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A Year in Podcasts

Every year my mix of podcasts changes up a bit, and the end of the year is worth reflecting on what I’ve been listening to.

Always on Top

These podcasts I’m always jumping to the top of my queue when a new episode comes out:

Skeptics Guide to the Universe – a great weekly dose of science and critical thinking. The crew also published a book this year which was incredible. The weekly Science or Fiction game on the show, is always a lot of fun. This has been in my bump to the top list for years, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

Bombshell – 3 folks with incredible experience in and around the State and Defense departments take a deep dive on the week’s news through a national security lens. And drink. And ask guests what’s their favorite statistical distribution. And, the hosts and guests all happen to be women. This podcast wins the award for the one I’m mostly likely to recommend to folks out of the blue, and every single person that started listening after that thanked me for it.

Binges

I had two podcasts this year that I found, and immediately listened all the way through ignoring the Always on top rule above.

Farm to Taber – Sarah Taber is a crop consultant who has seen the ag industry from many different perspectives. She’s got incredible stories about things she’s seen on farms, and a system perspective that I found really interesting. She works really hard at showing that while a sustainable ag future is a great goal, the current narrative of “big ag bad, small farm good” really papers over a lot of complexity that’s really important if you want a sustainable future. Highly recommend if you are interested in how your food gets to your table, and she’s also great to follow on twitter.

2050: Degrees of Change – Johanna Wagstaffe is a CBC meteorologist, and put together the 6 part series last year which tells the story of what 2050 British Columbia in Canada looks like because of climate change. Every episode starts with the morning wake up interaction between a 10 year old girl talking with her “smart assistant” about what she needs to do that day. They then unpack one aspect of that with the best experts and modeling we’ve got today. The picture it paints is really powerful.

Climate and Energy

Because of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer work, I started finding more and more content in the area to dive deep on issues. So a huge part of my listening feed includes that.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Podcast – This is the mega feed. It includes the monthly lecture / meeting, the citizens climate university deep dives, citizens climate radio interview show, and recordings from sessions at conferences. I listen to most of it, and even got the administrator to up the published list to 100 so I could go back through some older content. I’m often listening to one of these when I’m driving down to our monthly meeting to set the mood.

The Interchange – this is a weekly dive in a pretty wonky way on energy and electricity sector from green tech media. The show can be a bit corny at times, but is great to understand how the electricity sector is actually changing in a greener way, and want some of the barriers are to it.

Warm Regards – Dr Jacquelyn Gill, paelo-ecologist from the University of Maine, and a bunch of other great rotating guest hosts talk about climate change topics, and bring in pretty amazing guests. I discovered it when they had someone from CCL on, and have been avidly listening ever since. I really like the approach they took recently in adding a new mini climate related piece of research at the end, because apparently climate change is making bears eat less salmon. This one also qualifies in the “Always on Top” category, but is in this list for thematic reasons.

Listen to Every One

There are a few more podcasts that I make sure to listen to every one.

The Mirror of Antiquity – My friend Curtis Dozier, who teaches Classics at Vassar College, now has a podcast about where we see ourselves in the ancient world. The episode on what it means to make a translation, and what parts of the original are really accessible was pretty amazing. As was the episode on the invention of Europe.

The Long Now – Both the monthly lectures, and the conversations from the interval are amazing. An organization who’s core tenant is to increase long term thinking (to the point that they write the current year as 02018), brings together some amazing folks. My favorite of the year was calls Soldiers and Scouts. It starts with wondering if the history of humanity is not unlike that of the robot uprising, where evolution has shaped us to be one thing, but we are in the process of rising up beyond our programming to be something more. The narrative works really well, and makes you think a lot about the way we think and react in the world. And, the seminar with Kim Stanley Robinson on climate change and science fiction was equally wonderful.

More Good Stuff

My podcast queue backlog is typically over 100 episodes. As I mostly listen when driving, flying, or doing yard work, there is lots of great stuff in my queue that I just dip in to from time to time. We’ll hit these fast for speed.

