Interview with Josh McAdams
Josh McAdams is a bit of a new-comer to the Perl community, but he's the first to have a regular podcast, which he calls Perlcast. If you've been at a conference this summer, you've probably seen him and his microphone. His latest interviews include brian d foy (publisher of The Perl Review), Damian Conway (author of Perl Best Practices), and chromatic and Ian Langworth (co-authors of Perl Testing: A Developer's Notebook), as well as weekly Perl News.
The Perl Review: What is a Perlcast (or a podcast)?
Josh McAdams: Well, this seems like an easy question to answer, but it sparks more debate than most realize. Podcasting is typically referred to as either a delivery mechanism or as a show format. The delivery mechanism is audio files linked to by enclosures in RSS feeds. This allows for people to very easily move data from the web on their respective audio players. Of course, RSS with enclosures might have started the podcast revolution, but it can be expected that the technology will eventually change. Another definition of podcasting is the ability to download shows onto your PC... a sort of anti-streaming, anti broadcast format. Still, the faster the internet gets, the less this will be relevant.
So, I've wasted a whole paragraph and really just skirted the issue. My stance is that podcasting is targeted audio on demand. Hopefully that definition will stand up to technological change. Heck, many think that the term podcast will soon go away. I have to say that removing a word from the public vocabulary is pretty difficult and I don't see that happening anytime soon.
So, now that we have an unclear definition of what a podcast is, what is Perlcast? It is a podcast dedicated to Perl. Actually, it was a podcast dedicated to Perl. Recently it has taken on the job of being a label for a set of podcasts related to Perl.
TPR: What contribution do you see Perlcast making to the community or Perl?
Josh: I like to hope that it adds to the perceive revival of the Perl community. Perl 6 revived interest in Perl 5. Hopefully people will see that Perl had the first and has the most active and complete podcast and that Perl is alive and well. I also hope that it helps spread the word about cool things that you can do with Perl. Many people don't have time to read use.perl journals, Perl monks, or Perl.com; however, they might be able to listen to a little Perl talk during their daily jog or commute. Then, if they hear something of interest, they can seek it out and learn more.
TPR: What do you want the listeners to take away from Perlcast?
Josh: Tough one. I really don't know other than I hope that everyone learns about something new each time they listen. I would also like to get them interested in something happening in the community.
TPR: How did you get the idea to start Perlcast? Do you have a background in radio or broadcasting? (Note: we didn't have a background in publishing before we start TPR :)
Josh: This isn't a glamorous story, but here goes. I like to jog as often as I can. I used to load my mp3 player up with music and take off. After a while, that just gets boring. Then one day one a co-worker introduced me to podcasting. Wow, I though. Multitasking. I can get some exercise and some education at the same time. I downloaded iPodder, found some interesting sounding podcasts, and all was good.
Soon, that got old. Many of the podcasts were little short of rants and many just outright lied about their content, like 'The Daily Source Code'. The few good ones I listened to were sports related, talked tech, or at least read news that I cared about, like Slashdot. Then, one day after hearing how niche podcasts were, the light-bulb came on in my head and I realized that they really weren't too vertical. I couldn't find specific coding podcasts, especially purely Perl podcasts. Maybe I could do one?
A cheap headset mic and a well-rehearsed script later, I was recording my first Perlcast after our CARLUG meeting. It wasn't good, but a few hundred people downloaded and it seems like a few of those stuck around. No, I didn't have any broadcast experience, but I'm slowly learning the tricks of the trade.
TPR: Every edition of Perlcast gets better and better. What sort of feedback have you been getting from listeners?
Josh: Thanks. So far, all of the feedback that I've been getting has been positive... or at least not mean :) I've been coding Perl for about 5 years, but still consider myself a newbie in the community. As a newbie, I don't know all of the places to find information or who I should be interviewing. The listeners have really helped me out there. I had never really considered interviewing anyone until one of my listeners suggested that I talk to the Catalyst guys. Since then, they are great about suggesting people to interview, pointing out news items, suggesting show segments, and correcting the (occasional) mis-pronouncement.
Without trying to sound too sappy, the show exists for the listeners. I try to respond to all of the comments that I get and try my best to implement the suggestions that I feel are worthwhile.
Beyond feedback, I've had many listeners volunteer to help out with the Perlcast. People have volunteered to help transcribe shows, dig for news, and some are even working on audio segments for the show.
TPR: What's the process for recording, editing, and publishing a typical Perlcast?
Josh: It is in flux right now. In the old variety show format, the cycle was huge and painful. First, I would have to try to schedule and record interviews. It can be difficult trying to schedule an interview across time zones without conflicting with work and other engagements. Then, after I scored an interview, I'd place the call and record it... typically I try to do this at least five days before the show posts. Then, I clean up the audio and send the cleaned up version to the interviewee for approval. While waiting for approval, I search the web for news items and collect the links. Then, on recording day, I fire up the laptop and record the show. Then comes the process of cleaning my audio (typically just taking out the noise... no umm filters) and splicing in the interview and music tracks. Then I have to upload the audio and edit the RSS feeds, write up a blog entry for Perlcast.com and use.perl and send an email out to the mailing list. Then, I fire up my podcatcher and make sure everything downloads okay.
With the new show format, I can just record, clean, upload, inform, test. Without the splicing, there is less trouble and hopefully less stress.
TPR: How much time does it take you to put together each week's Perlcast?
Josh: I've been known to put between 5 and 10 hours a week into prepping for a show, but those are typically the ones with a lot of pre-recorded audio.
TPR: Each episode has a new Garage Band song. How do you find and pick those? How closely do those match your personal musical taste?
