Podwatch #9

I’ve been thinking a bit about the format of Podwatch, and have decided it would be best to release these as one review per episode. That way, you don’t have do download a review about something you’re not interested in, and I can release multiple episodes a week to spread them out. Leave a comment if you hate the idea, or if you agree or disagree with my review of Break A Leg. 

Download Podwatch episode 9

Subscribe to Podwatch: iTunes | RSS

Advertisements

Review: Break A Leg

Break a Leg is the first half-hour sitcom to be produced independently and released on the Internet for free, entirely without studio support. This on its own is an impressive feat, and makes me want to give the show 10/10 purely as a way of expressing appreciation and encouraging more of this kind of thing in the future. The truth is though, Break A Leg is not without its issues, and while the potential is enormous, the entertainment value is not quite there for me.

The show centres around David Penn, a mild mannered writer who is working on the sitcom Groommates — a show about three ex-grooms living with two ex-wives. The problem is the cast aren’t getting paid properly and the crew are all insane, leaving David to desperately try and keep control of the production. An interesting twist, however, is that you are told from the beginning that David is going to die at the end of the season, you just don’t know exactly how.

The show is very much in the style of the programme Arrested Development — a personal favourite of mine — and the production values are incredibly high considering their budget. There are many audio and video continuity issues, but overall Break a Leg stands up visually against many network TV sitcoms. A lot of time has clearly been spent getting the video right, but I have to wonder if the same amount of meticulousness was given to the script. The jokes often feel forced and fall flat, or they simply get in the way of the story’s progress. To me, it feels like the scripts could have gone through a few more rewrites to get the pacing correct.

Characters such as David and Jennifer are always fun to watch, but most of the other characters feel underdeveloped, making it difficult to differentiate between one or another in terms of personality.

Break A Leg is hopefully a sign of things to come, and I am really excited to see what the crew produce next, but I simply didn’t find it consistently entertaining.

Website | RSS | iTunes

Ratings for Break A Leg
6/10 Entertainment value
Every episode has its moments, but I didn’t find it consistently entertaining.
6.5/10 Quality of content
The plot is original and intriguing, however the scripts need a few more rewrites and the characters are underdeveloped.
8/10 Production quality
Every episode is not without its continuity errors, but overall the show can stand up against network TV.
6.5/10 Overall
Judging by the website and iTunes comments Break A Leg has a dedicated fanbase, so perhaps it’s just me that didn’t find the show consistently funny. I highly recommend downloading at least the first episode to see what you think.

Podwatch #8

– Review: Vital Signs
– Review: Litopia
– News: If you enjoy Science On Mornings, which I received a couple of weeks ago, there is a UK version called Science With Dr Karl from the UK.

As always, if you agree or disagree with any of my reviews, please leave a comment or email me at podwatchpodcast@gmail.com.

Download Podwatch episode 8

Subscribe to Podwatch: iTunes | RSS

Review: Litopia

litopia.jpg

Litopia is a weekly (sometimes twice weekly) podcast aimed at writers, or those interested in the industry and culture of book publishing. Hosted by literary agent Peter Cox, the podcast rolls 3 shows into one: The Litopia Podcast, Litopia Storytime, and Litopia After Dark. Most people are likely to want all three of these in one, but it would be nice to have these available as 3 separate feeds.

The Litopia Podcast is a magazine-format show featuring interviews, news and discussion about the industry. Litopia After Dark is a panel discussion show covering the latest in writing and publishing news and culture. Both of these shows are fascinating, even if you’re not a writer, and the panelists are always knowledgeable and enjoyable to listen to.

The third subset of Litopia, Litopia Storytime, is described at showcasing fiction submitted by listeners to be read out on air. This sounds great, however there aren’t any available in the feed so I have yet to listen to an episode. The Storytime rules state that only stories that have been submitted in the competitions held by Litopia will be accepted. This, I feel, is restricting the potential of this podcast, and is perhaps the reason why they are so few and far between. I would like to see Storytime be opened up to any writer with a good story that is willing to have it read on the air.

You could be forgiven for thinking a podcast hosted by literati would be stuffy and outdated, but that does not begin to describe those involved in Liopia. Rather, the show is accessible to any reader or writer with an interest in the area, and the discussions are interesting, entertaining and contemporary. When I speak passionately to someone about how great podcasts are, Litopia is precisely the sort of thing I would use as an example. The subject matter is too narrow for most TV or radio, but for their target audience this podcast will be a godsend.

