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How can I keep learning on my 1.5 hr commute?
63 points by metaprinter on June 4, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments
I drive about 1 to 1.5 hrs to work lately and am bored with my music and the radio.

I'm the one driving so no video. Are there any good audio podcasts out there on web dev, web news, media?

There is a company that makes language CDs specifically for drivers. Put "Behind the Wheel" into the Amazon search box to see what's available.

About 5 years ago, I had a 60 minute commute each way for about 6 months. So I learned French.

It worked really well. Lots of listening and repeating, both in French and English. Increasingly difficult levels. And stuff you'd actually use. I went to Paris and surprised myself. All that repitition in the car actually paid off.

The best part is that you learn without sacrificing safety or focus on your driving. Just start the CD and follow the directions. That was the most impressive part to me.

I'd like to learn Spanish now, but my commute is only 5 minutes. It's just not important enough to take time away from my other work. But converting lost time in your commute into a new skill is a no brainer.

Did you have any problems with only hearing the language and not being able to see it?

I tried Pimsleur and couldn't stand not seeing the words--I felt like I was both adding and missing letters.

Did you have any problems with only hearing the language and not being able to see it?

No. But I forgot to mention that Behind the Wheel is strictly a "conversational" program. I seriously doubt if I could read Victor Hugo after going through it. But in everyday conversational situations, the repetition and training, like weight lifting, paid off nicely. The conversation flowed, almost effortlessly. I even surprised myself, finding the right word (except the time I ordered a sidewalk sandwich) and properly conjugating all the verbs. Pretty cool.

I'm going through the "Behind The Wheel" series on Spanish now, and it's been interesting so far. I'm far from fluent in Spanish, but I've definitely learned a lot. One thing though... if you try to learn a foreign language, it helps a LOT if you have somebody to talk to - who is already fluent (preferably a native speaker). Without somebody to talk to, it's hard to really know how well you're doing.

Just bought it. Thanks for the advice. My employer is moving this month, and my commute will be 1 hour.

C'est une bonne idée!

Audiobooks dude. Just buy yourself a few and you'll never go back. It's just learning without the hassle of staying seated and having books in your hand.

While I was commuting I listened to so many that literally changed my life. My favorite being Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazi

(You can also download a few mixergy interviews).

Yes. Very yes. Very, very yes.

I use audible.com. Started with a gold account, and jumped right to platinum. Been using it for more than a year, and I've been incredibly happy. The only complaint is that the site sometimes feels slow. But I'm not on it often. Usually just once a month to get my new books, though I've been buying books as well recently to fill in gaps.

Couple audiobooks with podcasts and you'll do fine. I like stuff from Twit.TV. And then the d6Generation does a good podcast, too.

I find the audiobooks and podcasts are great ways to handle not only the commute, but most mundane activities I need to partake in. Folding laundry, shopping for groceries, cleaning the house. Anything where I don't need to think, I'm usually listening to something.

It should be noted that Audible's content is under DRM.

Yes, it is.

I had a problem one time, as I'd authorized my iPod one too many times on many different computers, and forgot to deauthorize the iPod on them. I contact Audible and they reset the authorizations back to 5 without a problem. At the same time, they also let me download the audiobooks again if I want, even if they get a new, higher quality version in.

I look at Audible as Steam for books. Steam is DRM I'm willing to accept. So is Audible.

Edit: Just to be clear, I'm not dismissing your comment. It's a valid and reasonable point.

I should also point out that the cost of books through Audibles subscriptions are massively lower than if I bought them from a retailer. The cost is significantly lower that the DRM doesn't feel unreasonable.

And the downloading app only works on Windows and Mac (not Linux).

Here's another vote for Audible.

A couple years ago I had to weekly commute from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Audiobooks not only kept me sane on the 5 hour commute, but I began to wish the commute were longer.

And just yesterday I finished a 3 day driving trip across the US. Had an audiobook running the whole time and it made the trip great.

"Audiobooks not only kept me sane on the 5 hour commute, but I began to wish the commute were longer."

How true. Sit in the driveway or in the parking lot, wanting to finish the rest of the chapter. Or hating that you have to get out and start the day when you know your 10 minutes away from finding out what his plans really are.


