At long last, Castro has been updated. To call me underwhelmed would be an understatement. It took them over a year to give it a slight visual refresh? Where’s the promised syncing between devices? Where’s the iPad app?

    I’m so glad I switched back to Overcast.

    A Quick Castro Update

    On June 14, I wrote an entry that discussed several issues with my preferred podcast player app. It seems so long ago now; so many things have changed. We’ve all grown a little older and, I hope, a little wiser. To the second point, I’ve decided to cease an activity that’s proving itself to be a waste of my time.

    I don’t want to bury the lede any further: I’ve stopped using Castro entirely and have returned to Overcast.

    I’ve also canceled my long-held subscription with Castro because I no longer feel that my money is being used to support the development of this app. Instead, it appears that my money is being taken from me with nothing given in return.

    Since writing the initial entry, I’ve followed up every subsequent month with a short update on Twitter. Normally, I wouldn’t care to use that place for anything, but it’s historically been where Castro’s developers have been most available. I figured that a mention there could make its way to their eyes. So far, I’ve been proven 100% wrong.

    Not only has there been no communication with me, but there’s been no communication from them with anybody. By all appearances, the Castro podcast app has been abandoned. There’s been no official announcement about this, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt, but the app hasn’t been updated in over half a year. Additionally, it’s been nearly two years since there was any mention of their iPad app and sync service. What else should I conclude from this behavior?

    I acknowledged in my original entry that software development is an inherently time-consuming and difficult process. I would never demand that any developer finish large projects in an unreasonable amount of time; we all have personal lives to live. What irks me is the complete lack of communication from a company that provides a product to the public. Castro’s developers used to update and communicate regularly, and now they do not. I don’t find that acceptable when other people’s money is involved.

    I’m saying goodbye to Castro and hello again to Overcast. Its developer, Marco Arment, has not only proven himself to be capable of regular app updates, but more importantly, he’s open to communication in several different places. I feel confident that if anything were to ever happen to Overcast, then he would tell everybody.

    I see more commitment to and progress made on Overcast than I’ve seen on Castro in a long time. More importantly, I don’t feel like my subscription to his app is being taken advantage of.

    This is a damn shame. Not because I don’t like Overcast—I do—but because I really liked what Castro did for listening to podcasts. The episode triage system worked especially well with my listening behavior and it was a well-made app. Unfortunately, it’s become riddled with bugs, the developers have fallen off the planet, and it’s completely missed the boat with the recent iOS 16 launch. Even if they came out with an update tomorrow and renewed their interest in communicating online, I wouldn’t use Castro again. What assurance would I have that they wouldn’t fall back into their bad behaviors sometime in the future?

    There comes a time when a person should stop foolish endeavors and accept what’s already there for them. Expecting an untrustworthy company to completely change forever is like expecting chocolate chip cookies to not be delicious. It’s just not going to happen.1

    I expect to be done with these entries forever unless a Castro update magically appears, and even then, don’t bet on it. In the meantime, I’ll be busy listening to podcasts on Overcast.

    1. I mean, look at these things! My mouth is watering already. ↩︎

    Tales of Castro Woe

    Castro, the podcast player app, is the third-party iPhone app I use the most. Podcasts are a major part of my life, and Castro presents them in a way I find most pleasant. I’ve played around with the others,1 but this one has stuck the longest.

    Unfortunately, over the last year, Castro has become one of the buggiest apps on my phone.

    The quality of the app, its relentless pace of innovation and keeping up with modern iOS technology, and the communication from the development team have become lackluster. I was disappointed to find myself casually looking for replacement apps and just as disappointed to discover that none of them manage podcasts in quite the same way.

    I have a few glaring issues with the app. I’m sure I’m not the only one with issues, so this list isn’t exhaustive and may not be typical.

    Lack of developer communication

    On the company’s Twitter page, which had long been a reliable source of information, you’ll find that their last communication was on March 29. Well over a month ago, as of this writing. Their support account is similar.

    Their last app update was released four months ago, according to the version history of their App Store page. It was a small bug fix update (which is, of course, always welcome).

    I understand that app development is inherently complex, time-consuming, and challenging. Their lack of communication is surely attributable to the upcoming iPad app and sync service. I imagine (and hope) that they’re hunkered down and making it happen.

    However, to allow the currently released app to quietly degrade and not manage the growing number of issues is disheartening. To stop communicating with their users borders on unacceptable. It makes me feel like I’m paying a subscription for an app that’s been abandoned.

    This is an unfortunate turn and makes talking with them feel like shouting into a void.

