Podcasts I’m Listening to in 2018

I’ve both added and dropped some podcasts since last time around. Where I’m listing the same podcast as last year I may use the same description as in the past with slight (or no) variation.

Public Radio

Radiolab – Heard about them because sometimes their stories are used on This American Life. Radiolab is a lot like TAL except with a much bigger focus on sound effects. It is, in a way, the descendant of the old radio shows of the 30s and 40s. (Approx 30-45 min)

Marketplace – This is a really good economics show.  They talk about news that happened that day as well as stories that have been pre-prepared.  This podcast has really helped me to understand the recession and why it happened as well as whether it is getting any better.  (Approx 30 min long)

Codebreaker: A tech podcast. Season 1 asked the question “Is it Evil?” of various technologies.

On the Media –  Although not always perfect and although it leans a little more left than moderate, On the Media is a good podcast about media issues.  Examples include: truth in advertising, misleading news stories on the cable networks, debunking PR-speak from the White House, and other media literacy items.  I tend to enjoy it nearly all the time and it’s a good balance to news on both sides of the spectrum, calling out CNN as often as Fox News. (Approx 1 hour long)

Fresh Air – Fresh Air is one of NPR’s most famous shows.  It is similar in topic scope as Talk of the Nation, but without any listener call-in.  Also, it tends to have a heavier focus on cultural topics (books, movies, etc).  Terry Gross has been hosting Fresh Air for decades and is a master at interviewing her guests.  Every once in a while there is a guest host or the interview is conducted by a specialist in that industry.  (Approx 1 hour)

Freakonomics – Essentially an audio, episodic version of the eponymous book. If you enjoyed the insights of the book, you’ll really enjoy this podcast. (Approx 30 min)

The Infinite Monkey Cage – a BBC radio show about science. A panel of scientists (and one media star who is interested in science) talk about a topic. The only bummer is that the shows are quite infrequent. Something like 4 weekly episodes per quarter (Approx 30 min)

History

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – if you’re a history buff you really need to be listening to this podcast. Dan’s well-researched podcast presents bits of history you never heard of in ways you never thought of it. He does a great job of making ancient societies relate-able. The only bad thing is that there is a long gap between episodes due to the research involved. (Varies. Approx 1.5 – 4 hrs)

Hardcore History Addendum – Meant to bridge the gap between Hardcore History episodes, it focuses on interviews and smaller topics.

The Dollop – A very funny and very profane look at American history. The premise: The host tells a story of American history to the other guy, who doesn’t know ahead of time what the story’s about. It’s a premise that leads to some great reactions from the person not in the know (usually Gareth, but sometimes they do a Reverse Dollop). Also, listening to this podcast is a great reminder that the past is full of some really messed up people and situations.

History Unplugged – I found this podcast when I was looking for Dan Carlin’s new podcast that’s supposed to bridge the gap between Hardcore History episodes. I enjoy his question and answer episodes. (20 minutes)

Tides of History – I liken this podcast to the other side of Hardcore History. Dan Carlin tends to focus on the big movers and shakers in history. So far, in Tides of History he’s focused a lot on the experience of the common man (or woman) in the time period he’s exploring. Very entertaining and, unlike Hardcore History, it’s not on a George RR Martin update pace. (Usually 20-40 minutes)

Comedy

WTF with Marc Maron – This is a pretty solid podcast which mostly consists of Marc Maron interviewing comedians.  As with any interview-based show, the episodes are hit or miss, although more often than not they are really good.  Occasionally he does a live show in which he’s still interviewing people, but with 4-6 per episode it’s much less in-depth.  And, since it has an audience, the guest is performing more than being open.  The only irritating thing is that Marc starts off each episode with a rant/listener email reading.  Most of the time this is neither interesting nor funny.  Clearly the reason people are tuning is is to hear the interviews or they’d take up a minority of the show instead of the bulk of the show.  So I wish he’d do his rant at the end of the episode so that those of us who just want to hear a great interview with a comedian we like can easily skip the monologue.  (Approx 1.5 hours long)

