Sunday, August 17, 2014

Overcast podcast app and casts


Podcast apps are a funny field - they offer lots of different options and ways of handling episodes and podcasts in a surprisingly minimal range of options - downloading, playlists, playback - that expand once you think about what you are doing. Over the years I've used a few. I started with one of the ones that came out before Apple created a separate app (Podcaster - and it is still going) and was happy with it, but it became unstable and when Apple introduced their app I switched to it (I like the skeumorphism) and it was fine until I started to get more and more that I listened to. I moved to Pocketcast and was happy with it - but also used Ecoute to listen to podcasts as I downloaded some podcasts via Apple which I shared with Carol, and at the moment it seems Apple is the only way to share downloads (I know about syncing on different devices, but that still requires multiple downloads). Then thropugh various sources I heard that Marco Armant who reated Instapaper and The Magazine (apps which I really liked) was working on Overcast.

And when it came out I downloaded it and soon paid the $7 (Aus) in app purchase.  And have now transferred to it (Pocketcast still on the ipad)


It's is a nice clean interface, minimal in terms of both the look and the options, though underneath it is powerful. There is a good search engine for new podcasts, a twitter recommendation option (though if you don't follow a lot of people who use Overcast the recommendations are a little skewed and show mainly tech ones), excellent playlist options (in terms of sorting, priority etc) and a stylish playing screen  with a realtime sound wave display which appears on a variety of screens to highlight which track is playing.

But what makes it really stand out? The audio engine. Marco has gone to base level to create a smart speed and 1.x playback options. Smart speed removes silences and pauses - deleting empty space - to reduce length and the fast playback option works amazingly well. I usually listen at at least 1.2, but for some can go to 1.4 or 1.5 with no real distorion: even 2x is listenable (though maybe too fast for the brain). Obviously I don't speed up music programs! There is also a booster option which makes some podcasts more audible  

Why pay for an app? Marco has put together an app purchase model which I think is very smart: the app is free. For that you get all functionality (except sleep timer and a few other options) but some reductions: you can only have one playlist and you can have the sound specials for 5 minutes at a time (didn't have it long enough as free to see whether you could reselect the option regularly). But as a trial it works well and as a free app for people who have basic podcast needs it is fine. I was more than happy to pay for it. And the amount for an app that gets used for  a high proportion of my waking life is worth paying for a good one.

Caveats: at the moment there is no streaming as iOS8 has a different mode which Marco is waiting for; the app is based on downloading in the background under wifi - I want more control due to bandwidth limitations and have found a work around, but at this stage the basic options are download everything as it becomes available or manually check for new episodes; the recommended page is very tech/sci based and US-centric, but hey, we find out own podcasts!

In the spirit of that sharing, this is my current podcast list, in some sort of order with a brief blurb.  I have not put in links - any good app or browser will find them from the name.I would stress that with many podcasts you have to like the voices of the people: there are a few I have tried to listen to but couldn't get past the sound even if I found what they were talking about interesting , and with others the characters and voices can carry you through dry patches. (I won't name names as it is a personal issue - I can imagine people who find Roman marss voice a distraction, of Marco Armant or Melvyn Bragg and his guests, to pick at random - the balance is for you to decide, which is why it's best to download a podcast before pulling down all the back issues)   

Tech-ish (very broadly)
ATP - Accidental Tech Podcast: three guys talking about the latest developments in apple, but also their own programmimng and writting. Can be long but very listenable, even when I don't really understand what they're going on about. I like the interplay between them so much that I have downloaded their car podcast (Neutral) as part of my archives. Not the most up-to-the-minute tech podcast but does enough for me.
Pragmatic - John Chidgey, an Australian engineer (always nice to hear local voices) talks through techish issues like daylight saving, weather forecasting, staff selection and more. Has a pragmatic approach.
Talk show - John Gruber chatting to someone on tech issues but also life. One of my don't download them all categories. Always interesting but a lot of time
Storming Mortal - found when looking through recommendations as Anze Tomic did an episode with Casey from ATP. A Slavenian interview show which delves more into the personal and the cultural differences. A fresh difference
Thank You For Calling - found because Tiffany Armant did a show on wedding photography. About customer service, but an interesing interviewer (Moises Chiullan) and wide range - downloaded the back issues
Exponential - interesting tech and business discussion. More cerebral in a way - have downloaded the back issues

