Author Archives: roblightner
Most of us are 100% flesh-and-blood humans, but now and then one of us achieves transcendence and blossoms into a meme. I am curious if anyone has made it halfway there but stopped short of losing their digital identity entirely. Rick Astley comes to mind, but I don’t think Rickrolling really accounts for 50% of our understanding of him…yet. It may be that the dumb little URL spoofing craze eventually overtakes or balances out his lengthy musical career, but is there anyone we can say is equally mixed between meme and human right now?
Please discuss. Of course, it’s not quantifiable, so we’ll never reach a satisfying resolution–but isn’t it nice to dispense with that possibility up front?Continue Reading...
So a few weeks ago I mentioned on Facebook that I subscribe to 46 podcasts. That seemed absurdly high to me, and the raw number did turn out to be somewhat exaggerated, but the truth is I listen to quite a few of these things. Christine suggested I curate the hell out of it, so here we go. My organization is pretty fast and loose, but here goes:
- Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick: I get nerdy about politics, but I get extra nerdy about the Supreme Court. Dahlia Lithwick is a terrific legal writer for Slate, and for her podcast she typically interviews folks who have recently argued before the Court or who offer insight into its workings. It’s a great look at the big issues and some of the more obscure (but still important) stuff that crosses the docket. I’m not sure what her plans are for the summer while the Court is in recess. ~30min
- DoubleX Gabfest: Another Slate podcast, this one focuses on women’s issues and is often great, snarky fun. Writer and gadfly Hanna Rosin (author of The End of Men, which is a great example of a title that promises too much) leads the discussion with June Thomas, editor of Slate’s LGBTQ section Outward and possessor of the silkiest possible Scottish accent, and Noreen Malone, senior editor at New York Magazine and token millennial. Legal issues, social stuff, and pop culture are all in the mix. ~60min
- The Economist: This is a tough one, because it’s actually a series of many short podcasts spread out over the week, some of which are awesome (like “Babbage,” their tech show), some of which are soul-crushing (like “Money Talks,” their finance show), and some of which are enraging (like any item that touches on labor issues, however briefly). Overall, though, the podcast offer a smart perspective on issues that often aren’t covered well in the American press. ~10min
- Intelligence Squared US Debates:This is one of those finish-your-broccoli podcasts that sometimes broadens my perspective, but more often just makes me roll my eyes at the tenacity with which smart minds can defend idiotic propositions. It is a great resource for checking out the best arguments against the positions you hold dear, and the debate is almost always perfectly civil, which is instructive in itself. ~40min
- On the Media: This one sounds kind of dreadful and masturbatory, but it’s usually great fun. Here’s the pitch: NPR examines media coverage. I know, right? But the hosts ask tough questions with a good sense of humor and often eviscerate their targets–including NPR, when appropriate. Sometimes they bust out with some straight-up weirdness, like On House of Cards, their recent miniseries that recapped and discussed the Netflix show with political writers and folks involved with production. One of the last episodes featured Michael Kelly, who plays Doug, and it was a hoot. ~60min
- Political Gabfest: This is the podcast I most look forward to every week, but it is also the one I find most enraging and disappointing. It’s another Slate joint, and the three gabbers all fill distinct niches as they discuss the week’s political news. Emily Bazelon, my hero, offers smart legal analysis and the kind of thoughtful common sense I aspire to possess. John Dickerson, who just landed the host chair at Face the Nation, knows everything and everyone in American politics but bends over double in his efforts to paint every player as equally bad even though we all know that’s not true. David Plotz, longtime EIC at Slate but now CEO of Atlas Obscura, is a hyper-smart knee-jerk contrarian who occasionally descends into bullying. Wow, I’m making it sound awful, but it’s usually a great mix and well worth a listen. ~40min
- The Political Scene: This short podcast from The New Yorker gathers a couple of writers and an editor–often including big names like Jeffrey Toobin and Jelani Cobb–to take a brisk dive into a recent political issue. There was a good one recently that focused on Scalia’s offhand joke about a gay marriage protester that was quite enlightening. ~20min
- Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: These two smarties are fairly well known in the game design territory that falls somewhere between indie and mainstream. The podcast is organized into sections they call “huts” that vary from straight-up game design advice to crazy history to movie reviews–all over the place, really. Non-gamers are well-advised to at least check out their film and weird-literature discussions. One of them has strong opinions about everything and the other one is from Canada. ~60min
- A Life Well Wasted: Sigh. This is the one dead link I can’t bear to part with. I don’t have much to say except it was a terrific, short-lived podcasts about games and the game industry that shared an aesthetic with 99% Invisible (see below). RIP.