I have a commute that takes an hour each way on average. Some audiobooks I've enjoyed:

* I Drink For a Reason - very funny

* Stumbling on Happiness (sounds self helpy but is actually a great book on our inability to predict how we will feel about situations in the future)

* A Brief History of Everything - one cool story after another

* A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier - hard to bear, but eye-opening

* Getting Unstuck - buddhist talk by Pema Chodron

* Born to Run - great, exciting story. Sometimes I would sit in the parking lot or the driveway after arriving in order to keep listening.

Read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and sit back while your mind gets blown--more true if you have children.

I have kids and I've read The Road. It is moving.

Public libraries generally have a good selection of audiobooks available for free.

No one said NPR, so I am going to say NPR. The only bad side effect is that you will become very cynical about politic. But seriously, sometimes a 1.5hr hour commute seems like too short when I am listening to NPR. I commute 2 hours each way and NPR is how I roll.

Totally love NPR too, except during pledge drive season :P

I'd say No Agenda beats NPR in the morning.

The problem with the internet is that you can find endless sources of interesting new information that would be wonderful to learn. Unfortunately, unless you have some kind of weird memory talent, you probably forget most of what you hear and read. If you really want to remember something, you have to study it at more than one sitting. Your commute is perfect for that. While you drive to work, you can talk to yourself about whatever you learned last night, as if you were talking to a different person. Recite foreign language vocab lists, practice your grammar, summarize the last section of the book you're reading, or think of ways to learn the new Unix command you just learned.

Unfortunately, I only have a fifteen minute commute, so I can't personally vouch for what it's like to do this every day, but I've done it a few times when driving to other cities, and it seemed to help a lot.

I have a 40 minute commute (each way) that is mostly a train ride. When I first started with this commute I was very worried about wasting that much time every day, so I brought lots of printed material with me and would try to study on the train. Now that I've been doing it for 3 years I've completely abandoned that - I just use the commute as a mental break. After a hard day of work ~40 minutes of daydreaming is just what the doctor ordered before making the most of my evening.

This is going to seem like both a troll and off-topic - sorry about that - but I've never understood, why do people tolerate a commute like that? Especially a driving commute (as opposed to public transport, where at least you could read or something).

Many reasons come to mind, such as not wanting to live in the area you work (maybe you have kids the schools are bad, or the neighborhood isn't real good). It could be that living close to a family member is more important than living close to where you work, like maybe your wife is taking care of her mother or grand mother while you are out working (or the other way around).

There are lots of good reasons. These days you just might be stuck in a mortgage because the value of your house has fallen below what you owe. Given the current "economic climate" it's very easy to have gone from a 70% LTV to 110% LTV.

All good ones. I personally find it not worth moving closer because I am in a long term mortgage as you mentioned.

I have another friend with a long commute because he lives close to where his wife works.

Another person I know used to have a commute of over 2 hours. His job location, like some others, was deliberately located away from population centers for security and safety reasons. Moving significantly closer would have been very difficult and meant being a long way away from everything in his life other than his job.

If you must know, the commute involves going out of my way to pick up kids on the way home. If the gig goes Long Term I am definitely moving closer.

Hope that didn't come across too critically; I'm just always curious. My commute is about 35 minutes each way, which is about the limit of what I can stand.

On a more on-topic note, I've looked hard and found little as far as good tech-learning podcasts. My regulars are The Moth (storytelling, fantastic), Long Now Foundation's Seminars About Long-term Thinking (all great, but maybe start with Dmitry Orlov, Saul Griffith, and Will Wright/Brian Eno). I just discovered Math For Primates; quite good if you're interested but not overly well-educated in math.

My local public library has a semi-decent selection of books on CD.

Also, don't underestimate the value of that time for just thinking. Turn off the radio and just let your mind wander.

I had a two hour commute for two summers when I was younger because I could live for free in San Jose, but my job was in SF. I road CalTrain everyday and was blown away by the number of people the took the train for such a long time every morning. But I guess it all comes down to just whatever is financially reasonable and keeps you happy.

And the damage to the environment (but yeah, I understand that sometimes you really have no option)

The FLOSS Weekly podcast is excellent http://twit.tv/FLOSS

This Week in Tech can be good - even if it is often dominated by talk about Twitter and Facebook.

