kottke.org posts about podcasts
My pal-in-syndication Dave Pell of Nextdraft has a podcast with Phil Bronstein called What Hurts. Pell writes in today's newsletter:
On my podcast with Phil Bronstein, we focused on the adrenaline culture -- people and journalists so anxious to publish the answer, they have no time for facts or context. The podcast is getting pretty good: Listen on our site, or subscribe to the podcast in your favorite app: What Hurts: The Need for Speed.
Kevin Kelly and Mark Frauenfelder polled 1600 people to find a list of the 50 best non-fiction podcasts. The list skews nerdy, science, and tech. The top 5 is unsurprising:
1. This American Life
4. 99% Invisible
5. WTF with Marc Maron
My commute these days doesn't lend itself to listening to headphones and I can't listen to anything with words while I work, so I don't listen to many podcasts. But I've been driving more than usual this summer, so I've had a chance to dip into some shows, old favorites and newcomers alike.
I've only listened to the first three cases so far, but Starlee Kine's new Mystery Show is particularly well done. The conceit of the show is that each week, Kine and her team of investigators solve a mystery for someone. Everyone loves a mystery, but the real draw of the show for me is Kine's ability to get normal people to say interesting things about themselves along the way.
The second mystery concerns a not-so-popular book seen clutched in Britney Spears' hand in a paparazzi photo. [Mild spoilers follow...listen to the show if you wish to remain unsullied.] Where did she get it? Did she read it? And if so, did she like it?
The celebrity aspect and the Britneyology was interesting -- What sort of person is Britney? Is she a reader? -- but the best part of the whole thing was Kine's conversation with Dennis, a Ticketmaster customer service representative. She asked Dennis his opinion of Britney and somehow the exchange very quickly got intimate. You could feel their crackling connection right through the phone line, and seemingly out of nowhere, he utters the line, "you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness", which totally left me breathless. Kine, Dennis, Britney, and I, all suddenly exposed. Fantastic stuff.
In their latest full episode, Radiolab examines the concept of worth, particularly when dealing with things that are more or less priceless (like human life and nature).
This episode, we make three earnest, possibly foolhardy, attempts to put a price on the priceless. We figure out the dollar value for an accidental death, another day of life, and the work of bats and bees as we try to keep our careful calculations from falling apart in the face of the realities of life, and love, and loss.
I have always really liked Radiolab, but it seems like the show has shifted into a different gear with this episode. The subject seemed a bit meatier than their usual stuff, the reporting was close to the story, and the presentation was more straightforward, with fewer of the audio experiments that some found grating. I spent some time driving last weekend and I listened to this episode of Radiolab, an episode of 99% Invisible, and an episode of This American Life, and it occurred to me that as 99% Invisible has been pushing quite effectively into Radiolab's territory, Radiolab is having to up their game in response, more toward the This American Life end of the spectrum. Well, whatever it is, it's great seeing these three radio shows (and dozens of others) push each other to excellence.
I look forward to every Thursday in a way that I don't remember awaiting the release of an episode of anything recently. There's something very intimate about someone telling you a story that close to your ears.
That's Jason Reitman echoing the thoughts of the many listeners who have turned Serial -- a new podcast from the producers of This American Life -- into the fastest growing podcast ever. Twenty years ago, we were all hooked on TV and radio. Twenty years of technology advances later, we're all hooked on TV and radio. Content is king.
For those who are already knee deep in the Serial serial, Vox has a complete guide to every person in the podcast.
Gastropod is a new podcast about about food "through the lens of science and history" from radio journalist Cynthia Graber and Edible Geography's Nicola Twilley. Episode 1, embedded below, is about the history of cutlery.
Chances are, you've spent more time thinking about the specs on your smartphone than about the gadgets that you use to put food in your mouth.
But the shape and material properties of forks, spoons, and knives turn out to matter-a lot. Changes in the design of cutlery have not only affected how and what we eat, but also what our food tastes like. There's even evidence that the adoption of the table knife transformed the shape of European faces.
On each episode of the Song Exploder podcast, Hrishikesh Hirway interviews musicians about how their songs were made..."where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made." I listened to this episode about the House of Cards theme song via this 99% Invisible episode and the inaugural episode features Jimmy Tamborello of The Postal Service talking about The District Sleeps Alone Tonight:
I write like I talk. Or at least I thought I did. But after listening to the first 10 minutes of this episode of Unprofessional I did with Lex Friedman and Dave Wiskus, that is untrue. Because I, you know, actually talk, like, like this, basically. You know. Yeah. Gonna have to, um, work on that if, basically, you know, I'm gonna keep doing, like, podcasts. Basically. But Lex and Dave sound so silky smooth so you should give it a listen in spite of, you know, me.