99% invisible - came across this and actually supported the latest season through kickstarter. Each week is an unusual or oblique look at design and architecture. Could do without some of the end credit stuff (won't mention Roman's kid) but that can be skipped through. The kickstarter led to the creation of a network - Radiotopia - which the following are all part of
Strangers - personal interview stories, well told - Lea Thau has a great voice
Benjamin Walker's Theory of Everything - varied meditations on a range of things
The Truth - improvised playlets, surprisingly good
Fugitive waves - historical perspectived documentaries
Love + Radio - more personal stories
The memory palace - not really part of radiotopia but a monthly-ish brief meditation, story.

Current affairs
Start the week - chat show on current issues, books, films with a panel. Andrew Marr ran it until his stroke, I have been less impressed with the standins, they seem less adept, but still usually worth it & he is coming back.
Sunday extra - from Radio National. Short pieces on news, politics, event, arts perfect for a sunday morning and I pick the best eyes. Includes Backgraound Briefing (available   separately) which is excellent investigative current affairs.

Big ideas - from Radio National, one hour each week night of thought provoking radio: interviews, debates, documentaries. Not always rivetting but worth checking out.
Religions and ethics report - a new one for me from Radio National. The name says it all, but it is more on the philosophical rather than religous end
Philosophers zone - after the untimely death of Alan Saunders this weekly program is refinding its feet. Can be challenging
BBC docs - BBC world service documentaries, Documentary of the week and Radio 3 Documentary each have great downloads. The range means you might not listen to some, but regularly fascinating
BBC books - the World Book Club has a monthly group interview with an author about an older novel of theirs; Books and Authors alternates between Open Book (Mariel Frostrup), a discussion of recent releases, and A Good Read where 2 guests join Harriet Weaver to talk about a book they like. Fabulous range of people come on it.
Guardian books - another weekly book chat
In our time - Melvyn Bragg's amazing discussion of historical, scientific and philosophical issues (Hildegard on Bingen one week, the Sun the next). Sometimes get's a bit Monty Python
Freakonomics - discussion on economics, science and society with a light hearted bent
More or less - BBC's statistics program. Alternates seasons of shorts and 30 minute episodes. Analyses stats in the news
Radiolab - enough said - amazing production, occasionally marred by too much geewhizzery
The Infinite Monkey Cage - Brain Cox and Robyn Ince have a panel discussion about science. Can be frustrating, Cox is Cox, but usually satisfying

Sound Opinions - interesting mix of news, a longer item and a review. One that I cherry pick but listen to more than I don't
Song Exploder - short piece where an artist describes how a song came together, explaing the individual components. Hits the spot most times
A History of Electronic Music - from the archives, a personal history of electronic music. A second series is planned but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Desert island Disks - an oldie but a great one. A guest interviewed (excellently) by Kirsty Young, and shares musical items. Sometimes you are glad 'the musical items are shorter than broadcast due to copyright' but the guests are often surpisingly interesting and I have found some music from here

The Bugle - a show that can creat the neologism fukeulogy has to be worth listening to. Satire at its best
Answer Me This - hovers on the boarder (dropped for a while), can get puerile and childish but overall satisfying
Richard Herring - a range of Herring podcasts, Warming Up has become flakey though and Me1 vMe2 has run out of steam!
Do The Right Thing - waiting for this nasty quiz show to return.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Andrew Collins - Circles of Life

OK - some years ago I started listening to the Collings and Herrin podcast. I can't remember how I got to it, but I had heard of neither of them. Richard Herring is a comedian, was famous in the UK in a double act with Stewart Lee (Fist of Fun, which I hadn't heard of either as I doubt it or the subsequent TMWR&J made it out here). Andrew Collins was 'writer, broadcaster, author' and played the straighter man.

They reviewed the weeks news (aside: I listened to the first few recently as I had started probably at about 30 I think, and they were talking about Madelaine McCann - and it is still in the news!), had running jokes, did live shows and basically had a good time - though often wandering into the land of bad taste.