  • Commonwealth Club of California – they produce something like 400 events a year, and podcast most of them. I value this for new ideas and injecting something different into my feed.
  • Code Switch – a podcast on race in america.
  • The Churn – podcast about the Expanse TV Show (which is my second favorite show being produced right now after The Good Place).
  • Radiolab – a unique way of telling (mostly) science stories.
  • More Perfect – Radiolab team diving into the history of the Supreme Court. The episode on the 2nd amendment is a must listen.
  • Planet Money – A dive into economics. This year’s 5 part series on launching a satellite into space was great.
  • Planet Money the Indicator – 5 minutes each day about 1 number in the economy and what it means. I missed when they dropped the indicator from the show, and glad they just brought it back as a dedicated podcast.
  • Wait wait don’t tell me – NPR news quiz comedy show, mostly because 11am on Saturday is a time we’re never home any more. We also go to their live shows whenever they get close.
  • Imaginary Worlds – why we create worlds in scifi and fantasy, and what they mean to us.
  • 99 Percent Invisible – a look at design and the built world. You will never see the world the same way again.
  • The Allusionist – a deep dive into the oddities of the English language, with lots of humor and punning.
  • Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything – a truly unique podcast that blends fiction and non-fiction in a seamless way that often makes you wonder where the line is. I still need to catch up on the giant multipart series this year on fake news.

Hopefully Something for Everyone

Hopefully something in here caught your attention. My top recommendation if I can only recommend one new thing you listen to, is Bombshell. I also think that everyone would be well served by having more critical thinking in their life with Skeptics Guide. But everyone listens to things for their own reasons, so knowing why I like certain things might help you decide if you would as well.

I wish you happy listening in 2019 and beyond!

Tell the Complicated Story

It turns out that one of the solutions to get us all to talk to each other is to stop simplifying the narratives we use:

After the conversation ends and the participants are separated, they each listen to audio of their conversations and report how they felt at each point. Over time, the researchers noticed a key difference between the terrible and non-terrible conversations: The better conversations looked like a constellation of feelings and points, rather than a tug of war. They were more complex.

But could that complexity be artificially induced? Was there a way to cultivate better conversations? To find out, the researchers started giving the participants something to read before they met — a short article on another polarizing issue. One version of the article laid out both sides of a given controversy, similar to a traditional news story — arguing the case in favor of gun rights, for example, followed by the case for gun control.

The alternate version contained all the same information — written in a different way. That article emphasized the complexity of the gun debate, rather than describing it as a binary issue. So the author explained many different points of view, with more nuance and compassion. It read less like a lawyer’s opening statement and more like an anthropologist’s field notes.

After reading the article, the two participants met to discuss Middle East peace — or another unrelated controversy. It turns out that the pre-conversation reading mattered: in the difficult conversations that followed, people who had read the more simplistic article tended to get stuck in negativity. But those who had read the more complex articles did not. They asked more questions, proposed higher quality ideas and left the lab more satisfied with their conversations. “They don’t solve the debate,” Coleman says, “but they do have a more nuanced understanding and more willingness to continue the conversation.” Complexity is contagious, it turns out, which is wonderful news for humanity.

Source: Complicating the Narratives – The Whole Story

The article calls for a new approach to journalism which makes sure to tell the complex story, and not the simple one. It’s full of very specific ways of doing this, and why telling a 2 sided story isn’t the same thing as a complicated one.

One of the things that struck me most was how much this was the same as the motivational interviewing / active listening that is part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby training. When we pull back from interactions all being high stakes winner take all, and more about mutual explorations, we make a lot more progress understanding each other.

The Expanse Saved!

Given that my last post was about the Expanse getting cancelled, I’d be remiss to not write about the show getting saved. Amazon Studios has stepped up for Season 4 (… and possibly beyond?). The announcement happened at the International Space Development Conference where Jeff Bezos was getting an award.

Cas Anvar helped organize a panel on Science in the Expanse at ISDC, and tells an incredible tale of how that came to be, and how the whole evening went on The Churn. (Spoilers: this episode also deconstructs Expanse episode 308, so if you aren’t current in the show you’re likely going to ruin one of the best reveals of the season). Cas’s story is really amazing, and any fan is going to love it.

I’m really looking forward to Season 4, because book 4 is one of my favorites in the series.