    Missing podcast artwork bug

    Over the last several months, the main artwork for a growing handful of the podcasts I subscribe to has disappeared. What started with a single show has now infected three. I counted seventeen podcasts with missing artwork while browsing through my History page in the app.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s a free show or if I’m paying for it. There was no warning, and there appears to be no way to fix it. I’ve tried power cycling my phone. I’ve tried unsubscribing and re-subscribing to the shows. I’ve tried deleting the app and downloading it again. All that greets me from some shows is missing artwork.

    Other podcast players don’t have this issue. Overcast, for instance, shows the artwork in all its glory; Castro only shows a dark square.

    A side by side image of the player windows in Castro and Overcast.

    Disappearing episode/settings toggle bug

    At the top of the playing screen, there’s a toggle to switch between the playback controls and playback settings for the current episode. It’s an easy way to travel between those two screens.

    While a podcast is playing, slowly pulling down the shade to show the Queue/Inbox/Library/Discover pages will cause that toggle to shift itself upwards, hiding and making it difficult to interact with.

    Pulling the shade all the way down and then moving it back up to show the playing screen again will put the toggle back in its place.

    Spacing issue with icons in the top bar of the Inbox screen

    At the top of the Inbox screen, there’s a handy row of shows that have episodes awaiting triage. Several of those shows have shifted themselves to the left, obscuring a portion of the small artwork icon. It’s as if the margin between those items isn’t being respected.

    This also happens, and more egregiously, in the History screen of the app.

    This has been a long-standing issue with the app, or at least my downloads of it, and has followed me over several new devices. I’m beginning to lose hope that it’ll ever be remedied.

    A pair of images of an icon margin issue in the Castro app.

    Slowing development pace

    I mentioned earlier that app development is a complex and time-consuming process. I don’t expect large-scale updates or even small issues to be completed in an unreasonable amount of time.

    I want the developers of Castro to live full lives outside of their app work. They shouldn’t be tied to their computers all day, every day.

    However, it’s hard to look at an app like Overcast, which received a major redesign a couple of months ago, and not feel a bit envious. While the developer, Marco Arment, has made major improvements and continued fixing bugs, the team behind Castro has done neither and not talked about it.

    According to the Credits page in Castro, the development team currently has three people working on the app. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that three people should be able to accomplish things faster than a single person.

    I wouldn’t think of demanding anything from the developers of the apps I use. They’re human beings and deserve time and respect in their work and personal lives. They will never owe me service, coddling, or even a development timeline, even if I am paying for their app.

    What I’m ultimately asking for is better communication from the developers of Castro. If it’s slow going with the sync service, fine. Let us know. If the iPad app is proving troublesome, fine. Let us know. If there are bug fixes on the way, fine. Let us know.2 If you’ve got a cool idea for the app or everything is going swimmingly, great! Please tease us with some scant details.

    A vaguely passive-aggressive tweet shouldn’t be sufficient. A company that deals with the public shouldn’t be averse to sharing with the public.

    I love Castro and I want to continue using it, especially on all of my devices. In the meantime, I feel that many of its users, myself included, would appreciate, at the very least, bug fixes and some sort of indication that it’s not going to be left to wallow in the Museum of Once-Amazing iPhone Apps.

    1. Special shout out to Overcast, the app that got me loving podcasts for their potential. ↩︎

    2. Receiving only an auto-reply email and then silence after reporting a bug is discouraging and unsatisfactory. ↩︎

    I sure do wish the creators of Castro, my preferred podcast app, would debut the iPad app they’ve been working on for at least the last year. I understand that it’s hard, time-consuming work, but as Harry told Sally,

    When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

    Despite having to finish the edit on a new podcast episode, today has felt like a rare Monday off.

    To celebrate, I’ve gone out and gotten one of the new iPads for my mom. I’m also planning to catch up on some tv that has been waiting for me. Cheers!

    It being more “industry standard,” I frequently try to give Logic Pro a fair shake for my podcast editing. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but it just never sticks. I always find my way back to the comforts of Ferrite Recording Studio.🎙

    I’ve been a fan of the podcast, Reply All, for a long time, having started listening to the show since nearly their first episode. The quality has always been excellent and many of their stories have stuck with me since listening to them.

    But that appreciation was shaken a couple of years ago when Gimlet, the company that produces Reply All, responded to its staff’s unionization efforts by, essentially, giving them the middle finger. At the time, I didn’t stop listening to the show because I felt that the union would eventually be recognized. This feels like a mistake now, especially since they’re still fighting for recognition. I could and should have supported the Gimlet Union in ways other than continuing to subscribe to a Gimlet show. My presence in their podcast analytics would suggest that Gimlet’s actions are acceptable.

    Then this episode popped up into my podcast feed this morning:

    Given Gimlet’s actions, it wasn’t a surprise. Is it much of an apology? Eh, kind of. I appreciate that they’re taking time to evaluate themselves, but it also sounds like hosts/producers P.J. Vogt and Sruthi Pinnamaneni are just being allowed to lie low until the heat of this story wears off.