Science Fiction Short Stories

Clarkesworld Magazine

Escape Pod

There isn’t much to differentiate these two podcasts.  They both feature great selections of short stories.  I added them to my podcatcher to get a dose of fiction among the more non-fiction podcasts I usually listen to.  Also, there’s something great about short-form fiction where you have to build the world AND tell the story in a very concise way.  The main difference between the two podcasts is that Clarkesworld has pretty much just one narrator who’s quite incredible.  Escape Pod tends to have a group of narrators.  Most of them are great – every once in a while there’s a less than stellar one.  Clarkesworld tends to end the story with the narrator’s interpretation and Escape Pod tends to end with reader comments from a few episodes ago. (varies. 15 min to 45 min)

Movies

How Did This Get Made – Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (plus the occasional guest) watch movies from the last few decades that will probably be in the future’s version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The movies are often incredibly baffling and full of strange plot points. One of the best parts of the show is “Second Opinions” where Paul goes to Amazon.com to get 5 Star ratings for the movie they just spent about an hour lambasting. Every other episode is a mini episode that previews the next show, has a section called “Corrections and Omissions”, and Qs and As. The first two sections are great. The last one varies depending on the quality of the questions and answers. It can be pretty funny, but sometimes I just skip it. (Approx 1 hr)

Twinsies – Andy Wood from Probably Science and another guy who might just mention that he has a film degree from Arizona State talk about two movies that came out around the same time and are almost the same movie – at least superficially. For example Antz v A Bug’s Life or The Illusionist v The Prestige. Good for film/pop culture nerds. (approximately 45 minutes)

News

The Bugle – Jon Oliver (from The Daily Show) and some other guy talk about the news. In a way, it’s like a How Did This Get Made for news. Also similar to The Daily Show in the incredulity of what people in the news are doing. (Approx 30 min)

Political Gabfest (from Slate) – This has taken the role that Talk of the Nation’s Wednesday slot left vacant when the show went off the air. They talk about politics (usually swinging heavily left or sometimes libertarian while ToTN was more neutral) and I get a dose of what everyone’s talking about in politics. (Approximatly 1 hour)

Common Sense with Dan Carlin – If you like the attention Dan puts towards Hardcore History, then you’ll probably love this take on the news. Usually Dan takes one (max 2) topics from the news and by the time he’s done with it, I’ve seen 2-3 different points of view. Sometimes there’s a clearly right point of view (the sky is blue), but other times each side has valid points and neither one has the complete high ground. Dan is a complex creature, like many of us. On some topics he’s more likely to agree with Dems, other time Republicans, and sometimes neither. Other times he agrees with their Platonic Ideal Version, but not their RealPolitik version. Either way, I’m always overjoyed when it shows up – which is somewhere between biweekly and monthly. (Approximately 45 minutes)

FiveThirtyEight Elections – a great, wonky podcast from the guys that brought you the most accurate election predictions. Has continued beyond the elections due to the odd circumstances of the new administration.

What Trump can teach us about Con Law – Hosted by Roman Mars of 99% Invisible and Elizabeth Joh, a constitutional law professor, it explores issues of constitutional law around statements, executive orders, etc that Trump has made. Very informative and explains a lot about how certain things that affect other politicians don’t affect the present. (15 minutes)

Culture

Sword and Laser – A fantasy and sci-fi book club. They interview up-and-coming authors and discuss the book club’s monthly book. Also cover news and upcoming new releases. (Varies. Approx 30 min)

Rocket Talk (Tor.com)note: I’m still subscribed to this podcast, but it’s been 19 months since the last episode. The host speaks with one or two Science Fiction and Fantasy authors about various things: their latest book, trends in the genres, publishing trends, etc. Sometimes a great show and sometimes I skip it halfway through. (Approximately 45 min)

Give Me Fictionnote: I’m still subscribed to this podcast, but it’s been 34 months since the last episode. A pretty hilarious (to my sense of humor) super short story podcast. It’s recorded live (which often spices up comedy) and seems to skew Gen X/Millenial in its humor.  (Varies, but usually under 15 minutes)

Talkin’ Toons with Rob Paulsennote: I’m still subscribed to this podcast, but it’s been 10 months since the last episode.The great voice actor behind two Ninja Turtles, Pinky, Yakko, and many, many other cartoon characters interviews other voice actors. It’s like WTF,  but without the annoying self-reflection 10-15 minutes that I always skip on Maron’s podcast. If you enjoy voice acting nerdom or want a place to start, check this out. It’s recorded in front of an audience which is often great, but once in a while leads them on tangents that take away from their great anecdotes. (Approximately 1 hour)

Boars, Gore, and Swords: A Game of Throne Podcast – two comedians (and sometimes some friends) discuss each episode of A Game of Thrones and each chapter of the books. While it’s primarily funny, it does sometimes lead me to some deeper insights into each episode.