- Nerdhole: Yes, I subscribe to my own podcast, but it’s due diligence, not self-indulgence. Honestly! My friends and co-hosts Mary Traverse and Paul Hughes are smart and funny and I sometimes rise to their level as we discuss games and nerd-related pop culture. ~30min
- Quality Control: Polygon’s podcast focuses on one recent video game per episode, usually hosted by and/or featuring one of the McElroy brothers on staff there. The interview/reviews are fun, but the games aren’t usually up my alley. This is a great resource for folks who like shooters and brawlers and such. ~20min
- the memory palace: (Yes, I find all-lower-case exhausting as well. Sorry.) This delightful, very short history podcast reminds me just a bit of Paul Harvey’s old “The Rest of the Story” radio bits, except host Nate DiMeo isn’t addicted to twist endings or rabid right-wing politics. Well worth a listen. ~10min
- My History Can Beat Up Your Politics: History-informed political chat from Bruce Carlson, who’s sort of an anti-corporate libertarian, or maybe an anti-bureaucratic socialist. Iconoclasm FTW! ~60min
- Whistlestop: One of my favorite parts of Political Gabfest (see above) is John Dickerson’s occasional forays into presidential or political history. He knows how to pick out what’s most interesting in his storytelling, and this new podcast lets him stretch out into 20-minute chunks. He just finished the first part of a great retelling of the 1976 Reagan-Ford fight that set the stage for Reagan’s 1980 dominance. Before that, it was all about Grover Cleveland’s sex scandal. Check it out. ~20min
- Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything: This lovely bit of audio from Radiotopia is hard to categorize, but humor seems reasonable enough. Through monologues and interviews–some legit, some purely satirical–Walker makes a strong, dryly funny case against much of modern life in a manner that refuses to alienate even tech-embracers like me. His recent “Dislike Club” series was terrific, and his announcer (who I just learned is his wife Mathilde) has the most charming accent imaginable. ~30min
- Wiretap: Jonathan Goldstein hosts this dark, occasionally wacky show on CBC. You may have hard him and some of his cohort before on This American Life, but he’s definitely doing his own thing now. Monologues, interviews with recurring characters (including his parents), and occasional readings of weird stories make for a half-hour that’s off-putting in all the right ways. ~30min
- The Allusionist: More Radiotopia! Helen Zaltzman is an etymologist with a wicked sense of humor. She sorts out the histories of linked sets of words every couple of weeks–she did politics recently when the UK held its elections. Her delivery is just perfect. I want to be her friend. ~20min
- Lexicon Valley: Yet another Slate podcast. Bob Garfield (of On the Media, see above) and Mike Vuolo chat with lexicographer Ben Zimmer or other guests about the history and use of one odd word every week. “Pumpernickel” was rather amusing. There’s just a whiff too much bro humor and smack talk for me, but I still enjoy it. ~30min
- The World in Words: This is less about etymology and more about language in culture. It’s a short take on subjects like language education, the effects of Protestantism on German, and Icelandic insults. Good times! ~20min
- Music That Matters: KEXP’s weekly hour-long mix probably isn’t news to most of you, but it’s well worth subscribing if you don’t already. Great new music, occasional classics, and almost no begging for money. DJ Riz, one of my all-time favorites, just laid down either his first or second podcast and it was a blast. ~60min
- Song Exploder: This podcast takes a neat premise and runs with it. Musicians are asked to explain the components and production of one of their songs. Sometimes it’s kind of a dud, but occasionally–as with the fella who composed the theme song to House of Cards–it’s wonderfully enlightening. ~20min
- Criminal: This no-nonsense interview podcast from Radiotopia looks at various crime stories that are too quiet or unsalacious to make headlines. There’s some good stuff tucked in here, like a recent bit on “romance scammers” who prey on older women. ~30min
- Fugitive Waves: The Kitchen Sisters are Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, and they’ve been collecting stories for decades. This podcast sometimes goes back in time and sometimes sticks to the present day, but the stories are all intimate and focused and sometimes deeply charming. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. ~30min
- Love + Radio: Great interviews with people you didn’t know you wanted to know more about. The recent show about “humiliatrix” Ceara Lynch was rather sweet, and each show makes the case for embracing your inner weirdo. ~30min