Website | RSS | iTunes

Ratings for Litopia
9.5/10 Entertainment value
Occasionally an episode can drag on a little, but most of the time the discussions are so deep and engrossing you won’t notice.
9/10 Quality of content
The shows are very well researched and cover all aspects of modern publishing, though so far they don’t appear to be delivering on the promise of Litopia Storytime.
10/10 Production quality
Fantastic quality with a great structure, similar to This Week In Tech and the like.
9.5/10 Overall
If you are a writer, or simply someone interested in literary culture, Liopia should be a permanent subscription in your podcatcher. Cox is likable and does a great job at covering all the news you will need to stay in the know.

Review: Vital Signs

img_podcast.jpg

Vital Signs is a 10-minute weekly audio version of Discover Magazine’s regular article. Each episode a true story is told involving a medical mystery of some kind, written in the first person by the doctor. A great concept, and a good listen, though it isn’t quite as fascinating as it sounds.

Some of the “medical mysteries” are more engrossing than others, but generally the episodes are at the very least interesting. Sometimes, though, the language becomes too technical, making it very difficult to follow without a medical degree.

Perhaps the biggest issue with Vital Signs is the narrator, whose reading skills significantly reduce the impact of the story being told. ANyone who listens to audiobooks knows how important a good reader is, and one that presents stories in a monotone way, or is simply a bad actor, can ruin an otherwise engrossing novel.

Overall Vital Signs is a good podcast, and one that many will enjoy — particularly those in the medical field.

Website | RSS | iTunes

Ratings for Vital Signs
6.5/10 Entertainment value
Some stories are better than others, but they’re usually at least interesting.
9/10 Quality of content
The stories are written by doctors, so the content is always of good quality, though sometimes too good with an exorbitant amount of medical jargon.
7/10 Production quality
Excellent audio quality, but the narrator’s robotic reading of the stories reduces their impact.
7/10 Overall
If you’re in the medical field, this is a must-listen; if you’re not, you may or may not find this podcast consistently enjoyable. At 10 minutes each, it’s definitely worth a try.

Podwatch #7

– Review: Hamish and Andy (comedy)

Sorry for the short one this week. Let this be a lesson to you kids — never get a job! ;)If you agree or disagree with any of my reviews, please leave a comment or email me at podwatchpodcast@gmail.com.

Download Podwatch #7
Subscribe via iTunes

Review: Hamish and Andy

hamishandy-thumb.jpg

Hamish and Andy is an afternoon radio comedy duo heard on the Australian Austereo network. After meeting one another while studying commerce at the University of Melbourne, the two were involved in programs on the Student Youth Network and Channel 31, a public TV station. In 2005, one of the “big 3” commercial networks Channel 7 discovered the pair and worked with them to produce the TV show The Hamish and Andy Show. The TV show was a complete failure, and was cancelled just 2 weeks in, but the exposure was enough to capture the attention of Fox FM. The rest is Australia radio history (also, a Wikipedia entry.

The format of the Hamish and Andy show is much like any other breakfast or afternoon radio programme: general banter, interviews, skits and listener phone-ins. What is somewhat unique with Hamish and Andy is that much of this variety is kept intact with the podcast. Too many radio stations use podcasting as a way to provide a 3 minute teaser in order to get you to tune in to the full show, but the Hamish and Andy podcast, while not complete, contains just as much variety as its radio counterpart.

Unlike other Australian radio shows such as The Shebang, the humor of Hamish and Andy is quite accessible to a worldwide audience. Their humor is not particularly clever or original, but you can’t deny it is entertaining. Still, overseas listeners will be left out in the cold with some of the topical segments and B-grade Australian celebrity interviews form time to time, but I think there is enough here to appeal to most people.

Website | RSS | iTunes users go here and use the drop-down menu (or search in iTunes).

Ratings for Hamish and Andy
8/10 Entertainment value
Hamish is very quick-witted, Andy not as much, but together they are always energetic and fun. Their phone-ins and general banter are hilarious, but their skits rarely have me cracking a smile.
8.5/10 Quality of content
Many radio-turned-podcasts cut out the good stuff and deliver only interviews, but Hamish and Andy keep a good portion of all in. Listener phone-ins, regular segments and, unfortunately, skits, are kept in the final cut. We’re not talking high-brow content, but sometimes a bit of fun is what you need.
10/10 Production quality
It’s radio, stupid, of course it’s well produced.
8/10 Overall
I think Hamish and Andy’s humor will be universally appealing. There are some topical discussions and interviews that will alienate non-Australian listeners, but there’s enough broad humor to keep most happy.

