Friday, September 15, 2006

I Stand Here iPodding - Part Two

Put Streaming RealMedia on your iPod

Perhaps you thought you couldn't do it, but you can. Streaming media can be captured and converted into formats that are iPod (or other portable device) friendly. Let's start with RealMedia. There are many freeware and shareware programs out there which can capture and convert these files.

The one I use most often is Rawavrecorder. It's free, it's small, it's simple and it works. This program converts media with files ending in .ra, .ram and .rm. To find the actual file your RealPlayer is playing (the link on the web page may be to a pointer file), click on the file name that appears in your RealPlayer window. Copy the address it reveals. Paste it into the Rawavrecorder. While the file downloads and streams, the program converts it to a .wav file. When complete, drag this new file into your iTunes library and then convert it, or, use Windows Media Player or other music software to convert the .wav file into an .mp3. Easy -- except that the first step, the conversion into .wav, is done in real time. Meaning if you have a lot of shows you want to convert, you need to line them up and run them in batch as you sleep or while you are at work. Rawavrecorder lets you batch them. But if you do this in the background while you are seated at the computer you won't be able to listen to anything else.

I use this program most with segments that are streamed in RealAudio from public radio websites, and with lectures or readings that appear as webcasts on univeristy sites.

Also, you can take RealVideo segments and Rawavrecorder will spit out just the audio. The only thing worse than talking heads on a big screen is talking heads on a 2½-inch one. So, okay, maybe I'll want to watch a video while waiting with a bunch of other women in pink gowns for my turn to be tortured on the mammography machine. But I'm more likely to be reading then. So usually what I'm interested in are programs I can listen to while doing some house or garden chore, or driving (using my car's aux jack). You don't want video then.

Still sound like too much trouble? Here is a sample of what's out there. It proves RealMedia content is worth finding, capturing and converting for your iPod:

Chicago Public Radio - Stories on Stage
A large archive of short stories, performed by actors from the Chicago area. Some old, some new. Featuring authors such as Lorrie Moore, Alan Gurganus, Bernard Malamud, Alice McDermott, and many more. Does having an actor read a writer's story change the experience of it? Yup. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The series even includes, from 2005, a four-part reading of Jane Smiley's novella, The Age of Grief. Wow. How she draws the characters, how she explores and develops their joint lives! Compare the marriage depicted in Smiley's tale to that sketched out by Tobias Wolff, in Say Yes (scroll down). Granted, you can't do a whole lot in a 14-minute piece (I'm guessing it was under 2,000 words), but both of the characters and the relationship itself have cleverly executed arcs. All downloadable for free.

Exploratorium Webcast - Memory Lectures
Six lectures from San Francisco's Exploratorium. Lecturers include Lewis Hyde, Robert Sopolsky, Elizabeth Loftus, and others. If you are writing about a character's memory, particularly if that charater is very old or very young, or using memory in other ways as a creative writer, these are great resources. After listening to the Lewis Hyde lecture I went out and read a couple of his books, and also Frances Yates' the Art of Memory. I already had Robert Sapolsky's A Primate's Memoir, and he was fascinating also. Especially when he talked about his relationship with his aged, memory-impaired father. Knowing the science of memory helps you shape an accurate literary narrative.

Book-TV on C-SPAN2
Many of these programs become webcasts after they appear on television. Like this one from September 3, 2006, in which Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life, talks about the importance of listening to the stories of ordinary people, and encourages writers to write about them It's nice to see him in his beautiful suit, but you don't really need the video. He doesn't do impersonations, draw pictures, or dance. He just talks. Perfect for .mp3.

Lannan Foundation Archives
The Lannan Foundation has an archive of its Bookworm interviews and its Readings & Conversations going back to 1998. Although Lannon's Bookworm podcast, with host Michael Silberblatt, can be subscribed to on iTunes and downloaded directly to your iPod, Lannan has a great deal more to offer on its website, in RealMedia format. Like this Reading and Conversation with Rikki Ducornet from 2005. I adore the sensuality of her language. I went out and bought Ducornet's The Fan Maker's Inquisition after listening to her read from it.

Meaningoflife is sponsored by Slate, and hosted by Robert Wright, author of Three Scientists and Their Gods, The Moral Animal and Nonzero. He interviews the English-speaking world's leading thinkers. Karen Armstrong. Edward O. Wilson. Daniel Dennett. Steven Pinker. And on and on. He's a bit nudgey, particularly with Karen Armstrong, and sometimes he tries to impress his guests too much with his cleverness. But by and large the interviews are great.

BBC4's In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg converses with the leading thinkers of our time, investigates the history of ideas, and debates their application in modern life. Although the past year's program are available by podcast, shows prior to that are available only as RealMedia archived on BBC4's website. Here's a good one about the nature of the human imagination.

Berkeley Webcast Archives
Berkeley has great podcasts and webcasts, but, once again, a lot of the archival material is not available in .mp3. Such as this RealVideo clip from the Graduate School of Jounalism, in which Michael Pollan talks about his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, as well as "the narrative laundry line," participatory journalism, and how to pitch a story about "agriculture." The video is not essential… but Pollan is a charming, entertaining guy. He also has a nice smile.

So what do you do if you want to put the video on your iPod? Well… you Google around for a converter. Like the ones Boilsoft sells.

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