I had been aware of podcasts for quite some time before I finally got into them about three years ago. I was under the impression that they were like amateur radio, in the unflattering sense of the phenomenon, but I was in for a surprise. Since that I’ve practically stopped listening to music when I’m commuting or otherwise on the move, and feeding my inner infovore with a bunch of interesting podcasts. I’ve been meaning to give a shout-out to my favourites for some time now, so here goes!
First of all, for those who are not in the know – podcasts are basically radio programs that are published in a downloadable form as mp3-files or similar. Basically podcasts are radio without inane blabbering DJs, interesting content and available at your leisure. Usually you can subscribe to podcasts and get new episodes more or less automatically. I use iTunes and the iOS podcast app, but there are other alternatives, such as Stitcher.
I’ve been a fan of Dan Savage’s since I found his Savage Love column in The Onion’s AV Club in… late 90′s, I guess. Dan has been a sex and relationship advice columnist and a radio host since forever. He’s as gay as they come, very sex and kink positive, doesn’t subscribe to the stupid stereotypes of what a man, a woman or a relationship should be like, and he’s just plain sensible – all this while managing to be sarcastic, acerbic, understanding and bloody entertaining. The podcast usually starts with some reflections about a recent event pertaining to sexual minority rights, gender equality issues or something like that, and the rest of the podcast is Dan answering to phoned in questions, and occasionally calling people back and having a chat with them.
If you want to open your relationship up because you aren’t getting enough from your spouse and wonder if you are a dick because of it, if you don’t know the proper etiquette of threesomes, your spouse ignores you when you go to a kink club, you’re a closeted LGBT kid in the sticks, or you have some other problem that feels like it’s totally out there – I heartily recommend listening to archives of the Savage Lovecast. Chances are your question has been asked ten times already, and if not, at least listening through the archives will make you realize that your “freaky” tastes aren’t not that freaky after all.
Gweek podcast is affiliated with Boing Boing and it’s hosted by one of the founders, Mark Frauenfelder. To quote the pitch, “Gweek is Boing Boing’s podcast about comic books, science fiction and fantasy, video games, board games, tools, gadgets, apps, and other neat stuff” and yeah, on the surface it offers what it says on the tin. What is between the lines is that Gweek is a massively motivating podcast. There are usually at least two guests in the show, and they are the kinds of people that do a shitload of interesting stuff. It may be that they’re “just” the authors of some new comic, book or other such thing, but quite often they’re people who have done all kinds of art projects, they’re involved in the maker phenomenon (ie. building and creating gadgets and other things) or stuff like health, productivity, sleep pattern observation, neurofeedback and brain stimulation, etc. All in all, they are people who do things, not just consume. Listening to almost any given episode I find new things to learn more about, or stuff that helps me with my existing interests. Without fail it’s extremely refreshing and motivating to listen to people who do and accomplish stuff.
Even though Gweek is free, as most podcasts are, it’s still the most expensive podcast for me to listen to. I don’t even want to estimate how much money I’ve spent in listening to the recommendations on the podcast, and impulse buying comics, books and gadgets during my commute with my phone. Never really regretted any of those purchases, though.
I’m not a “sceptic” in the established sense and neither am I an atheist, but I have a bug the size of a VW beetle up my ass about most forms of alternative “medicine”, especially homeopathy and everything that has to do with waving your hands and going “booga booga”, such as reiki, crystal healing etc. And don’t even get me started with anti-vaccination nuts. This makes me enjoy QuackCast quite a lot. QuackCast is hosted by Mark Crislip, a doctor in internal medicine and infectious diseases, who’s been taking a hard look at alternative medicine in it’s myriads of forms. What makes QuackCast great is that it’s not just mindless arrogant bashing of alternative stuff. Instead of that it’s very thorough and analytical arrogant debunking of the subject. Dr Crislip takes a good look at the first principles, existing research, the background and the methodology of different alternative approaches and sort of leaves it for the listener to decide if it makes sense. He also takes a similar look at people like anti-vaccination nuts, those who swear on raw milk, and also on established medicine – there’s been more than one bitchslap for his partners in medical science.
QuackCast is not the podcast you’ll want to recommend to the friend who’s been swayed away with one alternative medicine thing or other, since frankly – Dr. Crislip is a bit of an arrogant, cynical, sarcastic prick, and this is said in a fully “arrogant, cynical, sarcastic prick” positive sense. Instead it’s a great way to get some solid information about the field for some more measured talks that will maybe bring your pals back to their senses.
Dr Karl and the Naked Scientist
Dr Karl and the Naked Scientist is actually a podcast version of BBC radio programs. which are about science news and people calling in with their science questions. Dr Karl, aka Karl Kruszelnicki, is one of those people I find very pleasant to listen to because he sounds like he’s immensely interested in every goddamn thing out there. People call in asking some really basic level questions about science, but there isn’t even a hint of condescension in his answers – and the man always manages to slingshot around the question into a very interesting tangent. When I first started listening to this podcast, for the first few calls I thought that it’s maybe a bit too basic level stuff for me – right up to when I was drawn in by the host’s enthusiasm and realized that I had learned a dozen things I hadn’t really known or thought of before. Also, to avoid a wrong impression, the scale goes the other way too and pretty far, there has been some pretty advanced stuff about physics in the program, for example. I guess the blurb for the latest episode at the time of writing this post expresses it the best:
Dr Karl and Dr Rhod discuss string theory, why medicine can’t yet replace cartilage and why kettles go quiet as they near boiling point.
The titular Naked Scientist is Dr. Chris Smith, who has his own program about news in science, and which is combined with the call-in show. It is great stuff and a perfect counterpoint to the enthusiastic mania of Dr. Karl’s section.
Slate’s The Afterword
Slate’s The Afterword is a podcast about non-fiction books and interviewing their authors. It’s a relatively new addition to my podcast repertoire, but I think it’s a keeper. I learned about it via Slate’s Culture Gabfest which I listen to in bursts, but it’s somehow just a leeeetle bit too snobby for me to actually wait for the next episode. It’s a culture podcast in a very traditional sense, and they kind of gloss over the new media, internet and gaming stuff in a way that somehow manages to ruffle my feathers. In any case, if non-fiction books are your thing, The Afterword is something you’ll want to check out. The books and the authors are thematically all over the place in a very good way, and the topics range from mixed martial arts through race politics in US to the phenomenon of System D in third world economy.
Besides, I simply love the voice and the accent of the host, June Thomas. I could just sit and listen to her read the phone book out aloud.
Other interesting stuff
These are just the podcasts that I have on my steady rotation of daily listening. Of course there’s a ton of other interesting stuff out there which I listen to irregularily, such as Psychedelic Salon, TEDtalks Audio and on the video side Onion News Network. I’d reall like to listen to Warren Ellis’ SPEKTRMODULE, but so far I haven’t been able to figure out how to make it appear automagically in my iPhone. (EDIT: Hah, apparently it’s now available in iTunes also)
I’m also interested in all hints, tips and recommendations for more stuff to listen to, so feel free to drop them to the comments!