How to learn from audio books, podcasts and more

If you don’t have time to read: here’s how to learn from audio books, podcasts, text-to-speech articles, Youtube lectures and videos in the background.

It’s a hard life, a conscious choice, but I can’t imagine living without it. For the past 8 years, I’ve been mostly learning and enjoying fiction via audio. Here’s how to learn from audio books, podcasts and more.

When driving, washing dishes, commuting, shaving, moping the floor… There are so many occasions where looking at a book is dangerous, but listening is perfectly fine (stay focus on the road though…)

With time and dedication, you can start an audio stream and pickup where you left nearly instantly.

Don’t forget also the 2X feature on most readers: if the content is too slow for you, just speed up and finish in half the time. To me it feels better than starting a book and putting it down forever because of some bumpy chapters in the middle.

Also, don’t worry, Listening can be as effective as reading. But that depends on your taste of course. I still keep a stack of physical and virtual books. It’s just that I have less occasions to sit down than plugging earphones and keep moving. Somehow opening a book is a great way to attract people around to interrupt you ūüôā Don’t forget to make the learning stick like with any media.

Daily Commute: 2 hours (= 2 big podcasts episode, or 20% of a regular size audiobook, or 5-10 articles, etc…)

Daily Chores: 1 hour (= 3 small sized podcasts, or 10% of a book, 3 long articles)

Weekly listening time: around 20 hours. That’s 2 medium books, 1 big book or lecture. That’s a lot of podcasts or articles. And it could be much more if you use the X2 feature.

Audio Books

Buying and learning from audio books is super easy. You can subscribe to some services like Audible. Or buy them by the unit on Google Play or Apple Books for example. Even get 6,000 french narrated books for free here http://www.litteratureaudio.com/.

If you can’t buy right now, but still need to get access to some pages to evaluate a book; you can search for a site with the words “audio”, “book” and “bay”, to find a torrent of content.

I usually buy the physical versions of the books I liked, so I can skim through, look at illustration, or simply keep a token of appreciation.

Here is a list of some of the books I listened to over the years. It’s a mix of lots of styles.

Pay attention to: duration (8 hours is easy, 27 hours requires dedication over a couple weeks), narrator (some narrators are out of breath or wet mouthed all the time, it’s horrible, unless you are into ASMR), audio quality (constant background noise, or low quality makes it super hard to listen).

Quick Tip on Audio Books

How to know if there is an audio version of a book? I use google, or Goodreads “other edition” button to find out.

How to find audio books version to learn from on Goodreads

Podcasts

I love to learn from podcasts too. The quality is very very irregular though. I recently stumbled upon https://www.listennotes.com/. It’s a fantastic way to find answer on specific topics.

What is great for Podcast listeners, is that the technology was designed pre-youtuber-super-analytics-optimized-clickbaits. It means that Hosts can’t really tune their content to perfect click rate. They need to produce high quality content to really build an audience.

The downside is ads. It’s hard to skip when you are busy and just listening.

Quick Tip on Podcasts

Do not subscribe to a podcast before you have listened to a few episodes and you are ready to receive a constant flow of new episodes. Because if you are obsessed with finishing what you start, it’s pretty hard to clean a list of constantly updating 50 minutes weekly episodes.

Youtube

You need Youtube premium to listen to videos in the background.

But you can do 2 things: 1/ leave the screen open and just listen (with the risk of clicking out inadvertently) 2/ use a youtube to podcast converter.

Articles

I’ve used Instapaper for many years now. It’s one of the best tool out there to learn from audio. And it’s free. You can send any article to Instapaper from your browser (plugin, or manually paste the url). I also send long emails (like daily lessons), by forwarding to my unique Instapaper email.

Then in the Instapaper App, you can simply click “Pronounce” and a robotic (but OK) voice will read through the article for you. You can adjust the speed (though 1x is enough because the diction is not natural enough to speed up safely).

There is a game aspect to it for me. I had 60 unread over the years until I found the text-to-speech feature. Then I finished my list in a week. It was a fun challenge.

