That’s the somewhat provocative question asked by Radio Lab this past week. Want is really a stronger term here than is used, because this is really about the fact that ideas and technology evolve in much the same way that life does. I think the parallels between convergent evolution and simultaneous discovery is one of the most fun parts of this.
The Commonwealth Club of California has become one of my new favorite sources of audio, with some really great speakers over the last month. Here are my favorites, all are worth listening to.
David Sullivan, Professional Cult Investigator
Learn about cults from a man who’s seen them from the inside. Professional investigator Sullivan describes the process of identifying and investigating cults, providing an overview of how cults recruit, convert and maintain control of their members through a variety of psychologically coercive techniques. A licensed private investigator for more than 19 years, Sullivan has worked in collaboration with leading authorities in the area of undue influence.
Academy Award-Winning Actor; Founder, The Dreyfuss Initiative
Recognized for his roles in Jaws, American Graffiti, and Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss has issued a call to action in our classrooms. Dreyfuss believes civic education is the foundation of public education; yet over the years, it has become more about memorizing facts and dates than understanding context and history. By incorporating logic, history, and critical thinking with a national standard, Dreyfuss hopes to inspire a new way of teaching and preparing America’s youth. Learn more about his bold national initiative to enhance civic education in today’s classrooms.
Author, Delivering Happiness; CEO, Zappos
In conversation with Geoffrey Fowler, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Meet the man who built a business based on happiness. Hsieh co-founded LinkExchange and sold it to Microsoft for $265M in 1998. He then took Zappos from $1.6M in 2000 to more than $1 billion in 2008. Contrary to the take-no-prisoners persona one might presume would be required to rake in such revenues, Hsieh has made his mark by focusing his business model, ironically enough, on happiness. Hsieh now brings you his secret recipe for Zappos success. How does a company go from $1.6M to more than a billion dollars on happiness? And how did Hsieh make Zappos one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For”?
David Boies: Challenging Law and Making History
Attorney; Chairman, Boies, Schiller and Flexner LLP
Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law, Stanford University; Co-director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford University – Moderator
Challenging Law and Making History: Overturning CA’s Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban.
Boies has been deeply involved in some of the most prominent legal disputes of the past two decades. From serving as special counsel to the Justice Department in the United States v. Microsoft trial to representing Vice President Al Gore in the Bush v. Gore case following the 2000 presidential election, Boies’ legal experience is extensive and varied.
Together, Boies and former Solicitor General Theodore Olson have successfully overturned California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. The judge’s ruling on the case happened just one day before this program was recorded. In a recent interview with Salon.com, Boies asserted that overturning this legislation will “improve the lives of gay and lesbian couples…it will not in any way harm heterosexual marriage.” In 2010, Boies was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Boies provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Prop. 8 case, and provide insight into what it takes to challenge the status quo and make legal history.
I’m also sticking these all over in Sean Cast as well, for anyone that wants to add to their normal podcast listening.
There is a great piece up on the Common Wealth Club’s podcast feed on How to DIY (no page yet, so the link is directly to the mp3). It’s hosted by Adam Savage of MythBusters fame, and has the editors of Make Magazine on it. A big part of their inspiration was Popular Science and Popular Mechanics from the 1920s and 1930s, when those magazines were largely about making your own stuff in many different contexts.
It also let me find out that the World Maker Faire is coming to NYC in September, which I’ll need to check out. There is also one in Detroit at the end of July, which I consider an inspired choice.
Last week I started using Read It Later again, which I really like. It occurred to me what I also really wanted was a Listen to it Later, which would automatically get things onto my Android phone so that it would come up in rotation in my driving around. It was on that list of things I’d get around to eventually, until I came across a 1.5 hour Douglas Adams talk that I had to listen to.
The net result is Sean Cast, another wordpress instance where I’ll be posting audio I want to listen to later that isn’t in one of my regular podcast feeds. You might want to listen as well, in which case you are welcome to subscribe to the podcast, or just look at the site from time to time. No promises other than it’s stuff that is interesting to me.
After I got my HTC Hero and purchased DoggCatcher, I’ve now got this entirely seemless podcast experience as my phone grabs the newest stuff any time I’m on wireless. It caused me to do some trimming and tuning on what is being pulled down as I work towards having approximately the same number of hours of podcasts a week as I’ve got car rides and yard work. For those interested, here is what I’m listening to now.
