Surface Geeks Podcast Episode 4

Episode 4 of the Surface Geeks Podcasts has been released. I was a co-host again this week  as we discussed the roller coaster that is Microsoft Surface RT.

Subscribe and rate in iTunes. Personally I’d love to see a Microsoft Surface podcast top a iTunes popular tech podcast list. But then again, I fire up IE to go to Apple.com and Safari to go to Microsoft.com.

Surface Geeks Podcast Episode 3

Episode 3 of the Surface Geeks podcast, with yours truly as one of the co-hosts, is available in both audio and video. This is the first SG podcast since Surface was released so there’s some hands on discussion. Dave also shares his line experience. Almost makes me wish I joined a line. Almost. Hit this link for the various audio and video options, or the subscribe to future episodes.

First Day: Downcast

downcastscreenshotI looked at Instacast a couple days ago and while it was good enough to know I’d no longer need iTunes for podcasts, there were enough hiccups to make be look at an alternative, so I picked Downcast. It’s $2 and is universal for both iPhone and iPad.

Like Instacast, it has the features I require:

  • Sort all podcasts from oldest to newest so I can play the oldest first
  • Syncing between devices
  • Podcasts can be downloaded to the device
  • Keeps track of unplayed episodes
  • Handles password protected podcast feeds
  • Can play podcast at double speed (or triple speed, or some fraction in between)

Then it has the features I like but are just nice to have:

  • Can stream without downloading
  • Mixes video podcast in the same list and in the playlists list
  • Supports multiple playlists
  • Has a sleep timer which also works when Downcast is playing in the background. So it doesn’t prevent me from using my alarm clock app.
  • Highly customizable – each podcast or playlist can have it’s own settings or use the global settings

Things I Miss:

  • Nothing – not sure what other features I would want

Dislikes:

  • Granular Settings – this is really only a problem during the first 24 hours, but the large number of settings and my experimentation led to some unexpected results.

Compared to Instacast

I found the interface more intuitive. I only had to read the online help once when I misunderstood the “Sync Episodes” setting. (It syncs the episode status – not the files themselves). The rest was pretty obvious although like many i-device apps it takes some tapping and swiping to find everything. Almost all the interface elements are labeled or pop up a menu when pressed, making it easier to know what’s happening.

I didn’t spend much time with the iPad app, but the interface was much easier for me to use than Instacast. It was functional and made sense.

Instacast is a simpler interface with fewer options and settings. Fewer options isn’t always a bad thing.

The Initial Experience

I emailed an OPML export of my podcasts to myself and then imported them into Downcast. Unlike Instacast it couldn’t read the Music app for my podcast list. I didn’t have any of the bugs or problems that I had with Downcast. My only problems came about when I changed around settings, especially sync settings.

I liked the ability to create playlists more than I thought I would. I also liked being able to assign settings per podcast. I listen to some podcasts at double speed, while others are always regular speed. I can set the defaults for each podcast but change them on th fly if I want to.

I’m keeping both apps on my iDevices, but I’ll be using Downcast until it gives me a reason not to.

First Day: Instacast

Instacast Screenshot

Instacast ScreenshotApple broke podcasting when they released iOS 5. On the iPhone smart playlists were broken and and my podcasts wouldn’t sort correctly when syncing. Fine in iTunes, a jumbled mess on the iPhone. As for podcasts on the iPad – a nightmare. I dealt with the iPhone issues and gave up listening to podcasts on the iPad.  Yesterday at lunch I finally decided to install and use Instacast. There are several well regarded podcast apps but Instacast was a name I remembered and apparently I had bought it awhile back. Not sure why I didn’t use it.

I fired it up at lunch yesterday and have been using it since.  It’s far from perfect but it may be good enough to keep me from trying out anything else.

