Podcast Roundup

Before I launch into descriptions of the podcasts I subscribe to and my reasons for listening, I thought I would quickly mention two products that have made an impression on me:

Athenos Hummus

It’s a cheap, nearly generic store brand and I love it. I like hummus in general, but this one is flavorful and smooth, and the original flavor is all I require. I like pita bread OK, but I really don’t like pita chips. I usually spread this on Triscuits. It’s a great snack. We had this combination tonight with our leftovers dinner, and it provided the interesting flavor and the crunch that the meatloaf, lettuceless salad, and soup lacked. Yeah, the lettuce got that weird smell. I didn’t want to put it on anyone’s plate, so we just ate the salad guts instead. It was sort of strange, and I forgot to add the avocado. The hummus really tied the meal together.

Twizzlers Rainbow Twists

I went online to find my picture, and found a blog reviewing them more or less unfavorably (I consider a review with the phrase “weird metallic/bitter aftertaste” basically unfavorable): Candyblog. Funny enough, Candyblog links to the Slashfood blog, which has a few more negative comments. It looks like I am jumping on some bandwagon, but it is true that I came to this ick conclusion all by myself. Unlike other Twizzlah Hatahs, I disliked yet finished the candy.

Oddly enough, I am strangely addicted to Twizzler Cherry Bites, Cherry flavor.

Onto the podcasts! I’ll go in alphabetical order, because that’s how they appear in my iTunes.

Are We Alone? Science Radio for Thinking Species

This podcast is affiliated with the SETI Institute–Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. The podcasts are about a variety of science topics, and about an hour in length. They come out weekly, usually on Mondays, and they have two hosts: Seth and Molly. Each podcast has a theme, and usually contains interviews with scientists performing research in diverse areas; how each scientist fits into the theme is always obvious. Once a month they have a skeptical show.

They are sort of hoaky, and have little staged dialogues and sound effects. It took an episode or two to get used to, but the actual content is free of gimmicks–the conversations with the scientists are always on topic, easy to understand, and they never seem bothered or tense. Everyone always seems like they are having a good time. The podcast has a blog called “Are We a Blog?”–a name that I love–but I have never visited it (I don’t usually subscribe to blogs). Once in a while you’ll get a show repeat. The most recent two episodes were a two-part series on Time. I did not know, in fact, that in theory if you get stuck at the center of a black hole without dying in the process you would be able to watch the end of the universe. I never miss an episode.

This is my favorite podcast. It really is. It comes out weekly, usually Mondays, and talks about stuff in the sky. When there is a new episode, it gets bumped to the top of my playlist. The shows are about half an hour in length, and the format is science writer Fraser Cain (a Canadian) questioning Dr. Pamela Gay, a physics professor at Illinois State University in a sort of student/teacher dialogue, except not so boring. The most recent show is the third part of a series just about the moon. My favorite thing they have done so far is tackle the objects in the solar system from the sun to the Kuiper Belt. I also learned a lot from the series on the shape of the universe. I have submitted to them a question about werewolves and the full moon that I hope they answer in one of the shows, but I have no expectations that they will.

Once in a while they would do a “questions” show, in which they answered questions that had been submitted by fans. A few weeks ago they added a questions show to the lineup, so you’d get the regular podcast on Mondays and then later in the week a question show. It doesn’t seem to appear as predictably. I like the question shows, but it is harder for me to pay attention to them. You tune out for one second and you tune back into something totally out of context. I do a lot of rewinding. The dedicated topic shows don’t cause me nearly the same trouble. The podcast has its transcripts available at the website; Cain also hosts his own astronomy website called Universe Today. The podcast also has a forum I have never checked out. It doesn’t seem very active, although the Mercury thread has twenty-one replies.

