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A Circuitous Route

It’s funny how one thing leads to another sometimes, especially on the infinitely connected world of the Internet. A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to Top Four #5, where Marco and Tiffany Arment were discussing their favorite podcasts. Because of their recommendation, I checked out 99 Percent Invisible, which is a great podcast. On episode #178, which is a fabulous examination of the restoration of a castle in Scotland, they included bonus audio introducing me to The Allusionist, which is an amazing and addictive podcast that I can’t believe has flown under my radar for so long. Seriously, it’s wonderful. That show, in turn, brought me at last to Answer Me This, which is a delightfully weird podcast that is almost, but not quite, entirely unexplainable. (Apologies to Mr. Adams.) It’s a comedy podcast that is as hilarious as it is strange, and I love it.

Any of the above shows, including Top Four are worth checking out. I hope you find one you enjoy as much as i enjoy these.

So now I have three great new podcasts to listen to, and each led me to the next like a trail of breadcrumbs through the dark forest of the Internet.

Glorious times!

Must-Listen Podcasts, Part II

I previously posted about the podcasts I most enjoy. I’d planned to post updates periodically, and this is the first of those.

My original post still stands, but there are a few changes. The first, and saddest, of these is that IRL Talk, which had been my favorite podcast for the last year and a half or so, has ended its run. I’m still mourning the loss of this show, but if you haven’t heard it before, I highly recommend listening to its back catalog; it’s simply marvelous.

Mission Log, a fantastic Star Trek podcast, has also mostly fallen off my radar, but not because I don’t enjoy the show. On the contrary, the show is excellent. I just have a hard time caring much about the TNG era, and that is all the show is about at the moment.

Otherwise, the previous list still mirrors my current listening habits, save for a couple of new series.

Welcome to Night Vale is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. It’s very, very hard to describe. Essentially, it is an ongoing story and audio drama set in the fictional desert community of Night Vale. The show’s hero is a host on the local radio station, and each episode largely takes place during his broadcasts. The show is both hilarious and creepy. Many have described it in a variety of ways, but I like to say that it seems like what might’ve been the brain child of Stephen King and the Onion. In fact, there’ve been a few Stephen King reference throughout the series thus far. It’s brilliant!

The new format for the show Inquisitive has also become captivating. It is now produced in an ongoing, documentary-style format. If you’re into tech, especially Apple tech, it is a fantastic listen.

The Incomparable is a show about all things geeky, from Star Trek to Star Wars, Dr. Who to Stephen King, Harry Potter to Disney, and beyond. It’s not intended that yo listen to every episode. Go back through the back catalog and download the episodes that sound like they interest you most and enjoy Jason Snell and company.

Speaking of Mr. Snell, Upgrade is another Apple-centric podcast hosted by him and Mike Hurley. It’s also a great listen.

Really, you could do worse than to subscribe to just about every show on the Relay.fm podcast network. They have assembled an insanely great lineup of shows.

I must give an honorable mention to Welcome to Macintosh, a show which explores the history of Apple Inc. The show hasn’t been around very long yet, but its first few episodes are very well done.

So those are my more recent picks. What are you listening to?

Audio Content Speed Adjustments

Marco Arment writes:

Enjoying the full experience of all media and preserving “what the artist intends” is a romantic ideal, but it’s both overrated and unrealistic in reality. Not everything is that good, not everyone cares that much, and not all media produced is perfect and immutable.

I don’t entirely disagree with Marco’s points here, but I do believe there needs to be some nuance in the conversation. Marco is talking primarily about podcasts, but this debate goes on for other mediums as well.

In as far as podcasts are concerned, he’s right. For the vast majority of shows, it really doesn’t matter how you listen to them. Even with that being the case, i always found that increasing the speed on shows was so painfully unnatural that it distracted from the content. The brilliance of Marco’s Smart Speed feature in Overcast is that it is virtually transparent, for all practical purposes, to the listener. It is the sort of time saving functionality I have long hoped for in a podcast client. However you decide to speed up your podcast audio, the crucial point is that podcasting, in the majority of cases, is not a performance art; it’s a conversation.

That being said, I have had lengthy debates with friends about the merits of speeding up audio books. People don’t tend to speed up movies, television, or music. You certainly could do so, but there would be elements of the entertainment you’d be missing out on, such as drama, emotional impact, and the nuances of a performance. It is my belief that this holds true for audio books as well, as part of the experience is the narrator’s performance. Some will disagree, most vehemently. I can even hear a few of my friends groaning right now as they read this. (Sorry, guys.)

