Listening to podcasts piecemeal: huffduffer & Instacast

For the past few years, there’s been a site called huffduffer (started by Jeremy Keith) that lets you link to bits of audio you find online and it shows you popular items across the service. I’ve always thought of it as Instapaper or delicious for audio, but I never found myself considering it a useful tool that met any of my own audio needs.

Last year I found Instacast, an iPhone app that fully replaced my podcast listening through iTunes. It works around Apple’s previous limitations that require you to sync your phone to a computer and requring wifi to download episodes. It’s a great app and keeps you up to┬ádate on everything you love, even when you’re on 3G.

What’s weird is in the years since podcasting came out, the world has changed and there are lots of different podcasts producing infrequent content. You also hear about one-off events or shows, or single stellar episodes in an otherwise established series. I finally found a personal use for huffduffer recently as a way to collect all the single podcast episodes I want to hear without the committment of subscribing to a podcast and having to download every one of its 100s of episodes.

Take for example the Marc Maron show. He’s at 339 episodes, many of which go beyond a couple hours, and though it’s an incredible comedy interview show you’re talking a pretty significant chunk of time if you subscribe to the show. On the other hand, I’ve had friends that listen to the show say there are 4 or 5 episodes you shouldn’t miss, and I’ve been happy to listen to those but I simply don’t have the time to follow 2hrs of new content a week from the podcast forever. Another example is friends doing a guest spot on a show I’ve never heard of, it’s a great way to just pluck out that single episode and save it to huffduffer. This also works the other way. If I hear three good single episodes of a podcast chances are I’ll subscribe to the full feed.

How To

The final step in the puzzle is wiring your huffduffer feed to instacast. It’s easy, but I couldn’t find any instructions for this online so I’ll post them here. Sign up for huffduffer, use the bookmarklet to add single episodes to your account, then look for your personal podcast feed, which takes the form of:{your username}/rss

Next, go to your Instacast client, hit the + button to add a new podcast, then click the link button in the upper left. Put your huffduffer podcast URL listed above and save.

That’s all there is to it, whenever you hear about an amazing episode of a podcast or someone you follow on twitter guest stars somewhere, add it to huffduffer, pop open your phone and enjoy.

99% Invisible


I've long had a love/hate relationship with podcasts. I work from home, so I don't have much in terms of steady downtime to listen to podcasts. I find I can only enjoy them while doing intellectually non-demanding things like highway driving in a car or sitting on public transport. When I've had hours to kill on road trips and a slew of comedy shows I've had a good time but as my time gets more valuable I've culled my lists of shows to less than half a dozen I really love, and besides just one or two, I don't go out of my way to listen to them immediately after they update.

When I finally tried out 99% Invisible after hearing so much good press about it, it rekindled my love of the form. First off, it's unlike every other podcast I listen to in that it's only about 10 minutes per episode instead of 90+min of talking. It is edited tightly so it's both packed with information and devoid of the common podcast deadtime of "so… what else is there to talk about?" There are always great interviews with experts, the website has a full word-for-word transcript of every show, and the subject matter is always fascinating even if I thought I wouldn't care at the start of each show. It makes me wish every other show I listen to tried to be as good as 99% Invisible (including my own).

The short length, deep knowledge, and tight editing mean every new episode is a delight and also an insane amount of work for the guy behind it, Roman Mars (I've heard him say each episode takes about 40hrs of his personal time to create and having editing audio before I would fully believe that number). I would strongly recommend giving the show a try. Thanks to the short length, you can listen to half a dozen in an hour and quickly catch all the back episodes.

If you end up loving this podcast as much as I do, by all means help it out by backing the next season of it over on Kickstarter. They've got a fundraising partner who will kick in $10,000 if they can get up to 5,000 backers and I'd really like to see Roman hit it.

What? Fortuitous is back?

Everything I've learned about casual podcasting:
An exhaustive how-to guide on getting starting thinking about and recording, editing, and publishing your first podcast.


For the last few years, I've regretted letting my long essay/business tips blog Fortuitous go fallow, and I've been thinking of bringing it back many times whenever I feel the urge to write more. The other day I was helping a friend with his new podcast and I realized there wasn't a single resource online that contained everything I'd learned, so I decided to write it myself.

