The first part of this series introduced two of the most popular Java podcasts, The Java Posse, hosted by Dick Wall, Tor Norbye, and Carl Quinn, and the Swampcast from Michael Levin. These podcasts are like night and day, in that the Posse's format generally features the trio discussing a series of news items, while Swampcast is often focused on interviews with prominent Java developers, authors, and other luminaries.
This segment delves deeper into Java podcasting, talking with the voices behind some Java podcasts you might not have heard of, but that you will probably enjoy. Each interview features a link to the podcast's home page, as well as a feed link that you can drop into your podcast client to subscribe to the podcast.
Tim Shadel's ZDot podcast is an outgrowth of his blog, which allows him to mix up podcast entries with followup blog entries as comments come in from the show. Like a lot of developers, the first thing on his mind is the last thing he used: recent shows have featured JSF, Maven, Eclipse, Hibernate, and Subversion.
1. How long has the ZDot podcast been going? How has it changed over time?
I published my first podcast at the beginning of February 2005. I had recently done a good portion of some in-house training for programmers. I stumbled onto podcasting, and wanted to try it out. My initial focus was on Java frameworks and other development tools. Lately some Ruby has snuck in, and I'm pretty sure it'll be seen more often as time goes on, but Java will always have a prominent place. The posts have fluctuated a bit depending on my personal time and availability. My wife and I became parents last year, and it's been a joy. As you'd expect, there is less time for podcasting.
2. Your last show, about JSF as a "7-layer burrito I won't eat again", seemed a little "blog-like", combining your recent experiences with opinions you've developed. What do you think are the advantages of a podcast over a blog?
I read a lot, but occasionally I find some things easier to listen to than to read -- particularly someone's account of their experiences. When I search the web, I'm typically looking for answers and information; I'm focused on the task at hand. I find blogs provide an excellent "distributed knowledge base" for stuff like this. When I'm walking the dog or driving, I like to think about future development ideas. This is a great time to listen to other people's experiences and opinions as a seedbed for ideas I want to research. My approach to the show is that I don't provide documentation; other people do that very well right now anyway. I want to share my own experiences, stories, and opinions with others in hopes that it gives them a new angle to consider or generates ideas.
3. What's your format like? Do you see yourself as more of a reporter or a commentator?
My format currently is just about the "simplest thing that could possibly work" for what I want. I have a canned intro, I dive right into what I want to talk about, and I leave my contact info at the end. I keep the shows to about 10-20 minutes so that it's a reasonable amount to listen to on a commute. Larger topics will often be spread over 2-3 shows, but I try to switch subjects after that.
I don't report news, nor do I comment on it really. I tend to focus more on what I've actually done and then comment with my opinions on how it went, what worked and what didn't. So from that perspective, I'm definitely more a commentator rather than reporter, but even that's a bit of a stretch.
I've recently considered altering my format to include interviewing other programmers, weaving in MP3 comments from listeners, interviewing people about software history, or reviewing and commenting on current events of interest to programmers. I'm not sure what I think about that yet, but it may come.
4. What do you like in programmer-oriented podcasts? Are there others you listen to?
I like hearing what other people are working on. You can go to conferences and hear prepared presentations. But I like a more informal feel. I like hearing what people have succeeded in doing, what they've tried and abandoned, and problems they think they'll face in the future and their untested ideas on how they may approach them.
I've listened to all sorts of podcasts, from news to programming to general technology to college lectures.
SlashdotReview has (of course) a news feel to it. Andy McCaskey has a voice well suited to podcasting. I occasionally carpool with other Java programmers and sometimes a .NET guy. This one's interesting for all of us.
Michael Mahemoff's Software As She's Developed has covered topics like Agile development, AJAX, and other web development related topics. His voice from London adds a nice variety to the mix. His recent podcasts tend to be close to an hour long.
Ajaxian not only covers a compelling topic for upcoming development work, but it's also a well done blog, and I like their podcast interview format.
I really like reading Jon Udell's blog. He has an occasional podcast, but it was his soundbites experiment that intrigued me. He selected portions of existing MP3 content, wrote a short text intro to each, and then had that text spoken by a computer as an intro to the clip. While the soundbites themselves were interesting, it's the combination of text, audio, and technology that sparks ideas for me. See his Improving the audio circulatory system for more.
While not an actual podcast, Terrence Mann--creator of ANTLR--has a number of college lectures on MP3. I found them after looking for info about Domain Specific Languages. These lectures talk about language design and often focus on using the ANTLR tool. To see these, visit USF CS652: Programming Languages and scroll down to "Prior Lecture Notes".
