Monday, December 11, 2006

I love my MP3 player! More to the point, I love what I get to do now that I have one: educate myself all the time, no matter what I'm doing (with a few obvious exceptions). Where I used to hate doing chores, now they're just a chance to listen to Dave Champion, without having to sit near my computer to hear him. Something to pick up at a store 2 miles away? Time to get some exercise and listen to a couple hours of Marc Stevens. That long drive to Portland in rush hour traffic? Dan Abrahamson will update me on current terror drills while I sit. I've ended the airwave plutocracy, for myself at least; I now totally control what I listen to and there's nothing anyone can do about it. All of you should do the same thing. Here are my thoughts on doing so.

First, do some comparative shopping to find a good MP3 player for yourself. I wouldn't spend tons of time on that, since you can always exchange it if you pick the wrong one, but look around a little. I've only had 2 of them so far so I'm not the one to tell you which one to get. The criteria to which I suggest paying attention are:

- software interface
- controls (especially progressive speed FF/rew)
- ability to record live audio (if you don't have a recorder already)
- means of "wearing" the player

The interface is important because it's how you put stuff on, or delete stuff from, your player (some players can delete stuff on their own; my current one can't). I currently use 2 pieces of software for this: a podcast aggregator and Windows Media Player. The aggregator keeps track of all my podcast subscriptions, checks for new episodes, and downloads them (if ordered by me). Then I use WMP to interface with the player, copying podcasts (and sometimes other files) to it and deleting files from it. I'll probably change to some other system, if I can find a good program that handles both of those tasks (podcast aggregation and player interfacing) in one. I haven't looked for one yet.

The controls are very important since you'll be using them any time you use the player. My first player had a progressive speed FF/rew; my current one doesn't. My next one will! ;-) In case you're wondering, the reason I switched was that I had to: the first one stopped working and was basically recalled. Anyway, play with the player a little in order to see if you like the way the controls work.

Recording live audio is a very cool ability. You never know when you'll want to record a conversation, or leave yourself an audio note. Now I can do those things any time. I'm very impressed with how well the tiny built-in mic works on my player. I recently recorded a political candidates' debate; the entire debate only took up 20 megs on the player, and was understandable when played back. I interviewed a couple of people in ad hoc situations and the player did a great job of that. A good audio recorder turns anyone into an instant investigator!

Finally, when you are active, you don't want to be juggling an object attached to your headset. You want that object out of your way somehow. My first player hung around the neck; my current one came with a good velcro armband. Either way, or other ways, can work; make sure you like the way your prospective player attaches to (or otherwise stays with) your body.

I don't list battery life as important, because I use and recommend rechargeables. I have a handful of them in service; I carry a spare AAA battery in my pocket when I go out. They're small. They get recharged when I'm at home, and they can be used many times. Battery life just isn't an issue for me. However, if your player has a built-in battery (as my first one did), then that may be a concern.

When you've obtained your player and are ready to find stuff to put on it, you're going to see why I'm so enthused. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of worthwhile podcasts out there; I'm already subscribed to enough of them to keep me busy 100% of the time, every day! I'm already choosing among the options at my fingertips, and I know there are many more I haven't even seen yet.

If you need someplace to get started, try Republic Broadcasting Network. The method of subscribing varies from one software to another so check your manual. With my current software, what I do is use my web browser to find an available podcast and then do one of these two things:

- Press and hold the left mouse button on the "XML" or "podcast" link (such as those to be seen on this page), drag it to the taskbar, hover it over my podcast aggregator software until that program comes to the foreground, drag it over a certain area of that window until the circle-and-slash is replaced by an encouraging symbol, and then release the mouse button. The aggregator software then confirms my desire to subscribe to that podcast and adds it to my list. (The podcast aggregator software has to already be open for this method to work. At least, I think it does.)

OR

- Copy the URL for the podcast from a page like this one, go to the aggregator, tell it I want to subscribe to a new podcast, and paste the URL in when it prompts me for it. It then adds that podcast to my list. (Note: the URL for the subscription info page is not the same as the URL for actually subscribing to the podcast! Look at the info page carefully and you'll see. The podcast subscription URL appears *on* the info page, and I've linked you to the info page.)

That all sounds kinda complicated, but it's pretty easy once you do it a couple times. Once you have, let me know! I want to inspire everyone to do this. There are some cool accessories too, like speakers, cassette interfaces, etc., but I won't try to cover all that.

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