In the end, it isn’t a matter of whether one way is right or wrong. It’s about being aware of the trade off you are making. If you choose to listen to something at a faster speed, that is fine. The benefit you are receiving is more time to consume more content. But don’t try to kid yourself that there isn’t a price to pay. Sometimes, the price is worth it, and sometimes, it isn’t. That threshold will be different for everyone. As for me, I’m happy to use Smart Speed to shorten podcast running times. I would not be willing to do the same with audio books. The price of losing some of the experience of the performance is just not worth it.

Make the decision for yourself, fully aware of the cost to benefit ratio. There is one. It may not matter to you, but never forget that it is there. One day, you might find that it suddenly does.

Must-Listen Podcasts

Since the release of Overcast, my new favorite podcast client, I’ve been reevaluating the podcasts I subscribe to, as well as deciding which ones are shows that are “must listens” for me, as opposed to shows that I dip into only on occasion.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that my taste, or perhaps it is my mood, for certain types of podcasts is very cyclical. I might listen to a particular show obsessively for a while, forget about it for a few months, then return … or not.

I wanted to document some of these shows here, in the hopes that it might, perhaps, help someone find a new show they enjoy. I plan on revisiting this topic periodically as shows catch, or lose, my interest.

The podcasts below are listed, roughly, in the order by which I, personally, enjoy them. All are shows that I have listened to consistently for at least six months and are still currently being produced. Great shows that have ended their run are not included.

  1. IRLTalk, Formerly Geek Friday, Is a Geek-Centric Comedy Show … Sort of. Really, It Doesn’t Matter What They End Up Discussing, and Believe Me They End Up Discussing Everything, Because It Is the Chemistry and Personalities of Its Hosts, Faith E. Korpi and Jason Seifer, that Carry It. It Took Me a Few Episodes to Get a Feel for the Show, and I’ve Been Hooked Ever Since.
  2. The Accidental Tech Podcast Is a Technology Discussion Show Hosted by the Incomparable Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Another Guy. (Just Kidding, We All Know Who You Are Now, Casey Liss).
  3. GrammarGirl provides tips and tricks for writing, not always restricted to just grammar. Mignon Fogarty has been doing this successfully since the early days of podcasting, and is there any wonder why? This show is a fantastic resource that she manages to keep both informative and entertaining.
  4. NPR Ask Me Another is a trivia game show for geeks by geeks, featuring the music of the talented Jonathan Coulton.
  5. The British History Podcast covers British history in a fascinating, conversational way. The show’s host is engaging, funny, and an incredibly talented podcaster. There is also a members’ only feed with additional content that I highly recommend as well.
  6. The Talk Show, hosted by John Gruber of Daring Fireball, includes discussion with a range of guests on all things Apple and tech.
  7. The Frequency is a news and talk show covering stories from the real world, the tech world, and sometimes the weird world. The show is fun and entertaining. Dan Benjamin, of 5By5 fame, hosts the show with Haddie Cooke, but Haddie steals the show every time with her energy, wit, and humor.
  8. Mission Log chronicles the Star Trek franchise, one episode at a time. They’ve already covered the entire run of TOS, TAS, and the first six films. Recently, they’ve begun examining the TNG era, which is a bit difficult for me, since I find TNG to be the weakest of the Trek series. Apple fans may recognize the voice of Ken Ray on this show from the popular Mac OS Ken podcast. John Champion, the show’s other host, provides a wealth of Star Trek trivia.
  9. Stuff to Blow Your Mind provides fascinating looks into a wide range of topics, most scientific in nature, that will often surprise you. The material is great and the show’s hosts, Robert Lamb and Julie Douglas, have engaging personalities, great chemistry, and are fantastic at framing difficult or complicated subjects in a way that’s understandable to all.

Thanks to Overcast’s Recommend feature, I’ve recently been discovering new shows that I’d either forgotten about or which had just never hit my radar, so I expect this list to change and grow. For instance, I just began listening to Just the Tip, a comedy podcast that is, so far, proving very entertaining, and Mac OS Ken, a show that I used to listen to regularly and which got lost in the shuffle at some point.

If you check out and enjoy one of the podcasts above, or if you have a podcast you’d like to recommend to me, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.