5. How do you put the show together? Do you use any Java tools to create or serve it?
My first goal is to keep it simple. I enjoy working on the podcasts, but my podcasting time is very limited. I jot down a few notes to outline my topic. I record the audio with Audacity on my Mac. I connect the mic and start talking. I don't do any takes. I do a few edits, but I leave more "ahs" and "ums" in than I really should (mainly because I want a life as well; you could edit things forever). I plan to add effects with Audio Hijack Pro. Next, I add a canned intro, ending music, and speak the date. Then I export to MP3.
I pull up my WordPress blog and get setup to make the podcast entry. Some of my shows have extensive show notes, but usually I just type up a paragraph that summarizes the show and gives the key links to stuff I mention in the podcast.
Once the MP3 is exported, I push it up to my server. I wrote a small PHP page that generates the XSPF file used by the Flash player on my website. I then publish my blog entry. At that point it's live and I'm done. Not a Java tool in sight.
6. What's the feedback been like?
I've had a lot of very positive feedback. People seem to enjoy the topics I choose and the informal nature of the podcast itself. I've had several comments where people wanted to hear more about our teams experiences with other aspects of the development process. On the suggestion side of the feedback, the two things that people have mentioned is that they'd like more podcasts and some would like to see me tighten up the "ahs" and "ums"; I'm working on both.
7. Anything else you'd like to tell potential listeners?
I'd say I'd love to have you listen in and that I also think it's useful for just about anyone to know how to put together a podcast. If you ever do any in-house training for new hires--record it. Put up an internal blog, and make a "Training Podcast" category. Ask new hires to listen to it at some appropriate work time. It probably shouldn't replace the training entirely, but it can augment it.
Governments could do an awful lot with this technology, and many programmers work for them. Phil Windley often writes about the benefits IT can bring to government. Public meetings of many sorts could be posted for citizens to listen to at their convenience. Government could make its work more accessible to citizens, and citizens could be encouraged to participate more fully in their government.
Maybe you're not interested in hosting your own podcasts. But maybe you've got a story or two to share. My grandfather became a programmer in the newly-born "IT" department at GE when they got the first computer at his location. My dad's got many stories of pre-PC computing and the early days of the PC software industry. It's worth learning the basics of audio recording, editing, and exporting to MP3 to capture your stories and share them with others; perhaps there'll someday be a History Channel podcast for software development you could submit them to.
So pick up a podcasting book, a mic, and try it out. You'll never know where it may take you.
One interesting sign of the growth of Java podcasting, as well as the scope of Java, is the emergence of much more focused, narrowly-tailored podcasts. Roman Strobl's Roman's NetBeans Podcast exemplifies this by focusing on Sun's all-Java IDE, discussing new features like the Matisse GUI builder, integration with other projects, plug-ins, tutorials, and more. Strobl, who works as a technical evangelist at Sun, took a few minutes to tell us how this podcast got started:
1. It looks like you just launched your NetBeans podcast recently. What did it take to get started?
You're right, the NetBeans podcast is very new; I started less than one month ago. It was quite easy for me to get started, because I already recorded some Flash demos that included speech (an example is the NetBeans 5.0 IDE Expert Presentation at JavaLobby), so I had both the equipment and some experience. What you basically need is a good microphone, audio recording and editing software, and some server where you can host your podcast. You also shouldn't be ashamed of what you are saying, it may feel a bit weird at the beginning--it's a bit like talking to yourself. After three episodes, I found it's real fun, and plan to record podcasts on weekly basis.
2. This is the first Java podcast I've found that's specific to one product, namely NetBeans. What kinds of topics do you have in mind for upcoming shows?
The main focus of my podcast is sharing news about NetBeans with its community. I try to provide useful links to interesting articles, Flash demos, tutorials, interviews or any other content which might be of interest to NetBeans users. Recently I also started a Q&A section; I encourage people to ask me any kind of question about NetBeans, and I get them the answer.
The other area I want to cover is specific parts of NetBeans. For example, I will devote one podcast just to the NetBeans MobilityPack. In the future, I also plan to interview NetBeans engineers, technical evangelists and other people around NetBeans, but this is rather in the long term plan--I have to figure out which equipment is the best to use for it, how to mix the voices, etc.
3. Do you have a specific idea of how you want the show to work, or do you think you'll find your way as you go along?
I described some of the ideas I have right now in the answer to your previous question. I am very open to suggestions, so I may shape the show according to the feedback I get from the listeners. At any case I'd like to keep it relatively short (15 minutes), because I prefer shorter podcasts myself. The content may change as the show evolves; one of the possibilities is to get more people on board, but I haven't tried to lure anyone yet.