    I wanted to investigate this further, so I followed the story, being led to a Twitter thread by former Gimlet employee, Eric Eddings. I encourage you to click through and read it all.

    This is a moving and frustrating story by someone who was ignored, passed over, and insulted by Gimlet and some members of its staff. It’s sad to know that Eric wasn’t the only one who had to deal with this institutional bullshit at Gimlet.

    I’ve since unsubscribed to Reply All. It’s the most meager action I can take, but it is something. If playing a part in hitting them where it hurts—their subscriber numbers—is what I can do, then I’ll happily do it. There’s also this post, which I hope will encourage others to look into the wild power imbalance at Gimlet, understand how their people of color and pro-union employees are treated, and hold Gimlet and its founders, Alex Blumberg and Matthew Lieber, accountable for their abhorrent actions. Throw in Gimlet’s parent company, Spotify, as well. They certainly don’t appear to be doing anything to help the Gimlet Union. I also encourage you to follow the Gimlet Union on Twitter. They’re doing good work.

    I enjoyed Reply All, but I can’t continue to support it when its success was built off the backs of the unrecognized and spurned. What I will continue doing is try to learn more about that of which I’m ignorant, such as I was about the toxic culture at Gimlet. And I’ll always appreciate help with that endeavor from people who know more than I do.

    I watched The Pirate with my fiancée this last weekend for my podcast. What a fun and silly movie. Gene Kelly and Judy Garland were delights, as always. 🎥🍿

    I recently watched Mars Attacks! for my podcast and now I have It’s Not Unusual by Tom Jones stuck in my head. I don’t know whether to be upset about this or start dancing.

    I watched Predestination again for my More Movies Please! podcast. If there’s a more peculiar yet very watchable sci-fi story out there, I can’t think of it right now. Give it a watch. I think it’s worth a viewing. 🎥🍿

    I watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou again last week for More Movies Please! I don’t recall how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s always excellent and fun. It’s an unusual Wes Anderson film, but it’s still worth watching. 🎥🍿

    I watched both Elizabethtown and Zodiac for an episode of my More Movies Please! podcast. One continues to be a brilliant film about a serial killer and the other continues to be too long.

    I watched both Heat and About Time over the last couple days for my More Movies Please! podcast. They’re both wonderful movies with wildly different stories and tones. I recommend them wholeheartedly. 🎥🍿

    I watched Demolition Man for the first time since I was a (probably too) young kid. This was for an upcoming episode of the podcast. It’s an incredibly campy movie, but dang was it a fun ride. It looked like it was an absolute blast to film. 🎥🍿

    I watched Her again for the podcast earlier this week. It’s such a prophetic, sad, resplendent film. The story is wonderful and the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (my absolute favorite DP) is perfect. 🎥🍿

    Levels levels. LEVELS LEVELS!

    From a recent newsletter I published:

    Last week, I did a small bit of venting about what I believe podcasts—true podcasts—to be. I’m not typically one to get quite so dogmatic about much, but I suppose I feel really passionate about what does or does not constitute a podcast.

    I stand by everything I said and will take it all to my grave!

    While I may have some firm feelings about podcasts, I also believe they’re something anyone can do. Yes, anyone. And why not? All a podcast needs to be is someone recording themselves talking into a microphone and then uploading that audio to a podcast host somewhere online. There’s no great magic to it. We’re not trying to replicate Avengers: Endgame in audio form here. Although, if you think you can do that, then I can’t wait to hear what you cook up.

    A quick and dirty guide to getting started

    Your podcast idea

    I do think it helps to have some idea of what you want to present to the world. Having a unique point of view can always help make something more captivating. Throwing in a decent amount of your particular energy while recording is a great cherry on top of your podcasting sundae.

    While you can certainly publish a podcast consisting entirely of you reading from the stack of take-out menus sitting next to your phone, that doesn’t mean anyone’s going to want to listen to it. Having some sort of story to tell or a fun viewpoint on a topic is what will help bring in the listeners.

    Put some effort into thinking of something that other people want to listen to. Are you crazy passionate about gardening? Talk about the best ways to cultivate various plants in different climates. Love movies? Do a movie trivia podcast with a friend or two (and see about getting your listeners involved). Find yourself traveling all over the world for work? Make it a point to find the best ramen place in every city you visit and give your reviews.

    There are loads of ideas out there.

    Your microphone is the most important tool

    Could you get away with recording a podcast using your computer’s microphone or the inline mic on your earbuds? Sure. Is it going to sound good? Definitely not. I’m not suggesting you go out and spend several hundreds of dollars on the fanciest microphone you can find. There are no shortage of expensive options (like this one or this one), but you don’t really need any of those if you’re not recording professionally.

