Friday, October 30, 2015

Open the Pod-Play Door, HAL

More than once I've been disparaging about something I consider too trendy and popular but basically useless. I remember thinking Cliff Bars were a bad-for-you sweet confection sold to fitness wanna-be's with a stupid cartoon of a rock climber on the wrapper. Well, that was before I started climbing, found out the company was started by climbers, and found out it was low-sugar, very solid food -- like good old-fashioned trail mix in a compressed form. Like Dwarvish iron rations only somewhat better tasting. And the cartoon of the climber is technically accurate, too.

I've never had a strong need to surround myself with music while working. In fact, I often prefer silence when I'm trying to concentrate. But then came a spell when I was working near the main assembly floor, and being driven to distraction by the incessant and loud radio station played over the PA -- the auto-tune vocalists (as far as I can tell, there's only two; one male, one female. Otherwise they all sound identical) are tolerable, but the marathon sessions of happy-idiot banter from the hosts is hair-tearing.

So I started to bring in earphones as self defense (oddly enough, a good half of the people on the shop floor seem to have a similar problem with the piped-in music.) I have a couple basic mp3 players I picked up surplus for a buck or two each to use for sound effects in a prop. But I keep all my sound files, imported CDs, and so forth in 44.1 uncompressed; the only mp3's I had lying around I could throw on to the player in the hurried minutes of a work morning were game soundtracks.

I listened to a lot of Tomb Raider (1 through Underworld, minus #2 which I haven't gotten around to downloading yet). Also Portal2, Black Mesa, and Mass Effect.

And that was getting old. I figured out how to batch-process in Audacity and flipped some Chopin piano in there as well, plus the entire three-something hours of "How the West Was Won." But this approach had a basic problem; there's no indexing on my bare-bones mp3 player, and if I found out in the middle of a long session of stripping wires that I was cued up for Tomb Raider Legends once again, I'd be faced with trying to hit the "track advance button" 96 times in a row to find whatever folder might be next.

So, right, I'm facing exactly the reason the iPod came along (and the same functionality in smart phones and, today, smart-enough phones). But I can't quite muster the strength to purchase one, along with the not-plastic water bottle and the polo shirt with the alligator on it. And as it happens, I'd just picked up a Raspberry Pi.

So, great! I can learn how to work in the Pi environment and make a geeky, balky, conversation-piece playback machine that is suitable enough for my modest needs.

Except, as work went on and I found myself listening to music even when the shop radio wasn't blasting cocaine-freak morning-person inanities at me, I suddenly realized that the kind of mindless work I was doing could share CPU space with more engaging audio fare.

In a word, podcasts. Brush up (more like, learn the basics of!) a little history while I broke up old pallets and rolled black paint on plywood.

So, yes. Podcasting is not the useless gen-x endeavor I might have characterized it as. Well, maybe a lot of them are, after all. But there's some pretty good free history and science stuff out there.

And at fifteen to thirty minutes a 'cast, the indexing problem I mentioned earlier no longer applies.

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