Twelve great podcasts

There are so many great podcasts out there right now. Here’s twelve of the best, covering pop culture, daily life, indepth interviews, history, science and humour.

(As well as the convenience of listening when you want another joy of the podcast format is that when you one you like you can go back and raid the back catalogue, which for some of these shows is huge).

the list podcastThe List

Australia · Radio National · weekly · about 30 mins · website · iTunes · free

A summing up of pop culture happenings from the past week followed up with an indepth discussion on one or two specific topics. Funny and smart host Cassie McCullagh invites one or two guests per episode to discuss trends across music, books, movies, tv, fashion and wider impacts on Australian and global culture.

For example: What Miley Did Next, The Truth About Digital Dating, Selfies At Funerals

pop culture happy hour podcastPop Culture Happy Hour

US · National Public Radio · weekly · about 50 mins · website · iTunes · free

A round-table take on pop culture from a regular gang of US National Public Radio writers and specialists on film, theatre, books and music. Extended discussions around themes (pop culture punching bags, rites of passage,  the rise of subtitled film and tv) are fun. Sometimes a bit too much focus on US television for me but the regular team riff together well no matter the subject.

For example: Disney princesses, How many band members have to leave before it’s not the  band?

wtfWTF with Marc Maron

US · Marc Maron · twice weekly  · 60-90 mins · website · iTunes  · new episodes free / subscription for older/premium episodes

American standup conducts extended interviews with actors, comedians, actors and musicians in his garage. Maron’s style is rambling and slightly manic ; his openness with his guests is often reciprocated and along with the longer format results in some of the most honest and insightful interviews I’ve heard from his subjects. I cherrypick through his episodes and focus mostly on the musicians as I don’t know many of the comedians he has on.

For example:  Elijah Wood, Moon ZappaIggy PopNick Cave, J Mascis (some of these are premium/subscription)

nerdistNerdist

US · Nerdist Industries · weekly · 50-90 mins · website · iTunes · free

A similar extended  interview format to WTF but with younger and zanier hosts, Chris Hardwick and buddies. At time of writing I’ve only listened to a couple of these, drawn in by the recent Neko Case interview.

For example: Neko Case, Daniel Radcliffe, George RR Martin

this american lifeThis American Life

US · WBEZ Chicago · weekly · 60 mins · website · iTunes · latest episode free / older episodes can be streamed on their website or purchased for $0.99

This long-running podcast deserves all the accolades it’s received – it really is extraordinary both in style and the range and depth of subjects covered. The house style puts the voices of its subjects to the forefront.

For example: Harper High 1 & 2, When Patents Attack, Middle School, Switcheroo

stuff you should knowStuff You Should Know

US · How Stuff Works · about 40 minutes · website · iTunes · free

Well-established, the rockstar of the How Stuff Works stable of podcasts. Hosts Josh and Chuck have a relaxed style and cover a huge range of scientific, historical and social topics of with insight and humour.

For example: How Barbie WorksWas There a Curse on King Tut’s Tomb?, Who Are the Amish?, The Real How Jack the Ripper Worked, Shark Diaries

stuff you missed in history classStuff You Missed In History Class

US · How Stuff Works · about 30 minutes · website · iTunes · free

Another How Stuff Works podcast covering a range of historical subjects. The show has had a number of hosts in its history – current hosts are Tracy Wilson and Holly Frey.

For example: Boudica, The Luddites

in our timeIn Our Time

UK · BBC Radio 4 · 40 mins · website · iTunes · free

Serious, no messing around here. Host Melvyn Bragg guides specialist academics – usually from Oxbridge – through indepth discussions of their specialty areas.

For example: Pliny the Younger, Social Darwinism, Chivalry

history of rome podcastThe History of Rome

US · Mike Duncan · about 15 mins · website · iTunes · free

A comprehensive and epic 179-episode series that took creator Mike Duncan five years to research and create. Covers more than 1,000 years of Roman history, from the founding of Rome to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476. Impeccably researched and presented in a easygoing episodic narrative style.

history of world war twoThe History of World War Two

US · Ray Harris · 20-60 mins · website · iTunes · free

Similar in approach and style to The History of Rome, an indepth account of the politics and events of World War Two. Hugely detailed –  major events like Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain each get several episodes.

lexicon valleyLexicon Valley

US · Slate · 30 mins · website · iTunes · free

A word and language geek’s delight, hosted by linguist Mike Vuolo and writer and commentator Bob Garfield

For example: Etymology of the word faggot, DudeWhy is No among a Child’s First Words?

judge john hodgmanJudge John Hodgman

US · Maximum Fun · 60-90 mins ·  website · iTunes · free

A very funny fake internet courtroom in which the very witty John Hodgman passes judgement on petty disputes between couples or friends. Full of pop-culture references and judgements with genuine wisdom beneath the jokes.