Quick Tip on Instapaper

Sort by “Shorter First” or “Longer First” and listen based on the time you have (the App shows you the reading time). The choice is based on your availability. I prefer this to random or last-in-first-out sorting. It’s better for atomic reading. I don’t like to abandon an article in the middle and resume without context later on.

Lectures

Coursera, Udemy, iTunes U and other courses are video based. In some occasions, for low intensity lessons, you can actually lock you phone and just listen to the audio.

Otherwise, I find that The Great Courses are remarkably designed for listening. Especially Greenberg’s lectures on music.

Radiophonic plays

If you are not in the mood for a focused, intense 10 hours fiction; you have the fantastic option of BBC Radio plays (or the French equivalent). The actors, the sound design, the music are a joy. You don’t need to focus that much, and it’s usually less than 2 hours long.

It’s a great way to buffer between 2 serious listenings.

Examples

Did you know that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a BBC Play before being a book and movie?

Death in the Clouds: A BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatisation

Neverwhere: BBC Dramatisation

And that was how I learn from audio books, podcasts and more ūüôā

How to make any learning stick

Just finished Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown

I’m applying one of the methods discussed: recalling. I am forcing myself to write what I remember from the book, without peeking. Everything you will read here could be wrong, it’s just a way for me to check what I really learned from that book.

After a while I will try to do the same exercise. I need to do that just before forgetting but not too early. The simple act of nearly forgetting something makes it stick more.

By writing here I’m also augmenting my learning by sharing what I learned.

Testing is a great way to force learning: I can check what I know and don’t know and come back to the material.

Learning styles do not really matter. There are no hard studies that justify using some companies “19 ways to learn, find yours”. Like audio, visual, etc.. The only thing that matters is adapting the medium to type of knowledge. Like using images to learn about chained processes for example.

The way I feel after that reading is that we don’t learn enough about learning. We don’t have enough training in how the brain works, how to remember something, when to brute read and when to quizz ourselves.

I’m struggling now to put things clearly, as you may have noticed. That’s a sign that I need to go back to the book and organize my thoughts again ūüôā

The savant dog is not intelligent

I was listening to the always profound and informative Artificial Intelligence Podcast by Lex Fridman.

His guest David Ferrucci answered the usual question: “What is intelligence?” question, with a convincing dichotomy. The first type of intelligence is being able to predict the future, based on the minimal amount of data points. Machine Learning already does that, and Ferrucci achieved this brilliantly working on IBM Watson. His second type of intelligence is though provoking: it’s the ability to guide other people through the reasoning that led to an insight. It’s about communication and convincing others of our intelligence. As you can guess it’s an even more challenging problem. Some call that “Interpretable AI”.

Ferruci calls the first type “savant”. The second “Intelligent”.

I had this example coming while listening. Don’t know if it helps other understand the different between the two, but here is it.

You can teach a dog to find a specific matter, based on training and rewards. This is what we do with deep learning in particular: huge datasets (smells to learn), and rewards (a treat). In that regard the dog is smart, it’s savant.

However, while the dog is using its capacity, while it is sniffing around, it is not super good at explaining why a particular path or place is important. In that the dog is not intelligent. He is not intelligible.

It’s my first time sharing thoughts on AI. If you don’t do it yet, I really encourage you to listen to the AI podcast.

How to finish 4 books in 2 weeks without reading !

Still on my frenetic audio book sprint I finished in 2 weeks :

  • Crucial Conversations
  • Made to Stick
  • The Goal
  • The 7-Habits Of Hightly Effective People


Actually with this method you can rapidely be overwhelmed. You shall :

  • Only listen in your car (I listen while shaving and dish washing but it’s to much.)
  • Slow down some times by not listening for one day. Just taking time to think.
  • Review it by writing a small article on each book. Even if somebody else did it.
  • Use a¬†spreadsheet¬†or any other mean to keep track of what you read. Otherwise you will loose sense of priority. In my Excel page for the¬†Personal¬†MBA I also put price of the books, and rate my desire to read them from 0 to 3. Then I can sort to determine what will be my next reading/listening.
  • Read a book in parallel (fiction is a good idea to breathe a little).