Josh: I used to take more care in my selection. Basically, I decided that the show needed some intro music. Lacking the talent and resources to record it myself, I went digging around on Garage Band. Personally, I lean toward the heavier music: SOAD, Clutch, Marilyn Mason or the funny: ICP. Since that type of music would probably scare away listeners, I needed something more tame. I am anti-pop, so that was out of the question. I was raised country, but newer country is really pop with a beer can. Folk and blues seemed to be the natural endpoint. Now, I've found some bands that I really like.
TPR: For the audio geeks out there, what's the equipment you use? I know you recently changed microphones. What hardware and software do you use?
Josh: For software, it's all Audacity. For hardware, it was originally my laptop and a Logistics non-USB headset mic. Then, I upgraded to an MXL M.A.R.K. for a microphone. Recently I also got an Audigy Z2 sound card for my laptop. Just today I purchased a mixer and two more MXL M.A.R.K. mics for OSCON... cog suggested that I upgrade ;)
TPR: If you had your choice of equipment (hint to the Perl benefactors out there), what would you use?
Josh: I don't know that I'm qualified to answer that. As of recent, I think that I have the mic situation ironed out. With my new sound card, I might even have Skype beat. If someone with experience knows of something that I'm missing, please let me know---especially if you know of better ways to record interviews.
TPR: You've experimented with Skype as a way to record interviews. How did that work out? Do you think you'll keep doing it?
Josh: Skype is good. For IP telephony, it seems to be working well. Skype-in and Skype-out save me huge amounts of cash on inter-country phone bills. What was killing me was my recording software... HotRecorder. It was a great concept, but was poorly executed. It somehow pulls off a most minimalistic (good) and clunky (bad) interface at the same time. On top of that, it couldn't equalize voices and introduced an echo.
With my new sound card, HotRecorder is out of the picture. My latest interview with Chris Brooks of Talkr bypassed HotRecorder and sounds great.
TPR: People can leave you audio messages on Skype. Would you still like to get messages from Perl users? What sort of messages would you like to incorporate into the Perlcast?
Josh: Kevin Devin over at In The Trenches does Admin-to-Admin segments. I would love to get some Programmer-to-Programmer segments started for Perlcast. Of course, you don't have to leave them as a Skype message. I accept audio files over email or links too.
TPR: Do you see yourself eventually having reporters who send in audio for you to include in the process?
Josh: That would be wonderful. Though right now my focus is Perl, I can see this benefiting many languages. Though Perlcast would remain Perlcast, I would love to see it incorporated into a larger network of heavily technical audio.
TPR: If you can do that, what would they have to send you? An MP3 file? Something else?
Josh: MP3 or OGG are my preferred formats. Please submit and get your "15 minutes" of fame.
Josh: I'm not very interesting. If the show is going to survive, it will have to have new and fresh voices. I would love to have something like this. The move is going to drop me right into the neighborhood with a ton of Perl talent. Who knows what might emerge.
TPR: Each week you have a Phalanx section, either by discussing a module or interviewing an author who has a module in the Phalanx 100. Has that helped the Phalanx project?
Josh: I hope that it gave it some exposure. At least now all Perlcast listeners can say Phalanx correctly.
Probably the most help that I've given so far is letting module authors know that their code is on Phalanx. Some were unaware, many were happy to see it there, but one was very concerned about people using his module...
TPR: You recently joined Techpodcasts.com which has lots of other podcasters. How do they help you and how has it worked out?
Josh: Being a part of this network has been a tremendous help to me. Just as having the Perl community available when you run into brick walls is a huge asset for coding, having other technical podcasters, many with broadcast experience, available when I have trouble is invaluable. I'm still a little leery about the cross-promotion, but I can definitely see some potential in it.
TPR: Which podcasts do you listen to? Which would you recommend for others?
Josh: Hmmm... I listen to just about anything that Doug Kaye releases on IT Conversations. Some of the techpodcasts.com guys that I listen to are Kevin Devin with his In The Trenches show and Andy McCaskey's Slashdot Review. Non-tech would be Endurance Radio. I would definitely recommend all of the above... still, I haven't searched for new shows for a while, so I'm sure there are a lot of good ones out there.
TPR: What's coming up in future Perlcasts?
Josh: Smaller, but more numerous, single-topic shows. Instead of a variety show, I am planning on having a weekly news segment; weekly Perl monks segment; weekly Use Perl journal segment; at least weekly interviews. Hopefully having this type of format, I can convince more people to contribute. Even if you just send in a monthly talk on Perl 6 or an interview with one of your friends, who just happens to be a hard-core Perl developer, the community would appreciate it.
TPR: What do you want Perlcast to be doing in a year?
Josh: I expect the podcast bubble to burst (you can't talk tech without having some bursting bubble conversation) and for the market to focus on a few select casts. Many of the casts that I started off listening too no longer exist today. I don't want Perlcast to be one of those. My goal is to keep it alive and well and continually improve the quality.
TPR: How can the community help Perlcast? Do you have a tipjar or a way to take donations?
Josh: I've been asked a few times about a tip jar and am not sure if I'm ready for that yet. Luckily, I've came across some cash that paid for my equipment upgrades, so the only real expense that I'm worried about is bandwidth costs. Right now, they aren't a concern, but I can definitely see this becoming a problem... I'll probably crank up a tip jar eventually for that reason.
Today, the best way that the community can help is by listening, commenting, contributing, and spreading the word. Listen and let me know what you think about the show and how it can be improved. Also, I'm always looking for contributions, be it a regular segment or a one-off talk of some sort. And probably one of the most important is to spread the word. I don't really have a marketing budget and with content this niche, word-of-mouth is the best way for people to realize that Perl has a podcast.