The Internet's Jason Kottke joins Lex and Dave to talk digital friendships, the future of keeping in touch, and what life would be like without connectivity.
This segment of the most recent episode of Radiolab about color is super interesting. It seems that people haven't always seen colors in the same way we do today.
What is the color of honey, and "faces pale with fear"? If you're Homer--one of the most influential poets in human history--that color is green. And the sea is "wine-dark," just like oxen...though sheep are violet. Which all sounds...well, really off. Producer Tim Howard introduces us to linguist Guy Deutscher, and the story of William Gladstone (a British Prime Minister back in the 1800s, and a huge Homer-ophile). Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! Tim pays a visit to the New York Public Library, where a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last.
It's worth listening to the whole thing...the bit at the end with the linguist's daughter and the color of the sky is especially cool.
From the 99% Invisible podcast, the story of how Charles Dickens' pet bird (eventually) inspired Geico's caveman commercials. I loved this.
If you liked it too, you might consider backing their Kickstarter campaign raising funds to produce their third season.
Jesse Thorn had me on Bullseye again to talk links. We discussed Benton's ham (see if you can make it past the "we're about to go ham" crack at the beginning) and Senna, one of my favorite films from the past six months.
I was pleased to make an appearance on the most recent episode of Jesse Thorn's pop culture radio show, Bullseye. I shared a couple of my favorite links from the past month, both of which worked pretty well for the radio. The whole show is available here or you can just listen to my segment:
Well worth a listen: Dan Benjamin interviews Mike Monteiro on The Pipeline podcast about his design work and Twitter infamy. The last 10 minutes or so, where Mike calls out designers who don't talk to clients, is gold. One of the reasons I got out of design is that I was never very good at that part of the job and as Mike says, you have to be able to not only accept but embrace selling your designs to truly succeed.
The newest episode of Radiolab is about parasites. It features what is one of my favorite links from the past few years: the story of Jasper Lawrence's quest to infect himself with hookworm in order to cure his asthma (also available here).
Based upon what I read, and what I learned about the hookworms I decided that I was going to try and infest myself with hookworms in an attempt to cure my asthma. I was not willing to wait ten or more years for the drug companies to bring a drug to market. It was obvious to me that hookworms, for a healthy adult with a good diet, are quite benign. This account details my experiences, how I went about it, and the things I have done since infestation to calibrate my level of infestation so that in the end I was able to cure my asthma and hay fever with hookworms. These same techniques are of course applicable to any hookworm infestation, whether you want to control asthma, hay fever, colitis, Crohn's disease or IBD.
Lawrence even sells hookworms to others so that they won't have to travel to a third world country to contract them.
A Life Well Wasted is a well-produced podcast about "video games and the people who love them", sort of a gaming version of Radiolab or This American Life. Each episode is accompanied by a limited edition poster designed by the awesome Olly Moss.
Update: The Bygone Bureau has an interview with A Life Well Wasted's creator, Robert Ashley.
Quick hitter from Radiolab as a preview of the new season: composer David Lang talks about a piece of music he made for a morgue. Appropriate listening for the crappy rainy day here in NYC. Hopefully the weather will be better for Radiolab's live premiere of their fourth season on Feb 21 at the Angelika.
Speaking of podcasts, The New Yorker has a couple of interesting ones on iTunes: readings from the Fiction section and from the weekly Comment essay in Talk of the Town.
Radiolab has been getting some love from quite a few of the sites I read (Snarkmarket originally turned me on to the show), so I thought I'd offer mine as well. I don't listen to the radio or to podcasts, but lately I've made an exception for Radiolab. It's about science, the editing is wonderful and unique, Jad Abumrad is one of the best radio voices I've ever heard, and to top it off, their shows are really fascinating.
Their show on Memory and Forgetting from last June is particularly good. If you don't have time for the whole thing, the Adding Memory (especially Joe Andoe's story) and Clive segments are almost must-listens.
You can listen to Radiolab on their site, on a variety of US radio stations, as a podcast, or though iTunes.
Update: Radiolab did a session at the Apple Store in Soho about their editing process and thought process. (thx, dan)
Listeningtowords looks like the beginning of a nice resource for sharing/discussing freely available audio files of lectures. Lots of stuff here I've never seen before.