Battlestar Galactica (Official Podcast)
–The New Series
Hosted by the actual executive producer, Ronald Moore, this podcast is recorded as episode commentary, and is probably exactly what you get as commentary on the DVDs (which I don’t have). They last about 43 minutes, or the length of an episode without commercials. It is so interesting to hear how scripts evolve, how actors add to what writers put in a show, what decisions get made about sets or deleted scenes, episode arcs, special effects, and character development. It gives me a lot of perspective about the BSG show, but mostly I am fascinated by the process of making television. I came to the series late, so all the podcasts had been recorded by the time I started listening; I don’t know how timely they are. Not every single episode has a podcast, but there are bonus podcasts that appear at various times–there are a couple of writers’ meetings, a couple of guest podcasters, and a couple of actor panels. The best podcasts are with Ron Moore, and there are a few podcasts with actors helping or hosting that I think are awful. Sometimes Mrs. Ron chimes in, especially when he is recording at night while watching the show from bed.

The NBC website has a very active forum for the show, and because this is the official podcast for the show that’s where the listeners congregate. I’ve visited it a few times seeking information but it’s too visually busy for my liking and the threads are way too long for me–a latecomer–to ever hope to catch up. It’s full of those banners in people’s sigs with photoshopped “shipper” art that I am sick of seeing everywhere, but maybe you can turn those off in a profile preferences setting.

I couldn’t wait to listen to one of these podcasts after watching a show. You don’t have to watch the show while listening at all–Moore fills the time very well.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
I tuned into this podcast because it appeared on someone’s list online. It appears semi-reliably, and it had a significant hiatus, but I’m not surprised–the shows are heavily produced with sound effects and they must take a month each to research. Most podcasts are longer than an hour. He calls himself a fan of history instead of an historian, and he makes it very clear when he is reporting what is accepted as fact and when he is interpreting, what iffing, and making his own comparisons. He really likes the ancient world (like the Greeks, not the Cro-Magnons). It took a while for me to adjust to his delivery, which is emphatic in places and has a lot of pauses. It’s very dramatic, and maybe I was having a mood or maybe I started with a weaker podcast (I don’t remember what it was) but I wasn’t too eager to listen to the next one, until I ran out of content. Now, I am very happy when they appear and it is rare that I won’t listen to one. If I don’t, it’s because I just don’t care about that era.

History is violent, and I get it, but I do find the graphic descriptions of violence and its effect depressing sometimes. The most recent one contained a description of the sacking of a city that lasted for days, and it was unsettling. The one about the Apaches was equally unsettling. If he was making videos of this stuff I would never watch it, but it isn’t going to give you nightmares. You are just going to be really, really happy you live in a first world country after listening.

There are three stand-out episodes for me so far. You MUST listen to his podcast called “Bubonic Nukes,” which is a compelling description of what happened in Europe during and after the Black Plague epidemics, and how it affected technology and culture. I also really liked the one about World War I, “Desperate Times,” and his interview with historian James Burke, “A Fly on James Burke’s Wall.” There is a discussion forum that I haven’t been to but which is very up to date and active. Carlin has another podcast about current events that I haven’t tried yet, but probably should.

I’m not joking about the Bubonic Plague one. It may not be new information, but it put a lot of pieces into place for me, and jump started my interest in plague literature which I haven’t had time to fully explore.

I listen to many other podcasts, but I ran out of time and this is getting eye-glossingly long. Besides, why shoot my wad in one post? Suspense is how you keep ’em coming back, I’ve heard.

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  • Fraser Cain  On November 24, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Hi Karen, thanks for the kind words, we really appreciate it. I’m sure we’ll get around to your question eventually, but here’s the short answer…

    The phase of the Moon is roughly the same to everyone on Earth. In other words, a person in Sidney will see the same phase of the Moon as a person here in Canada. Of course, the view is reversed. In other words, people in Australia will see the Moon upside down compared to people in the northern hemisphere.

    Unless your werewolf has a space ship and can actually leave the Earth, he can’t delay when he sees the full moon.

  • Karen  On November 24, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I am so thrilled to get a personal answer! At first I thought you were making a smart-aleck joke about Australians standing on their heads, until I did the mental manipulation and realized that yes, the moon image actually is flipped vertically. I don’t know why I am so easily flummoxed by moon geometry. It’s as good a reason as any, however, to keep listening to the show.

    Thank you so much for the werewolf answer. You don’t really have to address it on the show.

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