It ran from 2008 to 2011, overlapping with a stint that they did on radio (it was interesting to see the constrictions of live radio on them). The break up could have been acrimonious - it is hard to tell.

Richard has gone on to become something of a podcast pioneer: he has had a number of topical shows: As it occurs to me (AIOTM) which featured an Andrew Collins Character (who always undercut what he said with an 'aside' negating the statement (which could be a reflection of the animosity) and more recently Richard Herring's Meaning of Life (also a video), the hypnotic Me1 v Me2 snooker and chat shows Richard Herrings Leicester Square and Edinburgh Fringe Podcasts (the first more mainstream, the Fringe one more the sound of a man exhausting himself over 2 weeks).

But this post is about Andrew Collins!

Gradually the straight man filled out a personality. Andrew had written some sitcoms which I hadn't heard of, had written for Eastenders (which I had), had started through art school to design to writing and editing on magazines that I definitely had heard of - NME, Vox, Q, Select - , had written autobiographies of his happy uneventful childhood, a biography of Billy Bragg. (I won't mention the Mitford's). Had travelled with some of the bands on tours. Now does a weekly video TV review for the Guardian, had a small hit radio comedy Mr Blue Sky and is writing more.

And often was funnier than Richard - and closer to the edge (listen to the audience reaction on some of the live shows).

Richard is the bloggers blogger (Warming Up has been going for years and produced a few books), Andrew is a more restrained, doing blogs when he feels like it: Never Knowingly Underwhelmed

Similarly on Twitter Andrew is restrained - some political posts, some of his baking, cat calendars, minor updates.

OK - to cut to the chase 

Last year Andrew decided to do a blokey thing with the songs he had on iTunes that he used to create a player playlist. He would choose his favourite tracks and create a list of the best songs in the world. He set rules: well one rule really
though this was malleable - if the worked in other groups, solos, collaborations, other names. And started work.

He thought it would be 50, but he kept going and after the first pass came to a stop at 143. Which became the magic number arbitrarily (though it is 13x11). Now the playlist can be no longer than that.

The list too has some flexibility - the favourite David Bowie track can change, under one circumstance.

Andrew decided to blog the list. So at irregular intervals (about weekly but sometimes the posts are like busses...) he writes up the story of a song - why he chose it, what it means to him (often an important aspect of our favourites; where how with who we heard a song). Once the song is blogged, though, it can't change. So Be My Wife is THE Bowie song.

Andrew's background in music journalism and broadcasting (and as a 65 baby) means that the range is a hoot - as I tweeted to him 'that's what is so great about the 143 - from Hiphop to the Eagles in one step!'. There is no logic to the order so always a surprise.

And as with any list (especially one as personal and constrained as this) there is lots to disagree with (I doubt anyone could agree on the best Beatles or Bowie or Stones or...), there is stuff to discover (Andrew has listened in areas I haven't), and as we get closer to the 143 we will start to wonder where our favourites are (will there be a John Foxx [or Ultravox], Steve Harley [or Cockney Rebel], Ian Anderson, Robert Fripp [or King Crimson], Jethro Tull, Brian Eno to name some of my known favourites. 

I would, not surprisingly choose others for the ones he has done - 10CC would have to be One night in Paris; New Order might be Temptation but the again... But he got Pink Floyd and Talking Heads (semi Eno) right!

That's the fun.

Debate is welcome on the forum.

Click on the image at the top and dive in: we're halfway there so there is plenty of new fun to be had.

(PS I know the freelance life is hard, but there is a lot of Andrew's life I would have liked for me!)
(PPS I think that it should come out as a book at the end of it all - selfpublish or persih)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Me: The Beatles

A solipsistic post in response to Dave Stafford's (here) about his memories and experience of the Beatles. It made me think about their place in my musical sphere.

My earliest clear memory is my sister(s? was it both?) being taken with friends to see A Hard Day's Night - and having to travel some distance to see it. We then got various albums for christmas presents. And when we came to Australia one family friend gave us Help as a farewell present. I probably saw them on TV shows, but definitely saw the recording of All You Needs Is Love for the worldwide telecast. A Beatles single (Love Me Do backed by PS i love you, i think) was the first I bought for myself (I bought A Walk In The Black Forest for my mum).