This essay is pretty much everything you need to know to get started podcasting with a Mac. I plan to do more of these, the next one will be on everything I learned after personally printing, selling, and shipping over 500 t-shirts in the past two years.

Maybe in a few weeks I'll return to more business-y topics too.

Podcasts are officially better than radio, thanks to user experience

The other day I realized that although I was skeptical of podcasting going all the way back to 2004, I have to admit that now in 2008, I vastly prefer the experience of listening to a podcast, when compared to listening to the radio (say, NPR as I am comparing voice podcasts vs. talk radio).

In my early college years, I delivered pizza and drove around for hours a day in my car, listening to mostly talk radio (KFI in Southern California) to keep myself from being bored. When I had a long commute in college for a few years, I started listening to NPR. I would drift in and out of stories and reports as I dropped off a pizza or had to run to class from the parking lot and I never really got the hang of the broadcast schedules. I haven’t had to commute by car regularly for over five years so I don’t have 5-10 hours to kill every week in a car and I listen to NPR much less.

So the other day I was running errands around town like I usually do. This entails driving a couple miles to my bank, a couple more miles to a downtown shop, and a few more miles to the grocery store. It’s a series of stops and starts and I have to pick up my mail down the street from my house and sometimes I get hot chocolate or food in a drive-thru and I realized the user experience of radio sucks for this. There are nothing but interruptions as I go about my day. I know I’m spoiled by having the internet around for so long and having a TiVo for the past 8 years. Everything remotely entertaining and informative in my life is completely on-demand for me — I can watch, read, or listen to anything I want, whenever I want, wherever I want.

Except Radio. With radio, I can’t follow every episode and I can’t even remember when stuff is on. While I long wanted to have a “TiVo for radio” what I really wanted was a On Demand radio service with pause capability, and that’s pretty much what podcasting gives you.

I know it’s still a pain in the butt to download and run iTunes, then sync to a device like an iPod/iPhone, then it’s a whole can of worms to get it playing back in your car, but once you’ve done the legwork, it’s a pretty amazing thing. I find in my regular in-town driving for common errands I have about 2-4 hours a week to kill in the car listening to music or podcasts. Currently, this lets me dutifully follow every show that I’m a fan of, and I can hear every segment of every episode without missing a beat (thanks to the mighty pause button) and it doesn’t entail sitting in a parking lot for 15 minutes waiting for an amazing interview to conclude. Over the course of the past year, I’ve worked through almost the entire back catalog at and I follow a couple of NPR’s podcasted shows, listening a little each time when I’m out driving around.

My truck came with XM radio and I get several NPR stations where I live, but ever since I started listening to podcasts on my iPhone in the car, I noticed I really don’t turn on the radio anymore, and it’s not because of the program quality. It’s all about the user experience.

How to record a kickass podcast between two macs — and cheap!

I've updated this with a lot more info over on my Fortuitous Blog: Everything I've learned about Podcasting

A lot of people ask me how I do the MetaFilter Podcast (warning: the podcast makes no sense to anyone outside of MetaFilter uberfans). I know they don't mean "how do you do it man, you're making magic over there every week!" but rather "what software and hardware does it take to make a decent sounding podcast?" After almost a year of regular podcasts and trying out different software and equipment, I've gotten the workflow down cold and I wanted to share the my way of making a good sounding podcast on the cheap. This works perfectly well for me being in Oregon and talking to my friend Jessamyn in Vermont over Skype, recording at both ends, then tossing it all into Garageband to complete the podcast. I read a lot of podcast how-tos when I set out to do my own, and almost all of them are mired in technical details about microphone quality and USB vs. mixer board audio wankery. Most every tutorial about doing a podcast interview focuses way too much on studio-like sound quality achieved through your equipment instead of through software and a bit of clever thinking. So without further ado: How to record a good podcast between two mac users on the cheap Software required:

Hardware required:

