If you're not listening to podcasts, you're missing out on a great way to get free bite-size pieces--and sometimes full servings--of news, information, and entertainment. Podcasts are downloadable audio files that anyone with a microphone and an Internet connection can publish. While some podcasts, especially those produced by established radio stations, are intended for general-interest listeners, the secret sauce of podcasts is that you can find 2- to 10-minute programs on whatever specialized interest takes your fancy. IT, digital photography, astronomy, intellectual property, flower arranging--it doesn't matter what, because someone, somewhere, is likely to have created a podcast for you. However, that also means there is a bewildering selection to choose from, and of wildly varying quality. What's worth listening to? I have a few suggestions.
The easiest way to listen to these podcasts is to use Apple's iTunes media player. You can download Mac OS X and Windows versions of iTunes for free at http://www.apple.com/itunes. While iTunes functions best with Apple's ubiquitous iPod, it works just fine as a stand-alone application on your computer. With iTunes, you can search a huge podcast directory maintained by Apple. If you don't want to use iTunes, you can get podcasts directly from their creators' Web sites through most current browsers.
I'd be remiss if I didn't first mention IEEE Spectrum's own podcast service, Spectrum Radio. You may think I'm biased, but it really is worth a listen: you'll hear different angles on technology stories that appear in the print edition of Spectrum, as well as some stories recorded just for Spectrum Radio. Past episodes have featured interviews with news makers, audio tours of interesting places, and commentaries about news events and technology trends. If you don't want to use iTunes, you can even listen to Spectrum Radio using the special built-in Web-based audio player on our Web site.
This listener-supported site produces a lot of podcasts, both regular shows and special events. Shows particularly worth checking out are "Tech Nation," hosted by Moira Gunn, which features interviews with notable figures from science and technology about their current projects, and "Larry's World With Larry Magid," which tracks trends, mostly related to the Web and the Internet.
Software Engineering Radio
The idea behind this podcast is to build up a useful audio reference for working programmers. In each episode, the creators--professional software designers based in Germany--discuss some aspect of modern software engineering (don't worry if you don't speak German; the show, like all the others mentioned here, is in English). Past shows have covered scripting languages, error handling, and patterns. A word of warning, though: if you don't know what those terms mean already, the show is probably not for you; while the creators do try to explain things, the content is pretty hard-core.
Fans of David Allen's organizational system for improving personal productivity, Getting Things Done [see "A Method Out of Madness," Spectrum, January], will enjoy this podcast by Merlin Mann. Inspired by Allen's system, Mann created the popular 43folders.com Web site. The technique takes things off your mind by writing them down and storing them in such a way that they pop up when needed. In his podcasts, Merlin shares organizational tips (and frustrations), mixed in with amusing tangents.
If you want to get the word out about your own podcast or you want to recommend someone else's, let Spectrum know! Mail me at