced Options to arrange that syncing takes place automatically when your phone is connected.

So far as this goes, it works perfectly well. In part #3 of this mini-series I’m going to look at how to get the podcasts to play in the right order on the phone and other practical issues.

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