Though you might have heard bad phone interview podcasts with Skype before, having Call Recorder running on both sides of your interview will mean your interview partner will have a crystal clear recording just like yours. The cheap headset microphones are brain-dead simple to use on a Mac (plug-in, change audio prefs to use the headset for input and output, adjust the recording level) and produce perfectly good vocal recordings. I've used $250 higher-end microphones and had little audio quality improvement. This process assumes two people, each running Skype, Call Recorder, and having a USB headset microphone. The Interview Recording:

  1. Start a Skype chat between you and your partner
  2. Both parties hit the record button on their Call Recorder (I record on high quality, low compression AAC)
  3. Conduct your interview normally
  4. When interview is complete, end call, stop recording
  5. Call Recorder includes a directory of mini-apps called Movie Tools. Have your partner locate their recording file and tell them to drag it over the "Split Movie Tracks" application
  6. Have partner upload Track 1 of the split movie files to a server you can download the file from

Assembling the podcast in Garageband:

  1. Drag your copy of the interview recording over Split Movie Tracks to turn your recording into one file for each side of the Skype conversation
  2. Drag each resulting .mov file over another Movie Tools app "Convert to AIFF"
  3. Drag your partner's half interview (that you downloaded from them) .mov file over Convert to AIFF
  4. Open Garageband, start a new podcast
  5. Duplicate one of the vocal tracks (my partner is female so I duplicate the default female track
  6. Drag your own Track 1 AIFF track into a Garageband track (my goes into the default Male Voice)
  7. Drag your own Track 2 AIFF track into Garageband, perfectly aligned with our Track 1 (this ensures the timings are exact for each side of your own interview recording)
  8. Drag your partner's Track 1 AIFF track into the duplicated track in Garageband
  9. Garageband quickly analyzes each track and makes visual soundwaves to go with each track. "Line up" your Track 2 and your partner's Track 1 audio files. The peaks and flat quiet area should look really similar (click screenshot below, view notes on the image itself) How to make a podcast (Figure 1)
  10. Once your partner's vocal track is lined up (press play to hear all three tracks and your partner should sound like an almost perfect echo from their two tracks), delete your own Track 2 track. You now have two high quality recordings from each respective source, ready for continued editing into your podcast (you can level out the volume if one person was louder, clip out pauses and coughs together, etc)

How does it sound? To give you an idea of how it sounds, consider the following three sample recordings. The first is the worst possible: recorded Skype conversation where I dialed out to a phone and recorded the entire thing on my end (mp3 sample 1 96kbps) Second, here is what a standard recorded Skype call sounds like, where I recorded both sides of the conversation on my end, so my partner was recorded through Skype and even on my high bandwidth fiber connection, it does have artifacts (mp3 sample 2 96kbps) Third, here is the same interview segment as the second part, but with my partner's local recording track thrown in and my recording of her track thrown out. Much better and to me, sounds like we could be in the same room, even though we are 3,000 miles apart. (mp3 sample 3 128kbps) Conclusion The basic premise of this approach is you can record a Skype interview without actually needing/using Skype. You are actually recording audio on each end independent of Skype, so you won't suffer any sound quality problems due to Skype transport. So that's it, for about $100 or so, you can have a pretty damn good podcast that sounds like two people sat in a room together talking and recording, even if they're on opposite sides of a country.

GarageBand’s podcasting limitations

Today I ran into the 999 measure limit in GarageBand. The app is built with music in mind, with a default of 120 beats per minute. When I dragged in a couple podcast tracks that clocked in at one hour and 14 minutes, I couldn’t hear all the way to the end and my waveforms weren’t showing up in the editor. Turns out it was too much information for GarageBand to natively display (despite that I’m on a quad processor desktop with 3Gb of RAM) and you have to turn down the beats per minute to 40. Once you do that, everything will magically work just fine.


Anyone that follows this blog probably knows me and my projects pretty well, but you’ll probably learn something new and/or get a kick out of something I’ve said in recent interviews. I was on the BoingBoing podcast a couple weeks ago, with the last 20 minutes or so devoted to talking about how I run MetaFilter. Bren from Slackermanager caught up with me for his new project, a video interview site/podcast devoted to residents of the small county in Oregon where I live.