Tag Archives: podcast

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.

Downcast screenshot

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


  • 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.

Instacast Screenshot

First Day: Instacast

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.


  • 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.

Thumbs up graphic

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.


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?