Botcasting: Listening to your Journal Feeds

If you’ve worked at a lab before, you’ve no doubt noticed a certain rhythm to the day. People come in early, setup their experiments, and by 10 the experiments for the day are underway, and the scientists are working on email (or Facebook), or are in the gym or are in the midst of a morning run around campus.  In the afternoons you may have followup experiments, cleanup, and data analysis tasks to do.  Walking through any lab, you’ll find people running experiments and listening to music, or podcasts on their phones or iPods as they work.  And then there are those wasted blocks of time for your daily commute that bookend your day. In fact, throughout every day there are these snippets of time that could be used to keep up to date with the latest developments in a field.

So how could you use that time more effectively? What if you could listen to the RSS feeds of your favorite journals? Well, there’s a technology called Botcasting that can help you do that. The term is a portmanteau: “robot + broadcasting” that was coined a number of years ago when the underlying Text To Speech (TTS) technology was rolled out on desktops and phones.  The initial voices were very robotic.

In my previous posting, I showed how I use Pocket to save papers, and articles to read later.  The Pocket Android app has a neat feature called “Listen” that reads any article you’ve pocketed back to you.  This is really useful, when you need to have your hands free, but want to learn something while you’re working.  You simply open an article that you’ve pocketed, and select “Listen (TTS)” from the menu, and Pocket will begin reading the article to you.  You can select from a number of different voices to change the listening experience.  If you’re an iPhone user, the LisGo app performs a similar function.

In addition to using TTS technology on your phone, it is also available on most operating systems.  In Mac OS X, it’s implemented as a service, and integrated into your browser.  When you find an article that you want to read later, you simply select the text of the article, and right-click and select the “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track”.  A dialog box will pop up asking you where to save it and what voice to use when speaking it.  I use the Victoria voice which sounds more human than the others.  If you open up iTunes, you’ll find the file listed under Music.  You can then queue up a bunch of these tracks and listen to them at your leisure.  Or sync them with your iPod and listen to them in the Lab.


About aspenbio

I write software for scientists. I'm interested in Java/Groovy/Grails, the Semantic Web and Cancer Biology.
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