Enlightened Geek Listening

geeklisteningFor some reason I never did any podcast listening until about 10 months ago. At that point I decided to give it a go and quickly assembled an initial list of subscriptions by googling around to see what similar minded peers were listening to. Its amazing (and frustrating) how much interesting stuff is out there.

My current list has evolved considerably since then and the purpose of this post is to give an overview of the shows I’m currently subscribed to and why. Hopefully it may inspire others to listen to some of them and share their own.

The different subscriptions cover my interests in technology & software, programming, (aerospace) engineering, and socio-economic/political topics. As well as a broader interest in science related topics and the scientific method.

Why

There is no point giving a list of podcasts without some background. What do I want to get out of it:

  • Get in depth background and commentary on new tools/projects/paradigms in the tech/software sphere
  • Learn more about the people and the story behind well known tech projects or sites (e.g., Rich Hickey, Jeff Atwood, …)
  • Follow developments in the engineering and manufacturing sectors, particularly aerospace.
  • Get more background and commentary on current affairs and important socio-economic and political developments.
  • Infotainment and amusement

I try to keep a general tab on what’s happening through Twitter and a NewsBlur subscription list (which I admittedly have difficulty following though). For me podcasts fill in the back story and provide context and critique. Whatever I listen to, it will always have some technical content, I don’t tend to stick with shows that have a lot of radio-show-esque waffle.

My podcast listening tends to happen whenever I commute or while doing the usual chores around the house (typically washing dishes). This gives me about 20-45 minutes of listening every day and limits the total number of shows I can keep track of. I’m currently somewhat oversubscribed so in the spirit of The Disciplined Pursuit of Less I’m looking to prune this list somewhat, or at least be more picky as to which episodes I listen to.

Podcast list

So here is my current list, in no particular order:

Tech / Programming

Floss Weekly (1hr, interview, weekly) – This show is one of my favourites. Originally started by Leo Laporte and now hosted by Randall Schwartz with co-hosts varying between Aaron Newcomb, Simon Phipps (of OSI fame and lives just down the road here) and Dan Lynch. As the name suggests each episode covers an open source project, interviewing the developers about the backstory, userbase, toolchain, upcoming features, etc. There is a nice mix of projects ranging from the very well known to the more obscure. Some examples are Yesod (a haskell web framework), OpenROV (an open underwater robot platform), Err chatbot (an IRC chatbot), and PostgreSQL (a database server). Very accessible and light to listen to. Also always amusing to hear Simon Phipps give guests a hard time if their open source model is not up to scrutiny.

Software Engineering Radio (~1hr, interview, monthly) – This show has been around since 2006 and discusses software engineering principles and best practices in quite some detail. Dryer than, say, Floss Weekly and less buzzy than IT Conversations its a solid, organized listen, always in the form of an interview. Previous topics included lean software development, agile methods, design patterns (with Erich Gamma), DSLs (with Martin Fowler), and UML (with Grady Booch). I have to admit, though, that it has lost its charm and quirckiness after Markus Voelter left and the show got taken over IEEE Software in 2012.

Basement Coders (~1hr, interview, every 2-3 months) – I only discovered Basement Coders very recently but quickly came to like it. Craig Tataryn knows what he is talking about and while there is a slight bias towards the JVM ecosystem topics are drawn from a wide range of software engineering and programming disciplines. Past topics have included OSGi, SpringSource, Scala and also a recommended interview with Jeff Atwood. The style is somewhere in between Floss Weekly and Software Engineering Radio. My only niggle is that they always end the show by asking the guest to say “Stay geeky my friends”, which for me just detracts from the style and content. May I suggest a famous, inspring quotation instead?

RCE (~1 hr, interview, monthly) – RCE is an HPC podcast, and what I really like about it is that it’s run by two very experienced and adept hosts: Brock Palen and Jeff Squyres. These guys know what they are talking about and that makes for high quality interviews with good technical content. Topics are always related to High Performance Computing, eg., the Ceph filesystem, The Fastest Fourrier Transfer in the West, Modern Fortran, Globus, and (of course) DataKind.

Herding Code (~30 min, interview/discussion, monthly) – If the Basement Coders hosts have a Java background then the Herding Code hosts (Jon Galloway, Keven Dente, Scott Allen, Scott Koon) have a .NET interest. Similar topics are covered in a similar informal and informative style: new tools, APIs, best practices, etc. typically from, or related to, the Microsoft ecosystem. Though some more general topics are covered as well like hiring and interviewing strategies.