I apply only  a few of this tips for the moments. But writing them today helps me realize what I should do.

I’m listening to Pamela Slim’s” Escape from¬†cubicle¬†nation”. And I’m reading “Strength¬†finder 2.0”.

And you ? What are you listening ? If you are following the PMBA program, what is you strategy ? Do you read by price/availability or just in random order or by category ? I’m really curious about it.

 

PMBA Going on…in my ears

I’m currently reading 10 Days to Faster Reading. It’s great to see improvement while reading. A stopwatch is needed, so I can’t read exactly when I want.

The moments where I have time to read is actualy : in my car, while shaving, while cleaning dishes… That’s when I can’t hold a book, but when my mind is free and I’m alone. The two essential condition to me for reading.

This is why I decided to listen to the books of the PMBA list (at least those I can find in audio form).

So far I’ve listened to :

Out of the PMBA I also listened to

  • “Cult Holmes” (funny for a fan of Sherlock Holmes like me)
  • “How to get anyone to do anything” (not so good).

Today I began Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.

That’s magic. 5 books in 3 weeks ! And I’ll never be bored again in traffic jams.

Of course I still love to read the normal way. I will finish “faster reading” to be able to continue without distractions. I received “Strenght finder 2.0” wich I’m eager to read too.

And you ? What do you read ? Do you listen to books ? When is the most favorable time to read for you ?

How to stay zen during a presentation

I just finished Presentation Zen from the PMBA list (thanks to my local library).

A good coeincidence is that I just went to the Eclipse Day Paris (a tech conference about the Eclipse Platform on which I’m working). I had the occasion to see a lot of good speakers with interesting subjects doing very bad presentations.

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I just finished Presentation Zen from the PMBA list (thanks to my local library).

A good¬†coincidence¬†is that I also went to the Eclipse Day Paris (a tech conference about the Eclipse RCP Platform on which I’m working). I had the occasion to see a lot of good speakers with interesting subjects doing very bad presentations.

Don’t use slides, Powerpoint or Keynotes

Just use what you need. Could be slides. Slides are good as a tool.

Maybe you just need to give documents. Maybe just speak. Sometimes I wish I could mime my ideas.

This was a relief¬†to see a recognized book confirm my¬†thoughts on the subject : you don’t have to draw out your Powerpoint each time you want to speak to someone. Just like you don’t have to plan a meeting to work with other people.

A good example of this is the intervention of John Cleese at the World Creativity Festival. Do you see any slides ?

Why the visual support does not matter ? Because you tell a story. And people just love stories, not slides.

Lean how to tell a story (not with this book though)

The problem about Presentation Zen is that the author insists on telling a story but gives no clue about what a good story is.

Someday¬†I’ll post about what makes a story interesting or not. In the meanwhile the important principle to know is : story is conflict. If there are no obstacles between the protagonist and his goal, there is no story.

To know how to tell a story read : La dramaturgie by Yves Lavandier.

By the way, this is why I don’t understand the purpose of SlideShare. A standalone presentation is not interesting. It should be coupled with Youtube for example. Then you have the slides and the interesting part : the story and the person telling the story. Not just slides.

Buy Pictures

I think the author is payed each times he quotes a certain stock photo site. In every page the site is¬†mentioned. I won’t give the name here. But he has a point : put great pictures in your presentation.

The best is to put them¬†full screen. Just get rid of page number and company logo. Use pictures. Like in a movie. You don’t see the name of the director on the bottom of each shot.

You don’t have to put pictures everywhere just to illustrate each word with a photo. This is a presentation not a rebus.

Here is the list of sites for free stock photos the author gives :

Never use cliparts again, but don’t use business images either ! People with¬†bright¬†smile, tie and shaking hands are my¬†nightmare.

Read only 33% of this book

Because the author is good at presentations, not books. A lot of the pages seems to fill in the blank between good presentations examples.

You can find good examples also by searching videos of the great presenters.

The book was here to motivate me and formalize some ideas, not much.