The i Word: An Image Comics Podcastnote: I’m still subscribed to this podcast, but it’s been 15 months since the last episode. different writers and artists working on a comic for Image Comics are interviewed about their comic as well as something unrelated to comics that they’re really into.

The Allusionist – a podcast about words, where they come from, and how we use them

Nancy – A WNYC podcast about LGBT culture. It’s fascinating for me to hear about a culture I’ve absolutely no experience with and the differences in the life experiences of the hosts and their guests. Also interesting having Kathy Tu as a co-host because the bits of LGBT culture I’ve seen before were from a white perspective and she provides an asian perspective on the LGBT experience. (15 minutes)

Science

You Are Not So Smart – the host, who wrote an eponymous book, tackles topics of self-delusion. Examples include placebos, alternative medicine, and conspiracy theories. (Approximately 45 min)

Probably Science – some comedians who used to work in the science and tech fields bring on other comedians (of various levels of scientific knowledge) to discuss pop science and where the articles might be misleading.

Misc

99% Invisible – Similar in scope to the NPR podcast Invisibilia, this one was there first. It explores the things that are in the background of life. Examples include architectural details we often miss or stories that tell how regions came to be. Production is similar in sonic greatness to RadioLab.  (Approx 15 min)

Tell Me Something I don’t Know – a gameshow from the guys behind Freakonomics. Learn some new facts in a fun and often funny way.

GoodMuslimBadMuslim – a window into what it’s like to be a Muslim in modern America.

Politically Reactive – note: I’m still subscribed to this podcast, but it’s been 5 months since the last episode. W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu discuss politics with some jokes and some interviews with people mostly on the left, but sometimes on the right. They are respectful and always provide context to what’s being said.

More Perfect – Explores Supreme Court rulings and how they affect America.

Song Exploder – they pick a song and a member from that band explains how they put it together. They usually look at each layer of the track – vocals, drums, guitar, etc and talk about why each decision was made. Can range from interesting to revealing.

Milk Street – a cooking podcast that goes along with Chris Kimball’s new enterpise, Milk Street. (Approximately an hour)

Business Wars – focuses on business rivalries like Netflix v Blockbuster, Nike v Adidas, or Marvel v DC. Usually 4-6 episodes per topic and a reasonably deep dive into the subjects.

Imaginary Worlds – a look at what makes science fiction and fantasy so enjoyable whether as books, film, or music.

2017 in Books

There there 3 big trends in my reading in 2017: 1) I decided that my new policy for making sure I got to all the books I was buying in Humble Bundles and Storybundles (and, therefore, not just wasting my money on a “good deal”), was that every time my To-Read list would get to its end, I would start with the earliest book I’d added to Calibre and then work my way up, adding at least one book from each bundle or Project Gutenberg raid. This is why I ended up reading books like Hunt at the Well of Eternity and Black Mercury. 2) I read a LOT of cookbooks. A couple years ago I got into serious BBQing and grilling rather than simply throwing some burgers on the grill on Memorial Day and Independence Day. This year I got into indoor cooking. It started with making bread in a dutch oven and just cascaded into me making 1-2 of our family’s meals per week (on average). 3) I started series I’d been hearing about or discovered via Humble Bundles. This includes getting sucked into Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere universe of books via Humble Bundle, starting GRRM et al’s Wild Cardsseries, and finally starting The Expanse. I’ve also continued my trend of reading multiple books at once. This has the side effect of keeping me interested in reading as I don’t get trapped  by a boring book.

I usually list the books I read and link to their reviews on this blog, but that’s rather tedious and I’m rather short on time (as you might have seen on my post on video games in 2017) so I’m just going to list the books  and if you’re really interested in my review you can use the search function on this site with the title of the book.

