Internet marketers love to make up words. Imagine going back to the '80s and telling investors that our biggest companies would eventually have names like "Google" and "Yahoo." But as new words go, "podcast" is one of the best.
The problem with new words is that they can scare off people who don't realize how ordinary the technology is. Podcast sounds fancy when you hear it the first time, but a podcast is actually just an ordinary mp3 file, like any other music file you would play on your computer.
Podcast software checks a publisher's server every so often to see if a new file is available. If it finds one, it automatically downloads the podcast to your hard drive.
Then, depending on how you have it configured, the software can update your portable music player the next time you plug it in.
iTunes isn't the only way to download podcasts, but it's probably the easiest.
If you're not ready to make the leap to iTunes, most podcasts can be downloaded manually and played with any kind of audio software.
The real advantage of iTunes is the podcast directory you can access from the Apple store. Don't worry, 95 percent of podcasts are free, and iTunes will warn you if something costs money.
Most podcasts are devoted to geek stuff books like Harry Potter and games like World of Warcraft but if you're willing to poke around a bit, you can find podcasts on just about anything. A quick search of the iTunes music store turns up half a dozen podcasts about knitting and hundreds of podcasts about religion.
The newest version of iTunes introduces iTunes University, a collection of educational podcasts, including full academic lectures from Berkeley and Stanford. I personally recommend "Historical Jesus" and "Physics for Future Presidents." You can also find some real gems at NPR.org.
NPR offers dozens of programs that we don't get on our local station, and they're all available as free podcasts. My favorite is a game show called "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me." It's a current events news quiz that is much, much funnier than it sounds.
So please, don't let buzzwords scare you away from new things. Podcasts aren't just for yuppies and college students. There's a world full of information out there, and the iPod's not just for music anymore.
The page stops but the blog goes on. Talk back to Michael at http://www.lubbockonline.net/blogs/duff/
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