The Book Case, Department of Corrections, The Right to Remain Silent, Backseat Jiver

OS X – can’t add a signature in Preview? Here’s how…

Spoiler: let there be light.

I recently became aware that OS X Mountain Lion has a feature that lets you add a signature to Preview and use this to digitally sign pdf documents.

At first I thought I could just add a digital image file but at time of writing this isn’t an option. Preview does allow you to capture a hard copy of your signature using your computer’s webcam but unfortunately the process of actually doing this is a bit of usability nightmare.

To cut a long story short if you go to Preferences > Signatures in Preview you’ll be prompted to hold a signed bit of paper up to your camera so it can be captured.

preview signature capture too dark

Makes sense. So I dutifully held my bit of paper up and lined it up with the line like a good boy and clicked Accept only for… nothing to happen. After several attempts, a fair bit of trial and error and a bit of searching it turns out the problem is that if there isn’t sufficient light on the bit of paper it won’t capture the image.

Solution? Move to somewhere brighter or shine a torch on the paper and what you’re capturing will appear in the white Signature Preview box to the right of the capture window box for you to really accept.

preview signature capture good

Now if we just can have a short note in the interface explaining that you need sufficient light – and a greying out of the Accept button until it’s really possible to click it – it will all make sense.

Bellingen floods – when do bridges close?

There’s lots of information available from the Bureau of Meteorology website about river heights but I find that it doesn’t really answer the important question most people have: when can I get across the bloody bridge(s)? Below is a quick summary table pulling together in one place

  1. the main four bridges in and around Bellingen – in town, Thora (if this one’s under no-one can get in our out of the valley and/or Chrysalis and Orama schools), Glennifer and Kalang
  2. what river height they close at, and
  3. live river height data from the Bureau of Meterology website (click the small picture to see full size graphs)
Locality Bridge
where it is/river
Closes Live Data
from BOM
Bellingen see on map Lavender’s Bridge in town Bellinger River about 4.9 metres
Thora see on map Hobart’s Bridge near Chrysalis School Bellinger River about 3 metres
Gleniffer see on map Gleniffer Bridge near Gleniffer Hall Never Never Creek anyone know?
Kalang Moody’s Bridge Kalang Rd Kalang River about 3 metres on the Kooroowi gauge

Any feedback or corrections welcome, please leave a comment below.

If the little graph images in the table above look urgghy you need to update your web browser (try Google Chrome or Firefox. If you must use Internet Explorer get IE8 or above).

Bridge locations on the map

Click the little blue markers on the map for more information on each bridge

View Bridges around Bellingen that flood in a larger map (in new window on Google Maps)

Min Pip Bunya Smiley rock The Zoo, Ky’s Birthday

September 18, 2010 @ The Zoo, Brisbane

On the road 2010

My partner Annette and our two daughters – aged 14 and 11 – will be on the road through England, France, Malaysia and Laos for the next two months. Woo hoo!

We’ll all be writing about our experiences as we go.

Follow our adventures at On The Road 2010, our travel blog →

House in Bellingen for rent – September to November 2010

August 12 Update – we’ve found a tenant so the house is no longer available. Gotta be quick in Bellingen!

My house in Bellingen is available for rent for 8 weeks from September 19 to November 14 2010.

  • fully furnished
  • 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
  • huge covered deck and outdoor living area
  • short walk or ride to main street
  • quiet cul de sac
  • four friendly chooks
  • close to a great swimming spot in the Bellinger River with cool rope swings

Rent negotiable.

Contact me using the form below to find out more…

Luscious Juicy Delicate Ceramics Exhibition, Bellingen July 3 2010

Bellingen-ites – don’t miss this fantastic group exhibition, opening at Infusions on Saturday July 3. Ceramics by Nicole Stenson, Jennifer Chadwick and Annette Rogers, paintings by Beth Gibbings.

Here’s some shots of Annette’s work from this morning’s photo shoot. (Had to get some pics before they all get snapped up!)

Skype Spam

Has anyone else noticed an increase in Skype spam via instant messaging  of late? I’m getting lots of instant messaging Skype spam now as opposed to the calls/contact requests that seem to have been the first generation of Skype spam.

What I’m talking about is unsolicited Skype chat messages that pop up offering links to the usual types of spammy websites – viagra/cialis/wonder herbs, ‘male enhancement’, stock market stuff, porn, dating.

