In Our Time

Today I’ve been catching up on In Our Time. Despite listening to 3 episodes on the commute I’ve still 8 in the feed to catch up on. Fortunately In Our Time is timeless so I can catch up whenever.

Every week Melvyn Bragg sits down with a group of academic experts and leads them through an exploration of this week’s topic. He must be doing an amazing amount of preparation for these programs, he pretty much always has a good grasp of the subject in hand, and on occasion corrects facts when they are accidentally misspoken by an expert.

Today I listened to ‘The Fable of the Bees’ which discussed Bernard Mandeville’s critique of the economy at the start of the 18th century. His work was both scandalous and influential. Mandeville was an interesting character with some radical philosophy. A program well worth listening to.

Then I followed up with a program discussing ‘Free Radicals’. These are molecules with an extra electron looking to bond with or disrupt other molecules. It turns out that the discovery of free radicals lead to the chemistry of polymers that in turn lead to the revolution in plastics during the last century. Additionally free radicals have been associated with radiation damage and ageing. Free radicals are not entirely a bad thing, for instance organisms have always used free radicals to create the structural building blocks of life such as lignin in flora and collagen in fauna. Another fascinating listen.

I’m currently part way through the episode on Marie Antoinette where the discussion has just reached the time of the French revolution … I’ll find out what happens tomorrow. Ok, I know roughly what happened but I will have a much clearer understanding by the end of the podcast.

In Our Time is to be found at

Listening on the commute

I have a commute of over one and a half hours each way.This gives lots of time to listen to podcasts. Normally I would listen to the news on Radio 4 whilst getting breakfast, but this morning I’ve had about as much Brexit and Prince Phillip nonsense as I can take, So the podcast listening started early.

Whilst preparing and eating breakfast and getting ready to leave for work I listened to ‘We Study Billionaires”, which is also called “The Investors Podcast“, there seems to be a bit of a branding issue. After that I needed a little light relief so I listened to the BBC Comedy of the Week podcast. This week was “Mark Steel’s in Town” where Hastings was the town, and Mark Steel has the townspeople eating out of his hands.

For the journey home more light relief with the Sowerby and Luff show, of which more another time.

More on how I listen to podcasts

Aside from the technicalities which I wrote about in my previous post, there has also been a change in my approach to listening to podcasts.

Originally when podcasts were a novelty and I followed a small handful of feeds, predominantly science fiction story podcasts, each episode was treated as a treasure. I listened to every one, in the order that they were published, then saved episodes after listening and archived them on external storage. Once I added a few Linux related podcasts to the feeds I only archived the SF stories. However each new episode in the feed was still listened to in the order they arrived.

After a while I found the Podiobooks web site (no longer a thing) which created custom podcast feeds releasing episodes of books as audio. These were also archived after listening.

About a year into listening to podcasts it became apparent that archiving-off the episodes was a bit over the top and unnecessary. The ubiquity of podcast content was finally sinking in.

Once I started using the phone app as my pod-catcher episodes no longer hit my computer, so archiving was no longer even a possibility. In fact initially phone storage was an issue, so keeping any significant backlog of episodes on the device was not possible. I still however listened to every episode.

As time went on I added a significant number of podcast feeds to the pod-catcher and there was a build up of un-listened episodes that I needed to catch up on. A number of the earlier podcasts pod-faded (where no new episodes are released) or the podcasters explicitly ended their podcasts. A few years in and there were more than 40 podcasts I followed, old ones would fade or drop as new ones caught my attention. Eventually there were over 70 podcast feeds subscribed to in the app.

Although from time to time I’ve pruned the list, there still remains 69 feeds in the podcast app. Twenty or so are very infrequent, and one or two remain there in the hope that they will ‘un-fade’. It is no longer realistic to even consider listening to every published episode of every podcast feed that I follow. I now treat the episodes as more ephemeral, and if I haven’t listened to older episodes, I just delete them and mark them as done.

There are a handful of the podcasts that I still listen to every episode of. But in contrast there are also some feeds where I have set it not to download the episodes; for those I will only download an episode if I choose to listen to it.

Crypto-Gram security podcast

Today the Crypto-Gram 15th December podcast episode dropped into my podcatcher. This podcast is a reading of Bruce Schneier’s monthly Crypto-Gram Security Newsletter.

Bruce Schneier is a renowned American cryptographer, computer security professional, privacy specialist and writer. Dan Henage reads the latest newsletter and provides it as a podcast feed as a service to the security and IT community. The newsletter is a monthly summary of all the security topics that have caught Bruce’s attention. So it is a terrific resource to keep up to date on the major security news and topics of the day.

Crytpo-Gram can be found on the Schneier on Security blog and the podcast can be found on Dan Henage’s Libsyn feed.

How to listen to podcasts

Well, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on their eponymous film review podcast would say “You just listen to podcasts”. For the uninitiated, this is their standard response to any tech. related question, such say “How do you Snapchat?”. However the way I listen to podcasts has changed considerably since I first discovered them, and it certainly wasn’t that easy back in 2006.

My first discovery of podcasts came soon after winning a 2GB iPod Nano from a prize draw that I was inadvertently entered into for buying a Virgin Lobster phone back in 2006. I needed a discrete mobile to chase interviews for a new job at the time, so just bought the lowest cost small pay as you go phone and two weeks later received the iPod in the post. A very nice surprise.

Although most people would have used iTunes to fill their iPod I was using Ubuntu Linux at the time and had to use a pod-catcher, GPodder I think, to collect the episodes. Then they had to be transferred to the iPod, that involved installing some other software to manage the proprietary Apple file transfer.