If you haven’t been watching the Expanse yet, go check it out on Amazon Prime. Binge the first 4 episodes as a block before making up your mind on the show, because there is so much universe, and so many characters to set up.

‘The Expanse’ vs Syfy

The current third season of The Expanse will be the space drama’s last one on Syfy. The cable network has decided not to renew the show for a fourth season, with the last episode slated to air in early July. Alcon Television Group, which fully finances and produces the critically praised series, plans to shop it to other buyers.

The Expanse is one of the most well reviewed sci-fi series on TV, with the current third season scoring 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (vs. 95% for Season 2 and 76% for Season 1).

The cancellation decision by Syfy is said to be linked to the nature of its agreement for the series, which only gives the cable network first-run linear rights in the U.S. That puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on live, linear viewing, which is inherently challenging for sci-fi/genre series that tend to draw the lion’s share of their audiences from digital/streaming.

Source: ‘The Expanse’ Canceled By Syfy After Three Seasons, Will Be Shopped | Deadline

After Dark Matter was cancelled last year, I really wondered if the Expanse would suffer the same fate. The cancellation has more to do with the set of deals Syfy made a few years ago when it was trying to get back into science fiction.

They wanted to get back on the map, but because they had been out of it for so long they mostly made deals where they bought the rights from a production company for television broadcast, but left the rest of it on the table. This let them get a full slate of shows more or less overnight, without having to foot the whole production cost for all of them. Fast forward 3 years, the sci-fi genre shows are doing really well, but mostly on the streaming / digital front. Syfy gets none of that. So their return on investment on those shows is pretty low compared to the shows they funded fully. In an attempt to up their ROI, they have been dumping the shows they don’t own, to do new ones they do. Like Krypton.

It all makes sense in a spreadsheet, but sucks for fans of the genre. I’m hopeful that Alcon will find a new home for the Expanse because it really is one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. And it massively rewards rewatching. There are still 8 more episodes of Season 3 yet to air. And it’s been one of the best so far. So go buy and watch the Expanse on Amazon or iTunes to further nudge Alcon and any potential broads partners that it’s worth their while to support it.

The 10,000 Year Clock Under Construction

A clock designed to ring once a year, for the next 10,000 years has begun installation in the mountains of west Texas. This is a project of the Long Now Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting long term thinking. Human civilization is roughly 10,000 years old, so lets think about what the next 10,000 years might bring.

Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

I really love this clock. I love the hope that it represents. We have a lot of challenges to solve to get there, but setting a milestone like this puts a stake in the ground that we’re going to fight to ensure there is someone hear it in 10,000 years.

The Long Now also has an excellent podcast / lecture series which you should add to your rotation.

 

Catskills Conf 2017

Sunrise club at Ashokan courtesy of Ruthie Nachmany – https://twitter.com/ruthienachmany

Yawp! YAWP!
Yawp! YAWP!
Don’t fall in the creek.
Hudson Valley Tech Ashokan Community.
Yawp! YAWP!
Yawp! YAWP!
Don’t fall in the creek.
Be as open and present as you can be.

That was the chorus of the theme song for Castkills Conf this weekend. Yes there was a theme song. Every day started with a musical riff on the talks of the day before by Jonathan Mann, who has been posting a song-a-day, every day, to youtube for a decade. You can go watch them for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (soon). This is one of the many wonderful ways that this event was unlike any tech event I’ve been to, and why it just became one of my favorite tech events I’ve ever been to.

At a typical tech event the focus is on getting a bunch of speakers, so much content, splitting folks into tracks on the topics they would be interested in, then packing that in from 9 – 5 (or later). People are exhausted by the end of the day. They also largely attended different conferences. At a 10 track conference, the only shared experience, if it exists, is keynotes. Which for larger conferences are purchased slots.

Catskills Conf was a single speaking track. There were only 10 speakers, plus a lightning talk session with 7 lightning talks. The talks were a shared experience for everyone. They were all about technology, the tech industry, and/or the intersection of tech with other aspects of our lives. And they were all incredible. I considered it quite an honor to be a part of the speaking lineup.