It has the features I require:

  • Sort all podcasts from oldest to newest so I can play the oldest first
  • Syncing between devices
  • Podcasts can be downloaded to the device
  • Keeps track of unplayed episodes
  • Handles password protected podcast feeds
  • Can play podcast at double speed

Features I like but are just nice to have:

  • Can stream without downloading
  • Mixes video podcast in the same list and in the “all unplayed” list

Things I miss:

  • No playlists (but since playlists are broken in iTunes this isn’t a real loss)
  • Sleep timer. My alarm clock app integrates with the Music app to work as a sleep timer. I lose that with Instacast.

Dislikes:

  • The app is buggy, at least on the iPhone (haven’t used the iPad app enough to know)
  • I didn’t find the UI very intuitive. But the built in help is pretty clear. The iPhone UI is better than the iPad UI. I admit this is subjective.

 

The Initial Experience

I was able to import my list of podcasts directly from the Music app on my iPhone which made it easy to get going. Only audio podcasts on the phone were imported. When I got home I exported all my subscriptions from iTunes and imported them into Instacast. The online help had clear directions.

I enabled iCloud to do syncing in anticipation of also using my iPad. Dropbox is also supported but that seems like a manual process. While working through the various settings to see how they worked I had a few program crashes which wasn’t encouraging but things seemed to settle down once I stopped changing the settings around.

The other annoying problem I had was the app would frequently go offline (4 times in the 24 hours I’ve used it), saying it had no connection to the internet. I could resolve it by killing and restarting the app, or by cycling wi-fi off and then on. All other apps had no problem getting an internet connection when Instacast was offline. The wireless off/on worked even when I was only on 3G and wasn’t even on wireless.

My final problem was just a few hours ago. A podcast was playing and when I went in to stop it, the interface was frozen just displaying the album art for the podcast. There wasn’t any UI although the podcast was playing fine. I had to kill the app to stop it. When I went back in it picked up right where I killed it and seemed fine, (Although I’ve yet to finish that podcast.)

It has more to do with my wireless service, but streaming was problem free even when driving to work.

The iPhone app is 2 bucks, the iPad app is 5 bucks. I ended up buying the iPad app once I got used to the iPhone app. The iPad app is different which could be a good thing since it is a different form factor. But I find the UI even more cumbersome. Touch points all over the screen and lots of swiping to get to a podcast. I’m sure I’ll get used to it and it’s light years better than the way the iPad natively handles iPads.

The syncing via icloud has been fine so far. My subscriptions showed up quickly and play podcasts update nearly instantly.

There’s been enough bugs that I may still look at other podcast apps, but other than the bugs Instacast seems to meet my needs quit well. Even if I don’t find something else, it’s enough to get my podcasts out of iTunes. Looks like I’ll have one less reason to sync with iTunes.

The Annual Free But Worth More Awards

Thumbs up graphicYear end brings a bunch of award and accolades, most of them for commercial products which provide a nice promotion bonus (which doesn’t mean they aren’t deserved). Year end is also when I go through and review the last year and make plans for the next (this has more to do with year end bonuses and financial planning rather than any great introspection). I try to support the things I use and like and this recent post does a good job of supporting my reasoning. Typically this is accomplished by opting for a premium level (such as Evernote & LastPass) But there’s some things I use which are free any typically have no direct paid alternative. WordPress plugins are an example. They (at least the ones I use) are free and usually done by someone scratching an itch rather than any business purpose. But WordPress changes and these plugins need upgrading, so I try to support the the important ones with donations as an incentive to keep going and make my life easier. This year I expanded to a couple podcasts I listen to regularly since most aren’t commercial ventures and they’re regular listens.

So while it doesn’t carry the same promotional weight as the Macworld Editors’ Choice Awards here are my “Free But Worth Paying For Awards” for 2011. The criteria is completely subjective and the only requirement is that there’s no commercial connection or “premium” alternative. Everything on this list is stuff I used all year (or since it became known to me) and I anticipate using all next year.So in no particular order…

WordPress Plugins

Fast Secure Contact Forms – used for the contact form on this site and has many features I’ve yet to use. It’s also frequently sup dated (sometimes to the point of annoyance) even though I haven’t had any problems.

