My 2014 Podcasts

Earlier today I tweeted about the podcasts I’d added — and removed — for 2014. A few people asked me about what else I listened to, so here’s a list. I might also write another post about why you should listen to podcasts and how to get set up.

New Additions

The Memory Palace (7 min): The first episode of Nate DiMeo’s The Memory Palace I listened to was Six Stories, about Otis’ development of the elevator. Lest you think this would somehow be an informative yet dry treatment, let me assure you that it was a beautifully told story about the sheer danger and romance of those early elevators. Six Stories was rebroadcast by 99% Invisible (see below) and convinced me to investigate The Memory Palace further.

I don’t take subscribing to new podcasts lightly — we don’t have unlimited time, after all — so I test them out for a while. The next episode I heard, Shadowboxing, ensured that The Memory Palace immediately exited probation. Shadowboxing was even better than Six Stories, about the life of John L. Sullivan, a champion boxer. There are a lot of conventional ways in which you could tell the story about such a person, but this one was different and its path was satisfyingly unguessable. “Now I get why Nate only podcasts once a month,” I thought. If anything it reminds me of what 99% Invisible was like before Roman Mars (IMHO) mistakenly heeded some listeners’ requests to lengthen the show.

The Memory Palace doesn’t appear to have any ads, which simultaneously pleases and worries me. I should totally go and donate to him right now, and maybe hire him to do an audio tour of some museum I like.

Snap Judgment (50 min): Take 16 minutes and just listen to Where No One Should Go. It has the quality of the very best radio, a personal story that unfolds deliberately and then ratchets the pressure higher and higher and higher. Just don’t listen to it before bedtime.

From NPR and PRX. I cheated a bit on this one because I haven’t listened to many episodes so I’m not fully sure I’ll stay subscribed, but the linked clip was so good that I’m happy to give it a shot.

Harmontown (2 hours): Heard of Community? This podcast is by its showrunner, Dan Harmon, and it’s actually a live recording of a weekly ‘town hall’ stand-up session he does in LA with his friends. About 50-75% of the episodes are absolute gold, full of ridiculous free-wheeling one-up joking, and enhanced by a never-ending cavalcade of guest comics and writers (last week was Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development). Apparently Robin Williams was on a couple of episodes, so I’m saving those for a rainy day. There’s also usually a live D&D session at the end as well.

The remaining 25-50% of episodes can be pretty dire; this week saw them talking about gender relations. It was very earnest and well-intentioned, I’ll give them that, but I’m kind of glad I don’t have to listen to undergrad bull sessions any more. If it sounds like an episode is about to turn into this, just skip it – there’ll be another good one along next week! Continue reading “My 2014 Podcasts”

The Public Service Internet

When Google extends its grasp on our personal data by acquiring yet another company, there are three responses you can take:

1. Boycott Google services (Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search, Google Docs, Android, Chrome, etc.) and hope that if enough people follow, they’ll be forced to change their policies on advertising and retention. This may require you to lower your standards, since the open-source or otherwise ‘friendly’ replacements are not always as good as Google; moving to another VC-funded company’s services is not the answer as they may also be acquired by Google, or emulate their practices.

2. Decide that you don’t really care that much and continue to use Google. Perhaps the cost and hassle of switching would be too much, or perhaps you simply don’t believe that the data that Google holds and its reach across the internet (and increasingly, the ‘real world’) is really that bad in comparison to other bad things happening in the world.

3. Contribute time and resources towards the development and maintenance of alternatives to Google services that inherently cannot adopt Google’s practices (such as their blithe disregard for people’s contact information) — that is, non-profit and/or open source alternatives.

Full disclosure: I use Google services all the time. I’m typing this in Chrome, and I have Google Mail, Calendar, Docs, and Play Music open. I’ve taken a trip in an Uber taxi. My company receives a substantial amount of its income from selling apps on the Google Play Store, and I’ve given a talk at their campus in Mountain View. I also use plenty of services that Google might reasonably buy in the future, such as Dropbox, Foursquare, and Medium.

I’m not here to castigate you. I’m just as much of a hypocrite as everyone else. But the vociferous reaction to Google buying Nest has demonstrated that a lot of people are concerned about where Google might be going.

The question is, why are people concerned? Continue reading “The Public Service Internet”