IT Conversations (10min-1hr, mixed, multiple per week discontinued) – When preparing to publish this post I just noticed that the podcast has stopped. For those interested in the back episodes: Of all the podcasts in this list IT conversations has the most buzz words. Mostly recordings from large IT conferences (Velocity, Strata, Web 2.0, O’Reilly, …) you will find plenty of business speak, product pitches, and keynotes. Again you miss the visual feed but talks are typically well delivered, amusing, and thus lighter than those listed above. Occasionally the feed also features interviews by Moira Gunn, typically interviewing an author about an upcoming book with a social/medical/techy angle, staying rather high level. While she tends to annoy me at times, there is some good content here and there.

The Changelog (40min, interviews/news roundup, twice per month) – You may know the changelog from its site, thechangelog.com, which is a source of news about what happens in open source. They also run a podcast, led by Adam Stacoviak and Wynn Netherland and in style quite similar to Herding code. Each episode will cover a particular open source project. The topics are quite varied but tend to focus on web development related topics with Ruby/Rails projects and javascript frameworks being the most prominent. Past projects have included Event Machine, Cloud 9, Celluloid, MacRuby, Lua, Travis CI, and Tmux. In all easy to follow and agreeable to listen to. Its been a while since the last episode though.

Chariot Techcast (30min, interviews, bi-monthly) – Chariot Solutions are an enterprise application development consulting firm with a strong focus on open source. They also run a number of podcasts of which their Emerging TechCast is the only one I have listened to. I haven’t listened to very many espisodes but its similar to basement coders but a bit more enterprisey. Hosted by their Director of Education, Ken Rimple, it tends to focus on JVM technologies (e.g., Spring, Scala, iText) but has also covered projects like MongoDB, Redis, and Jenkins. They also extend the discussion beyond the projects themselves and some episodes will cover architecture, platforms, best practices, etc.

Relevance Podcast (~40 min, interviews, 1-2 a month) – I have have been dabbling in clojure a bit lately and enjoy Fogus’s quirky twitter feed. Wanting to learn more about the people and philosophy behind the language I started listening to the Relevance Podcast. Think Relevance is probably the main company behind the language and as such its quite a focussed show, typically discussing particular clojure projects, libraries, or events (e.g., “The Conj”) and you don’t always get the references to individuals or company culture. However, even if you are not really into clojure, interviews with Michael Fogus and Rich Hickey are well worth listening to. A nice quirk of the show is that they let every guest choose the intro and outro music for the episode.

University of Washington TV (~1hr, presentations, ?) – I stumbled across UWTV while looking for a podcast in the computational science / CAE domain. The feed consists of recordings from invited lectures and typically cover computer science research. The talks are quite accessible and make for very interesting listening. The only downside is that you miss the visual backup the physical audience has. Past topics have included real time crowd computing, swarm intelligence, GraphLab, and a keynote from Bill Gates. Its been a while since any new episodes were posted and in writing this I could no longer find a new feed through iTunes. The previous episodes are still worth a listen though.

Hanselminutes (30min, interviews/conversation, weekly) – Scott Hanselman, program manager at Microsoft’s developer team and listed as one of the 30 most influential people in programming, is a well known character in the tech world. There is obviously a strong focus on the Microsoft ecosystem but don’t let that put you off if that’s not your thing. There are some good interviews and discussions on other topics as well, such as the evolution of web Malaware, a discussion of TypeScript, and an interview with Willow Brugh (from Geeks Without Bounds fame). I dont listen to all episodes but I generally enjoy it as it has this relaxed, personal vibe about it and touches on the more personal stories behind a particular technology or development. Nicely mixed it makes for easy listening.

This Developers Life (~1hr, storytelling, ~5 a year) – So far the podcasts have always had a very strong technical focus. What makes This Developers Life interesting is that it focusses much more on the personal side of being in tech. Hosts are Scott Hanselmann and Rob Conery and there are lots of interesting stories, anecdotes and guests. Topics have included: handling drama, growing old, learning new things, dealing with cancer, the role of education, etc. So very much a personal, human angle. Like Hanselminutes it is all very expertly mixed and makes it very easy and chilled out to listen to.

Current affairs

BBC Analysis (~30min, commentary, weekly) – Every week the BBC analysis team will do a short documentary on recent events. Topics will typically be from Economics (e.g., Eurocrisis, the US fiscal cliff, …) and politics (e.g., the Arab spring, the Alawite in Syria). The bias of the presenter (writer, journalist, or academic) seeps through at times but overall they are quite well done and easy to follow. As welcome intermezzos feature The Philosophers Arms and extracts of debates at the LSE.