For non tech podcasts I can also recommend:

- The History of Rome (http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/)

- 12 Byzantine Rulers (http://www.12byzantinerulers.com/)

However, for driving I find that nothing beats unabridged books from Audible - just finished "The Big Short".

I used to have an hour commute back in the day and encountered the same situation. I finally ended up getting a "Learn To Speak German" audio series. Did that for a while and then just started downloading German news podcasts. Nothing like learning a language for a couple hours every day.

Look into webcasted lectures from major universities. MIT, Yale, etc all have them. My favorite is Berkeley, where all webcasted lectures have an audio-only option.


Ones I especially recommend:

History 5 The Making of Modern Europe, 1453 to the Present [http://webcast.berkeley.edu/course_details.php?seriesid=1906...]

Economics 113 - American Economic History by Brad DeLong [http://webcast.berkeley.edu/course_details_new.php?seriesid=...]

There are a whole boatload of awesome podcasts available at the Australian ABC Radio National. They're all extremely accessible and quite thought provoking.

I particularly recommend:

The Philosopher's Zone: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/philosopherszone/

All in the Mind: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/

The following two are fairly Australian-based, but quite interesting if you're into this sort of thing:

The Science Show: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/

Ockham's Razor: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ockhamsrazor/

There's a good list of tech podcasts over at StackOverflow: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1644/what-good-technology...

For learning languages, everyone I know who has learned from the LanguagePod101 Series has enjoyed it.


I went through maybe 20 of the JapanesePod101 lessons and it helped my grammar and expanded my vocabulary a bit. A friend liked the ChinesePod101 which he was listening to in Taipei at the same time as taking formal Mandarin Chinese lessons.

There's a full access no billing info required seven day trial, and you can download as many as lessons as you want during that time. They're fun and easy to listen to, worth checking out if there's a language you'd like to brush up on or get introduced to.

Digital voice recorder, dragon transcription at work; you can do a lot of thinking out loud in 90 minutes.

Not quite the web dev / web news / media that you're requesting (you've had other suggestions better than I could provide to that effect), but perhaps you'd consider the Feynman lectures on physics? They're available on CD, and they're honestly quite entertaining.

I've found these to be pretty good:

Mises @ itunes u (austrian economics) http://itunesu.mises.org/

The teaching company: http://www.teach12.com/teach12.aspx?ai=16281

+1 for The Teaching Company. I've spent many hours sitting in traffic while learning about music, linguistics, economics, philosophy, any many other topics. These are recordings of lectures for college-level courses, purpose-made for canned consumption.

Also consider regular audiobooks. I have a subscription to Audible.com (site is lame, product is good). These aren't limited to the latest thriller novel: there are plenty of good non-fiction books available.

The Startup Success Podcast, ThisWeekIn Startups/VC/Cloud Computing, Railscasts, Mixergy.

This American Life and Radiolab are great podcasts you can find online for free. No commercials, no pledge drives to interrupt your listening, and thought-provoking, interesting content that makes long drives go by remarkably quick.

I have a 3 hr daily commute to work. I normally just take a nap or listen to soft music. Occasionally though I listen to Are We Alone http://radio.seti.org/ podcast.

http://Techzinglive.com 2 guys with startups and still keeping their real jobs just talking about almost anything. Once in a while an awesome guest.

Stanford University put out a really good podcast series from their Entrepreneurship Corner program:


This American Life

Edit: now I read web news. But still this is an excellent show.

6 hours into this question and I'm amazed that http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/ hasn't been suggested yet. IMHO, its content seems like it would be pretty relevant/interesting to the HN crowd.

BTW: The only way I've found to browse (not search) through old episodes is paging through the twitter feed http://twitter.com/itconversations Does anyone know a better way?

Pimsleur CDs. They are great for car driving, because the programs are organized so you listen in a continuous play (as opposed to normal language CD books that assume that you will be holding the rewind button to repeat the last sentence). They also leave pauses so you can speak without having to pause the audio manually. And no workbook to follow, so you can keep your eyes on the road :)

Of course such course will not make you fluent, but it's excellent to put you on a good path.

agreed fully! Pimsleur is really a terrific program for starters. Blows Rosetta Stone out of the water.

It's certainly more useful than Rosetta while driving, but that's a pretty subjective statement.

I am an American native learning Chinese as my first additional language. I found Pimsleur to be marginally useful, but I am now almost done with Unit 1 of Rosetta and for me, Rosetta is much better than Pimsleur...