Podwatch #6

– News: Ziff Davis Media files for bankruptcy
– News: Internode offers unmetered Revision3 videos
– Review: The Digg Reel
– Review: Buzz Out Loud
Anne Is A Man blog
Hosks Half Hour podcast

As always, if you agree or disagree with any of my reviews, please leave a comment or email me at podwatchpodcast@gmail.com.

Download Podwatch episode 6

Subscribe to Podwatch: iTunes | RSS

Review: Buzz Out Loud

image.jpg

Buzz Out Loud is one of the most popular podcasts to come from CNet’s long lineup of audio and video content. It is a daily show, generally running around 30-40 minutes, and covers the daily news in technology, as well as the occasional bit of science.

The show has been through many hosts, both long and short term, since its debut in 2005, but currently its regulars are Tom Merritt, Molly Wood and Jason Howell. The chemistry between the hosts is great and always produces something that is not only interesting, but fun to listen to. It’s especially refreshing to hear a female tech news journalist who is both intelligent and opinionated, unlike most of the others you see on mainstream media (I’m looking at you, G4 TechTV).

Website | RSS | iTunes

Ratings for Buzz Out Loud
10/10 Entertainment value
Fast-paced and often funny, Buzz never outstays its welcome. The addition of listener voice mail adds a community feel that makes it even more engaging.
10/10 Quality of content
You could quite easily listen to this, and only this, and you would stay abreast of currently technology news.
10/10 Production quality
Buzz is produced by CNet, which means it has the money and resources to create a broadcast quality podcast.
10/10 Overall
I officially can’t find anything wrong with Buzz Out Loud. Obviously, if you’re not interested in technology you probably won’t want to download this, but this review is about how well Buzz will appeal to its target audience, not the mainstream.

Review: The Digg Reel

diggreel.jpg

The Digg Reel is the latest video podcast to come from Web-only network Revision3. After the runaway success of their flagship show Diggnation, they have released many followups. Their shows have seen varying degrees of success, but at the end of the day Diggnation remains their biggest money spinner. So Revision3 have done what any network in their situation would have: return to the well and produce another digg.com spin-off.

Hosted by one of the many Tech TV casualties Jessica Corbin, The Digg Reel presents the top rated videos of the week, as voted on by users of digg.com. In this respect it’s much like the Best of YouTube podcast, but the two differ in presentation and target audience.

The Digg Reel presents multiple videos in one episode, and the production values are much higher. Being Rev3, The Digg Reel comes from the perspective of people into technology. That’s not to say people who aren’t into tech won’t like The Digg Reel, but the entertainment value will definitely suffer if you’re not.

Corbin herself is energetic and in my opinion a good presenter, but juding by the comments left on iTunes and Digg, she rubs more than a few people up the wrong way. I can see why this is — there are always a few cringe-worthy moments where Corbin delivers a joke that doesn’t land, and there is a lot of fluff around each video which can leave you rolling your eyes waiting for the next clip to start. The show sometimes feels over-produced and the writing can be cheesy, reminiscent of between-clip monologues you see on [insert country here]‘s Funniest Home Video Show.

Website | iTunes | Multiple RSS feeds available, see website

Ratings for The Digg Reel
7/10 Entertainment value
I’m not sure who the target audience for this podcast is. On the one hand, it appears to be trying to appeal to a broad audience, but on the other the content is often aimed at the tech crowd. This isn’t entirely their fault, as they are at the mercy of the most dugg videos of the week, but it does mean entertainment value will vary.
6.5/10 Quality of content
Given The Digg Reel does not create much of the content, I wouldn’t feel right giving them too high a score in this category. They do, however, add extras to the show in the form of funny or insightful viewer comments and information relating to a particular video.
9/10 Production quality
Generally well produced with a compelling and easily understood structure. Given most videos are taken from YouTube and the like, the quality of the clips presented can be extremely poor, but I won’t hold that against them.
6.5/10 Overall
The Digg Reel may please those interested in technology, but could be hit and miss for those that aren’t. I feel most people will get something out of it regardless of their taste, so long as you can get past the cheesy jokes between videos.
At the end of the day, though, this is a clip show that rides the coattails of other people’s work. This is a format we’ve seen many TV networks try over the years and it rarely lasts very long. The Digg Reel has more substance than most of the shows with the addition of user comments, but not much.

Ziff Davis files for bankruptcy

Ziff Davis Media has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptsy this week, leaving many wondering how this will affect the podcasts they produce. ZD’s popular lineup of podcasts includes DL.TV, Cranky Geeks and ExtremeTech. No information has been released as to the fate of their online content, but I will keep you posted as more info comes to hand.

