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Friday, August 17, 2007

Listening To Podcasts With The Book Port


Back in February, I read an article in the New York Times about a way to use audio and RSS technology which is called podcasting.

Basically, its a way of getting mp3 files which other users create and upload to a server automatically downloaded to your machine/mp3 player as soon as they become available. Now don't let the "pod" in the name "podcast" put you off--you don't need an Ipod to take advantage of these files--your computer or any portable mp3 player (like the Book Port (TM) will work just fine. Not all podcasts are in mp3 format, but the vast majority of them are.

Now, you will need some software, or an aggrigator (frequently referred to as a podcatcher)! I knew immediately that this was the answer to my mp3 file prayers, and have been exploring the wide world of podcasts ever since. What a goldmine of audio! There are podcasts available on every conceivable subject from news, technology, sports, music, and comedy. You can find serialized books and dramas, programs for any musical taste, programs that make you laugh out loud, religious programs, and on and on it goes.

To help you get started in exploring this rich and varied world, I've put together a five-step guide to podcasting. I hope some of you will find as much enjoyment from this as I have.

Step One: Get An Aggrigator

So how do you find the right software? provides an excellent software page which is a good central point for finding the software you need. Click here to visit's Software Page.

Finding the best software to use with your screen reader will take a little experimentation. The program I use and recommend is Juice. Click to visit the Juice Development page at

Once you've downloaded and installed your aggrigator, take some time to familiarize yourself with the default options. You'll probably want to change the download directory to something that works for you, or at least find out what the default location is. You may also want to check a box to have scans done automatically when the program starts. Also take a look at the scheduling options, which are generally in a separate dialog box. Most programs will either allow you to set specific times or frequencies by the half hour.

Step Two: Find and Subscribe To Podcasts

The easiest way to subscribe to podcasts is to use the directories built in to most podcatchers. Most of these programs use a tabbed interface. You will use control+tab to change views with your screen reader. In Juice, simply hit control+tab once from the starting screen and you will land in a directory tree with several podcasts to choose from. Navigate the directory tree to locate categories and podcasts you are interested in. In Juice, simply press enter on any podcast you want to add. Hit shift+control+tab to cycle back to the subscriptions view, which shows a list of podcasts you are currently subscribed to. Be aware that most programs, including Juice start you off with a few default podcasts. If you aren't interested in these defaults, they can be easily removed. In Juice, highlight the feed, and press the delete key.

You can manually enter feeds by copying the URL and pasting it in to the program's new feeds dialog box. In Juice, use control-n to bring up this dialog box.

Podcast feeds often end with the three lettrs XML, or you may see a link on a web page marked with the letters XML. If you do find a link, you can either right click it to get the URL, or click on the link to bring up the resulting page in your browser. This page will look strange, but all you want to do is to get the URL from your browser's address bar. Use the back command in your browser to return to the original page that contained the XML link.

Step Three: Scan For New Shows

Once you've subscribed to some podcasts, start the scanning/downloading process. In Juice, you can do this by pressing f5. It is also possible to scan an individual show from the tools menu. Most programs will download just the newest show for each podcast. If you highlight a podcast in Juice, then press tab, you will be in a list of the available shows. If you want to download previous programs, use your arrow keys to highlight the episode you want, then press the spacebar. The status of the entry will change from "skipped" to "download".

The bottom of the screen will display information about the downloads in most programs.

Step Four: Transfer Your Files To The Bookport

Remember my earlier suggestion of how you should get to know your individual program? Did you find where your files are going to be downloaded to? If not, you'll need to locate your download directory. The files for each podcast you have subscribed to will be saved in its own folder. I move the files I want to put on my Book Port (TM) in to one combined folder (E.G. "current podcasts") and then do a send-to-Book Port on that folder. This technique has several advantages:

  1. I can easily check the folder properties to make sure the size of the files I want to transfer will fit on the card currently in the Book Port (TM).
  2. The files will transfer in alphabetical order
  3. It cuts down on the amount of folder navigating I need to do with the Book Port (TM)

The down side to this method is that where folder names are very descriptive, the actual file names are not as likely to be.

Wait, you don't have a Book Port (TM)? Well you'll have to read through your MP3 player's manual to find out how to transfer files to it.

Step Five: Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy!

Below are some podcasting directories to explore, all of which are easy to navigate with speech. Remember, each podcast usually has a web site where you can manually download files to see if you want to subscribe to their programs. If you do, find the URL to the podcast feed, do a copy shortcut, and paste the URL in to the new feed dialog box of your aggrigator. Has Weather Podcasts by Zip Code has podcasts for every zip code in the US. The podcasts feature a short forecast "read" by a text-to-speech program.

You can get your local podcast by using a URL like this:

Make sure you replace YOURZIPCODE in the URL with your zip code.

PirateWeather is run by Robbie Schmelzer, and is based out of Boulder, Colorado.

In addition to offering podcasts by zip code, PirateWeather has plans for PirateWeather "reporters", using voicemail to MP3 and sorting calls by caller ID.

Click this link to visit the website.

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