Category Archives: Podcast Roundup

Podcast Roundup–The Academics

If I am using the WordPress filters correctly, it’s been almost two years since my last Podcast Roundup. Two years! It’s probably because in the past two years I’ve found more to watch on TV (until I got tired of TV) and less time to listen to podcasts. There’s an explanation for that: When the kids were little, I could take them to a park and let them loose while I listening my heart out. Now they’ve seen a bit of the world, and the chances of me going to a park and not running into someone to talk to are much, much lower. People don’t like it if you recognize them and don’t take the headphones out of your ears. They really don’t. It also happened that I turned in my little iPod Shuffle Second Generation for an iPod Nano Fourth Generation.

The Pink One

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Podcast Roundup–The Naked Scientists and Naked Archaeology

I haven’t done one of these in a very long while. Too long, I’m afraid. I don’t feel like I support my favorite podcasts nearly enough, and at least when I was writing about them before people were clicking through. Long story short, I am well overdue. I did absolutely nothing on the kitchen today; I was away from the house so I can’t report on my tomato garden today; I have seen no new episodes of any television show to write about; I am stalled on my book so I have no book review. So, like Michelangelo, I am chiseling away everything away that isn’t podcast.

The following pair are both products of the BBC radio arm, or division, or branch, or whatever it’s called. I download them from iTunes, and I probably learned about them as iTunes recommendations from some other science podcast I’ve subscribed to.

The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists is a weekly production that posts Mondays, usually, but airs live on Sundays at 10:00 AM Second Life Time, otherwise known as Pacific. It is a panel production, and most episodes have a theme, although the news reports at the beginning and the listener questions at the end can be on any topic. They run about an hour.

Pause: I am totally distracted by fireworks. It’s time for the nightly show at Sea World, but I am miles and miles away from the ocean, albeit on a hill above the riverbed. Sound could come right up the valley, I suppose. It’s pretty loud. Not window shaking loud, but I wasn’t expecting to hear it. It’s making me nostalgic for when I lived right at the beach and could even see the fireworks, and could set a clock by them during the summertime.

The panel is composed of several men and women, who all speak very naturally and who have personal interests that you almost never hear about until some part of a story crosses paths with some piece of information that he or she has picked up during his or her own work. One’s a doctor; one’s into marine life; one is a member of a band. They don’t talk about their personal histories–it’s a show that stays very much on topic–but their personalities come right through the broadcast and makes it a very enjoyable program. The show starts with them taking turns presenting news stories that seem to me to be just the most interesting things they’ve found in the past week. After a handful of those, they move into the longer stories that comprise the theme: transportation, bioengineering, and climate represent a few that I have stocked up on my podcast waiting to get to (yeah, I’m behind). The stories include interviews with (or at least recordings of interviews from) the scientists working on the projects they report on. What’s nice is that you get people from all over the (mostly the English-speaking) world; it’s not strictly local topics. There are so many accents on this show I honestly don’t even notice them anymore.

Halfway through the main stories segment is a break for “Kitchen Science,” which is a laboratory follow-along demonstration that listeners are encouraged to try at home. The materials are almost always something you’d have on hand. They set up an experiment, ask the audience to make predictions, and return to the kitchen lab later. It’s my least favorite part of the show, but probably because I don’t listen at my house, or with kids. It’s not something I’m going to try, especially if I don’t know what kind of mess it will make in advance. (Like what happens if you cover an inflated balloon with a hill of flour and then pop the balloon? It’s hard enough for me to clean the kitchen without five pounds of flour all over everything. That’s not a risk I am willing to take.) The good part of this segment is that the instructions are pretty easy to visualize, and the explanations easy to understand. I wish it wasn’t in the show–I’d personally rather hear another science story–but I’m not a big do-er, and I’m not a teacher, and I really am not on the market for science activities right now. All this could change in two years, and if I suddenly need to run a different Kitchen Science experiment each week, well, the website has them all archived, as audio and as transcripts.

The last part of the show–Listener Questions–used to frustrate me until I started listening to the episodes in sequence. They play a voicemail of a listener with a question, and then end the show. In the next episode, they replay the question, and an answer from some audience-member topic expert who calls in. Then they play the question for the following week. I don’t know why I used to get so confused, but it’s now my favorite part of the show. People think of very interesting things to ask, and somewhere in the vast audience of 6,000,000 people, the person who has the perfect answer phones it in. I like hearing where all the people are from, and all the different specific fields of expertise that there are, as much as I like getting the new information. It’s definitely a hook for the next episode, so it keeps you listening. Of course, for the purpose of full disclosure I should let you know that on iTunes you can subscribe just to the question of the week and circumvent the whole rest of the show, but that’s the cheater’s solution.