It really depends on a combination of things, such as your learning style, and perhaps which language you are learning.

One thing of note, is that Rosetta is more about the long haul. If you just want to learn a few conversational pieces it might be better to go for Pimsleur... Rosetta doesn't give you much you can use conversationally at first, it spends a lot of time teaching you things like "this is a girl" "this is a girl and her dog playing" and what not.

Also, if you used Rosetta v2, from what I understand v3 is leagues ahead of v2. I have no personal proof of this however, since I just use v3.

If you want to get somewhere approaching fluency without going to classes, I don't think it can get much better than Rosetta Stone + Flash Cards.

This is my favourite: Stanford's Entrepreneur Thought Leaders


I've found that decent programming podcasts are few and far between. The ones that promise to be most useful - as in, actually teaching you how to do X - suffer from the flaw that they are people talking about code. And, obviously, if you are driving or running or whatever it is you are doing such that you are listening to audio podcasts, you can't see the code. If they get into any level of detail, it all falls down.

Imagine: "well, the code is like this - open brackets defn whatever open brackets map open brackets list open brackets whatever clsoed bracket closed bracket" (for Lisp) or "well, we created a class with a method called foo that iterates through the 'bar' argument, and returns a array of strings" (for Python/Java etc.)

I tried listening to a podcast like that (about Python IIRC) when I was on the Eurostar train once. I did have my computer with me, but I just couldn't follow it without being able to see the code. At the point I realised this, I was deep under the English Channel, so couldn't exactly log on to the blog and see the code samples...

The closest things I've found are either things like RailsEnvy - now reborn as The Ruby Show and not IMHO as good - which provided some useful news each week about new libraries and plugins for Rails. Or there's some higher level best practices, software engineering type programmes which often seem to be people preaching to me about how I need to be more and more test-infected and agile and (insert methodology buzzword of the week).

It's actually quite difficult to find good, geeky/programming-related podcasts that don't either just descend into general news chit-chat or end up with someone trying to sell me a new engineering methodology. It's a very hard balance between being too technical for audio-only and not being technical enough. A lot of the newsy podcasts like TWiT are way too damn long and rambly.

I mostly don't bother with tech podcasts for the reasons I've just described and stick to things like In Our Time, and quite a few course podcasts on philosophy and other interesting stuff - quite a lot of universities are now doing podcasts: Oxford, UC Berkeley, MIT, Stanford etc. There are thousands of people now following along with lecture courses remotely using podcasts - see http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-podclass24nov24,0,7889...

Try some language course of the Michel Thomas series, each lesson is roughly 60 minutes and audio only, it's aimed at the development of the spoken part of the language and so there are no books exercises to do. Perfect while driving. I've listened to a few CDs of the japanese and mandarin courses, really well done.

I love listening to the current week's "The Economist" podcasts (promptly/free on TPB) to get high-quality / succinct insight on the world. The format is great for commutes: you can get through the magazine in a week's driving and the articles stand by themselves - as opposed to audiobooks which are long-format.

The Moth podcasts are usually really good.


Skeptics Guide to the Universe: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/hh


   Stack Overflow (inactive, but might come back)
   Security Now
Just interesting...

   In Our Time (BBC Radio 4)
   Stuff You Should Know (How Stuff Works)

Definitely "In Our Time". Fascinating stuff, that will likely broaden your horizons.

I don't truly understand the need to listen to stackoverflow and hanselminutes. Their podcasts aren't really learning. They are more there just to make a few extra bucks than to teach anything really interesting.

You could listen to the pipeline by Dan Benjamin. http://5by5.tv/pipeline 30 minutes long interview with interesting folks from the web industry.

Take the train! and stare out the window. The time spent on self reflection will be more valuable than the random facts you can pick up when you're dead tired and going to work

Public transport + 3g + laptop. Use an hour each way for work and cut down on the time in the office - more free time in the evening or morning.

I listen to business audio books and Mixergy interviews. I love it.


Wow, lots of great ideas. Thanks!

iTunes U is another source.

I think it's dangerous for you and the folks around you to be doing something other than driving your car and paying attention to the driving environment.

So instead I'd recommend to try shortening your drive or switching to a passive commute like a bus or train.

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