- Mystery Show: I actually just subscribed to this a few days ago and it’s my new favorite. Starlee Kine, often heard on This American Life and Wiretap, gets her own showcase and it’s a blast. Ostensibly she is investigating mysteries that can’t simply be Googled away, but her journeys lead her to weird and wonderful interviews with random customer service reps and other assorted “normal people.” Check out the second one, about Britney Spears, and you’ll know if you’re in. ~40min
- Radio Diaries:This neat project curates people’s self-told stories; they record and pros edit. Some are way more interesting than others, but you’ll know in the first few minutes if you’re in or not. ~30min
- Serial: This podcast absolutely blew up in its inaugural season last year–what am I going to tell you that you don’t already know? It’s meant to be a counterpart to This American Life, telling much monger stories that develop over time. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do this year, but they’ve set the bar pretty high. ~60min
- Snap Judgment: Looking for a somewhat younger, somewhat less white version of This American Life? Here you go. Host Glynn Washington expresses his enthusiasm perfectly, and many of the stories are smart and feel true in a way that TAL only sometimes achieves. Please note, though, that some of the storytellers veer off into slam-poet inflection. This is why the skip button was invented. ~60min
- Strangers: This is an intensely polarizing show–I expect you’ll know pretty quickly if you love it or hate it. Host Lea Thau (who used to run The Moth) revels in uncomfortable truth, and this sometimes leads to trainwrecks of pure genius, like the series (!) of interviews with men who had rejected her after one or more dates. She’s at her best when she’s cutting deep, and a recent story following up with a young woman dealing with cancer is quite powerful. ~40min
- This American Life: Included for completeness. You know what this is. ~60min
- Unfictional: This is usually an anthology of three 10-minute true stories that are fun and/or sad and/or gripping. Sometimes they tweak the format a bit, but it’s great for those times when you need a quick hit of aural distraction. ~30min
Science and Tech
- Invisibilia: This odd, humanist science show really ought to feel like a ripoff of Radiolab (see below), but it’s definitely its own thing. It had a short test run last fall and winter and it’s as charming as heck. Hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel (producers for Radiolab and This American Life, so that explains things a bit) are funny and curious and ask interesting questions of interesting people. Some episodes go to some pretty dark places, but it never feels exploitative. ~60min
- Quirks and Quarks: This loooong-running CBC science show has a great, simple premise: Get scientists (often, but not always, Canadian) talking about their recent work. Each interview runs for ten minutes or so and is almost always enlightening. Host Bob McDonald sometimes feels like a cross between Bill Nye and Ned Flanders, but he generally gets out of the way as his guests gush with enthusiasm. They’ve been spending more time on climate science and other environmental threats lately, but they also goob out over dinosaur feathers and murder among early hominids. ~60min
- Radiolab: Like This American Life, I expect you already know all about this one. But just in case: it’s sort of a science show, though they sometimes veer off into weird history (Did you know there were quite a few Nazi POWs in the US during WWII? I did not.) and other topics. They tend to take a big-picture view of their topics and ask deep, often unanswerable questions. Despite that, it’s always good fun. ~60min (sometimes ~20 min)
- Reply All: This funny little “show about the internet” usually takes a look at odd blips on the net radar, like “dark Twitter” or Hasidic Jews’ relationship with the net. The hosts maybe haven’t quite figured out their relationship yet, but that awkwardness is generally reserved for the first minute or so and the rest is good, weird fun. ~20min
- Spark: Another CBC gem, this one may very well put you off with its opening credits. Persevere through the cheese and you’re in for some great stuff. Host Nora Young speaks with entrepreneurs and tech writers about new apps, tools, and systems that are making life better, worse, or more interesting. Almost every week I find something I need to check out. ~60min
- 99% Invisible: This delightful Radiotopia podcast covers design in everyday life–which includes graphic design, but more often looks at topics like airport design, early CSI education, and nuclear waste disposal warning signs that have to last for millennia. Host Roman Mars is a total design nerd and his enthusiasm is infectious. The most recent episode is actually a package of two shorts from its sister programs, but is still worth a listen. ~20min