4. What do you think of programmer-oriented podcasts in general? Are there others you listen to?
I think they're very useful--they can help people learn about new technologies very effectively. I think of it it as the next level of blogging. There are a lot of people who are too lazy to read (including myself), so it's nice to listen to the news presented in a very personal way. So, I definitely would like to see more such podcasts appearing, especially around Java.
I listen to Java Posse--I like the show especially because its creators are from different companies: Sun, Google and New Energy Associates. That means you get more diverse opinions about what's happening around Java. The other podcast I listen to regularly is This Week in Tech, which is a great show about technology, mostly from the consumer perspective.
5. How has the initial feedback been?
It's been very nice. Nobody told me to stop with it (grins). I get e-mails from people asking me to talk about some topic, or some of them just drop an e-mail to say they enjoyed to show and that I should keep it up. This kind of feedback encourages me to put the energy into creating the podcast--it takes some time to gather the news and prepare it in a structured way. I want the podcast to be a two-way medium, so I appreciate all feedback, including negative feedback (which nobody has dared to send me so far).
6. How do you put your show together? Do you use any Java tools to create or serve it?
First, I go through all the interesting news, blogs, e-mails, articles and other sources of information to pick up what I think is the most exciting. Then I jot down some comments so that the show has some structure--you know, I'm not a native English speaker, so I prefer to prepare than to improvise. I would have too many "umms" in the show without proper preparation.
As for the tools, I will disappoint you: I don't use any Java tools. I use an open source product called Audacity whose recent beta was enriched by some nice tools for podcasting. The MP3's are served on a typical server for web hosting, and I use FeedBurner so the podcast will be available for people with iTunes, Juice, and such.
7. Is there anything else you'd like to say about the show?
Only that I recommend people to check out its feed. I am always happy for feedback, so if you have any, send it to
Seemingly determined to lighten things up, Charles Lowell and Coté (usually just called "Coté") offer up the long-running DrunkAndRetired Podcast. It's a podcast as much about Java as anything else, and doesn't lend well to an objective description, so we asked Charles and Coté to explain it.
1. First off, what's with the name? You guys don't sound very drunk or retired.
Charles: Proper credit should go to Coté for coming up with the name. It's been his personal domain name for years and years and years. But as far as applying it to the show goes, I was in favor of it because it reinforces the idea that we don't have any hidden agenda. We're just talking about whatever it is that we happen to be thinking about, just like we would if we were rocking on a front porch swing, sipping bourbon and watching the sun go down.
Coté: The name comes from my blog's URL, DrunkAndRetired.com. It also sets a good, informal tone for the podcast.
So far, we only have one of those down. The other one is ever elusive. But, the name serves as a concise summary of our overall life goals. It's good to have something to shoot for.
The real answer, of course, is that it's an easily spellable domain name that was available 5+ years ago when I registered it.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about how the show got started?
Charles: It was all Coté's idea. Please direct hate-mail to him.
Coté: A little under a year ago Charles and I sat on my back porch and recorded a couple hours of us talking about Agile software development. We split this into the first two episodes (1 and 2) and then committed to recording one every week.
3. What do you think makes for a good show? I listened to your show the other day, and reading a letter about Ruby on Rails turned into a 10-minute discussion of zombie movies.
Coté: That episode, 35, is representative a good show. Personally, I like podcasts that aren't scripted, about just one subject, possess a high degree of spontenaity, and have a good interplay between at least two people.
Listening to 30 minutes about just Ruby, Java, or any technical topic would seem too wooden, pedantic, and boring. Once you allow yourself to start talking about, for example, current themes in the zombie genre, you immediately add a human voice and feel to the podcast. I know for a fact that some people don't like this: they'd rather hear just the technical stuff. But, of course, we don't cater to those people.
The audience we have, as indicated by the comments we receive and our estimate of subscription numbers, seems to like the format: we got quite a few positive comments about the zombie episode, to quote one of them, "Zombies and RoR; can't go wrong."
Along those lines, check out the Pickle Jar Pooping episode too. As Paul Graham has noted (in his OSCON 2005 talk I think), scatology always sells well with the nerds.
What'd you think about the 10 minute discussion on zombies? Note: The author liked the concept of a scoring system for zombie movies, but thought "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" should be docked 1 point for being based on a video game.