  1. The Emperor’s Agent
  2. Hanzai Japan
  3. Tampa
  4. Starship Troopers
  5. Absolute Power: Tales of Queer Villainy
  6. The Forever War
  7. The Girl with All the Gifts
  8. Singular Irregularity
  9. Pretties
  10. Dynamite Art of Alex Ross
  11. Angel’s Ink
  12. Augie and the Green Knight
  13. Hunt at the Well of Eternity
  14. Massively Multiplayer
  15. Black Mercury
  16. The Machine God
  17. Big Pulp Fall 2011
  18. The Making of Prince of Persia
  19. Clipping Through
  20. The LEGO adventure book
  21. To Sue the World
  22. Whiskey and Water
  23. Lightspeed Magazine March 2013
  24. You are Not so Smart
  25. The Handmaid’s Tale
  26. The Trinity Paradox
  27. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 1
  28. Pay Me, Bug!
  29. Solid State
  30. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  31. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 2
  32. Put this in your Brain
  33. Warbreaker Audiobook Part 3
  34. Uncanny Magazine Nov/Dec 2014
  35. Elantris Audiobook Part 1
  36. Battle Royale Slam Book
  37. Elantris Audiobook Part 2
  38. The Camelot Shadow
  39. Infomacracy
  40. The Hope of Elantris
  41. Elantris Audiobook Part3
  42. Clarkesworld Magazine #124
  43. Wild Cards
  44. Station Breaker
  45. Orbital
  46. The Holy Bible abridged beyond the point of usefulness
  47. Science abridged beyond the point of usefulness
  48. The Lives of Tao
  49. Race for the Iron Throne
  50. Meathead
  51. Buying Time
  52. The Bloodline Feud
  53. Golden Son
  54. Weber Charcoal Grilling
  55. The Mongoliad
  56. Masters of Doom
  57. Raichlen’s BURGERS!
  58. Raichlen’s BBQ Sauces
  59. Weber Big Book of Burgers
  60. Sandman Slim
  61. Cook it in Cast Iron
  62. Project Smoke
  63. To Pixar and Beyond
  64. Milk Street: The New Home Cooking
  65. Leviathan Wakes
  66. Specials
  67. Truckers
  68. ODY-C
  69. Eden M51
  70. Paul Ryan Magazine
  71. Lumiere
  72. Big Pulp Winter 2011
  73. Chew Vol 1
  74. Chew Vol 2
  75. Chew Vol 3
  76. Dead Witch Walking
  77. Cook’s Illustrated 2016 Annual

2017 in Video Games

It was a pretty busy year for me in 2017 as I got more into cooking as the twins got older and I didn’t have as much time to myself. I felt I hadn’t nearly played as many games in 2016. But when I started gathering the stats, that’s when I realized just how much less I’d played. In 1016 I’d played 132 hours of video games compared to only 42 hours in 2017. And over half of that was in Civilization VI – once again proving to me that it’s the one game that’s worth spending my money on as I’ll always go back to it. Just writing this makes me itch to get back to the game.

Youtube seems to have removed the ability to embed playlists – or maybe they’ve just moved it somewhere I can’t find it. So this year I’ll just discuss a bit about each game. If you want to watch any of them, just follow this link and then go to the right playlist.

Civilization VI (26 hours 26 min) – Some of this came from playing solo games and some from playing multi-player games. The game continued to evolve throughout the year and so each game was slightly different.

Human Resource Machine (3 hours 37 min) – AKA Assembly Programming the Video Game. I had a lot of fun trying to remember how to do assembly. Stopped when it got a little too hard and I just didn’t have the time to devote to it.

Vertical Drop Heroes HD (3 hr 13 min) – Last year this was my game of the year as I said it was the one I was most enthused to get back into. I did indeed spend a good chunk of early 2017 working to beat the game.

Team Fortress 2 (2 hours 42 min) – I played a bit around Halloween and had a blast. If I had enough time, I’d cycle back and forth between this game and Civ VI.

Rocket League (1 hour 31 minutes) – Vinny’s kid is about Scarlett’s age and he was talking about how much Vinny loved Rocket League. Scarlett had some fun with it, but also didn’t enjoy losing so we haven’t played much since the third time we played.

Contraption Maker (58 min) – Scarlett hasn’t asked me to get this game going in months, I think she forgot about it.

Double Dragon Neon (33 min) – I wanted to see how much this game was like the one I remembered – it was…a little too much. Still, it was fun to live that nostalgia trip.

LA Noire (30 min) – I can’t remember for the life of me what was going on with this game. I’m sure in an alternate world where I got it before the kids and played it continuously I would have loved it.

Dirt3 (28 min) – As a kid I always loved racing sims. But back them most of them were arcade ports that required the player to finish in a certain time or lose. I had fun mucking about in Dirt3 and would probably play it if someone payed me to play video games full-time, giving me lots of video game playtime.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! (26 minutes) – Scarlett wanted me to play the game again.

