What I’m Listening To: June 2011

Posted on Fri 24 June 2011 in Dispatches • 6 min read

If you had asked me a year ago what kinds of podcasts I was listening to, you would have seen a clear theme: technology. I would have listed off a lot of TWiT shows, a couple CNET shows and miscellaneous other shows featuring the same hosts. Over the course of the last year, I’ve made quite a change in my podcast subscriptions, in the sense that there are very few shows that I currently listen to that have anything to do with technology. Even in those few cases where I do listen to tech-focused shows, I don’t listen to them regularly. Instead, I tend to just download or stream a particular episode that hits on a topic I’m interested in, which ends up being about once every two months or so.

Now, this wasn’t any sort of calculated change, but rather a gradual shift over time. I wasn’t even consciously aware of the thematic change until the last couple weeks. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have been traveling so much. When I am home, I have about an hour commute each way for work, which provides a lot of opportunities for listening to audio during the drive. However, the last six months or so I have been traveling a lot, which eliminates my commuting time. Since I tend to sleep on planes, this means that podcasts become something I have to set aside time to listen to, rather than a convenient source of entertainment. As a result, I think I’ve become a lot more discriminating regarding what I include in my listening queue.

A central theme in all of this is the fact that I just don’t care as much about technology news anymore. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve turned my back on my gadget geekery. I wish that was true, as I think the way we geeks tend to fetishize technology is ultimately an unhelpful and potentially dangerous mode of thinking, which is a topic for a whole other post altogether. The fact is, I’m still as in love with my gadgets as I ever was, though my interest in tech punditry has dried up. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by skipping the fanboy discussions and endless speculation on new specifications or acquisitions and have been orienting myself more towards programs that I do find interesting and entertaining.

So, with all that out of the way, here are the shows I’m listening to right now.

Writing Excuses

Hosted By: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells and Mary Robinette Kowal.

Writing Excuses is a wonderful weekly podcast hosted by four science fiction and fantasy authors. The podcast spends around 15-20 minutes each week discussing a different aspect of the craft and business of writing. Each show is kept tightly focused, and ends with a different writing prompt, generally designed to encourage you to practice the elements discussed during the podcast.

I have never listened to an episode of this podcast where I didn’t learn something useful.

Best Episode To Try Out: The Four Principles of Puppetry for an outstanding discussion of how to apply the principles of good puppetry to your writing.

The Bugle

Hosted By: John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman

The Bugle is a weekly satirical news podcast produced by TimesOnline, a British newspaper. The show is hosted by British comedians Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver, the latter of the two being best known in the U.S. for his contributions to The Daily Show. Each episode, they cover mock news from around the world for the amusement of their listeners. Think of it as The Daily Show for international news.

While portions of this show can be a little hit and miss, there is always at least one bit in each episode that has me laughing out loud. So this isn’t probably the best to listen to at your desk if your coworkers are easily irritated.

Best Episode To Try Out: Any will do, but episode 152 on the death of bin Laden is notable for Oliver coining the term “Fuck-Eulogy”.

Nerdist

Hosted By: Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira and Jonah Ray

The Nerdist Podcast is listed in most directories as a Comedy podcast, which I suppose is appropriate since it is hosted by three comedians and has had a large number of comedians as guests. There’s a lot more to it than just the comedy, though.

The show is released twice a week. One epidsode will feature an interview with a guest, and the other will be a host-only podcast where the trio talk about the week and any other aspects of geek/nerd culture that strike their fancy. Guests on the show are always performers or creators of some variety, and while the interviews cover all the good standard stuff, they also dive into the creative process of the subject, which is invariably fascinating.

The hosts are a lot of fun, which I suppose is to be expected given their comedy background. As well as being funny, Hardwick’s natural enthusiasm and curiousity really help propel the conversation forward.

This show is always a good time, and has a great backlist of guest episodes to browse through.

Best Episode To Try Out: Honestly, any of the guest episodes is a good starting point, but I particularly enjoyed the episodes with Wil Wheaton and Nathan Fillion. Those aren’t necessarily episodes heavy on the creative process, but they are a lot of fun.

Back To Work

Hosted By: Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin

Back to Work is a weekly podcast focused around getting work done, and learning how to suck less at what you do. It shouldn’t be mistaken for a productivity podcast. The show is directed more towards patterns of thinking and action that help people either get better at what they are already doing, or learn how to get started on what they want to be doing. That’s an important distinction, and they aren’t there to just share “Tips & Tricks”.

The chemistry between the two hosts is a lot of fun, and their combined wit makes it an entertaining way to learn about doing very difficult things.

Best Episode To Try Out: The Second Arrow is one I’d suggest you try out first. It’s not what you would typically expect of a podcast about doing better work, but it is an excellent discussion of how to do just that.

Pseudopod

Hosted By: Alasdair Stuart

Pseudopod is a weekly horror and dark fiction podcast. It features excellent tales of the macabre, read professionally by a rotating cast of voice talent. The quality of the writing is always high, and Stuart’s host segments before and after the story are half the fun of listening to it. Pseudopod is a paying market for writers, as are it’s sister podcasts for science fiction (Escape Pod) and fantasy (PodCastle). Out of the three podcasts, I feel that Pseudopod’s quality is consistently the best.

I have to admit, I’m cheating a bit putting this one on here, because I’m a little behind on it. However, unlike the tech shows, I have every intention of getting caught up on these stories.

Best Episode To Try Out: There are so many great stories in Psuedopod, I can’t narrow this down to just one or two epidsodes. I’d highly recommend that no matter where you decide to start, you also include The Ashen Thing, Bottle Babies, and The Greatest Adventure of All.

Something Else?

While I don’t have a lot of time for new audio content, I’m always interested in learning about new shows that I should be listening to, particularly ones with a focus on how to make things or creators who are making things. Naturally, that can also include certain types of technical podcasts as well, but as I mentioned above, I’m not interested in shows that specialize in tech commentary. Given that, if you have any suggestions for other shows I should be listening to, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.