By the time the iPod died in 2008 (inevitable as my pocket has proven to be an arduous place for technology to survive), I had a more capable Nokia 6800 (the Batman phone) that could also play MP3s; so this became the target for my pod-catcher’s transfers.

Once I moved on to my HTC Desire S, with the Android OS, I tried a number of pod-catcher apps eventually settling upon Pocket Casts. The podcast app made things so much easier with episodes downloading automatically whenever WiFi was available. I’ve stuck with Pocket Casts since and it has improved with further updates, an is now on version 7.

The Bugle

“An audio newspaper for a visual world”

The Bugle is a weekly dose of satire from Andy Zaltzman and a rota of regular co-hosts. The podcast was started by Andy and John Oliver back in 2007, but was relaunched in 2016 with the guest co-hosts in place of John after his US success made it impossible for him to contribute.

Definitely ‘Not Suitable for Work’ the irreverent and often surreal satire pulls no punches. Often the shows are capped off with a cringe inducing pun run.

This week’s episode being a review of the last 6 months is an ideal opportunity to sample the show as it features excerpts from most of the regular hosts.

The Bugle can be found on The Bugle website where links to the feeds can be found. The Bugle is part of Radiotopia a collective of independent podcasters.

Beatrix Released (Escape Pod)

Occasionally there is a short story that stands out to me head and shoulders above the crowd. Beatrix Released, by Shaenon K. Garrity, published on Escape Pod this week was one such story. This is a science fiction story, an origin story and a new unique perspective on Miss Potter, a dark secret, her challenges with strict parents and patriarchal authority. It is an ingenious take on maybe how we came to have all those delightfully anthropomorphic tales of small creatures. 

Escape Pod has consistently high production values and in this case they have unerringly matched the very best narrator to the story. Katherine Inskip is entirely believable as Miss Potter. Perhaps it’s her back ground as a scientist and a writer of stories that brings extra authenticity to the narration.

If you only listen to one piece of audio fiction this week, make it Beatrix Released.

Open Bionics

Bionic 3D-printed arm ‘gives confidence’ to young amputees

I saw this story from the BBC today. Back in January 2015 I did an interview with Joel Gibbard about the Open Hand project for the Hacker Public Radio podcast. His Open Hand project has since evolved into Open Bionics which is now delivering his goal of providing affordable prosthetic hands, £5,000 rather than £50,000. Before Open Bionics, because of the cost of prosthetic hands, it has not been affordable to provide hands for children who need a series of different sized custom prosthetics as they grow. 

In the interview Joel spoke about the goals for Open Hand and Open Bionics, it is great to see this amazing project starting to deliver low cost prosthetics to amputees. The Open Bionics Hero Hand has come a long way from the early prototypes.

The interview is still available on the Hacker Public Radio archive, and can be listened to at:

The Allusionist

The Allusionist Podcast image

The Allusionist is is Helen Zaltman’s podcast about language, how its used, abused, bent broken and spoken, where language came from and how it’s changing. 

Since the first episode ‘Ban the pun’ back in January 2015, Helen has been delivering nuggets of knowledge about language. Now we are up to episode 90 ‘Dear Santa’ where we lear about what happened when 400 letters to Santa were delivered to a flat in New York.  The Allusionist has covered topics such as: lies hidden in dictionaries, emojis, the messiness of English, eponyms, Toki Pona the smallest language in the world, swearing, why the meaning of please changes across the Atlantic, the unofficial dictionary of San Quentin state prison, the etymologies of many words and the occasional place name, brand names and trademarks. The Allusionist is packed with information but delivered gently in a digestible manner.

Each episode also features a random dictionary definition word of the day. The most recent was ‘wayzgoose’ – a printer’s annual dinner or picnic. That word seems alarmingly familiar, but how would I have ever known that?

Tank Riot

Tank Riot’s hosts Viktor, Sputnik and Tor to no specific schedule, release episodes about once a month. The shows usually run between 1 and two hours.

“Recorded in tropical Madison, Wisconsin; each show starts you on a winding audio journey with a destination far from home. So secure your helmet, close the hatch, and by all means turn up the volume.”

Three ‘Sconny Nation’ guys talking about the media, culture  and current news, the occasional in depth topic and an ongoing series on Conspiracy theories and their adjuncts. Never boring, mostly entertaining and often thought provoking. These guys don’t pull their punches. If US talk radio was any good it would probably sound like Tank Riot.

Their views on US Politics are not sanitised by a Republican filter (that’s probably an understatement). For example in this most recent episode “Performative Umbridge”:

“In this episode the team discuss Frontline, the Baraboo Salute, Stan Lee, Stephen Hillenburg, Wizard World, Adult Swim, Dethklok, Douglas Rain, The Good Place, John Allen Chau, Mandy, Ayn Rand Film Trilogy Atlas Shrugged, Sports Talk, Age of Tanks, Damnation, Vikings, Amazon Prime, The Night Eats the World, Jack Ryan, Electric Dreams, Diablo III, I Think We’re Alone Now, The Lodgers, Overlord, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Scooters, Texas, Freaks, and more!”

Tank Riot can be found via the usual podacst resources and their web site They can be followed on Twitter as @TankRiot. The current episode is 191, so there is a rich back catalogue of shows where you might find their take on your favourite topics and icons, be they John Wayne, Star Wars, Cryptozoology, Walt Disney or The Worst Presidents Ever (2009). This is their full list: Continue reading