The Naked Scientists have a very rich website that is easy to navigate, seems to contain audio and transcripts of most of the interview segments, has a lot of history, and a pretty active participant forum. I am not a member of the forum, for no particular reason. Actually, because I am already a member of two other forums, and find myself repeating the same things over and over again. What with this blog, and Facebook, and actual friends, I don’t need to be socializing in quintiplicate. I’d never be able to keep my stories straight.

Naked Archaeology
Naked Archaeology is a splinter podcast hosted by one of the Naked Scientist regulars. She is the only host on the show, and it sticks to its topic, with longer stories and interviews; there’s no news segment or questions segment, although there is a piece called “Backyard Archaeology,” which is very local to Cambridge (for obvious reasons). This is a relatively new program, I think, and it doesn’t flow as well as the main show, but that’s because there’s just the one host and not a panel. I have come to the conclusion that a panel podcast is easier to do and easier to listen to. The changing voices of a panel really help me focus, especially when I am doing another task while listening. But that is entirely my issue and other people may disagree.

I do like this show, and I love the information. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from listening. It is an excellent program and the host is not awkward at all. The episodes run from twenty-five to thirty minutes and come out monthly, about halfway through the month. The show has a page on the Naked Scientist main website, and you can listen to the archives there (or via iTunes or whatever), but they don’t seem to have transcripts. Maybe those are forthcoming. Like I said, it’s a very new show.

Podcast Roundup–The LOST Collection

I have been very excited for the past few weeks about the return of Lost (and the magnificence that is Benjamin Linus) this month. This is crazy to say, but I am almost as excited about the return of the Lost podcasts, too! One watches an episode of Lost and ends up with ideas–ideas that can’t always be expressed with family members (not watching it, or watching it sleepy) or online (too slow! and my paragraphs are too long). There’s a real pleasure, too, in grocery shopping at 11:00 PM not just by yourself (a wonderful pleasure) but with a podcast to rehash the show for you. Makes you feel smart. Also, it’s like you are watching TV but you are also getting something else done. I haven’t noticed that it affects my grocery selections in a negative way, either.

It was a while after I got the iPod before I thought to look up podcasts for Lost. I did a Google search for the best one, I cruised the iTunes reviews, and I listened to a couple. People love the Jack and Jay podcast, or whatever it’s called, and I really wanted to like it because they analyze music, which would be amazing. Unfortunately, the first episode I listened to spent at least five minutes talking and talking about some inside joke involving an orange comforter. It showed no signs of stopping. As an outsider, I didn’t think it was very funny, and so–alas!–it didn’t make the cut. I am probably missing out on all kinds of spectacularness. Such is life.

So I ended up at two different ones, both of which I kept (for very different reasons): “LOSTCasts” and “The Transmission.”

“LOSTCasts” describes itself as an analysis of “the mysteries, theories and speculation surrounding the show.” As they say on theĀ  website, they read the forums so you don’t have to. Long story short: Thank god someone is! I’d never be able to find them all.

If you listen to the “That’s What She SaidOffice podcast, this one would remind you of it. It’s a panel of guys going pretty in-depth on the program, running about an hour and twenty minutes each time. It’s been so long that I’ve listened that I forget everyone’s names, but there is a leader, and then one or two reliable back-ups. Once I heard a woman join in. It’s not a podcast I listened to from the beginning; I only picked it up Season 4. I did try to go back and listen to the old episodes that were recorded as the show was airing in earlier seasons, but it wasn’t that interesting. So much of the podcast is speculation that’s really, really cool to participate in, but once an answer has been revealed on the show, it’s too frustrating to listen to a five-minute exploration of an idea that you retroactively know goes nowhere. But that is beside the point.

I prefer podcasts recorded by panels to solo performers, and these guys do a good give and take that keeps me interested. The change of voices helps me focus on the podcast, which is very good because I am usually listening to the iPod when I am doing something else. I can fall into a trance pretty quickly, and I hate getting lost and rewinding.

The biggest complaint I read about this podcast on iTunes is what I find most appealing: They go through all the Wikipedia pages and all the Lostpedia pages and look up every book and song and name that appears in the show and explain the background information and speculate on its relevance. Yes. They will read aloud from a Wikipedia page that I could access and read myself. But who are these people complaining about it? Are people really taking notes as they watch the show, looking everything up, and thinking it over in the four or five days before the podcast airs and then getting bored with conclusions that the LOSTCast panel draws? Dude. Maybe they all have office jobs. It’s a task I certainly don’t mind outsourcing, to Americans even. Maybe this is a key behavior that separates true fans from the hacks. Or maybe I can spin this in my favor by saying I am just too busy and too highly paid to do the grunt work myself, and rely on such a staff to provide me with the basics so I can get the real thinking done. Whatever the case may be, I am grateful to have a consolidated source of all this information. And even though you can definitely tell when the host stops talking and starts reading, he does a very good job of reading. The time always passes too quickly.