The reason for their financial problems is said to be a drop in print magazine subscriptions, so it would seem likely they would want to strengthen their online presence if anything. ZD hopes to emerge stronger later this year after restructuring the business.

More info: Joystiq | Bloomberg

Download Revision3 podcasts for free

I know, that headline doesn’t sound very impressive, but if you live in a country like Australia, even ‘free’ content comes at a price because of strict download limits. Take the HD version of Diggnation for example, which is around 600MB. If you’re on a $60/month plan with 20GB download limit (pretty average for an Australian ISP), the true cost of podcasts soon becomes painfully clear:

$60 / 20GB = $3 per GB

4 Diggnation episodes per month = ~2.4GB

TOTAL: $7.20 / month (or $3 x 2.4)

Fortunately for Internode customers, you can download as many high definition Revision3 podcasts as you like — including Diggnation, Tekzilla and Systm — 100% free and unmetered, providing you do so through their Games Network website.

The interface is a little clunky at the moment, as there’s no podcast section, but you can find the episodes you need by using the File Information search box.

If you’re hooked on Revision3, this might be a reason to stay with Internode, or switch, even with their recent price hikes (which they speciously blame on YouTube and BitTorrent, by the way).

Podwatch #5

Podwatch episode 5 covers:
– Software: Text-to-speech Showdown
– Review: Science On Mornings with Dr Karl
– Review: Mysterious Universe

If you agree or disagree with any of my reviews, please leave a comment or email me at podwatchpodcast@gmail.com.

Download Podwatch #5
Subscribe via iTunes

Review: Mysterious Universe

mu-logo-blk-300.jpg

Mysterious Universe is a weekly podcast, running generally around 40-60 minutes, hosted by Benjamin Grundy that covers strange stories, the paranormal and conspiracy theories.

Mysterious Universe is popular enough that Grundy was able to quit is day job at the beginning of 2007 and become one of the few professional podcasters. MU is offered as a free podcast, but by paying $5 a month you can access an extended version, plus 2 episodes of spin-off podcast Mind Shots. Because of this structure, you can sometimes feel like you’re not hearing the full podcast, and that perhaps the best stories are being held ransom for $5. Nevertheless, the free MU provides an excellent range of stories and very high production values. Grundy knows how to make a podcast and tries to offer a variety of topics each week.

Even so, sometimes I have found myself rolling my eyes at yet another freakin’ Big Foot story, and many of the guest interviews are — in my opinion — nothing more than ignorant crackpots which I find depressing rather than interesting to listen to. Grundy himself often takes blog articles and Internet rumors at face value, and doesn’t offer both sides often enough. To be fair, he does quote his sources and will usually comment if a source is not 100% trustworthy, but I would like to see more interviews and articles offering the other side of the argument.

Website | RSS | iTunes

Ratings for Mysterious Universe
8/10 Entertainment value
The variety of topics is generally wide, but there are times when too much attention is given to a particular topic.
7/10 Quality of content
Well researched, but the sources are often of dubious quality.
10/10 Production quality
An extremely well produced podcast.
7/10 Overall
If you’re interested in the paranormal, this is perhaps the best of breed. Great variety of topics, but I would like to see more evenhandedness.

Review: Science On Mornings with Dr Karl

drkarl.jpg

Science On Mornings, also known as Dr Karl on Triple J, also known as Science Mornings with Dr Karl (they really need to pick a name and stick with it) is a weekly science talk show hosted by Australian celebrity geek Dr Karl.

The structure of the show is simple: listeners call Dr Karl and ask him a science-related question, which he attempts to answer. What is especially great about Science On Mornings it is faced paced, so even if the question asked is something you don’t find interesting, it won’t be long until the next one is asked.

Dr Karl’s knowledge is impressive, which always promises a wide range of topics from black holes to farting, but there are times when he doesn’t know the answer, but rather than admitting this straght way he will speak at length about something only vaguely related to the topic of the question. Having said that, these situations are few and far between; his answers are usually succinct and facinating. The main issue is that the show is too short for Karl to go into as much detail as I’m sure he’d like. I would love to see a long-form version of this programme where Dr Karl could really sink his teeth into a subject.

Website | RSS | To get it in iTunes, perform a search for “Science On Mornings”. Triple J is apparently too cool and non-commercial to put an iTunes subscribe link on their website. They don’t even mention iTunes on their “how to subscribe page”. Well done, Triple J, stick it to the man (/end sarcasm).

