Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Not Just Learning... It's Brain Learning

I still remember the day I got my first dedicated mp3 player. I was a bit late to the game, they’d been out for a few years already. It was a creative player, the Zen. It was a beautiful piece of hardware. It had video playback, and it was released at the same time as the new iPods that could do the same, and it offered more storage (32 gigs I think) than I ever thought I would be able to use. I was, of course, only thinking of how many songs it would hold (all of them maybe), and never quite figured out where I was going to get my video content from, or where I was going to watch it at.

So, I used it when I exercised, at the time that was quite a lot. I was soon to be married and was putting forth my best effort to be as lean and fit as I could be. I plugged away while listening to playlists of my favorite songs, mostly stuff from the 80’s, but quite a bit of newer rock too. Those were good times.

When the iPhone came out I got one, it was my first real chance to use iTunes and it was fine, no big deal, what I did discover there however that was a big deal, was the wonderful world of podcasting. I’m not sure if I’ve listened to music sense.

Of course, the beauty of podcasting is that the market is so segmented that almost any interest you have, no matter how obscure, is probably represented. How awesome it that? So, in honor of my 100th post (I think, it's hard to tell, if the hate filled diatribe that's been sitting in my draft folder counts, then this is my 100th, if it doesn't, then this is number 101. But, whatever) I figured I would lay out the five podcasts that I find it hardest to live without.

·         Adventures in Sci fi Publishing – there is a link to their webpage on my sidebar. If you are an aspiring author, specifically, one who is aspiring to be professionally published, then you are doing yourself a real disservice by not listening to this.  The creator and host, Shaun Farrell, who aspires to be just such an author, has now put out well over a hundred episodes of himself, and in the last year, his co-hosts, interviewing established authors and discussing the nuts and bolts about the industry. This is required listening. Even if you don’t write genre stuff it’s still absolutely necessary.
·         Writing Excuses – If you aspire to be an author, and actually want to, you know, write good. Excuse me, more good, then you must listen to this one too. It’s more about craft than business and the hosts here are well established authors who still make time to do this. I love them forever for this. Again, absolutely required for any author. Regardless of genre. I have no idea how often I have listened to an episode and enjoyed it, then found myself writing later and realize I’m getting the best advice ever. Listening to these folks is the next best thing to having a professional editor. Must listen.
·         Are We Alone – I think I mentioned this one in the comments I made after my previous post, and it’s what got me thinking that I might want to write something like this. It’s a podcast run by the fine team at SETI and is about the most engaging 50 minutes of listening you can get in a given week. They cover everything you might want to know about everything. You might go several episodes without realizing that they haven’t mentioned Aliens even once. They cover almost every branch of science you can think of and if you think real hard, you can see how science works. Recommended, especially if you write Sci Fi and you want a flavor of how scientists work and think
·         Astronomy Cast – pure fanboy stuff from me, Astronomer Pamela Gay and host Brandon Frasier cover it all. From the color of dust on the moon to the ultimate fate of the universe.  I like it because it isn’t just the facts, but the history of Astronomy, how we know what we know is explained in as good a detail as you could want. Again, this is my love of the stars. I only recommend this is you look up at the night sky in wonder.
·         The Skeptics Guide to the Universe – Not for the sensitive, if you believe in anything these guys (and gal) will probably point out how irrational it is. This is also a science based podcast, and not really intended to do much more than separate bad science from good. Stephen Novella does a great job of showing how very reasonable sounding arguments are often based on erroneous assumptions or outright fabricated data, after listening to a hundred episodes or so I’d say the focus is generally on medical hokum but does touch on just about everything. I recommend this to anyone (with thick skin) who wants to know how easy it is to be hoodwinked if we aren’t always vigilant. And for a lay person, lays out a bit about how the scientific method works in practice.

There are a lot more that I listen to, Planet Money, about economics – better than you would ever expect at explaining commonly misunderstood financial concepts and a great example of how to uncover a mystery by working backwards from an end result and putting the pieces together to see how it happened. I Should Be Writing, Mur Lafferty’s podcast about getting motivated to write. Michael Stackpole has series of podcasts on how to write a novel that everyone should find and listen to. Dammit. I meant to stop at five. I have left out a couple that I could have gone on about but I’ll wait for another day for those. Start here and you’ll soon blossom into… um, someone who listens to the same stuff I do. Hmmm. That doesn’t sound so great when I put it like that.

Still, most of these are great for non-writers too, at least if they are readers. But regardless, I didn’t start out trying to recommend anything, it was supposed to be a glimpse of how I spend my time. But I guess when it comes down to it, I think everyone should be just a little like me.


Rogue Mutt said...

I've only listened to one podcast in my life.

Rusty Webb said...

Congrats! Just a few million to go and you've heard 'em all.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Crap, I'm not listening to any of these!

Anonymous said...

Rusty, love to have you as a guest blogger sometime soon. Can you do a post on the Fermi Paradox? Let me know at

Michael Offutt said...

I used to listen to world of warcraft related podcasts. I'll have to give some of these a try.

Stuck In A Window said...

I was enthusiastic about podcasts back in the day. Since then that enthusiasm has shifted specifically to the skeptic's guide to the universe alone. I started listening to them my freshman year in college. It's completely changed the way i think about EVERYTHING. I've thought to myself many times that i should try finding some new podcasts, but never got around to it. Looks like i was just waiting for someone else to. I'll definitely give the podcasts you mentioned a look at.

A Beer for the Shower said...

A good friend of mine got me on this kick, and now I listen to as many writing podcasts as I can. They're really useful. I'm gonna add a couple of those to my list.

True story, it was because of my podcast kick that I found out, while I was still employed, that one of my coworkers was actually born a man, and went through the surgery/never told anyone and became a woman. He/she ran a daily podcast on life transitioning. So. Weird.

Rusty Webb said...

Alex - Please do, again. It's my plea to make everyone on earth just a bit more like me.

Stephen - An email will be on it's way to you soon.

Michael - I've listened to some... different podcasts myself. I totally dug a beer podcast I listened to once where the hosts went on for hours and slowly got drunk over the course of the show. It made for great listening.

Stuck - I was surprised when I found out how many downloads per episode they get. That show is enormously popular.

Beer - You got me beat, the closest story I have to that is stumbling across a coworkers blog where she admitted that she accused her boyfriend of being a child molester when the police arrived to answer a domestic dispute. The purpose of the accusation was to divert their attention away from the drugs they had scattered about the house. I think they arrested everyone.

Still, everyone is weird I suppose.