Google Analyticator – Used to manage the Google Analytics code. Yet another plugin I’ve only scratched the surface with. I wanted a plugin that wouldn’t track my own visits and found this, but it does more and eventually I’ll dig into Google Analytics and find out what the other settings are for.

Google XML Sitemaps – It’s debatable whether or not a site map helps with search engines but I decided to go with one and have been using this one for years.

Redirection – A Plugin I’ve used since a long ago site redesign. Automatically creates redirects when a URL changes but useful for identifying broken URLs and changes so they can be fixed.

WP Super Cache – I’ve used this off an on over the years and it’s back on.

Podcasts

Home Server Show / BYOB – These two podcasts have already cost me a lot of money with all the software and tech they talk about.

Linux Outlaws – More news/interview oriented than tech tips but I still enjoy listening. Warning – the podcast gets the explicit tag for language. It’s mild but you’ve been warned.

Rathole Radio – A semi-weekly music podcast with a eclectic mix of music.

Anything else you use that’s free but worth paying for?

Guest On The Home Server Show Podcast

Picture of a microphone

Picture of a microphoneI was a guest on The Home Server Show podcast #158 in what was my first ever podcast. It was a lot of fun talking with the HSS guys. We talked about backups along with my WHS, HP Microservers, pfsense, Untangle and other rigs. The show also included news and a discussion about a WHS file restore speed (or lack thereof) problem.

The episode should be posted later today at the Home Server Show and will also be available though iTunes. [Updated with a direct link to HSS podcast 158]

Tech Podcasts

I recently wrote about the most expensive tech podcast that I listen to, here’s the additional tech podcasts I regularly listen to. While some of these have both video and audio versions I stick with audio as I listen in the car or when working at my desk.

The previously mentioned BYOB podcast is one that I pay attention to when I listen and frequently replay it or take notes. It’s also one of the few podcasts where the back catalog is worth revisiting. The only other podcast in my list with that distinction is Security Now!.

tile_securityLSecurity Now! is on Leo Laporte’s TWIT network and is hosted by Steve Gibson along with Leo. See GRC.com for more info about Steve. I’ve been listening to the weekly podcast since the beginning and the podcast has changed with the times.

These days every other show is a listener Q&A. The shows begin with a review of the week’s security news and exploits. Then Steve dives into a topic in detail. Steve does a good job of explaining technical topics. Not everything is strictly a security topic. For example, there was a series of shows about the foundations of computers.

Steve also provides a transcript of all shows which is useful to find information from past shows.

The Home Server Show podcast is naturally about Windows Home Server but does include more general home server related topics. I’ve been listening since the early days of the show. Early enough to be able to have caught up with past shows.

The show is weekly and an hour or longer. They cover Windows Home Server news at the beginning of each show the dive into a topic or interview. They can also cover WHS related areas such as Media Center and how a WHS fits into the home. They’ve recently added an “off-topic” section where the hosts talk about non-WHS stuff.

While it’s certainly WHS focused I like the show because it’s not laser focused on Microsoft WHS. Much of the discussion can be applied to non-Microsoft solutions. Examples include discussions on RAID, DVD ripping and Drobo.

The Home Server show spawned the BYOB podcast and there’s some crossover between the two of them. BYOB generally spends more time getting into the technical discussions.

The only remaining Mac podcast I listen to is The Maccast hosted by Adam Christianson and is “about all things Macintosh”. Although these days a better tagline would probably be “about all things Apple”.

It’s a weekly podcast that’s usually about an hour. Adam provides a mixture of news and tips.

Windows Weekly is a weekly (duh) podcast with Leo and Paul Thurrott. While it is windows centric, Paul’s topics cover technology in general. While he usually relates it to Windows users, topics can include Apple hardware, Android phones, non-windows tablets and more.

tile_headphonesI’ve been looking for a Linux podcast to add to my rotation. Linux Outlaws is a recent addition to my list. I’ve only listened to a couple shows so far but it’s been interesting and I’ll probably stay subscribed and go back through older shows to see if any seem interesting. The format is news, reviews and interviews. The show has the explicit tag in iTunes due to language.