We had a copy of Rubber Soul. I had a cassette taped copy of the double album (with Revolution No. 9 omitted). And at some stage got Abbey Road (through a record club I think). I also had the double single for Magical Mystery Tour which I sold to a second hand record shop years ago (I wonder what it would be worth now?  Hmm not much according to eBay, so I don't feel as bad). But we/I never had a copy of Sgt Peppers, Revolver, Let It Be. Though I did get the horridly ugly Rock and Roll double best of and single compilation.

Following the breakup I was more a Lennon man - collected either directly or via cassette (Sometime in NY City for example) most of his stuff. Had a bit of Ringo - the albums including and following that self titled one: it has the sort of cover that makes you long for 12" releases - full size Voorman diagrams to match each song. Wings was not much to me - I did get the live Wings Over America as it was cheap and gave a sort of best of. George passed me by as a collector - I had 'copies' of All Things Must Pass and Concert for Bangladesh but that was all - though Shankar Family and Friends was (and is) a great album that I still play.

And yet: I bought the Anthology book. Collected the anthology albums (I especially like the 2nd and 3rd) and now have copies of all the albums.

And Beatles music is an underpinning to everything. While I didn't own all the albums, most of the songs were familiar. They were part of my growing up and my development. (I have digital Lennon but not Ringo - says something)

I think what happened is they were at the wrong time for my collecting seeking absorbing specifically side. They were part of the atmosphere - I didn't have to seek them out. But as we turned into the seventies, I turned into mid-teens and started earning money, I moved from listening to my sisters' albums and buying my own. Some things were developments from their taste (Tull, Bowie), some were from friend's (King Crimson, ELP, Curved Air, Neil Young, Elton John) and some I eventually found myself. I was looking forward, not back (though I did follow some of my finds into their earlier past).

But it was as if the Beatles were just there. In some ways I felt that I knew all the music.

I am glad now that I have got it all and familiarising myself with it yet again - because they are amazing.

One thing that surprises me is the groups or artisist who started at the same time: how was it to be around at the that time? Was it a burden to be compared to the success and artistry of them or was it liberating that they had so much critical limelight that you could develop in peace? Or after, when the search for the next big thing was on?

Ah, nostalgia

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Calendar Apps

Having a calendar with you on the phone or tablet is great - makes it easy to add, check or change. We used to use Groupwise & there was a pretty pitiful client for the iPhone (which this post is based on) but things got better when we moved to Google apps. It links to the built in calendar, but I was never really happy with that for the reason of the first app.

I haven't tried many apps - I get hints from reviews and notices, and have three which I use for various reasons. I would note I am not a power user - don't share calendars, invite people or use a number of different ones. They are for me!

week cal
Itunes web link

This was the first calendar I got and I still use it. As an academic, during semester time week view is my main visual handle on my timetable - it changes from week to week and a good visualisation is essential. Week Cal's raison d'ĂȘtre is the week view (day and month views are available). Entering new events is straightforward using the normal touchdate/time, make selection about length from the tumbler etc. All the usual features expected of a calendar are there too - location, link to contacts, repeat, different calendars.

I was happy with it, but then read some reviews of other with different tweaks, and I now use 2 of them.

Fantastical 2
Itunes web link

The first thing is that this integrates calendar and reminders, so it is a nice integration, especially if you keep trying to get todo lists - at least they are together here.

Second, it uses 'natural language' item creation. Tap the + button and you get a text entry line and as you type it in the program makes its interpretations - meet student at 2 will start to create a meeting at 2 today, add tomorrow and it will shift the draft to tomorrow. Start the typing a todo and it will be a reminder (there is also a sliding button which will toggle between appointment and reminder. If it looks OK hit add, if not you can look at the details and fine tune it and add the regular stuff.

The next difference is the look. When you open it you get a ticker tape of days across the top (not showing sequences of more than 3 days without a meeting) with bars representing meetings for the day. Below is the current reminders and then a list of meetings.(Tap for more detail). As you scroll the list, the ticker tape slides across.