Charles: Our best shows are the ones where there is a free flow of good information between all the people talking, be it technical or otherwise. In the example you listened to, the letter we read accused us of lacking "brains." Zombies eat brains. It seems a natural segue into the general theory of zombie evolution right?
That said, I prefer it when there's not so much free-association that we can't fully unearth and examine at least one tiny nugget of knowledge.
4. Do you have a feel for your audience? How many people are listening and what kind of feedback do they give you?
Coté: I think we hover around 300 subscribers. It's hard to tell, as you can subscribe from two RSS feeds or directly download the MP3s. We get comments on the blog posts on drunkandretired.com, e-mail, and posts on other people's blogs.
From what I can tell, the audience is primarily programmers with the occasional "other" tech industry employee. Many of our most vocal listeners are in the process of learning Ruby or software in general. I think that group of people enjoys the podcast because we try to explain all the basic topics as they come up (for example, why would you care about transactions?) instead of just quickly glossing over them.
And, of course, we get comments along the lines of "you suck."
Charles: I think our core audience is primarily a technical one, but that alone would not account for its listenership. I imagine they're into technology because it's fun... kinda like a zombie movie... or Panama. If you're just looking for a tutorial on how to work with a particular product or platform, this is NOT the show for you. But even though there is a technical bent, I'd like to think that there's a little something for everybody who just likes to sit around and shoot the breeze with us on our imaginary porch with the swing.
We also get listeners tuning in and out in response to episodes relating to a particular subject like the Mozilla framework, or Ruby on Rails. While most of them go away after listening to what they came to hear, hopefully some will be intrigued enough to stay for the after-party.
I also force my girlfriend to listen as often as possible.
5. What do you like about podcasting as opposed to other forms of discussing programming?
Charles: Articles and presentations are great, but sometimes the information is too dense, and too rigid. The author already has a firm grasp on what he thinks about a particular subject, and he's presenting it to you in its final, refined form. Blogs are a little more spontaneous; a little bit more like a dialogue, but the podcast lets you peek directly into that raw precursor to the well-developed thoughts of essays and articles, also known as "the conversation." Conversations follow more closely the human thought process, where it's acceptable to follow any thread to see where it takes you--even if that's over-the-rainbow, or nowhere.
Coté: I like it because it captures all the ideas and discussions that you forget about between talking about something and writing it down. It's also a good format because it lets you edit out all the "dead time." Also, it's an easier way to collaborate with people you meet online vs. writing: all you have to do is call them up on Skype, and you can create something with them. We've done this in several episodes, and having "special guest stars" is something we enjoy doing. It's especially nice when we've run our mouths about something we know nothing about (like domain specific languages) and then get someone to come on in a subsequent episode and set us straight.
6. Do you use any Java tools in creating or distributing your podcast?
Coté: Not at all, unless it's under the hood and we don't know about it. We use Audio Hijack Pro, Audacity, Skype, LibSyn.com, emacs, feedburner.com, and sftp. The nice thing is, except for the hosting, everything is free. Even the hosting at LibSyn is just $10/month for unlimited bandwidth, which is fantastic. Those guys need an award for that business model.
Charles: For the podcast itself we use Skype to record, Audacity to edit, and the standard unix toolkit to publish. If someone knows of some great Java sound editing software, I'd love to hear it, though. I do use jEdit to write most of the code that I yack on and on about. Does that count?
7. Is there anything else you'd like to tell prospective listeners?
Coté: We're not always technically correct in what we talk about, but we've got over 20 years of combined experience in the trenches between the two of us, meaning that when it comes to the real-life, nuts-and-bolts, we do know what we're talking about. More importantly, we don't talk in a stiff style: there's always something like Java, zombies, Ruby, pooping in pickle jars, Agile software development, and general software trends and thinking to listen to. Well, except those times when the show sucks. Just hit "Next" when you get one of those.
We're always looking for guests, so if you'd like to respond to past episodes or talk about a entirely new topic, give us an or just send in an MP3.
You can see all the episodes at our home page and subscribe to the feed.
Charles: Talking about programming is the most fun (and incidentally most productive) when it's friendly, and with friends. We'd love for you to stop by and tell us your piece to those gathered round, or just take a listen if that's your style. We don't have an agenda, just a healthy dedication to the truth, and a good time.
If all else fails: Heck, we're better than half the stuff out there!
The author would like to thank Tim Shadel, Roman Strobl, Charles Lowell, and Michael Coté for discussing their podcasts for this article.
Chris Adamson is an author, editor, and developer specializing in iPhone and Mac.
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