Be bullet proof

A simple way to avoid bullets is to take each bullet and put it on a slides.

And instead of reviewing 7 bullets during 7 minutes. Just put 7 slides (with either a picture, a quote,…) and spend 1 minute on each slide.

Don’t listen to your teachers

If someday someone is looking at my old presentations, I’m gonna die. My teachers wanted me so bad to put crazy and useless stuff on my slides. And I listened to them !

Horrible stuffs like :

  • Page numbers on each slides. And you know why ? To help them¬†criticize¬†me after my presentation by¬†referring¬†to the page number. Just because they won’t listen to me, just note the problems by their pages !
  • Agenda, or plan of the presentation. WTF ?! This is not a document, it’s a presentation !

Go to a tech conference to see bad examples

I know why this book is called Presentation Zen : because to endure some of the presentations I saw yesterday you gotta be Zen and non-violent.

I heard a first speaker complaining about the lectern. He said “I feel less boring when I’m free of my movement”. How much I understand. This is what I felt when he was speaking. He seemed locked behind a microphone. What a shame.

Another speaker was really good, and I liked his story. But the slides looked like a philosophy homework of a 16 years old teenager : so predicatable and boring (A, A1, A2, A3, B, B1….) He told it himself ¬†: “I’m not good at slides”.

For example this man told us a great story about the creation of BIRT and the strategy of Actuate to go Open Source in order to tackle competition. He finished the story by telling that employee of this company are really happy with the decision of the CEO to do that. And sometimes then buy him a tequila to thank him. A good idea could have been to go backward and beginning by putting a Glass of tequila full screen while telling the story.

A third one, was also aware of the problem on his slides but did’n changed a thing ! Strange to note that people know what wrong but don’t change. One of his slides included a huge diagram, impossible to read. And he knew it. He told us. So why keeping it ?

It’s my turn

And maybe I won’t use slides. I must report what I saw at the Eclipse Day. I think slides are not a good idea. Maybe I’m too afraid to fail after all I said…

And you ? What was the last great presentation you saw ? Was there slides ? Share any link here !


Getting Things Done

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Nothing interesting here. Except for some advice or refeflections about self-management.

I went to the WHSmith library the other day. I was looking for some PBMA books to buy. It’s more expensive than amazon. So I took this book thinking it was the real “Getting Things Done”. But it was not the same…

Anyways I read it. Here is what I remember.

The book is divided into short chapters (what I like since I’ve been doing micro-reading lately). I read during breakfast, during a SVN Checkout, during a break…

It’s about managing your time. More than that : it’s about managing risks : if I forget to do this, what is the risk ? Should I do that before ? etc… Intersting approach to time management.

The most useful part is the one explaining this principle : never allow yourself to add something to your todo-list if you can do it NOW.

That’s what I did for this article. I was going for adding it to my todo-list. But I realized it would be easier to write it now quickly.

To quote Rework : Good enough is fine. Go for small victories.

Small articles are better than no article.

And you ? What are you reading lately ? Did you ever buy a book by mistake ?

Rework : Why this book is Evil!

This book made me love simplicity even more.

This book made me shorten  my todo list and act faster more often.

So why is it so Evil!  after all ?

Because we don’t like change. Change is horrible,¬†especially¬†in companies.

You should have seen the face of some people when they read on the¬†back cover¬†things like : ASAP is poison, meetings are toxic, fire the workaholics…

This book was written by guys who applied their own advices.

And it worked out pretty well for them. Many books of this style are just plain copy of consulting bullshit. But here it actually comes from real experience.

It should be noted that it’s a company based in the US. This means work laws are quite different from France.

Diagram : why it works

It’s actually not as¬†controversial¬†as it seems. Everything is based on one assumption : don’t try to win the world(Chapter “Why Grow?”).

Work your passion and nothing else. You can’t be Microsoft or Google. So stop trying.

Conclusion : it works b**ches !

For the first time I can really apply advices from a book. For the first time I feel lighter. It’s easy to read, to understand and to apply. This is the proof that it was hard to write.

Did you read it ?