Having trouble keeping up with technology? Podcasts can help
It’s difficult keeping up with technology news. Announcements of new products, news about tech glitches, fiascos and triumphs, quirky stories about the impact of technology on everyday lives, breakthroughs and breakdowns -- there's a lot going on, so how do you sift through it all?
I find that podcasts can help. A podcast is, in the succinct words of Wikipedia, "a series of digital media files (either audio or video) that are released episodically and downloaded through web syndication." You can listen to them (or watch them, if they're video podcasts) while doing other things, like commuting, cooking, cleaning or, as I do, exercising. There are many podcasts available, of variable quality, length, format and focus. Some are audio only, others are video podcasts. Some are devoted to particular companies (such as Google, Microsoft or Apple) while others specialize gadgets or apps. I get new episodes through the iTunes store, but other sources include podcast.com, podcastalley.com and (for Canadian nationalists), canadapodcasts.ca.
Here’s a brief guide to just some of the many technology-oriented podcasts available.
Tech Weekly (30 minutes, weekly, audio): This is my current favourite. Produced by the Guardian newspaper, it deals with technology news in an engaging but in-depth manner. For example, a recent podcast that focussed on the release of the iPad in England went beyond the superficial reports of long lineups and soundbytes from Apple fanboys to discuss the implications of the new device on web design.
Spark (55 minutes, weekly, audio): Spark is a podcast version of the CBC radio show of the same name. Host Nora Young and her guests bring a Canadian perspective to technology news. It’s lively and covers most of the major technology developments.
This Week in Technology (90 minutes+, weekly, audio): TWiT as it’s otherwise known (and the acronym is appropriate) is, according to its own website, one of the oldest tech podcasts around. Three or four guys sit around and pontificate and joke about the latest news from the technology mainstream. I find its frat boy, tech insider approach somewhat annoying, especially since the actual news is often lost in all the jokes, opinions and “how was your weekend”-type conversation. TWiT also offers specialty podcasts - This Week in Apple, This Week in Google, etc.
Buzz Out Loud (30 minutes, daily, audio and video): If you’re a fan of FM radio breakfast shows, you might like Buzz Out Loud. The three (sometimes four) hosts talk about their day, tell jokes, chant meaningless phrases and discuss mainstream tech subjects (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, YouTube Twitter, etc.). The video doesn’t add much -- you mostly look at the hosts, though sometimes you see a screenshot of a web page, so save your bandwidth and subscribe to the audio version, if this is your cup of tea.
Tech News Today (45 minutes, daily, audio and video): Tech News Today features a former Buzz Out Loud cohost. It just started operations and seems to be similar in format to Buzz Out Loud.
Tech5 (5-7 minutes, daily, audio): Tech5 is hosted by John Dvorak, who has been analyzing PCs since I was a tad. Dvorak deals with the usual suspects (Google, Apple, Facebook, etc., etc.) in a dry, analytic, no-nonsense style. If you only have a few minutes to spare, he’s your man.
NPR Technology Podcast (20-35 minutes, weekly, audio): If you’re familiar with America’s National Public Radio network, you can guess what NPR Technology Podcast is like. Earnest, informative, indepth, sometimes dull and sometimes quirky (a recent podcast included a five-minute history of the vocoder). While nodding towards the mainstream (Facebook privacy issues, iPad, etc.), it also deals with more serious issues such as privacy, AIDS, and the Gulf oil spill.
Because I listen to these while exercising, it’s difficult for me to follow up on interesting stories, so I prefer the podcasts that have companion websites with more information. Spark (http://www.cbc.ca/spark/) allows you to listen to individual items, as does NPR Technology Podcast (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1019). The latter also has links to more information about individual stories. This Week in Technology (http://twit.tv/twit)’s web page is not very user-friendly or informative, though you can get more information on show items, with a little digging. The Buzz Out Loud website (http://www.cnet.com/buzz-out-loud-podcast/) is mostly capsule summaries of the podcasts with links to old podcasts. The Guardian’s Tech Weekly (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/series/techweekly) is similar, though the website does include links to the Guardian’s other technology news, blogs and columns. Tech5 doesn't have a website that I can find.
Elsewhere in recent tech news:
The federal government has introduced new copyright legislation (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/tory-bill-cracks-down-on-copyright-pirates/article1589815/). Highlights of the legislation include:
- copyright owners can force internet service providers to send notices of violation directly to “offenders”
- it will be illegal to circumvent digital locks on DVDs, even to copy a video you've purchased onto your computer for archival purposes
- sampling of digital works for "fair use”, including education, criticism and parody, will be legal
- consumers will be legally allowed to copy music from CDs to MP3 players
- people caught illegally downloading copyright material will be liable for damages up to $5000.
More than 1,000 non-fiction British Columbia books are now available electronically through libraries across the province. The Tyee has a good story on the BC Books Online service (http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2010/06/04/BCBooksOnline/). According to the Vancouver Public Library, BC Books Online “includes of a broad range of non-fiction titles from BC publishers that focuses on the genres of history, natural history, Aboriginal culture, arts and culture, political commentary, biography and autobiography, urban issues, the environment, and other contemporary issues that concern the people of this province.” I found the service a bit clunky -- you have to log in twice -- first with your library card number and PIN (for VPL patrons, go to http://www.vpl.ca/extDB/login.remoteDB?BestOfBCBooksOnline) and then again with a separate login at ebray.com. Books are best viewed in a separate reader, which requires installing a plugin. Also, as of yet, you can’t download books to portable devices, though you can print pages from books you are viewing. Definitely a work in progress, but it shows promise.