And when it came to speakers, the Catskills Conf team was extremely serious about having a diverse speaker list. Of the 10 speakers, the gender split was 3 men, 6 women, and 1 non-binary. 4 of 10 speakers were people of color. The lightning talks were equally diverse. It was such a stark contrast to what you typically see at a Tech event that it was in your face refreshing.

10 talks doesn’t seem like a lot for a 3 day conference, but in between them there were structured Activity times. Saturday afternoon there was a 2 hour activity block after lunch with options including black smithing, letter press, self defense, foraging, hiking (with historic interpretation of the Ashokan site), and bread making. Being a 75 degree sunny fall afternoon, I opted for the 2 hour hike, wandering through woods and along streams. I came straight back from that into my talk more energized than I’ve ever been for one.

These kind of breaks from sitting and listening to talks and doing something with your hands or feet gave was wonderful for processing what you were hearing. It also meant that by the end of the day instead of feeling like your brain was jelly, you had enough processing time that you were excited to talk about what you heard, or get to know the person sitting next to you at dinner and find out the fascinating things they were doing. Every night ended with a campfire and beer under the stars. Which was another place to talk and get to know more folks. You weren’t so overloaded during the day that you wanted to go off and hide and decompress afterwards, even those of us that are more on the introvert side.

A couple of folks even collected for a 6am sunrise hike on Sunday morning. I joined 3 others as we hiked under flashlights, losing the trail a couple of times, to a sugar orchard and sugar shack, while discussing the work one of the hikers was doing around infectious disease modeling and experiments with mosquitos, the bio mimicry work that another was doing trying to take queues from nature and work them into built materials, discussing bird migrations, tech meetups, and just generally exploring a beautiful area.

This was the 3rd year of Catskills Conf, but the first time I could make it. I’m going to be processing the event for weeks to come. There were so many moments that I really loved that aren’t here, it just doesn’t all fit. But one thing is for sure. I’m extremely excited about attending and participating in the years to come.

I’ll leave you with this really cool Catskills Conf 2017 wrap up video. It’s not like being there, but it gives you a flavor.

James Bessen: “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth”

Interesting video by the Author of “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth“, which largely comes down to “it’s complicated”. Sometimes automation replaces jobs, but sometimes it increases jobs, especially when there was pent up demand.

ATMs actually increased the number of bank teller jobs, because it led to needing less people needed per branch, and banks openned up new branches to meet pent up demand. It’s also why manufacturing jobs are never coming back, we’ve met the demand on consumption, and most industries making goods are in the optimizing phase.

What’s also really interesting is the idea that new skills are always undervalued, because there is no reliable basis to understand how valuable they are. The transition from typesetting to digital publishing was a huge skill shift, but was pretty stagnant on wages.

What really causes cyber outages?

WASHINGTON, DC—For years, the government and security experts have warned of the looming threat of “cyberwar” against critical infrastructure in the US and elsewhere. Predictions of cyber attacks wreaking havoc on power grids, financial systems, and other fundamental parts of nations’ fabric have been foretold repeatedly over the past two decades, and each round has become more dire. The US Department of Energy declared in its Quadrennial Energy Review, just released this month, that the electrical grid in the US “faces imminent danger from a cyber attack.”

So far, however, the damage done by cyber attacks, both real (Stuxnet’s destruction of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges and a few brief power outages alleged to have been caused by Russian hackers using BlackEnergy malware) and imagined or exaggerated (the Iranian “attack” on a broken flood control dam in Rye, New York), cannot begin to measure up to an even more significant cyber-threat—squirrels.

Source: Who’s winning the cyber war? The squirrels, of course | Ars Technica

The ultimate fuzz testers.

Podcast Roundup 2016

As we round up 2016, I figured it’s useful to share what’s in my podcast rotation, and why you might want to add them to yours.

Skeptics Guide to the Universe

This is a weekly science and critical thinking podcast that’s really good at keeping you up on the latest science coming out, as well as building your critical thinking skills. You both get information on latest scientific discoveries, deconstruction of sometimes very poor science reporting, and a weekly Science or Fiction quiz that both is lots of fun, and helps figure out where all your odd biases are.

No particular episode jumps out for the year, this is more about getting a steady diet of facts, critical thinking, and reality every week.

