Piques of the Week – Volume 6

This week, I’ve been enjoying two great podcasts.

Science Vs

I really like the Reply All podcast from Gimlet Media. If you haven’t listened to that show, make sure you go listen to it. At the end of episode #71, they had a preview of the second season of a podcast I had never heard of, Science Vs I listened to the preview, which was the first half of the “Fracking” episode, and I was hooked.

Hosted by Wendy Zuckerman, the whole idea of this show is to take a topic, break down the key points, and scientifically back-up or refute the validity of said points. The topics range from fracking to diets to medical marijuana. In the latest episode and first in a two-part series titled “Guns”, she tackles a fiercely debated topic dealing with guns in America. It points out where some of the groups that use statistics get it wrong, and shines some light on how some of these figures get collected. The difference the podcast brings to the debate is that it’s not from a passionate point of view, but rather a scientific one to help understand what is really going on. Is it a problem? Is it a problem with incorrect statements of fact?1 I’m really looking forward to part two.

A nice touch in the beginning of the episode: she gives the telephone numbers for two suicide prevention and crisis hotlines, and even more in the show notes. This is a touch of class that I have not experienced while hearing another podcast, and given the subject matter, was the perfect way to start the show. Bravo, Wendy.

I’m happy that Reply All featured a segment, and I’m going back now to binge-listen to season one. I highly recommend you do the same.

Science Vs on iTunes

Reply All on iTunes

The Black Tapes

I don’t remember how I heard of The Black Tapes, but ever since listening to the first few episodes, I’ve been enjoying this serialized docudrama. The show features Alex Reagan sharing her journey, along with her producer Nick and the focal point of the show, Dr. Richard Strand, through a complex web of a story. The show deals with the “Black Tapes”, a series of tapes that cannot be scientifically explained. It covers elements of the supernatural, demons, the occult, and other topics; some of the are downright terrifying, and often makes me thankful this is an audio-only show.

I should state now that this is not a show for kids, or even listening to it with kids in the car. It can be more intense than other docudrama podcasts, with the background soundtrack adding effects that can make you feel a bit uneasy (but adds to the ambiance of the show). The story starts from the first episode, so if you want to get into the show, you really do need to start with episode one. I’ve really enjoyed this podcast, and if you enjoy Lore, I would definitely give it a shot.

The Black Tapes on iTunes

Lore on iTunes

  1. I’ve often hear this statistic: “90% of all statistics are false.”

Cleaning Up, Clearing Out

Podcasts are becoming increasingly validated as a medium. They were before, in smaller circles, but the broad success of podcasts like Serial have pushed the medium to new listeners, new listener numbers, and therefore new boundaries. High-profile individuals have started reaching out to appear on podcasts. Phil Schiller of Apple went on The Talk Show with John Gruber where he knew he could be asked some tough questions, but wanted to show that he was one of us. Even the POTUS (or his team) thinks that being on a podcast is worthwhile.

When I first started getting into podcasts, I listened to topics I enjoyed; but the playlist was heavily dominated with tech podcasts. I had somewhere between 10-15 of them [footnote]I wish I was joking[/footnote] a week that I would listen to. I would use Overcast and use its Smart Speed® functionality in addition to playing them at 1.5x-2x the normal speed to increase my intake [footnote]playing catch-up, really[/footnote]; but after a while, they became dull and boring. They didn't move and excite my brain like they used to.

I started discussing with several of my friends, and we all seem to agree: the tech podcast space has become repetitive, too filled with the same things being regurgitated across multiple places. What's being said on one podcast is being said on another; often times, there would be a discussion by the same person on different podcasts. This isn't to say that they aren't good: there are a lot of amazing technology focused podcasts out there. For myself and others, it was simply becoming overwhelming to keep up on a regular basis, and too repetitive show-to-show.

Out of those discussions, I started to develop some questions to gauge how I to listen to podcasts:

  1. Am I learning anything new?
  2. Do I always enjoy listening to the topics, hosts, and guests?
  3. Do I enjoy listening at 1x? Or, maybe better said: Do I feel like I need to speed up the podcast?
  4. How do I feel when I am done listening to the podcast? Happy? Sad? Meh?

If the podcast doesn't give me the positive answers to those questions, it gets deleted. This may seem harsh, but it really makes a difference in de-cluttering my headspace. If I feel “meh” after a podcast, it likely isn't worth listening to. I would be better off playing music or checking out something new.

What I really want from podcasts – and tech podcasts in particular – is a fresh take on topics, saying things others aren't and looking for new angles; I also want interesting ideas and subjects to keep me engaged. I still listen to a few tech podcasts, but only subscribe to a couple; the rest are selected based on guests and/or topics.

I've had a lot of recommendations in the past few months that have been providing me with just the thing I want to hear, even if I didn't know I wanted to hear it. Here are some of the podcasts I've been enjoying as of late:

  • 99% Invisible by Roman Mars is a great show about the history of design, and all the little things you tend to miss or overlook.

  • You cannot go wrong with the absolutely terrifying Lore by Aaron Mahnke. The episode entitled “The Castle” was horrifying, sick, and extremely twisted, but a great episode that was very well produced. [footnote]Lore is one of the few podcasts for which I have a notification set – it's great.[/footnote]

  • Front to Back is about 3 dads raising their daughters, but having a daughter of your own is hardly a prerequisite. They have many great insights to parenting that I have found useful.

  • Criminal contains fascinating stories of people that are or have been viewed as criminals; some of them have been unbelievable and heart-wrenching. The exit guide episode is a good place to start.

  • The Mystery Show is a wonderful podcast about mysteries that can't be solved by looking online. Beat reporter-style investigation and interviews tackling small mysteries. The Belt Buckle was quite possibly the single greatest podcast episode I've ever heard.

  • Undisclosed is a follow-on to (but not associated with) Serial, which highlights more and more errors in the case. If you were a fan of Serial, this is a must-listen podcast.[footnote]Fair warning – I get upset every week at this case. It's a disaster that I cannot believe was this poorly handled – the prosecution handle this whole trial wrong, and the initial defense was ineffective. I'm hoping there is a new trial opened.[/footnote]

I'm always in search of other quality podcasts: if you have some other suggestions, let me know what you think I should be listening to. I will give them a chance, but I will be applying the rules to those as well — so make them good!

Cleaning up and clearing out my podcast playlist has lead me to a more fulfilling experience; I highly suggest you take a look at doing the same. It's time to give your podcast listening a more personal human touch.