As I prepare for a few months island hopping in the Caribbean aboard Bueller, I'm feverishly collecting media while I have a reliable internet connection. Later I plan on covering a books, movies, and music I have amassed, but for now I'd like to focus on three of my favorite podcasts.
What is a podcast?
If you have never heard the term "podcast", it was trademarked in 2005 as any "online prerecorded radio program over the internet". Today, the use of the term also extends to any regularly published pdf or epub as well as audio file published regularly. Think of it like on-demand radio shows combined with online reference material.
I started listening to podcasts regularly while I was working as a field sales rep in Northern California to make long car rides stuck in traffic feel a bit more productive. Since a podcast is a passive medium like TV or Radio, it's easy to absorb the information while completing other benign tasks like doing household chores, exercising, or even relaxing before bed. Check out one of theses podcasts next time you find yourself with a few minutes to spare:
"99PI" is a design podcast that uncovers the commonly overlooked designs of every day objects. Host, and Oakland resident, Roman Mars has left no stone unturned covering subjects like the origins of the computer mouse (and it's lesser known side-kick), why a "#" is called a Pound Sign, and even the man who designed the (xxx) xxx-xxxx format we in the US use for our phone numbers.
Listening to a few of these podcasts will have you looking at the world around you very differently. Your eyes hone in on the careful considerations that (most of the time) intelligent people put into manufacturing the modern world around you. Since 99PI is produced in "beautiful down-town Oakland" many of the episodes cover SF Bay Area topics like the Transamerica Pyramid, Sutro Baths, and a batch of hidden public staircases scattered around the Bay Area.
Brought to you by the trusty folks at NPR, Planet Money takes an entertaining look at the material value of the world around us. Some episodes dive deep into a single topic, others drive home economic principles using many examples. Mostly I find the objective look at business practices and the way law and government try to regulate free markets to be a comical explanation of the "why" behind a lot of the things we take for granted or complain about everyday. For example, loop holes in tax laws may have made In-n-Out burger initially successful by helping them dodge restaurant taxes by only offering drive by window service. Another favorite episode retraces the steps of early electronic stock trading in it's infancy. Planet money doesn't limit itself to large markets, they have also covered the opening economies in Myanmar/Burma in one episode and followed a T-shirt from cotton fields all the way through the manufacturing processes in another.
Welcome to Night Vale
This podcast was recommended to me by friends in Oregon while I was road tripping up the Pacific Coast. After long hours on the road at night I flipped my dial to this quirky radio station. To set the scene, Welcome to Night Vale is a staged broadcast from a fictitious town in the desert with all sorts of odd characters. The host gives news updates on the normal activities mixed with bizarre oddities around the town. Nearly all episodes will have you saying "what the hell" or "who came up with this". The nonchalance of the announcer almost makes you feel like cursed dog parks guarded by hooded specters or neon covered clouds dropping dead birds is completely normal.
Welcome to Night Vale is a new take on story telling and doesn't presuppose the listener needs everything explained to them at face value.
In conclusion, the availability of high quality recording devices and editing software puts the power in the hands of many people to create great works of entertainment like these. I hope if you're not at least curious to try your own podcast, that you'll at least download and enjoy a few of these episodes.