Despite the show graphics and website having a western theme (as in cowboys) the hosts are from the UK and Germany.

The above podcasts are the ones I always listen to. The rest of these podcasts, while tech related, are in my “fluff” category. I may listen to each show but much of the time it will be background noise while I do other work.

I listen to two daily tech news shows – Buzz Out Loud (BOL) and Tech News Today(TNT). BOL is from CNet while TNT is from TWIT and is hosted by a BOL alumni. Both are less than an hour, depending on the news that day. There’s some overlap and I should probably pick 1, but I can’t decide. I’d say BOL mixes in more lighter news and tries to provide entertainment in with the news.

Leo Laporte’s TWIT network has numerous podcasts and I listen to a few. They are spotty in my opinion. Leo is one of the hosts on most of the shows I listen to. While they are good he has a tendency to get off topic (he even has a “rat hole” jingle”). Extremely annoying is his tendency to cut off his co-hosts (sometimes seems like he’s not paying attention) and not letting them finish a thought I was interested in. So when I run short of time, these are the podcasts likely to be ignored.

Mac Break Weekly comes and goes from my playlist. These days I can easily overdose with Mac news and rumors. Add to that Leo’s tendency to go off topic and I often skip this one. The Mac Break format of a bunch of people sitting around having an unscripted discussion can be interesting to listen to, but sometimes I just don’t care. The do have “picks” at the end of each show, but beyond the picks I rarely learn anything from the show.

This Week In Tech has the same format as MacBreak weekly but has all of tech as a topic. But considering the other shows, this one frequently drops from my playlist if I don’t get to it before the next show is released.

FLOSS Weekly is another TWIT show but lacks Leo. They cover a different Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) topic each week. Many topics aren’t about software or projects I’ll every have a chance to use,  but I like listening to the discussion.

Tekzilla is one of the few Video Podcasts I watch. It’s tech focused and covers a little news and a lot of tips or reviews. The have a short daily tip but primarily have two shows a week of 30-45 minutes each.

That’s about it for tech podcasts. I’ve been cutting back the ones in my feed and this is what’s left. Any that you’d recommend I should listen to?

The OS Quest Trail Log #7

It’ll be a short log this week. While the Quest has been busy this week, most of the work will make it into individual posts during the next week. I’ve been looking at Jungle Disk and Amazon S3 for backing up. I’ve also been looking at Microsoft’s free SyncToy as a simple backup alternative.

Software of Interest

Flying Meat has a new image editor out called Acorn that’s receiving positive reviews. From a feature perspective it seems to be a steal at it’s $40 intro price (no mention when the price goes up). I downloaded the eval and like it’s ease of use. I couldn’t get it to print properly but haven’t had time to dig into it. I’ve only spent about an hour looking at it but it made a favorable impression. With Adobe Photoshop Elements still not a universal binary (and will probably cost more than $40 to upgrade once it is) Acorn has come along at a good time. But it’s going to be a crowded field with Pixelmator in private beta and Iris promised soon after Leopard.

Growl, the open source system notification tool for OS X has been upgraded to version 1.1.

Adobe Lightroom 1.2 was released. The release notes (PDF link). The “upgrade” is a download and install of the full product which is a 40MB download for the Mac.

CyberDuck, the popular open source FTP client for Mac OS X has been updated to version 2.8.

Links & News

Lifehacker is running an unscientific poll of online backup software, At this time Mozy has the most votes and is just slightly ahead of “My data lives on the edge.”

IBM has thrown their support behind OpenOffice.org. It’s discussed at Slashdot.

A great podcast was mentioned on a recent Mac Break Weekly. It’s from a music company and it contains free music without DRM. Image that, a music company views the Internet and podcasts as a way to promote music. The company is Magnatune. Their website banner and podcast intros proclaim “We’re not evil.”. The podcasts are about an hour long and are grouped by types of music. I took the “Everything” feed and get a nice mix of music types and have yet to get a podcast that wasn’t worth the listen.

SCO filed for Chapter 11 last Friday.