The penis enlargement/sexual stamina spammers often make use of Skype’s animated chat emoticons to, um, ‘enhance’ their spam.

There’s not a great deal you can do to stop getting spammed on Skype but if you do I recommend you immediately click  ‘Block’ and then tick the ‘Report abuse from this person’ checkbox to stop the person from contacting you again.

(More detailed instructions for both Windows and Mac versions of Skype is available on the Skype blog).

Are you a professional journalist? You write very well | Sneaky blog comment spam

Another kooky type of spam I’ve been getting a bit of lately is blog comment spam. This is where comments are left on a blog in the hope that they’ll be published and will then leave a link from the commenter’s name – which will always be keyword-heavy, something like ‘cheap viagra’ – to their dodgy website.

By writing meaningless, vaguely legitimate sounding and usually mildly flattering wording (“You write very well”, “I’ll add you to my favourites”) in their comments these spammers try to trick comment spam filters like the excellent Akismet (34, 769 spam comments caught on my eeny little blog in the past six months).

Here’s a sample of some of these spam comments left on this blog recently (all caught by Akismet). Of course I’m not going to publish the links but I will put the names left with each to give you an idea.

I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and I’ll be your constant reader.
singulair generic

Are you a professional journalist? You write very well.
cipro side effects

There’s a wealth of information here. I’ll be back again.
Business Man

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!
physical therapist

If he doesn’t know what he is doing, mutual fund is the way to go. That might be counted as cheating in the class though.
reports from CEO

and my favourite so far:

Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!
School Grants

These are so transparent, lacking in imagination and clumsy in their attempts at flattery that I kind of like them. Sometimes a new one will come through in the spam comments list and give my day a little lift. Sad but true.

Update: May 30 – this very post has to date received 10 of these spam comments, about one a day since it was published. Thanks Mr Cialis, penis enlargement guy (no, I don’t take it personally) and friends…

The Curious Incident of Swindon in Popular Culture

I grew up near Swindon, a humble town about 120km west of London in the UK. Actually, I grew up in Wroughton, a village just out of Swindon but when you live on the other side of the world – as I have since the early 1980s – and people ask what part of England you’re from you say Swindon. (If that draws a blank you zoom out a bit and go for “sort of near Stonehenge”).

Even as a child I suspected there was something fairly unspectacular about Swindon. I don’t mean that in a nasty way – I just knew it didn’t have the exoticism or historical monuments or tourist drawcards of other parts of the world. For example, for a long time the most interesting things I knew about it were

  • The town’s most favoured son is Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a 19th century railway man. Isambard was important enough to have the shopping centre name after him.
  • There is a crazy ‘multiple roundabouts’ roundabout in Swindon locals call The Magic Roundabout. Family lore has it that Nanna used to take the long way around town to avoid it. It was apparently voted ‘the fourth scariest junction in Britain’ in 2009 (putting it’s tagline in the same class as The Flight of the Conchords’ ‘fourth popular folk parody duo’).
  • Kind of well-know 50s and 60s actress Diana Dors was from Swindon
  • Something whacky and complicated happened with Swindon Town Football Club in the 1990s that saw them move up and down the divisions in the league

In recent years however this has all changed. It seems that no matter where I look in popular culture Swindon’s there, giving me a “and you thought I wasn’t cool” kind of glance.

One: The Office

It started with comic masterpiece The Office. In the Season One veiled references were made to the Swindon branch. In Season Two the branches are merged and the Swindoners become part of the team. Neil Godwin who becomes David Brent’s superior is heaps cooler than Brent. (That’s Swindon blood for you).

Two: Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next

Not long after this I started reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series of novels. For those who are unfamiliar the five six novel series (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten and First Among Sequels and One of Our Thursdays is Missing) are a bizarre mix of comedy and fantasy peppered with literary and other high- and low-culture references. They’re set in an alternate history version of today’s world. No prizes for guessing where most of the action takes place – the books are full of locations in and around the big S. Like Fforde’s books his website thursdaynext.com is a world unto itself, and includes a section called The Seven Wonders of Swindon.

Three: The Curious Incident

My third random brush with Swindon in an unexpected context – and the inspiration for me writing this post – came when I read Mark Haddon’s excellent 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a few weeks back. Yep, set in Swindon. In a pop will eat itself bonus the main character Christopher even discusses another literary reference to Swindon to add to the list – in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery Sherlock Holmes apparently stops for lunch in Swindon town.

Where it all happens.

Feel free to add to the list in comments below.

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