Drag down on the ticker tape and it changes into the month view with dots for meetings and also a search function.

I would use this as my main calendar except that the week view is available only when you rotate from portrait to landscape. As my phone is locked in portrait, that is a nuisance and effectively no use (one cal app I looked at had a button that shifted the view from day to week - much better - but it didn't add a lot more.
Who has their phone on rotation? As I say, mine is locked for  two reasons.
1. there is no consistency about whether the app will rotate (on the iphone the  iOS doesn't but it  does on the iPad)  . Browsers rotate, weather doesn't ; guardian rotates, ABC doesn't;  Music app does, ecoute doesn't). so you don't know what will happen
2. It makes me feel sick. I don't mind the parallax, but screens rotating and unrotating, doing strange things if you are lying in bed, - all too much for me.
However, with the iPad I use the  manual lock to change screen rotation & in fact tend to have it in free rotation - more programs rotate and I use it less, but in more defined places.

And finally, one with a very different interface which is breaking new ground.


I like this because it is looking at calendars a different way.

When you open the app you get a list of days as a series of horizontal tabs, a bit like some email. These are the days of the week view - so it is each day until saturday or sunday (depending on when your week starts) and there is a simple statement of date (small) day (bigger) and a bar indicating how much time is booked for that day. Tap on a day and a folding paper unfolds down with the list of appointments. Tap for details. tap again for it to fold away.

Below the week we get the rest of the month view, with a small bar histogram again giving you the time booked for each day (tap etc). the months are colour coded for season (so there are three month blocks) with a subtle (northern hemisphere [they're working on it]) icon for it.

This is all nice block colours (only 2 schemes at present, but I hope they don't offer too many options or it could get ugly).

The next innovation is the mechanism in adding events. long hold on the day and the event portal opens. Name ok. Press the start time and the whole screen opens to a bespoke time entry system - hours listed on the left, minutes right & you slide a marker up or down to select the start, am/pm below and then tick or cross to accept/change your mind.

then when we get to duration, hold your finger on and you are touching a histogram (note a trend) which you can slide up or down to give you the length, or convert it into a day event. Then there are options for repeat location etc. A very different interface which is more touch friendly, layer-operated than apples dials. And works exceedingly well.

2 other innovations. If you shake the phone you can get a 'wellness' reminder (just did & I got 'do what you love' which you can reject or get scheduled randomly soon. The other is more useful - if you cover the screen with your hand, or turn the phone upside down, it sense the shade and shows the time in nice big numbers. Very helpful if you keep the phone in calendar mode.

At the moment I am using all three because they have different advantages and fun (Peek) and would only go down to 2 when Fantastical can replace Week Cal.

But, for any big appointment entry work - like all my classes for the semester - the desktop is the only way. Thanks Google Calendar (I'm on PC).

Monday, February 17, 2014

iTunes radio hits Australia - whoop de do

OK - so it is exciting that it is here, that weare the second country in the world to get it. But it doesn't do much for me - probably because, as we'll see, I am probably not the target. But I'll comment anyway.

To start with I am not a music streamer for 2 main reasons

  • I have a fairly large music library which is made up of music from classical through rock, pop, electropop, experimental, ambient, electroacoustic, phonography through to labels like Dorobo, Stasisfield, and so on. I have a selection on my phone, on an iPod classic and on my iPhod, plus a backup of the music on a portable drive. So where ever I am I can get music that I want. And I'm an album man, but also like variety
  • Download limits - both at home and on the phone - I don't have enough and it's too expensive to waste on listening to music I might not like when I have what I want.
And for the same reason I don't listen to much music radio - OK I might miss a great new track, but I am pretty sure I'll hear about most somehow.