- IT Management Podcast. Once Cote got hired by Redmonk, he started producing more podcasts covering a range of subjects Redmonk was doing analysis on. I tried most of them, but IT Management Podcast is the only one that stuck. John Willis has a real wealth of knowledge in the industry, and very recently got hired by Canonical on cloud strategy. The podcast is honestly more cloud than “good old fashion IT management”, as the boys would say, but that suits me just fine. If you are looking for a good source on what’s new in cloud computing, this is one of the best out there.
- AstronomyCast. Once I got my telescope this was suggested to me by a friend of mine. AstronomyCast is incredible, just flat out incredible. Each of the 162 30 minute episodes to date takes on a specific topic in Astronomy and gives it a really wonderful treatment. The back and forth being Pamela and Frasier is really fun to listen to, and the do a great job of making the information very accessible. Honestly, anyone above the age of 12 could probably get into this quite easily. After listening to the entire AstronomyCast back catalog I feel like my knowledge of Astronomy is now at quite a reasonable level. This podcast also has the added benefit of being very wife friendly. It is one of the few science or technology podcasts that Susan is eager to listen to when we are doing a long drive in the car.
- Slacker Astronomy. Before I found AstronomyCast I found Slacker Astronomy. The slackers publish far less often then AstronomyCast, and it is a more free form model. To get into Slacker Astronomy you need to know a few more things about physics and astronomy out of the gate, as there is less explanation there. I appreciate that though, and am always psyched when I find out there has been another slacker podcast posted.
- 365 Days of Astronomy. In case you didn’t realize, this is the International Year of Astronomy. This podcast was an interesting experiment to get volunteers from all over the world to put together 10 minute podcasts and have a new one every day. They aren’t all great, but there are a lot of great ones in there. And the breadth of volunteers and subjects is quite nice. Even if you aren’t into astronomy, check out this one epsiode on Roswell that really debunks a lot of the story and timelines associated with that myth.
- Geologic Podcast. The theme song in front of the 365 days of Astronomy was done by George Hrab, and eventually I decided to check out his podcast. It’s not about geology. George is a musician, a skeptic, and all around great story teller. He also has a sense of production values for this podcast that rival some of the greatest radio being done today. The Geologic podcast airs once a week, and the moment I get my new episode I jump from whatever I’m listening to and flip over to it. The last time Nick and Heather were around I put in on in the car, and it happened to be the episode that starts with worst gig ever. I’m not really sure how we managed to stay on the road as we were laughing so hard during that story.
- Radio Lab. Radio Lab is This American Life meets science reporting. It tells some really compelling stories that all have some element of science in them along the way. I’m also really happy that it gives Robert Krulwich an outlet again, as I’ve always really appreciated him as a popular story teller. I find him far more compelling that Brian Green or Neil deGrasse Tyson as a popular voice for science. I do realize that he doesn’t have the same credentials, but his ability to do outreach is far greater. Radio Lab is a WNYC production that is done somewhere irregularly, but great none the less.
- This American Life. It is probably hands down the best radio being produced today. A bad This American Life episode is still quite good. A good one… will make you weep, laugh out loud, and totally rethink some opinion you’ve held, all in the same hour. I’m really happy that the folks at This American Life let the podcast out there, because many other shows of that quality on NPR have not.
- Planet Money. Spawned out of the great This American Life reporting on the financial crisis last year, Planet Money was an attempt to bring a 3 times a week podcast out there that tried to explain economics for mere mortals. Planet Money was strong out of the gate, but had some issues finding a voice after 4 months of the financial crisis. Fortunately, they eventually did, and really broadened their approaches to exploring economics as applied to many fields. The many episodes they’ve done over the last 4 months on the economics of health care in the US have been incredible, and really informative, and often surprising when you start to understand the complexities in the current health care system. It also gives you a much more nuanced understanding to what a “free market” means, because every market is just actors inside of constraints. Economics is really about understanding how those constraints (be they incentives, regulations, taboos) change how the actors interact. The Pirates Have Timesheets episode gives you a really nice example of that.
- Wait wait don’t tell me. This is the NPR news quiz show. It’s sort of daily show light and airs weekly. I get it as a podcast mostly because 11am on Saturday is a dubious time for me to be near a radio. If we’re working around the house, I typically listen to it live, if not, it’s podcasted for me to enjoy it later.