As for the latter, the list of LSE Podcasts available on the iTunes store is staggering. Lots of very interesting material covering socio-economic and political themes (both past and present) presented in the form of debates, public lectures or interviews. Its hopeless trying to keep up with it all so I try to cherry pick a few interesting sounding episodes here and there.

Science / Engineering / Skepticism

BBC Discovery (~20min, documentary, 2-5 per month) – Documentary style, similar to Analysis, but covering popular science topics like Artificial Blood, Gene Therapy, Drug Discovery, Alan Turing, etc. A bit too frequent for my liking, so more work to keep up with, but easy listening.

Strange Quarks (~40-90min, interview, 6 per year) – I have tried a number of skeptic podcasts and to my knowledge Strange Quarks is the best one out there. Excellent, lengthy interviews by Marting Robbins and Michael Marshall of people like Mark Henderson (The Geek Manifesto), Stevyn Colgan, and Mark Lynas. Covering topics such as climate change, crime, and conspiracy theories. Hasn’t been a new episode in 8 months now, but the older ones are definitely worth listening to.

IEEE Spectrum Techwise Conversations (~10-40min, interview, > 10 per month) – Short, frequent, but always very interesting and great during short chores or commutes. Topics are very diverse, from job market discussions to machine translation. It being IEEE you expect solid content, not shying away from the technical and not trying to be too “popularizing”. Though the episodes are generally quite short and can leave you wanting, Steven Cherry manages to pull this off very well in the telephone interviews he almost always does.   Unfortunately, for me, the episodes with Susan Hassler are less successful at this. It feels like she (or the production team) are trying to hard to make it interesting or accessible and it almost feels patronizing. So I end up skipping most of those.

Aero Society Podcast (30-60min, lectures, 1-2 per month) – The Royal Aeronautical Society (or RAeS) is a British-founded multidisciplinary professional institution dedicated to the global aerospace community. So if you are interested in aerospace these are a great listen. Typically around the hour mark they are recordings of (named) lectures given by prominent people in the aerospace community. Topcis covered have included the history of flight simulation, the Curiosity rover, Anglo-American defense, hot air balloons (a wonderful talk by, the now unfortunately deceased, Janet Folks), aerodynamic technology, etc. I just wish they would include the Q&A session at the end of each lecture as well.

Aviation Xtended (60-120min, interviews, features, and discussion, monthly) – A very new addition to my list. So far I have only listened to the last episode (on Space Exploration, Space Travel, and Moondust) and while its very long (over two hours) its well worth it. The podcast is run by Pieter Johnson (XTP Media), Tim Robinson (RAeS), Gareth Stringer (Global Aviation Resource) and features a mix of interviews, news updates, book reviews, and general discussion among the hosts about all things aerospace.

Entertainment

The Infinite Monkey Cage (~30min, panel discussion, ~1 per month) – Comedy meets science meets absolute mayhem. Panel discussion with two scientists and one comedian, led by Robin Ince and Brian Cox. Each episode tackles a particular topic (“Is cosmology really a science?”) and features lots of inside jokes that only science geeks will get, references to British culture, media personalities, and a good dose of absurdness. An absolute joy to listen to.

Answer Me This (Helen and Olly) (~30min, Q&A, 1 per week) – Every week, assisted by Soundman Martin Austwick, Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann answer random questions submitted by the general public. And with random I mean truly random. From hairspray and rainbow parties to relationships and mounted police. Pure entertainment sprinkled with random interesting facts brought by an amusing trio in an equally amusing format. The show has become one of the UKs most successful independently produced podcasts and won a number of awards.

Not on the list 

Not on the list is Pragmatic Podcasts, not updated since 2011 but some good back episodes and interviews to listen to.

Some of the popular podcasts I tried but didn’t resonate with me: Nerdist, BBC ComedyRicky Gervais, Weekly Pulse-Project, and Programming Throwdown.

I did follow Pulse Project Maths for a while but there was not always enough real content to keep me going. A less frequent schedule may work better for them.

To check out

Podcasts I discovered recently and am keen to checkout include Omega Tau (English version, looks very promising and diverse), The Engineering Commons, Compucast, and, to satisfy my inner #avgeek, Talking Space and Airplane Geeks. Will have to see which ones they will replace.

Conclusion

This post has taken a lot of time to put together and Im quite surprised at how many shows I have listend to over the past year. What I was still missing when I started writing was a good show that covers engineering, particular aerospace/automotive/marine and ideally the bridge with computer science. It looks like I may have found this with Omega Tau and Aviation Xtended.

However, Im still open for suggestions so please leave those, and any comments, below. Any tips on a big data related podcast are also welcome, inside-bigdata perhaps?

–Dirk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s