The one episode I’ve heard that I didn’t like was towards the end of season 4, when the main host wasn’t there. He’s definitely the leader, so far as pacing the show goes. They also seemed to rush through the last three episodes, but that I cannot blame anyone for. I was disappointed, but stuff comes up.

The show has a basic website, with a discussion board. The discussion board is pretty slow, but on the main page there is a listing for each episode of the show that airs, with comments enabled. I’ve read a lot of really smart comments; for season four you’d rarely see fewer than thirty per episode, and they stay somewhat active even as new episodes air. I left one or two messages in both places, but I am afraid I can’t participate in Advanced Level Lost. All my theories are always wrong, and I never remember all the small details from past episodes that everyone else does, which shoots gaping holes in any theory I come up with. I have made my peace with that. I still love reading the comments.

The Transmission
“The Transmission” is described as a “friendly conversation among friends and fellow fans.” Long story short: That is exactly why I like it.

“The Transmission” is to “LOSTCast” as “The Office Alliance” podcast is to “That’s What She Said.” “The Transmission” is no longer than forty-five minutes usually, and it sticks to its schedule. Tangents might be interesting to follow, but they won’t drag a conversation out if it starts to back up the other segments. For reasons I can’t remember, I had trouble getting into this podcast. I think it was the episode recap that seemed like a waste of time, but now I totally rely on it. Once I actually listened to one, I realized how easy it is to overlook parts of the show.

“The Transmission” is hosted by Ryan and Jen, a married couple who (lucky!) live in Hawaii and watch Lost together (lucky!). Like “LOSTCast,” I didn’t tune into this podcast until season 4. Turns out the podcast has a different format than it used to, one that the hosts think has been much improved. They start with fast-paced recap of the episode’s events, move into their personal analysis, identify filming locations, and then read and discuss voicemails, emails, and blog posts. They also have this segment called “The Forward Cabin,” in which they discuss spoilers. I never used to listen to it, but during the very long break between seasons I heard one or two things, and it was much milder than I expected. They live in Hawaii and people visit Hawaii, and you get reports on what people have observed being filmed. They’ll say things like so and so character was seen in this kind of costume in front of a building they called X restaurant. I’ve enjoyed hearing inside comments like that, but it was a long, slow period for reporting. Once the episodes start up again, I’ll probably stop listening to the spoilers. I don’t really like hearing episode summaries or discussions of scenes from next week.

Ryan and Jen really have their rhythm down. What’s nice about this pair is that if one is missing, the podcast doesn’t fall apart. I don’t want to say that this podcast is shallower than the LOSTCast, but they do not get into the same level of background detail. “The Transmission” has been recording new podcasts for old episodes fairly regularly throughout the hiatus, so they are fresher in my mind, but it seems like they do a better job of personally relating to the characters’ dilemmas than the LOSTCast panel does. They touch on all the details, and explain them, but they spend just as much time discussing character motivations. I think their “eight minutes or less” recaps are very valuable… even after only a few days, I do forget some of the secondary plot points.

I am undecided if I like hearing the voicemails in their entirety. “The Office Alliance” plays them in full, too, and although it’s nice to hear new voices, and those new voices often have something interesting to talk about, they are just too long. You’ve left voicemails for people–it’s too hard to get to the point. Some of them go for two minutes. Two minutes of answering machine is boring. Of course, if I were the one to leave a message and hear it on the air, I’d be thrilled! I think that playing voicemails probably strengthens the sense of community between the podcast and all the listeners. That’s probably the primary characteristic of this podcast–Ryan and Jen aren’t dispensing information. They are facilitating a big conversation. Their experience of watching the show seems to be very much like my experience, and I enjoy hearing how they come to their opinions about characters and plot turns and what the writers are doing. It’s not particularly intellectual, and it’s something I have the time to do by myself, but it just wouldn’t be as much fun.

This podcast has an enhanced version, which I’ve never seen. I don’t really read their website, but they refer to particular comments by name as if there are definite regulars. I’m sure it would be an easy group to fall in with, because everyone seems to be so nice. I imagine that’s some kind of Hawaii effect. A nice feature of the website is the filming locations page, which identifies and describes the buildings and beaches that the episodes use. If I were planning a trip to Hawaii, I’d totally plan an afternoon around checking out some of the locations. My friend Dennis went and saw the Others compound, or else the huts that Kate, Jack, and Michael were taken to before Michael went off with Walt.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I get lots of good information out of LOSTCast but I have lots of fun listening to “The Transmission.” I think they are very good companion pieces.

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.