Podcasts are one of the things that give me hope for humanity—instead of the banality of radio, I can listen to fantastic content from around the world, content I picked, at the time I want to listen to it. Content that would simply not have existed under the old economics of radio … too niche, too weird. If there’s anything to show that we live in the freaking future, it’s that some random person can now, quite literally, sit at home and rant into a microphone, click a few buttons, and find listeners around the world. All without going through any gatekeepers.
So without further ado, here’s a selection of the podcasts that make my commute more bearable. I hope some of them will brighten your day as well. (Links go to iTunes.)
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. An amateur historian, Carlin approaches historical events from the perspective of the people who lived through them. Instead of lists of dates and rulers so dry they make you sneeze that history lessons often devolve into, Carlin brings out the agonies and blood. The series on the fall of the Roman republic and the one on the Eastern Front during World War II are especially good places to start.
Hypercritical. John Siracusa—of jaw-droppingly detailed operating system reviews at Ars Technica fame—talks about the ways technology could be better. Which is a lot more interesting than the previous sentence makes it sound—when he has an opinion, he backs it up, and up, and up like a geeky Terminator. If you’re a nerd, this is essential listening. If you’re not, it’s worth subscribing just for the pleasure of hearing somebody take the time to bring an argument meticulously all the way through to its conclusion. And yes, Siracusa is so dry I hope he stays well away from fires. That is part of the charm.
The Bugle. Run, don’t walk, to subscribe. John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman bring you the world’s only audio newspaper for a visual world, an exercise in horrifically bad puns and riffs on current events. Absolutely brilliant if you enjoy your humor British.
Angry Mac Bastards. It’s a sad fact that most technology punditry and analysis is at best inept and at worst bat-shit insane. The Angry Mac Bastards have taken it up on themselves to mock and ridicule the worst idiocy deposited on the Internet each week. Which is a tall order. I personally use it as my weekly validation that it’s not me that’s wrong when I find my blood pressure rising about something some jackass wrote. This one is marked explicit and is definitely NSFW unless you work at a fish market. It also has atrocious production values, but I’ve decided to consider that punk.
Back to Work. Merlin Mann talks about productivity and doing work that matters. This one is on the bubble. Which is odd, since I’m a massive Mann fan ever since watching his Google talk on Inbox Zero. He’s utterly brilliant, but seriously needs structure and editing, so it’s pretty hit and miss. But when he’s on, it’s sublime. Really. Sublime.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin. Yes, the same Dan Carlin who does Hardcore History. This is his current events show. Carlin’s combination of historian and former journalist provides him with the raw cynicism and perspective to manage what seems almost impossible today: actually have a coherent and interesting perspective. He tries extremely hard—and usually succeeds—to not fall into the talking points of either side of the fence. I get something to think about every episode, even if I don’t always agree with him.
Arming the Donkeys. Dan Ariely does research in behavioral economics and wrote the fascinating Predictably Irrational, a book that uses economics to shed light on the many ways us humans behave, well, irrationally. In Arming the Donkeys, he conducts short interviews with other researchers in related fields. Short, sweet and often very interesting.
Journalism in the Digital Age. Audio versions of Must See Monday lectures given at my day job. You should listen if you’re interested in where journalism is headed in these days of disruption. (Full disclosure: I provided the techno-nerditry to set up the podcast system for this.)
Planet Money. NPR show about how the economy affects us all that explains—in that calm, dispassionate NPR way—what is actually going on and what all the dense acronyms strewn about in economics-talk mean. If I ever have a heart attack, this is the show I will blame. Not because they did anything wrong, but because they made me understand what is actually going on, thereby shooting my blood pressure through the roof. I often need quiet time after listening to Planet Money.
Walking the Room. Two middle-aged comedians sit down on a weekly basis to talk about their lives. It’s impressive in that they are both extremely funny and they share in a real way. Of course, they coat their existential pain in stupidity and aggression, but underneath, these are two smart guys sorting out in public how to deal with life’s complexities. Marked explicit and totally NSFW even for the fish market. How you is what you is?
Radiolab. You’re probably already listening to this, so it’s only here for completeness. The sheer amount of work that goes into each episode of Radiolab is humbling. I read an interview with the producers (that I can’t find the link to at this moment) where the team said that if Radiolab was a radio show that would disappear after one broadcast there would be no reason to put in the kind of effort they do—they expect people to listen to each episode many times and discover new things. Which you do.
After all these years, Nic still can’t understand the American attitude to healthcare.
A sci-fi and fantasy heavy installment that includes The Valedictorian of Being Dead, The Mastermind, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, Tiamat’s Wrath, The Raven Tower, The Liberation, The Light Brigade and Cryptonomicon.
Includes The Incomplete Book of Running, Aching God, The Murderbot Diaries, Lies Sleeping, The Consuming Fire, and Rendezvous with Rama.
Did you know Las Vegas is kind of nutty?
Includes Hollywood Dead, Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood, The Court of Broken Knives, and Port of Shadows.
Nic has a retinal tear and has his vision is saved by a laser.
Includes The Storm Before the Storm, White Trash, Calypso, Tell the Machine Goodnight, Prince of Fools, and Provenance.