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Mac Planet: Podcaster

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A screenshot of the podcast episodes. Photo / Supplied
A screenshot of the podcast episodes. Photo / Supplied

Do you get podcasts? You should.

Why? 1/ They're great. 2/ They're almost all free. 3/ They're very convenient. Podcasts are usually audio tracks (some also have video) you subscribe to via iTunes (in the case of Macs and PCs, via the Podcasts app (free) on iDevices or direct from websites.

Apple's iTunes Store is a large repository: click the Podcasts centre-left of your iTunes display, and type in a subject you like and see what there is to offer. Honestly, try any subject - literally millions of podcasts have been served this way for years already.

I admit I was almost defeated by a search for 'cross stitch', although the Store found lots of apps,and an iTunesU entry. iTunes U is the university-based podcasts feature. Under this banner, universities around the world serve up thousands of lectures and other info, also free.

For Cross Stitch, the Store found Bernina Discover Arista (software functions of a Bernina device), and New Stitch A Day, a "show for knitters and crocheters who take their craft to the next level ...".

These are video podcasts, almost all under 10 minutes in length. So don't say I didn't warn you.

With Podcasts, you click the Subscribe button (no you are not charged, if it says 'Free' and almost all are). A list of available episodes is presented greyed out in the main body of iTunes. An actual episode only downloads for you to listen to when you press the Get button (you can set it to download everything in preferences, but I prefer to pick and choose).

These can also be synced to your iDevice, or you can set your 'casts up individually with Apple's free Podcasts app.

There's comedy and tech and news and politics and sports and health and oh, loads, including most of Radio New Zealand's programs (look for 'RNZ').

Personally my interest is history. When I'm walking or cycling, I like to listen to history from dot to about now-ish, thanks to brilliant podcasts like The British History Podcast by Jamie Jeffers in Portland, Oregon, Great Britain At War, The History Network (all sorts), The History of England (tracing British history through about 1500 years leading to the current queen), The National Archives (genealogy and records), the BBC's Witness and a favourite, Stuff You Missed In History Class, a wide ranging and engaging topic-by-topic discussion by two young-sounding women from Austin, Texas and it's suprisingly fun, interesting and well presented.

When I was doing some study a few months ago, I lapped up one about the Normans and another called 12 Byzantine Emperors.

Another current favourite is the densely researched World War II History podcast by the earnest Ray Harris of Central Virginia, USA. Ray taught history for a couple of years but now has a more 'normal' job (as he puts it).

When I say 'earnest', the Battle Of Britain was handled at pretty much three days per 40-minute-plus podcast. Dunkirk, often treated as a side note, spanned six. I found myself lapping it up. That's despite some odd pronunciations I have come to accept as endearing, like 'turrent' for 'turret' and 'Blemin' for 'Blenheim', but if you need, or your interest is, a blow-by-blow description of the worst war ever (so far), this is priceless. Being free, particularly so - although Ray takes donations over his site to help him buy the quantities of history books he devours, thanking those who donate at the beginning of each new episode.

In a discussion (also released as a podcast in a break from the warring minutiae) with fellow podcaster Laszlo Montgomery of The China History Podcast, I heard Ray say that, like Laszlo, he got started making them in GarageBand on his Mac so I emailed and asked if I could send some questions.

He answered "Be warned! I know next to nothing about tech, except what I was forced to learn."

But you see, that's what I love about Macs. Some people denigrate Macs as toys and not for 'real' computer users, but I think it's incredible and beneficial that someone who isn't a technician can produce such profound and helpful work.

When did you start using Macs?

"About eight years ago. I got a job in a University Computer store and that's what all the techs were using. That and my employee discount!"

Did you use PCs before that? Or not really anything?

"Yeah, PCs, but nothing special. Just emailing and word processing."

What kind of Mac did you have/do you have now?

"A white macbook about five years old. It's hanging in there! It's my life."

You got an iPod and didn't use it right away; why not? And when you did,
that's when you discovered podcasts, right?

"Yeah, my wife and I got each other iPods, just because we saw everyone else with them (peer pressure) but life got in the way and they were put aside. So one day, about a year later, I just opened the box and started playing with it. I had forgotten how much music meant to me. Then I stumbled upon podcasts in iTunes and loved the idea of all this free information. Mostly the history shows."

With your original GarageBand efforts, did you use the built-in mic, or something better?

"Well, I had a mic but at $25, I can't say it was better."

Once you went to something 'more professional', what do you mean exactly?

"I used that cheap mic for just over a year and then the wife, who's always supported me, bought me a Snowball-Blue for my birthday. It cost a lot at a time when money was tight, so I'm very careful with it - and I am very happy with the difference."

(I haven't seen these mics before, but it looks like Oceania has the NZ agency. They certainly look retro-cool.)

I did a podcast once for a magazine I edited, and the hardest thing was getting it into iTunes - did you find the same thing?

"Here's the short version of that epic. When I first started out, I used all Mac stuff: Garageband, iWeb and Mobile Me. So the process was straight forward, I just pushed a few buttons. Of course, figuring out which buttons to push was a challenge! With my newer and current set up, I use Wordpress, but my tech guy set that up for me. If I had to do it, well ... there wouldn't be a podcast!"

Considering you have only recently got near the end of 1940, and Russia and Japan haven't even entered the stage yet, how long do you think it's going to take you to reach the end of World War Two?

"I should finish about the time I'm admitted into the local home for the elderly. Seriously, I know it will be years, but I'm having so much fun, learning a lot and the listeners seem to understand, so I'm not pressuring myself too much on that score."

Do you think, if you could start over, you would start over? I mean, you sure took on a lot! It must require considerable resources of time and effort.

"Here's the answer you didn't expect. Now that I'm into it and have a 'flow', I wish I could go back and cover even more detail early on. The problem of course, is where do you start? Anyway, I wouldn't change too much except, try to be 'smoother' on the performance side. I think I've gotten better, but it's never as good as I think I can be, so I keep trying. People want the info, but you're also performing. That has to be attended to as well."

What advice, gear-wise, do you have for people wanting to create their own
podcasts?

"There is only one thing stopping me from saying, 'Go Apple all the way, that way, half the work is done for you.' And that is iWeb, if you went that route, there is a limit of 50 episodes. Those days are gone! Get a good mic, it doesn't have to be a $500 item, but something decent. The real factor is your recording room. Control the noise around you and don't be afraid or lazy to do a retake. Get a big external HD and back up and organise everything. Beyond that, whatever makes you comfortable ... but keep looking around, tech always gets better."

What's your own dream setup?

"To have an assistant for each step in the process! Just kidding! To know that my computer will never crash-pipe dream, I'm much too rough with it. But honestly, the sound quality. To record in a studio so it sounds like I'm right there talking to you, that would be a cool experience."

Thanks for talking to me, and congratulations on your efforts - I've already spent many rapt hours listening.

"Thank you for asking, and listening."

Check out the app here.

- NZ Herald

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