The Day I Quit Caring about NPR

I have posted before about how I spent my adult life as a public radio financial supporter and devoted listener, but since the beginning of the podcast era I have completely stopped caring about NPR, its affiliates, and practically all of its programming. If you look at the comments on that linked post, there is a guy who takes me to task because some of the programs I talk about are NPR, some are PRI, etc. He feels that invalidates my point but I think his nitpicking actually supports my larger point, which is that public radio has systematically ceased to interest me. It’s not a single point of failure.

If you want to be specific about when NPR news programming lost me, I can pinpoint the exact date, and in fact the exact story. July 28, 2006. The story was called “Sitting on the Porch: Not a Place, But a State of Mind.” It was an exploration of the role of the front porch in America. This was the story I am thinking about when I state that modern day NPR news reporting “explores the intersection of the uninteresting and the irrelevant.”

When I hear people talk about how good the NPR reportage is, it seems to me like this is residual karma. There was a time when the reportage was very good indeed, but that time is passed. For people that do think this is the case, are there stories from the last few years you can point to?

One of the things spurring this post at this time is that I just decided to stop listening to the News from Lake Wobegon podcast. I had been finding it a step up from listening to the whole of Prairie Home Companion because truth be told, it is the only part I cared about. The podcast was a step up because there was a lower risk of hearing Garrison Keillor singing. Over the last few months, I’ve just realized that I just don’t care anymore. A few minutes ago I erased that line from my bashpodder subscription list and now it is gone. This thing that once was so completely essential in my life is now barely even present. Part of this is a direct line from podcasting changing my tastes but a lot is the programming itself. It’s like a what used to be a favorite meal at my favorite restaurant that one day I just lost the taste for. It’s sad, but things move on and now so do I.

Update: Here is Roger Ebert waxing rhapsodic about how much he loves NPR. He sounds like me, 15 years ago. The bloom is off this rose for me. I don’t care about the news, the entertainment programming, any of it. I want to buy a new car stereo that includes an auxilliary input jack which my current one doesn’t have. If I could save $10 on one by having no radio in it at all, I’d take that option. I truly don’t care.

Up to Speed with Bashpodder

I’ve now been using bashpodder long enough that I’ve completed my transition from Juice. The worst part of moving from one podcatcher to another is that you lose your history, and there is always some duplication and hassle at the cutover. I’m now about a week past that point of dealing with that issue and now I’m into baseline business as usual.

I’ll have to say that I am truly digging bashpodder. Linc Fessenden wanted to make sure the world knew I had made this switch, and I’m doing what I can to publicize that fact. I posted to Linc’s forum about the changes I have made. One I made over the weekend allows for the same script to handle either RSS or Atom podcast feeds. The irony is that for bashpodder it was a couple of lines of XSL code but I’ve never built support for Atom feeds into Amigofish. Maybe one day and maybe if more than a few dozen people start using them.

All in all, I really wish I had moved to bashpodder years ago. If you are an OS X or Linux user it is a no brainer and if you are Windows user it is a barely brainer.

I Move to Bashpodder for my Podcast Pleasure

My recent computer woes led to some corruption that makes python no longer run on my MacBook. This means that I can’t use Juice as my podcatcher anymore. To be honest, I’ve been using Juice for years without ever liking it but without much of an alternative since I refuse to use iTunes as my podcatcher. In a way, losing python was a positive because it forced me off the fence and into looking for a better alternative.

Luckily, I found it first try. I decided to try out Linc Fessenden’s bashpodder. It’s a 50 line bash script that takes a simple text file of feed URLs and fetches them. No muss, no fuss, no BS. RSS feeds in, podcasts out. I like that. There are now many variations as hackers have fiddled with the functionality, but I’m running the core vanilla mainline version. This one collects together shows into a date based directory. Because of the way it is using wget to fetch the actual files, in most cases it preserves the timestamp of the server version of the file. This actually helps me out a lot in my attempts to listen to shows in chronological order. I did make my own little hack to it, changing where it does the logging of a show URL to the history. The original script does it unconditionally, I have it check the exit code of wget and only put it in the history if that was successful. This way, a failed download will retry later.

Switching from one podcatcher to another is always a bit dicey at first. Since some of these feeds do the insane thing of keeping hundreds of episodes in them, if you aren’t careful bashpodder will fetch every one of those and fill up your hard drive. Here’s how I handled the transition. It was a bit labor intensive and required me watching it, but after the first run everything was perfect. The thing to be aware of is that there are two files – podcast.log and temp.log. The first is the permanent list of fetched files, the second is a working copy and at the end of the run the two are combined, duplicates filtered and the whole thing resaved to podcast.log. As files are fetched, it checks to see if an URL is in podcast.log and if it is, bashpodder skips it.

I ran the script from my MacBook in a terminal window. I ran it via:

sh -x bashpodder.shell

so that it was outputting all of its variables as it worked. When it would get to a new feed, it would splat out the list of file URLs that were parsed out of the RSS feed. I’d copy the files from the list I didn’t want downloaded and just put them directly into podcast.log via a file editor. You can be somewhat sloppy with this. When in doubt I let it fetch the file and I’d delete it later. If the URL goes into podcast.log more than once, no problem. It will get taken care of later. This required me riding the script for 45 minutes or so, but I mostly got the old shows into podcast.log manually. After the first run succeeded, I ran the script one more time. It fetched a few at the edges that I missed but then was completely caught up. I deleted files that I knew I had already listened to and away I went.

Now when I run it, I get only the new files. They go into that day’s directory, they sort themselves out somewhat by timestamp. I set up a cronjob to run this at 5 AM and now I’m in business. All the scripts that I use to put the files on my Insignia MP3 player work fine with the new directory structure and I’m back in business. Thanks Linc. This workflow is better than what I had, I no longer have Juice bogging down my machine and eating a lot of memory to do this simple task, and the whole thing runs in a simple bash process that I’m comfortable modifying if I want to. Right on.