Category Archives: Articles

Self-hosting a Podcast in WordPress

I started a podcast about a month ago that helps programmers develop a writing habit. I looked at all the podcast hosts and ultimately decided to self-host. This is probably not for everyone, but here was my rationale:

  1. I already use WordPress for this blog, and I didn’t want a site specifically for the podcast as it is related to the other content here.
  2. I am unsure if I’ll make new episodes indefinitely, but I know that I want the episodes available indefinitely.
  3. I don’t have plans to add sponsors. If it ever got popular enough where that was an option, I think I’d rather point it towards my own products.
  4. I have enough technical skill to understand how podcast publishing works and can deal with rolling my own pieces if I need to.
  5. I am unwilling to compromise on privacy and the published URLs for files.

Given those attributes, most podcast hosts weren’t worth it for me. I just don’t care about analytics that much. I have no problem parsing web-access logs to get download counts.

So, I looked around and for WordPress, there is a great option, PowerPress, a free podcast plugin from Blubrry.

The plugin will handle generating the RSS feed and will walk you through submitting it to Apple, Google, and other directories. It has embeddable players that you can use on your episode pages.

If you don’t want to self-host, they provide a hosting service that you can access via the plugin with reasonable options, even for small shows.

But, they also support you hosting the mp3 files yourself and don’t require that you use their service at all. They even have a free, minimal analytics service for self-hosters. I don’t use it, because they require that you use their URLs and they redirect.

I’ll follow up this article about how I use Amazon S3 for the mp3 files and how I get some idea what the download counts are.

What is the Sound Equivalent of a Visualization?

Visualizations are well-studied, understood, and popularized. They are a part of every day life—we see weather maps, activity circles, and stock charts every day.

We know the names of the patterns: bar chart, pie chart, line chart, etc. We learn them in grade school. You probably put one in your slide deck last week.

I’ve often wondered why this was not true of Sonifications. If you’re like me, this term will be new to you. It actually took me a while to find it—my google searches came up with Auralizations and Audibilizations first. But, if you’re talking about trying to understand data with sound, the correct term seems to be Sonification.

There is a body of research about it in academia, but it doesn’t extend much outside of there. As far as I can tell, there is no equivalent to Edward Tufte’s visualization books, but for sound. There is no way to make them in Excel.

But they are all around us. We hear, make, and use them all of the time.

Consider just the ones you might encounter while driving.

When you honk your horn, you are conveying information about your car and mood to others. Similarly, an ambulance uses a siren to convey their position and direction to you.

My car tells me (with beeps) if I am drifting out of my lane. It gets even madder if I am about to hit something. It beeps whenever I shift into reverse. Turning signals remind me to turn them off with a steady metronome-like beat. So do the hazard lights.

I get warnings when my lights are left on, the keys are locked in, or if I don’t fully shut the door.

If my radio is tuned to traffic, that’s a kind of Sonification (data -> speech). My GPS does the same kind of thing for directions.

Radar detectors buzz if they detect the fuzz.

So, I hope I have convinced you that Sonifications are common. In my own thinking I have come up with these few similarities that seem to tie them together

  • Sonifications are real-time
  • Sonifications are actionable
  • Sonifications interrupt you while you are engaged doing something else

This is why we use them in a car. You are completely busy, with your vision fully engaged in a life or death activity. The sonifications are there to tell you that something important needs to be done right now.

New App-o-Mat Article: Why You Should Use SwiftUI for Developing Apple Watch Apps

I am developing a series of articles based on my experience developing Sprint-o-Mat. The first one explains Why You Should Use SwiftUI for Developing Apple Watch Apps.

My Apple Watch app, Sprint-o-Mat, was originally an iPhone/Watch app combination because, at that time, a Watch app needed to be paired with an iPhone app.

Then, 3 months after I started, Apple changed everything about Apple Watch app development.

I’ll be covering Apple Watch app development in detail, with an emphasis on workout apps. Subscribe to get email notifications of new articles if you want to follow along.

Programming With the Joy of a Thirteen Year-Old

One of the exercises in How to Make Feeling Good a Priority by (my running coach) Holly Johnson is to list out the things that gave you the most joy at different stages of your life. For my teen years, I listed programming. I also listed it for later stages, but thinking about it, it was a different activity.

Programming as a teenager had no real point except to do it. At fifty, I still program nearly every day, but mostly as a job. I love it, but it’s different.

Most of my teen programs were unfinished—many times I just wanted to accomplish one effect and then moved on. Many of them were assignments in programming classes, but outside of that, they were unshipped.

I ship way more of my work now, but I wonder what I would make if I had no intention to ship.

New Article in the Swift Companion: Methods

Yesterday, I wrote that books should get you to write code, not just read it. I’ve been working on a companion to Apple’s Swift Programming Language book that helps you do that by offering exercises for each chapter.

I just published the companion to the Methods chapter on App-o-Mat. If you want to start from the beginning, go to the outline of Section 1. If you understand the content of the corresponding chapter, the exercises are meant to be very easy. If you are having trouble with them, it would be a good idea to review the chapter again before moving on.

What are books for?

Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go.

– Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen said that he came up with the disruptive innovation theory by asking the question “why do well-run companies go out of business” when he entered business school. He attributed having a unifying question to guiding his research and being open to answers.

I am similarly thinking about the question “what are books for?” I don’t have a lot of good answers yet, but I have seen something that I think is part of my answer.

I just finished “reading” Quantum Country, which is a series of essays about quantum computing. The material is very challenging, but they have a novel technique for helping you process and remember the content. They embedded flash cards in the text, and the site uses spaced repetition algorithms like I described yesterday in my post about Anki.

So, their answer to what books are for is something like “to transfer knowledge from the writer to the reader”, which is an obvious answer, but I have rarely read a book that tries to do this so thoroughly.

There is another answer in this text, somewhat meta, which is “to advance the idea of mnemonic media”, which is what they call this style of book. It’s not surprising that a new form of media would need to explain itself—it’s like how music in new genres needs to explain the genre they are in (see “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” and “Rapper’s Delight”)

In the world of publishing, there are other possible answers such as “to increase the reputation of the author”, “to entertain while reading”, “to sell related services”.

It’s not so much that I want to know what books are for generally, but more about what I think they should be for. And once I know what they are for, to question whether books are even the right way to deliver on that.