    You can get some amazing audio with a simple and inexpensive USB microphone. Some people may insist that those sorts of microphones are going to get you bad audio. I disagree. You may not be able to get professional grade, studio quality sound from a USB mic, but you can get good results nonetheless.

    One of the most recommended microphones that many people (including me) start off with is the Blue Yeti condenser microphone. Another inexpensive USB microphone that I strongly recommend is the Audio-Technica 2100x-USB dynamic microphone. Either one will get you good audio, although I’m a big fan of the Audio-Technica’s sound.

    The key to using these sorts of microphones—seriously, this is the most important thing—is that you MUST get your mouth very close to the microphone. If you want to get good sound from these mics, then this is non-negotiable. Get a stack of books tall enough to put the microphone right in line with your mouth. Do whatever you have to do to get it up there. Anyone you see speaking at a microphone sitting on a desk a foot or two away from them is doing it wrong. Full stop.

    I would also strongly recommend getting some sort of pop filter (or at the very least, a windscreen) to attach to the microphone. Since you’re going to need to speak close to the microphone, you’re going to end up popping some serious P’s. Those doesn’t make for a pleasant listening experience.

    Your recording program

    Since we’re using a USB microphone, all we need to capture our audio is something you probably already have: a computer. Again, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to be able to capture good audio here. You don’t need something expensive like Logic or Pro Tools to make your recording work.

    If you’re on a Mac, then you’ve likely already got a great and free program installed: GarageBand. If you’re working on a Windows machine, then consider using something like Audacity. That one’s never been the prettiest looking program, but it gets the job done.

    Plug in your microphone, make sure the program recognizes the mic as the input, and hit that record button!

    Hosting your masterwork

    What good is a podcast if nobody can listen to it? I guess you could copy those audio files to a flash drive and start handing those out to everyone you see, but it’s 2020! We don’t need to do anything so barbaric.

    A podcast host is a place online for your finished podcasts to live and be accessed by podcast directories and players. When you stream or download a podcast episode, the podcast player uses the file stored on your podcast host’s servers. We need to use podcast hosts because our home computers aren’t really equipped to do the hosting for us.

    One of the biggest hosts out there is Libsyn. They’ve been in the game for a long time and are very reliable. My podcast, More Movies Please!, is hosted on their servers and I’m very happy with them. Their plans start at $5 a month.

    Another option is Simplecast. They offer great hosting, amazing analytics, and a very modern web experience. I’m planning on testing them out for any future podcasts I record. Their plans start at $15 a month.

    That’s really all you need

    Once you cover those basics, it’s all about recording your shows regularly and getting the word out about them. Take advantage of the social media following you may already have to get those first listeners and recommendations in. If you’d rather do it the old fashioned way, then start talking to people about your new hobby. You’re already doing a lot of talking for the podcast, so what’s a little more?

    Good luck and have fun!

    I finished watching Inside Man again to talk about on Wednesday. It’s always a fun watch. Spike Lee’s filmography is fascinating. He’s got this one and Malcom X? Do the Right Thing and Oldboy? 🎥🍿

    I watched The Shape of Water again this last week for my podcast. I can’t recall a better example of one of the most unique and beautiful films made in the last couple decades. Except maybe any other Guillermo del Toro movie. 🎥🍿

    Another one of the truly great episodes by Reply All. I don’t think I like the song they’re trying to figure out as much as everyone else did when the episode came out. The story is damn good, though.

    I watched Snakes on a Plane with a friend so we could talk about it on our podcast. That movie was better than I thought it would be, but wow, it was also not great at all. How the heck does a trash movie like that get a budget of 33 million dollars? 🎥🍿

    I watched The Proposition again last night to prepare for a podcast. What a truly brutal, stark, and sometimes beautiful movie that one is. You’ve probably never seen the Australian Outback depicted like this. 🎥🍿

    I finished watching John Q yesterday in preparation for talking about it on my podcast. It’ll be an interesting chat because that was a boring, unrealistic, and ridiculous in a bad way movie. I’m so glad I only rented it. 🎥🍿

    I watched This Is Where I Leave You yesterday in preparation for recording a podcast about it tonight. The movie was certainly fine and told its story. The only thing holding it up was the strength of the acting. 🎥🍿

    I just had a good time recording a podcast with a friend about the movie I watched a couple days ago, BlacKkKlansman. The recording went well, but man that movie is still heavy. And I think I need new headphones. Mine give me headache. 🎥🎙

    After hearing Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier talk about 2019’s movies on their most recent SModcast, I decided that I wasn’t watching enough movies. I’ve now seen about five in the last week. 2020’s gonna be fun. 🎥