Ratings for Science On Mornings
9/10 Entertainment value
Unlike most science shows, you don’t necessarily need to be a science enthusiast to enjoy this programme.
8.5/10 Quality of content
You will always lean something, but sometimes Dr Karl dodges the question, or can’t go into as much detail as he’d like because of time constraints.
10/10 Production quality
Being radio, it’s very well produced.
8.5/10 Overall
An entertaining and interesting podcast that will appeal to most people.

Text-To-Speech showdown

Last week I posed the scenario that you were in a rush and didn’t have time to read those emails, or that article, or that report. The solution was to use Mac OS X’s in-built text-to-speech technology to convert those words to an audio file that you can throw on your MP3 player and listen as you go.

The problems is that solution required using the somewhat intimidating Automator software, so this week I present a user friendly way of achieving this using purpose-built applications for the job, both for Mac OS X and Windows.

Read More »

Podwatch #4

Podwatch episode 4 is out and covers the following:

Review: What Would Happen If..?
Review: Drink Til We’re Funny
News: Good News Week available as a podcast
How-To: Podcasting your email

Also, new domain is Podwatch.org, and thanks to Kathy Maister for her comment. If you agree or disagree with any of my reviews, please feel free to leave your own comment.

Email me at podwatchpodcast@gmail.com.

Download Podwatch #4
Subscribe via iTunes

Review: Drink ‘Til We’re Funny

dtwf.jpg

Drink Til We’re Funny is a weekly podcast hosted by a group of friends living in Illinois. The show runs generally between 30-60 minutes and covers topics from office politics to pillow talk.

Listening to DTWF is like evesdropping on a conversation at a cafe. There’s no real structure or theme to the episodes, but that is part of its charm. It’s raw and certainly earns its explicit tag, but it is also fun and generally enjoyable to listen to. Perhaps not something to recommend to mum though.

On the one hand this could be compared to Answer Me This in that it is rough but entertaining, and is exactly what podcasting is all about, but on the other hand it lacks structure and variety of content, which is what Answer Me This excells in. This is a podcast absolutely worth trying out, but the boysterious humor and inability to speak about topics beyond the bedroom will turn some people off.

Website | RSS | iTunes

Ratings for Drink ‘Til We’re Funny
9/10 Entertainment value
Always energetic and entertaining. It’s admirable how much they are willing to reveal of themselves in order to tell a good story.
6/10 Quality of content
If you’re looking for a podcast where you lean something new, or a podcast that is thought provoking, this is not it. Moreover, the range of topics covered are generally pretty narrow.
7.5/10 Production quality
Generally well produced though the levels are a bit off, making you reach for the volume controls whenever they all laugh at once.
7.5/10 Overall
This is going to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it podcasts. I would recommend you download at least a couple episodes — you will soon know which side you’re on.

Review: What Would Happen If..?

wwhi.jpg

What would happen if the world stopped spinning? Or the force of gravity was twice as strong? Or the polar icecaps melted? These are the kinds of questions answered on National Geographic Channel’s aptly named podcast What Would Happen If..?

Each episode is around 2 minutes long as poses a question phrased as What Would Happen If ____? before attempting to explain the answer. While the episodes are not long or in-depth enough to really sink your teeth into, the bite-sized episodes are a nice treat every week.

Website | iTunes | Couldn’t find an RSS link for this one

Ratings for What Would Happen If..?
8/10 Entertainment value
At 2 minutes each, there’s little chance of getting bored, but you’re unlikely to find all the topics facintating.
7/10 Quality of content
Some questions are more interesting and deep than others. Many, in fact, are rather contrived and simply an excuse to blow something up.
9/10 Production quality
Being National Geographic, it is of course well produced, though I’d like to see a higher resolution option.
7/10 Overall
Great fun and very interesting, but often the show strays into Braniac territory, coming up with What Would Happen If questions that no one asked has ever asked just so they can destroy something or do something crazy. The best episodes are those which pose a geniunely interesting scenario.

Ten Releases Good News Week as a Podcast

gnw.jpg

While the the writers continue to strike because the studios won’t give them 4 frickin’ cents, Australian TV network Ten (which comprises of near-100% American shows) is feeling the pinch. Rather than coming up with new and original ideas, they decided to bring back an old TV show they axed 8 years ago — Good News Week.

Not that it’s a bad thing — GNW is as good as it ever was, it just irritates me that it took a writer’s strike on the other side of the world for Ten to produce their own content for a change.

But I don’t want to be too harsh on Ten, because in a surprising move they have started releasing Good News Week as a full-length 40minute podcast download on iTunes. This is most unusual for a commercial station to do this, and Ten should be commended for it. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

Subscribe via iTunes (sorry to non-iTunes users, there doesn’t appear to be a plain RSS link available).
Official website