Everyone is into podcasts these days. Here’s a common conversation I have had.
A: “So, I was in the car listening to a podcast-”
B: “Wait, you listen to podcasts? Me too!”
A: “Really, what podcasts do you listen to?”
As much as I enjoy them myself, I don’t think it is unique or surprising to find fellow podcast listeners. Podcasts aren’t a specific interest, like “90s alternative” or “lemurs with thoughtful facial expressions.” Podcasts are a medium like “TV” or “movies,” so most people probably like at least one or two. Replace “podcast” with “sport” or “music” and it will roughly make as much sense.
Of course, I say all of this as person “B” in the dialogue above. Maybe this conversation just seems common because I make a big deal about podcasts.
Anyways, I last wrote about my podcast library in 2011, so you might think that I’m writing this post because it’s overdue for an update. I actually picked this topic because listicles are easy to write, and I haven’t been publishing much recently. However, let’s pretend that my primary motivation was generating valuable content for you, the readers.
What I’m Listening To
This is the only podcast that appears on both my 2011 and current list, and it really is great. I don’t get much science in my daily life, and although I briefly considered Radiolab unrigorous and unintentionally dishonest, I have since changed my mind and appreciate having the science at all. The podcast often has reruns, but the original content is still quirky and fun.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (and Addendum)
This is my favorite new podcast. Dan Carlin literally talked about Genghis Khan for over 10 hours. I get why it’s not for everyone. He talks quietly. He is so long-winded that Julie once caught an ad segment and was confused because he went into so much depth. He primarily talks about people who have been dead for centuries. But I love it. I consider myself a closet history nerd, and I appreciate the detail on topics that only got a few paragraphs in a high school history textbook.
The Splendid Table
I really enjoyed America’s Test Kitchen Radio with Christopher Kimball, but after he left, I unsubscribed, and without it, I didn’t have any cooking podcasts. And I really missed it. Much of my cooking knowledge and breadth came from the Q&A segments and stories on the podcast, and as one of my primary hobbies, my cooking was underserved by my podcast coverage.
Julie recommended The Splendid Table because she enjoyed how visceral Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s descriptions and reactions to food were. Although Kasper is no longer the host, Francis Lam has been fantastic. Although he doesn’t do as many cooking tips or techniques, he does wonderful stories and interviews about the human side of cooking.
Hall of Blue Illumination
This podcast is not great. It’s 3 guys sitting around talking about Tekumel, a fantasy world best known for an 80s roleplaying game. They aren’t professionals, and they talk about the world without bridging the gap to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s like sitting in on a Neuroscience lab meeting at a research university when you’re just trying to figure out why you are forgetful.
And despite that glowing review and my podcast pickiness, I do find value in it. I’m running a game in this world, and it’s actually one of the more accessible sources of information about Tekumel. I have asked questions of the community, and they said that the best resource is actually the archives of an old mailing list that looks like this.
So I’ll stick to the podcast, thank you.
Three Devs and a Maybe
As you can tell from the list above, my podcasts are varied and provide minimal coverage over my interests. I don’t listen enough to really get more than one on any topic, and this is currently my one software engineering podcast.
Since I learn about my hobbies through podcasts, I figured I should also broaden my knowledge in my actual professional career, and I was recommended this podcast. I have listened to 3 episodes, and it seems fine. The guests have been interesting and talked about technology and concepts outside of my daily work, so I appreciate the exposure. I may get deeper and realize that I don’t like it enough, but I’ll just switch again.
Future of Everything with Russ Altman
I mentioned above that I wish I had more science in my life. I also like to hear science from the actual researchers, which is what Russ Altman does. The radio program is conversational and not too dry, so I enjoy listening to it and being exposed to new ideas.
I haven’t gotten too deep in it yet because I’m backlogged on other podcasts, but I intend to keep listening.
What I’m Not Listening To
Since my last podcast blog post, I have had 2 major shifts in my podcast consumption.
First, I now only listen to podcasts while doing chores. I used to listen to podcasts during homework or work work. I would listen to snippets of the podcast during lulls in my focus, but that also meant I was missing big hunks of the episodes as well. And that meant I wasn’t getting the entire continuity and story, so I wasn’t getting much out of listening. Now, I only listen when I have the mental capacity to actually pay attention, and that has greatly reduced my podcast time.
Second, I have adopted a general principle that the only things worth doing are things that require sustained effort and focus. Roughly, you get what you put into it, so if it wasn’t hard, it wasn’t valuable. This ideas applies to things from reading reddit to watching TV for extended periods of time. For podcasts, this principle cut out short podcasts. I was actually surprised that I was listening to 3 podcasts in 2011 targeted towards fast, lightning ideas. It feels efficient, but in retrospect, I just don’t think I got much out of it, so I cut those out of my rotation.
Here are a few more that I cut for various reasons.
Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, the Political Gabfest, Capitol Steps, and Left, Right, & Center
After our last presidential election, I have really gotten tired of American politics. Even NPR puts me in a bad mood, so I try to avoid thinking too much about it. I used to love Wait Wait, but I mostly feel despair listening to political jokes these days. Since I know that I’m not going to do anything actionable about the news, I would rather not entertain myself with outrage.
This American Life
Great podcast. I just don’t have enough podcast time to keep up with it. It is the original human interest podcast that inspired what Radiolab and The Splendid Table are today, but I prefer the other podcasts for the specific topics (science and cooking, respectively).
Never got into it. Serial was the big deal in podcasts, but I listened to one episode and was done with it. I had a specific concern about it at the time, but I don’t remember what it was.
Welcome to Night Vale
I liked this fictional podcast for a long time. We listened to about 100 episodes and had a biweekly ritual of listening during laundry for awhile. We even went to a live show. However, I realized I wasn’t enjoying it anymore when I was listening to it while running and couldn’t focus on it. Even though I hated running and had nothing else to entertain me, I just wasn’t into it. I’m not sure why. I think it just got too surreal for me.
I picked up this Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast for a few weeks when I was trying to get more science into my life. Overall, I found this podcast to be too heavy on the entertainment and too light on actual science. I bet it’s perfect for others, but I just didn’t get much from it.
Myths and Legends
Great podcast recommended by my sister. Jason Weiser tells, well, myths and legends from all cultures with some dry humor and perspective mixed in. I liked it because it helped me find new ideas for my D&D games. However, it just doesn’t fit into my podcast time and fell off the list. I could see it getting back into the rotation if my situation changes.
So there’s the rundown. Like my TV watching, I try to keep my podcast listening to a manageable and stable state. However, I can binge a podcast to catch up much faster than TV, so I’m sure that my lineup will continue to change.