- The Media Project. While On the Media is probably the more popular national show on this subject, I really like the take our local public radio station does with this. Sometimes I’ll catch the Sunday rebroadcast live, if not, it’s on the player and I listen to it that way.
- This Week in Science. This was a suggestion in DoggCatcher, and the first episode I listened to seemed quite good. I think this one is sticking around.
Things I used to listen to but gave up on for one reason or another
- LUG Radio. This show was great, but it ended. Damn you!
- Linux Outlaws. While it’s still probably the best Linux show out there, it’s far too dry for me. I know a lot of folks that like this more than LUG Radio because it’s PG language instead of a hard R, but I don’t mind vulgarity at a certain level in my podcasts.
- Security Now. I really felt like the information density was too low in this. While I do like Leo… the other guy got on my nerves from time to time. I know lots of folks that like this podcast, I’m just not one of them. Perhaps if you were more of a Microsoft user it would be more relevant.
- Floss Weekly. I was pretty frustrated by the treatment of Justin on the OpenSim episode. I just don’t think it’s right to put someone into apology mode on an interview show about the platform their project is written in, especially a show that gives smalltalk a pass.
- TWiT. John Dvorak is always wrong. I’m now convinced that is an axiom of the universe.
- Google Developer Podcast. This had similar issues to a lot of the Google developer bits on youtube. Informative but bland and too much reading scripts.
- The Gaurdian’s Tech Weekly Podcast. This had exactly the opposite issue, it was too over produced. You could hear them watching time codes the entire episodes. One of the beauties of podcast medium is that if it’s 28 minutes or 34 minutes, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to rush something, or cut it off, to fit into a standard time block. They seem to have missed this memo.
- Some Ruby Podcast. Honestly, I don’t even remember which one it was, but it had the same issue as Linux Outlaws. High on dry facts, low on interesting stories or banter. You really need to be a multi level black belt at podcasting before you are allowed near a sound effects board, and these guys broke that rule.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten some along the way, and I’m sure my listen list will be a bit different in a year, it always is. I’ll actually be interested in revisiting this post in a year and see what’s changed. Perhaps this might help you discover some new things to listen to. If so, or if you have other suggestions for your favorite podcasts, or this inspires your own write up of what you are listening to, I’d love to get a comment from you.
P.S. Hope all you Americans out there have a happy Turkey Day tomorrow. Turkey and Cranberries are about the best things in the world as far as I’m concerned.
Updated (11/28/2009) to be more specific on my criticism of FLOSS weekly, as Randal correctly called me out for having just a vague slap down.
When this is the first thing you hear in your car on the way to work:
Cote: the first rule of knife fighting is you are going to get cut Charles: yeh, it's true Cote: I don't know what it means Charles, but it sounds profound Charles: well... not if you use the top of a trash can as a shield
That’s right, I’m now up to Drunk and Retired Episode 81: Persistence Layer Knife Fighting, We Want Java Properties, Comic Books, Strange Bezos Obsession, on my belated count down to gravitas.
I was attempting to find a useful podcast tool on Linux so that I can get This American Life as a podcast, instead of my normal method of timeshifting our local NPR station. After a few attempts I found Castpodder, which had the best interface of any of the pieces of software that I could just package install off the network. And off I was to start setting up podcasts.
Castpodder had the benefit of prepopulating the tool with a couple of podcasts, one of which was LUG Radio, a regular podcast by a bunch of Linux Users in the UK. While there are parts of it where I think they could get their facts a bit better, overall it is a pretty amusing show, and it has definitely let me know about a few things I wouldn’t have otherwise.
One of them was Redmonk, an open source analyst firm. These guys do analysis of open source software and communities from a business perspective, and post all their content online. From their charter:
RedMonk is the first analyst firm built on open source. We’re dedicated to providing high quality research at no cost, and believe that the dialog that follows is beneficial to us, our community and our clients.
They also have a podcast, though I haven’t started listening to it yet as I’m getting through some of the LUG Radio backlog right now. However, as we start looking more at Linux in schools, it’s good to get some information on best bractices in Open Source beyond just my own personal experience. Redmonk looks like a reasonable place to gather some of that information.
The last thing I learned is that C# doesn’t kill puppies, at least not that many of them. I’ve been looking at it a bit recently, and basically it’s Java with all the rough edges scrubbed off. The fact that there is an actual open implementation that works, and that it comes with nearly every distro now.