Posts Tagged ‘podcast’



I’ve been listening to a new podcast lately – “Talk Nerdy”, by Cara Santa Maria.

CaraSantaMariaIt’s awesome – a delightfully personal approach to various science-based topics – news,issues, whatever. I will have more to say about this podcast and particular episodes in the future, but for now I just wanted to share the latest thing from it.

In this week’s episode, Cara talks to Kevin Roose about a project they have both worked on – a new series of mini-documentaries called “Real Future“. (Follow that link – you can watch the episodes free online!) As I write this, three episodes are available, each between ten and thirteen minutes long. The general idea of the show is to present technology in society, and how the current state of things points us to a future few of us may expect to live in. What do these new technologies mean for how we will need to structure our relationships, our society, and our laws? What can they mean for real people?

In the first episode, Kevin Roose visits the operator of a website that hosts (among other things) revenge porn. And even though I had listened to the podcast and heard the surprise ending to that documentary, I found myself drawn into the story and … well, I really don’t want to give away the ending. I think it’ll be worth thirteen minutes of your time to check it out! The personal story is intriguing, and the perspective on our current technological culture is thought-provoking.

In the second episode, another host (Alexis Madrigal) follows a drone pilot as she tries to make her mark on this new sport at the first ever National Drone Championships in the US. I half-expected the sort of breathless, unengaging reporting you get from motorsports commentators. Instead, Madrigal manages to connect with the pilot and uncover a personal side to this sport that I would never have expected. It was alarmingly moving.

The third episode is hosted by Cara Santa Maria, and takes a look at Vocaloids, popular singers big on the Japanese music scene right now which are entirely digital creations – in some cases created by corporate music operations, and in some cases by anime enthusiasts. We see the phenomenon – which some people are aiming to import to America – from the fans’ perspective, from the perspective of a Vocaloid creator, and from the perspective of an outsider (Cara herself). A curious intersection of different attitudes to a new technology.

All three episodes are remarkable in their professional and unexpectedly cinematic visuals. In a very short time, they each weave a narrative that engages you and provokes you to think. As someone already short on time, but always keen to have more to think about, it is the perfect format for me. And they’ve hit the sweet spot for subject matter and tone too – technology, with the social perspective.

I can’t wait for the next episode to come out. I don’t care what it’s about – I already know it’s going to be awesome.


Podcast review: Quirks and Quarks / Science Friday


As a kid, I remember CBC radio being a regular background in our kitchen. Particularly on Saturdays, there was always an interesting lineup. Basic Black is one show I remember fondly. The other – the one that fit with my already-healthy love of science – was Quirks and Quarks. It has gone through at least one change of hosts since then (the current host is Bob McDonald), but the same basic structure remains: a science news show with interviews and the occasional cheesy pun. There are two podcast feeds – one with the whole hour in a single download, and one with a separate download for each segment.

When I lived in Scotland, I was pointed to another show that has an almost identical format, but is based in the US: Science Friday, hosted by Ira Flatow. Its podcast feed has each segment in a separate item.

Both of these shows are essentially no-frills world-science-news digests. Each news item is normally given only a few minutes, so they are very digestible. Quirks has a slightly Canadian bias in its topics and guests; SciFri has a slightly American bias. But they are essentially the same show from different sites. And because there is far more science news than can fit into a single hour each week, they often cover completely different news items. It’s worth listening to both, if you have the time.

There are other science shows that are more … well, showy. But these two are reliable news sources which I feel I can trust to give me a relatively bias-free survey of what’s going on.

Podcast review: More or Less


The BBC in general is a rich source of content – I imagine anyone reading this could benefit from a perusal of the Radio 4 offerings. Pretty much every show has an associated podcast you can subscribe to.

