Monday, 5 December 2016

Ride of the Podcast

Quick heads up: this post is another one in that series of posts on how technological breakthroughs that affect our lives break the ground for further technological breakthroughs that further change our lives.

I have previously expressed much rejoicing at the discovery of noise cancelling headphones. The kick comes from the fact they allow me to listen to stuff on the train, on a plane and on the street without having to pump up the volume to ear bleeding levels. It is almost as if I’m home, lounging about.
This breakthrough made me try formats that I haven’t really attempted before. Up till now, I used my daily commutes to listen to music, for the sole reason that music still works as a background activity when swamped by noise, while the likes of audiobooks are an utter failure when every second or third word are incomprehensible.
I still have a problem with audiobooks, though. I still think that in order to properly give a book the attention it deserves, I need to do nothing else but read the book. Podcasts, however, are more casual, so I gave them a go. Yet it proved a pain to keep tabs on the latest podcasts I should be listening to.
Enter Castro, a $6 iPhone app with a simple trick up its sleeve that all the rest of the podcast apps fail at (to the best of my knowledge): it groups all your favourite podcasts in a single chronological queue, allowing you to pick the episodes you actually want to listen without having to check each subscription separately. That is to say: Castro ushers in podcast nirvana. More importantly, Castro has revolutionised my daily commutes.
But why stop with podcasts? I am also a magazine reader. Why can’t I read my magazines while commuting? Or, better yet, why can’t I have my magazines read to me while I commute? Enter the Voice Dream Reader app, an app that will happily read you PDF files or other non DRM type text files in a manner that is significantly better than your average automated voice. Voice Dream is on the expensive side of apps, though, and I will also warn you its default Aussie voice is rather crappy; pick the American male voice for the single voice you get for free when purchasing the app (to get additional voices on top of that one free one you will need to make the dreaded in app purchase).
I can’t say the Voice Dream experience is as good as having a human read to you. Far from it. Aside of the automated voice’s inherently dumb nature, it will also read page numbers and such. But still, it makes for better use of one’s commute time while allowing me to significantly increase my "reading" capacity.
And yes, I still listen to music.

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