Like millions of others, I drive to work every day. What fun.
Even though I vary that by randomly choosing one of 7 possible routes, it averages 40 minutes each way, each day. 80 minutes. 5 days. 400 minutes per week. Dividing by 60 gives the total hours per week. 6.66… There is a joke in there somewhere.
Drivers don’t get the luxury of our train-or-bus travelling fellow commuters. We can’t read a newspaper or book. Can’t do a crossword. Can’t knit. We must keep our eyes on the road. For me, that is a waste of over 6 hours of time. Time that I can spend doing other things.
The majority of us have in our pockets a modern miracle: a smartphone. I use this wonderful device to teach me something new every day. It educates me, among other things, on current affairs, technology, design trends, and photography. All without taking my eyes off the road or disturbing my concentration. How does it achieve this? One word: Podcasts.
A Whole New World
While many choose to listen to audio books or music, I prefer to hook my ears up to the Internet and treat them to the biggest library of free information the world has ever known.
I’ll share some of the ones I subscribe to below, just as a starting point for exploration.
Podcasts come in a bewildering variety, with something for everyone. Free, platform independent, available through your choice of Podcast App on Android or iOS. Not of interest to commuters, most can also be enjoyed through a web site, right on your computer. Browse the categories, pick a handful, off you go. Did I mention, this is all free?
I like to learn, so those types of podcasts are my personal choice. By the time I get to work each day I have learned something new. Same on the way home. And that makes my commute something to actually enjoy.
For me, every day is a learning opportunity. I school myself. You may prefer romance, or comedy, or politics, or engineering, or origami, or gardening, or… well. There are podcasts for every taste.
Some daily, some weekly, most podcasts are delivered in bite size 30 minute or less audio formats, perfect for the commute. Listen and learn while you drive. There are video podcasts too. I subscribe to several, but of course these aren’t suitable for the commute, unless you are a train-or-bus commuter, in which case, enjoy. Podcasts can be streamed or downloaded. Which means you can take them with you – no need for an expensive and often low quality data connection that keeps dropping. I load up over wi-fi each morning while I shower. I’m not at the mercy of tunnels or weather or my phone network. That feature alone puts podcasts streets ahead of Youtube or Netflix for anyone using the Subway.
Once you’ve found some podcasts you like, you can Subscribe to them with a click. They will then download to your phone whenever new episodes are released. Your phone keeps track and deletes episodes you have listened to. If it’s a particularly good one you want to keep, one click takes care of that, too.
It is just as easy to unsubscribe if you find one that isn’t for you. No fees. No obligation. They don’t get your email address, you’re not on a marketing list. Click to subscribe. Click to unsubscribe. Easy. With many thousands of podcasts to choose from, your choices are virtually unlimited. Podcasts do indeed open up a whole new world.
Podcast libraries are also archived. If you listen to the latest episode and decide you want to hear more, you can browse, and download, any and all previous episodes. Some of the most popular podcasts go back years. One of my favourites (Security Now) just celebrated their 12th anniversary. Every episode is there for your delight. Read up on a security breach from last year, or search to find out exactly how Bitcoin works, in exquisite detail. Archiving makes podcasts a fantastic on-demand library of information, literally at your fingertips.
OK, so which podcasts would I recommend? Well, my tastes may differ from yours, of course. I have certain ones I listen to all the time. Here are just a few of them.
For computer nerds with paranoid tendencies there is no better podcast than Security Now. Admittedly an acquired taste, this long running technology show addresses breaking security issues and news headlines across all operating systems and mobile devices. What I like about this show is that it doesn’t just tell you the problem. These guys tell you how to fix it! Security Now is co-hosted by TWIT (itself a mega technology news machine that you should check out) head man Leo Laporte, and the head of Gibson Research Corp. (GRC), Steve Gibson. The latter coined the term ‘spyware’, wrote Spinwrite, is working on a free system to eliminate the need for passwords (SQRL), provides a bunch of other free stuff, and what he doesn’t know about security probably isn’t worth knowing.
Quick And Dirty Tips is a site which produces a wealth of practical podcasts aimed at making life easier. There are podcasts in many categories. Visit, enjoy.
From the above site, I really like Grammar Girl. This one helps me make sense of the many differences between English, Canadian, and American speech and writing.
Also from here, I like Get It Done Guy. This humorous podcast shares productivity tips that I can use at work and home, every day. His tag line “Do more, work less” sums it up nicely.
For Canadians interested in local and world news, current affairs, and comedy, it is hard to beat the many great offerings of the CBC.
For U.S. news (I like to keep an ear on those zany guys) I enjoy the The Daily, from the New York Times. I find their balanced approach to current US events a refreshing change from the partisan and incendiary media outlets. No opinion. No rhetoric. Just news.
For fun and education, check out What Can Trump Teach Us About Con Law? This show takes President Trump’s statements and analyzes them against actual Constitutional Law to determine what he can and can’t legally do, while educating about the Constitution. I found this riveting. It’s presented by a practicing constitutional law professor, and cuts through the personalities and parties and BS to the impartial facts. From talking to my American friends, I can safely say that I now know more about constitutional law than many Americans. They hate that. But hey, they can also subscribe, right? Learn something. Conquer the commute.
One particular podcast set the world on fire. Serial analyzes the 1999 conviction of a man for a murder that many don’t think he committed. Made by the This American Life team (that’s another one to listen to), the reporting and research behind this phenomenal factual show won many prestigious media awards, and made it the most popular podcast of the year in 2016. Based on the evidence presented through Serial, a judge was recently persuaded to reopen the case for retrial – this man may finally be going home.
I also listen to current affairs, technology, and science podcasts from the wonderful BBC.
I hope this wasn’t too long and boring a read. I actually cut it down. This is not a complete list of my podcasts. I shared only the ones I thought may be of general interest. Not everyone is into Photoshop, print design, photography, or programming. I expect that once you discover podcasts, your collection will soon grow to be as long and eclectic as mine.
Please check some of those links above. I would be eager to know whether you enjoyed any of them, or not. Again, they are my tastes and may not be yours. I would, though, be surprised if you could not find at least one that you like. Let me know below. Maybe share your own. I’m always looking for new adventures.
In closing, it’s not all learning all the time. When I need a break I listen to Drama of The Week or one of the dozens of comedy shows from the BBC. There is even a weekly soap that airs on a Sunday. I like to listen to that one in bed, while I check my email and social media. I find it’s a great way to start a Sunday morning. Sets me up for the day and for writing things like this article.
After which, of course, we are all back to work on Monday. More commuting. More learning. Rinse. Repeat. And enjoy. You’ve conquered your commute.