More or Less is unique among podcasts (or shows in general). I have listened to mathematical podcasts that were fascinating, but shortlived. Other shows have a passing interest in math, but do not regularly cover math topics. On More or Less, host Tim Harford and his colleauges not only do numbers, and do them regularly, year in and year out; they do them in a topical, fun, engaging manner. They show how important numeracy is in day-to-day life. Not only that; their focus is on statistics, one of the most-maligned areas of mathematics. The general format is to probe numbers that have been presented by prominent figures, or disseminated in the media, to see whether they stand up. Listeners will learn, almost by accident, what sort of questions to ask when someone tries to convince them of something with numbers.


Podcast review: Grammar Girl


As a linguist, I am trained to look at language descriptively. I am also inclined to dismiss the prescriptions of grammarians and language mavens; they often reflect a narrow view of language. I found the Grammar Girl podcast because it was given as a model of the prescriptive attitude in a colleague’s slides. In it, Mignon Fogerty gives advice about how to use words and grammatical constructions in English. I thought, “Excellent. I’ll listen, and get a window into the other side – see how the prescriptivists go wrong, and be able to formulate arguments against them.”

But Mignon Fogerty foiled my plans. Rather than advocating a blind adherence to arbitrary rules (as some prescriptivists do), She and other contributors make an effort to understand language as it actually works. They tell listeners where forms come from. They advise based on how language is actually used. They do sometimes fall back on usage guides. (See this article from a far more accomplished linguist than me to understand why “usage guides” are not held in high esteem by linguists.)

I had to listen for some time before I came to a full appreciation of the subtleties of her perspective, and I’m afraid I offered her one or two snarky tweets along the way (from my other Twitter account, @TimPhon).

I still don’t agree with everything she says, but I stay subscribed because I know there’s plenty that I can learn from her. And because the episodes are short and fun.

Anyway, here was one attempt to redeem my behaviour to her:

(Yes, someone has already pointed out my idiosyncratic spelling of “weird”. Thankyou.)

Podcast review: The Atheist Experience


The Atheist Experience is actually a public-access cable television show based in Austin, Texas. But if you’re just after podcasts, there is a regular podcast feed and an iTunes feed. They also have a blog on Freethought Blogs.

I listened to the Atheist Experience podcast for several years. It is an hour-long show that generally starts with a brief discussion between the hosts, followed by interaction with callers. Some of the callers are atheists asking advice; many are religious people wishing to argue or discuss points of disagreement. Some calls are very short; some take a large part of the show. The hosts have no control over who calls (though they can and do hang up on people who are clearly wasting their time).

It is a great listen, because the hosts are able to articulate responses quickly that address callers’ questions or comments. I have picked up some useful tips for such discussions listening.

Over time, it became a little repetetive for me. I knew how the hosts would respond to most callers. I wasn’t getting much more out of it personally, so I stopped listening. I may pick it up again – it is still a valuable resource for atheists and believers alike who want to hear a clear, quick articulation of atheist perspectives on various topics.

I think that new atheists and people looking for arguments and responses to arguments for belief could find this useful. I expect that most believers would find the abrupt style of certain hosts grating – though from my perspective I really can’t fault them for their approach.

Though I don’t currently listen, I think this is a superb resource and I recommend you check it out.

Podcast review: Skeptics Guide to the Universe


The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is a juggernaut of skeptical commentary, this long-running show is hosted by neurosurgeon Steve Novella. He is joined by the “Rogues”: Bob and Jay Novella (two of Steve’s brothers), Skepchick Rebecca Watson, and Evan Bernstein. I learn something every episode, but after a few years, I think the main reason I listen is because it’s part of the background of my life. I want to know what’s going on with them. I want to keep up on news in the international skeptic community. I want to see if I can ever improve my results in the “Science or Fiction” quiz.