KickBeat (26 min) – I like rhythm games, but this one got too complex too quickly. Most likely won’t be playing again.

BEEP (17 min) – the game that didn’t want to be played. It just wanted to crash all the time, especially if I was trying to record my time in the game.

Game of the Year

It’s kind of silly to think of a game of the year when I barely played games this year. But I really did like the charm of Human Resource Machine – from the minds behind Little Inferno and World of Goo. If I didn’t play that in 2017 I would have just given it to Civ VI again.

Sam and Stella’s First Disney Trip

Back in November we took the twins on their first trip to Disney. This time around Scarlett wasn’t as interested in the parades as she was last time, but the twins were REALLY into them. Surprisingly, both twins ended up warming up to the characters. Sam’s reluctance with Mickey on the first day made me think he was going to try and avoid them the entire trip. But as you can see in the video, he eventually got into interacting with the characters.

The twins were a little more patient about waiting in line – not sure if it’s because they had Scarlett to copy or if they’re just a little more patient than she is. It was a little tougher with three kids’ schedules to balance, but the twins also eat a more varied diet than Scarlett did at the same age so they weren’t constantly hungry like she was. We’ll see what happens in the future as they all get older, but there weren’t really too many arguments or disagreements about what rides to go on.

It was also special that my parents once again went for the grandkids’ first time. The kids just about enjoyed their time with their grandparents as much as their time on the rides and at the shows.

Enjoy my favorite photos from the trip.

Eagles at Conowingo Dam (Jan 2018)

For the past couple years (ever since my mom got back into photography), I’ve been trying to get her to come in the winter to go photograph American Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam. They tend to be there from around November to about early January and I usually go in December. This year at the semi-last moment she decided to visit and I suggested we go try and photograph some eagles. So she brought her long lens and we took off. Of course, the one day we had available to do this also happened to be the coldest day of the 2017-2018 winter so we were physically being tortured. I had told her ahead of time to make sure to get long johns, so we didn’t get hypothermia.

Mom, bundled up for the frigid temperatures
Mom, bundled up for the frigid temperatures

I’d read that this was just about the tail end of the eagles’ time here so I wasn’t sure we’d have anything to show for our freezing butts and 2-hour round trip commute. And at first it seemed my fears were credible. All we saw were some seagulls and ducks.

I asked one of the other photographers there if he’d seen any eagles and he told me they hadn’t been active for at least an hour and had flown off into the woods. I usually get there with the sun, but we had arrived pretty late. I was really getting worried.

Mom checking her seagull photos
Mom checking her seagull photos

But then we spotted an Eagle!

And we would spend as long as we could tolerate outside. When our fingers and toes no longer had any feeling, we would go back into the car until we defrosted.

Mom shooting eagles
Mom shooting eagles

I was a little disappointed with my photos. I was rusty on wildlife photos. I remembered to do a high shutter speed (greater than 1/2000). But the photos just weren’t as clear as I wanted. Probably partially the lens, partially not fully in focus, and eagles are very fast-moving. That said, I got this series of shots:

“yeah, I got it”

And, again, it’s not as clear and in focus as it could be. But I’ve wanted this shot for about five years. I never was able to get an eagle grabbing a fish out of water. What was amazing was how quickly it happened! And to be able to get that photographed, even if not perfect, was amazing for me. Next time I’ll try renting a longer lens and beefing up on my technique and try to get that again.

There was also this goose-like bird.

I shot over 1100 photos to get to these 30ish photos – of which I’d probably print a couple – one of them being one of the goose photos.

Overall, the trip was VERY worth it. I got 4 hours of bonding time with mom (and she’s SO busy that’s a rarity worth so much) and I finally got an eagle grabbing a fish out of water. Next time – when it’s warmer and there are more eagles – some time in December – should be great.

Columbus Day 2016 at the Park

I took Sam and Stella to the park on Columbus Day (Scarlett was in school) and they were finally old enough that I could step back to take photos while they worked their way through the jungle gym.

A Fall Visit to the Farm

Back in October, we went to the pumpkin patch to do our annual pumpkin patch portraits.

Sam inspects pumpkins
Sam inspects pumpkins

Unfortunately, the twins were not amenable so we just did the other farm activities.

Stella checks out the portrait photos
Stella checks out the portrait photos