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.

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