Thursday, February 11, 2016

Pick of Podcasts Listened to in 2015

I enjoy listening to people talk about interesting stuff. In the old
days, I often had to rely on luck or timing to catch intelligent
discussions on radio or television. Nowadays, there are podcasts:
  "Podcasts are episodes of a program available on the Internet.
Podcasts are usually original audio or video recordings, but can also be
recorded broadcasts of a television or radio program, a lecture, a
performance, or other event. ... For podcast listeners, podcasts are a
way to enjoy great content from around the world for free. For podcast
publishers, podcasts are a great way to reach a wide audience."

Podcasts can be professional, broadcast-quality content like radio
programs, from established sources such as the BBC, the ABC (Aus) and
NPR. At the other end of the spectrum are more informal discussions
produced by amateurs and fans, bringing passion and enthusiasm.

I usually listen to podcasts as a background activity, e.g. when I'm
getting ready in the morning, doing housework, walking and eating.

Most podcasts publish episodes weekly or fortnightly. I use iTunes to
manage subscriptions, and the stock Apple podcast apps to play the
latest episodes on various devices. Podcasts can of course be played on
other platforms, or directly in a browser.

Here are some of my favourite podcasts, grouped by category.

1. Tech News and Analysis

* The Critical Path
"The Critical Path is a talk show contemplating the causality of success
and failure in the evolving story of mobile computing and related
industries. Using Apple as a lens to look at existing and emerging tech
markets, we try to understand what it means to be great."
Horace Dediu obsesses over the details, and always has interesting
analysis, ideas and opinions.

* Exponent
"Exponent is a podcast about tech and society hosted by Ben Thompson and
James Allworth"
Similar approach and subject matter to The Critical Path, sometimes
reaching different conclusions.

* Clockwise
"Clockwise is a rapid-fire discussion of current technology issues
hosted by Jason Snell and Dan Moren and featuring two special guests
each week. Four people, four topics--and because we're always watching
the clock, no episode is longer than 30 minutes."
This effectively replaces a handful of discussion shows, thanks to
having a variety of panelists and its brevity.

* EasyApple
"Non accontentarti di ci=C3=B2 che sai gi=C3=A0 fare con il tuo iPhone,
iPad o Mac: c=E2=80=99=C3=A8 tanto altro da scoprire. Noi siamo qui per
I mostly listen to this because it's in Italian, which helps expand my
vocabulary. The hosts have some fun, and unlike many other tech-related
podcasts, they don't ramble on too much.

2. Popular Culture

* The Incomparable
"A collection of pop culture podcasts full of smart, funny people who
love talking about TV, movies, books, comics, games, and much more."
Started out as a small group of friends talking about geeky topics, has
now grown into a whole network of shows. Too many shows to listen to
them all, so I usually stick to book, movie and TV discussions, as well
as episodes of "The Incomparable Radio Theater", "Game Show", and "Robot
or Not?".

* TV Talk Machine
"Tim Goodman, chief television critic for The Hollywood Reporter, talks
regularly with Jason Snell about what=E2=80=99s going on in television,
what shows to watch, and what shows to skip."
This show has lived up to its description. Goodman also teaches about
the writing and structure of TV shows.

* Good Job, Brain!
"Good Job, Brain! is a free weekly clean* audio podcast that's part quiz
show & part offbeat news. It's the ultimate nutrition for your brain. So
eat up!"
Fun quiz and trivia show, and I don't mind their quirky ad reads.

3. Engineering and Science

* Debug
"Debug is a conversational interview show about developing software and
services, primarily for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and gaming."
This one will appeal mostly to programmers. The guests are almost always
excellent, many providing anecdotes about what it's like working at
Apple and other tech companies.

* Pragmatic
"Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application
of technology. Exploring the real world trade offs we look at how great
ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our
lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems."
An Aussie engineer talks with guests about tech-related topics.
Thoroughly researched and very informative.

* Dr Karl on triplej
"Dr Karl's famous triplej mission is to bring science to the peeps! Join
host Zan Rowe, her guests, and a bunch of curious triplej listeners for
a weekly injection of science, myth-bashing and answers!"
I used to listen to Dr Karl's show on the radio in the 90s, but had to
give it up when I started working in an office. Recently I got back into
it thanks to episodes being available on demand.

* Radiolab
"Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and
the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."
Long-running and popular show covering a wide range of topics.

4. Psychology

* You Are Not So Smart
"You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self delusion that explores
topics related to cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies.
David McRaney interviews scientists about their research into how the
mind works, and then he eats a cookie."
The host is the author of a couple of good intro books on thinking. The
show features some interesting guests.

* Invisibilia
"Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible
forces that control human behavior =E2=80=93 ideas, beliefs, assumptions
and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia
interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will
ultimately make you see your own life differently."
Had a short initial run, but I enjoyed each episode.

5. Economics

* Freakonomics Radio
"Freakonomics Radio is a top-rated weekly podcast with more than 7
million monthly downloads and a public radio program that airs
nationally. Each week host Stephen Dubner has surprising conversations
that explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of
human nature=E2=80=94from cheating and crime to parenting and sports.
Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists
and entrepreneurs =E2=80=94 and his Freakonomics co-author Steve
I liked the books, and the podcast covers some interesting issues as

* Planet Money
"Money makes the world go around, faster and faster every day. On NPR's
Planet Money, you'll meet high rollers, brainy economists and regular
folks =E2=80=94 all trying to make sense of our rapidly changing global
Short and informative episodes about current topics in the world of
business and finance.

6. Humour

* Welcome to Night Vale
"Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of
community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring
local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police,
mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable
powers, and cultural events."
This is an amusing radio serial chronicling a fictitious community. I'm
keen to check out the recent novelisation.

* Judge John Hodgman
"Have your pressing issues decided by Famous Minor Television
Personality John Hodgman, Certified Judge."
Not an actual judge, but in fact a wry comedian. Amusing "cases" and
"rulings" get me in a good mood.

* The Flop House
"Elliott Kalan, Dan McCoy, and Stuart Wellington are friends who=E2=80=99v=
e decided to express that friendship not by doing productive or
enjoyable things, but instead by watching critical or commercial flops,
and then discussing those terrible movies for you to enjoy in your
ear-holes. Although, honestly, most of the time they just talk about
random bull$!t."
The hosts are professional comedy writers, and they apply the blowtorch
to mostly bad movies they've watched. Only caveat is that sometimes they
talk a little blue.

That's a lot of podcasts. I haven't even included those that I only
listen to occasionally, depending on the topic. But many of these
podcasts' episodes are around 30 to 45 minutes long. Over the past year
I've actually increased the diversity of subjects by abandoning some
shows I used to like. Common problems with these podcasts:
* Too long - e.g. "The Talk Show with John Gruber" may have a
semi-famous host and impressive guests, but 2+ hours per episode!?
* Straying too far off-topic - I'm not interested in what comic book the
hosts are reading.
* Too much speculation - I don't want to hear people ramble on about
* Tedious testimonial-style ad reads, often for things not even
available outside the US.