More information: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/

99 Percent Invisible

A weekly podcast about the Built World (architecture and design). I find incredibly useful to understand how the world is shaped (literally). The subject matter goes all over the place, and the production quality is amazing. Who knew that in 1970s Chili there was a cyber command center to help govern the country? Now you do – http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/project-cybersyn/.

More information: http://99percentinvisible.org/

The Long Now

The Long Now foundation is based on the idea that we are in the middle of the arc of Human History, so with 10,000 years behind us, we’ve got another 10,000 years in our run. What kind of thinking, values, and information do we need to promote for the next 10,000 years. Part of this is a monthly lecture series which you can get as a podcast (you can get video if you are a member).

In 2016 the 2 episodes I learned the most from were:

Radical Ag: C4 Rice and Beyond – http://longnow.org/seminars/02016/mar/14/radical-ag-c4-rice-and-beyond/ – which has an incredible primer on the state of food production in the world, and what is needed to feed the planet in 2050. I also learned a ton about how plants actually make sugars, as the team described the grand goal of upgrading Rice’s sugar production to meet world demand.

1177 BC: When Civilization Collapsed – http://longnow.org/seminars/02016/jan/11/1177-bc-when-civilization-collapsed/. Which was part of a book tour about a time in history where we had a very global world, and it collapsed rather quickly. It’s a part of history I knew little about, and also helps remember how long the arc of human history really is.

More information: http://longnow.org/

The Common Wealth Club of California

The common wealth club is now producing over 300 events a year, much of it gets dumped into the podcast. It’s useful in being such a wide spectrum of things ending up in it. Lots of people on book tours, but also there is the Inforum and Climate One programs that specifically look at technology issues and climate issues. Because of the volume I freely skip past things that don’t turn out to be interesting, but I’ve also gotten surprised by some things I didn’t think I would.

The panel discussion on sustainability in the fashion industry was one of those – https://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/2016-05-17/you-are-what-you-wear-fashion-matters.

More information: https://www.commonwealthclub.org/

The Allusionist

A quirky podcast about language and the origin of words. It only runs every other week, but it’s always a fun dose of something different.

More information: http://www.theallusionist.org/

Imaginary Worlds

A podcast about scifi and fantasy worlds, and why we create them. In 2016 there were some great bits on the economics in fanstasy and scifi universes, how do you pay for that invasion? An exploration of the year without summer in 1816, which gave us Frankenstein. And a look at the role of maps in Fantasy epics.

More information: http://www.imaginaryworldspodcast.org/home.html

Radio Lab

Always a favorite, though you have to get used to their editing style. In 2016 Radio Lab also did a spin off about the Supreme Court called More Perfect – http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolabmoreperfect.

The story that stuck with me the most in 2016 was Debatable – http://www.radiolab.org/story/debatable/ – it’s about Debate Club, but it’s meta enough that you just have to listen to understand.

More information: http://www.radiolab.org/

 

There are a few more that come and go, but this was really the most notable during the year. If you are looking for more quality content, anything from the list above will fit that bill.

On the quest for Fake-News

A few days before the election, an extraordinary story popped up in hundreds of thousands of people’s Facebook feeds. This story was salacious. It was vivid, filled with intriguing details. There was a photo of a burning house, firemen rushing in. The headline read, “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide.”

It was all fake. There was no FBI agent. There was no shooting. The site it was published on, The Denver Guardian, isn’t a real news source. It was one of many fake stories that play into conspiracy theories about the Clintons and it worked. There is one part of the article that was real: the ads. Someone was making money off this phony news article and dozens of others like it. Someone was making profit off a fake story that suggested a presidential candidate was a killer. Today on the show, we take this single fake news story and follow the clues all the way back. We follow the digital breadcrumbs until we find ourselves on a suburban doorstep, face to face with the man behind a bogus news empire run. Then he tells us his secrets.

Source: Episode 739: Finding The Fake-News King : Planet Money : NPR

It’s 25 minutes and worth your time.

The core challenge is there is a giant demand for “fake news”. People so wanted to believe these terrible things about Clinton that they sought them out. Any debunking just fed the conspiracy arc further.