There is a lot of personal interaction, and it may take new listeners a bit of time to get up to speed on that. But it is also packed with regular features, all with a science/skepticism theme, such as:

  • This Day in Skepticism (neat historical tidbits)
  • A news roundup with commentary (keeping abreast of breaking news in science and pseudoscience)
  • Who’s that Noisy? (try to identify where the sound comes from, or who is speaking)
  • Science or Fiction (try to identify which science news item is the fake; listen to the rogues’ reasoning as they try to puzzle it out themselves)
  • Quickie with Bob (short nuggets of fun science news)

One might glean, listening for long enough, that one or more of the hosts are atheists, but that isn’t what the show is about, and I think that this is generally a believer-friendly podcast. Only when religious figures step into serious science do they become fair game. I think anyone who identifies as a fan of science in any way should enjoy this show. Give it a try.

Podcast review: Ask an Atheist


Ask an Atheist is a radio show, also distributed as a podcast.

It is produced by the atheist community in Tacoma, Washington – not far from the Canadian border. Hosts Becky Friedman and Sam Mulvey discuss news of interest to atheists (often with local and non-local guests). The show has an American focus, but they also cover news related to atheism around the world.

There are a couple of things that really draw me to this podcast. First, the topics covered are interesting to me. The hosts share my general worldview. Second, I like their tone. They are neither gratuitously shrill or offensive, nor blandly neutral.

I wouldn’t say they knock it out of the park every time, but it is a pleasant and reliable weekly listen.

This show should be interesting to atheists, humanists, and skeptics who want to keep up on current events. In decreasing order, it is relevant to Washington state residents, Americans, and atheists worldwide.

I really don’t know how it would come across to believers. On the one hand, I think their tone is right.It would probably appeal to a religious believer who wants to see how current events (such as the recent American supreme court ruling in the Hobby Lobby health care case) look to atheists and humanists. On the other hand, they do not go out of their way to explain inside references, and they are not there to give reasons for atheism or humanism. So it probably wouldn’t appeal to a religious believer who wants to hear the arguments for “the other side”. As for someone who is examining different worldviews in search of something that resonates … well, give it a try.

Because science *is* for people …


One of the great tragedies of modern society is the general perception of science as boring, difficult, and not relevant to everyday life. To me, science has always been the best amplifier of wonder that humans have come up with.

Wonder pours in through the senses from a very early age. But, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, people seem to think that teaching kids about science means getting them to memorize facts. No. Science is about questioning, about looking fearlessly and with delight at how the world works, in all its crazy, messy complexity.

Science doesn’t answer all of our important social questions, but it does inform them. It helps us think about them more clearly.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be cheerleading for science. It’s meant to be cheerleading for a podcast I’ve been listening to. Until recently, it was called “Skeptically Speaking” – a perfectly reasonable name, that captured some of the spirit of the thing. (My only quibble with the name was that I’d occasionally confuse it with Rationally Speaking, another excellent podcast with a very different focus and flavour.) I enjoyed the podcast. Then I learned that it was produced out of my new home city, Edmonton, and I enjoyed it a little more. I even got to see two of the hosts, Desiree Schell (@desireeschell) and Rachelle Saunders (@afterthree), at this year’s Logicon.

What’s so great about this podcast? Well, it’s produced and hosted by science fans with great production and communication skills.

And that’s delightful to see in a science podcast.

They take a skeptical look – balancing reports where there is a legitimate scientific debate, and not giving airtime to fringe, unscientific positions.

And that’s refreshing to see in a science reporting by non-scientists.

And … well … they’re fun. Friendly. They seem to get science in the same way I do. They get that it’s hard work to do it right, and that it’s worth the work because we get to learn stuff. We get to see the world with new eyes. And along the way, we may learn things that help us better navigate this crazy, tangled, confusing life of ours.

Anyway, that’s the show. But it isn’t called Skeptically Speaking any longer. Now it’s called …

(drum roll)

Science for the People

They have a snazzy new website, and two episodes now under their new name – one exploring the reason for the name change (and some inspiring science-communication, public-engagement stuff), and one on food sustainability. Here’s a bit of what they say about themselves on the website:

“We explore the connections between science, popular culture, history, and public policy, to help listeners understand the evidence and arguments behind what’s in the news and on the shelves.”

Go. Listen. Enjoy. Wonder.