Then there is the implementation. First, it is through the music app which I have stopped using since they stuffed up the album view - now I have three players on there
  • Ecoute is my player of first choice: it has a nice grid view that shows 12 artists or genres on a 4s, then a small icon list view of albums in alpha order.The player is good & interestingly has dispensed with a volume function - assuming you'll use the buttons or earphones, 
  • Picky is interesting for large libraries and filtering - you can do it by number of songs, and then within an artist sort by name, release. It doesn't have a genre setting, but in Albums you can select genres, including more than one at a time, and
  • the interface of Listen is fascinating, very fluid and simple, but the selection process is difficult - it shows all the albums in a grid which extends alphabetically to the left. Dersigned largely for shuffling.
  • But my main player is Ecoute for music and some podcasts (Pocketcasts for ones that I haven't downloaded in iTunes which I do for ones that I want to put on Carol's iPod).
And then, very little styling seems to have gone into the design. The default block view that a lot of podcast apps use also, for your libraries. I don't think you can change the icon.

Finally, the choice, which seems to be
  • a group - like I like the Beatles but not a whole station!
  • generic chart stations - 70s, 80s and 90s; pop hits, etc
  • genre stations - like ambient. Genres are hard to define anyway, but these are either too broad (like ambient) or refine but not enough - within classical you can't pick 20th century or minimalism
Maybe if you have genius working, or iTunes match, or there is some sort of like/dislike the system might learn my preferences, but I haven't got the time. I would rather say to myself - i need some dirty ambient or some muslimgauze or a bit of atonal classical or some environmental sounds to complement my real world and pick an album or genre or artist from my library.

Like I said, not for me: but I wish they had made it look good! A stand alone app at least.

TIMR 25: The Official Andy Partridge Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album

OK - I came to XTC just a little late: Life begins at the hop and especially Making plans for nigel were big hits and got me into the band and all their albums from Drums and Wires on came my way. This included the vinyl version of their first Best Of which was which came as a double album: Waxworks and Beeswax (the first was the singles, the second B sides). I got the numberered English Settlement, Black Sea in the green bag, the round Big Express, Psonic Psunspot, Take Away/Lure of the Salvage on a tape which was badly mastered with the 'start' about halfway through which made identifying the songs even harder!

I could be argied that XTC were the true heirs to The Beatles in broad musical terms

  • the move from punk/rock through to more complex deep music and unbridled variety
  • a pair of writers whose individual songs could usually be identified (made easier with XTC as they kept separate writing credits
  • a whimsical one and a darker one
  • lyrical and musical depth 
  • experiment - the dub experiments are like John and Yoko - XTC had more room for experiemntal B-sides (thanks to the Beatles)
  • a very britishness, although that musichall vibe comes from and through quite a long line
  • a sad internal decline
Anyways, XTC are THE group of the 80s I think.

At the turn of the century I got the rarities, B-sides etc that is a Coat of Many Cupboards.

Then quietly, unbeknown to me (why didn't he tell me) Andy Partridge started releasing the Fuzzy Warbles. These were compilations of demos (XTC, Dukes of Strosphere and more), musical musings and doodles, songs for soundtracks and more. Each covered a range of ground and included extensive liner notes and lyrics. the covers were based on  stamps
Between 2002 and 2006 8 albums were released, and it was about the time of 4 or 5 I became aware of them. As imports each was quite expensive, but the as the series was drawing to an end, the Collector's Album was released

This takes the stamp theme and runs with it. The box is a stamp album - with theedges printed to look like the sides of a book. It comes in a plastic slip casewhich has the album contents printed on it. Inside the front cover is a book plate for you to fill in.

The 8 disks are nicely arranged and separated by card, so it keeps neat. There is a long book with an essay by Andy about the project - how he did his home recordings. And two little extras. One is a sheet of the 8 images, plus the AP logo, as stick on stamps (who would stick them on something! mine are still here nice and pristine) and an extra cd in a card cover, entitled Hinges (those of you who have never collected stamps will be left in the dark about why that name, those who have will remember the little bag of hinges that came with stamp albums) with another 9 tracks on it - making 161 altogether. There is no seeming rhyme or reason to the individual volumes - they mix early, mid. late XTC with Dukes with other demos, with film music. So each is a lovely separate compilation.

I see the set is over $200 on Ebay or nearly $300 from Amazon links (well over $1000 for a new one from Japan) (even coat of many cupboards is about $250). But it isn't for sale, even though I have ripped it & when I play it, it's the MP3s that I play. Because it is a lovely Thing In My Room!