- The Dissolve: My favorite writers from The Onion AV Club packed up and started their own site devoted to smart film writing, and their podcast is always good fun. They rarely focus on one film at a time, instead looking at bigger issues like “Whither the summer blockbuster” and whatnot. They’re smart and funny and well worth a listen if you like movies.~40min
- In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg: This BBC series covers topics in history, art, and science in depth with three academics and our charming, witty host Melvyn Bragg. It’s impossible not to learn something, and almost every episode gets frantically hilarious toward the end as Bragg politely but firmly tries to get his guests to wrap up. ~40min
- Philosophy Bites: Short conversations with philosophers about topics that sometimes feel unrelated to philosophy, like conspiracy theories and swearing. The guests always bring it, though, and their keen minds are lovely to watch in action. ~20min
- Planet Money: A spinoff from This American Life that has been going strong for years, this is a great resource for folks like me who don’t know much about economics. They started by explaining the economic crisis of 2007-8, and ever since they’ve been looking at large and small corners of the global economy. It’s not always a hit, but when its good, it’s the best. ~20min
I listen to a lot of podcasts–some political, some nerdy, some covering science news. Radiotopia fills in the gaps and keeps me wondering. It’s a well-chosen set of seven short, offbeat podcasts that cover design, history, art, and other topics in widely divergent formats. My entry point was 99% Invisible, which I feel I must have written about before; it’s a terrific collection of stories about design in places or circumstances we don’t usually think have much relationship to design. You’ve likely heard of it already (if you haven;t you must check it out immediately), and the other Radiotopia podcasts I’ve listened to match it in quality.
I think Theory of Everything is probably my favorite of the bunch, combining legit interviews with fringe thinkers and odd, somewhat unsettling fake interviews to create a strong sense of not-quite-right-ness that takes me back to ’90s zine culture. Fugitive Waves is also a keeper, featuring hidden histories and untold stories.
What do you listen to these days?Continue Reading...
Huh, wow. My state’s AG is suing a company for failing to fulfill its Kickstarter project. I’m eager to see where this leads; it may actually have a positive chilling effect, causing those seeking funds to take greater care. If all goes well, we should see slightly fewer projects and slightly higher fulfillment rates. That’s good for everyone but fraudsters.Continue Reading...
So yesterday I realized that I had forgotten to restock my riboflavin a month or so ago; the reminder came in the form of a surprise migraine that swallowed my afternoon and early evening. As I lay buried and immobilized, the part of my brain that wasn’t fully engaged with suffering tried to make things worse by wondering if the riboflavin I’ve been taking for years to prevent migraines had stopped working. When I was finally released, I tottered downstairs to check my vitamin stash, and was relieved-slash-ashamed to see that I had simply forgotten to replace it the last time I ran out.
It’s been a while – migraines come my way every couple of years now, rather than every couple of months – so I had forgotten how clean and pure my head always feels afterward. Apparently this is called the postdrome phase, but as with most other migraine-related topics, little is known about it. For me, it’s like caffeine without jitters or yoga without work, while others report exhaustion and hangover-like symptoms. The price is pretty steep, but since I can’t seem to avoid paying it now and then, I suppose I’ll just enjoy it now and hope it takes a long time to come back.
If you get migraines and haven’t tried riboflavin (aka vitamin B2) yet, you really should give it a go. Take 2-300 mg every day for a month or two and maybe they’ll come less frequently. It’s not pricey – I spend maybe $10/month, which comes out to about $20 per migraine avoided. That’s dirt cheap.Continue Reading...
I wrote the script for this year’s big new D&D promo video that launched a few weeks back, and Wizards just published this behind-the-scenes article along with chapter two. Thanks to some weirdly good fortune, we effectively had a huge budget for animation, assets, and other visuals, so this ended up looking quite a bit smoother than others of its kind. Here’s chapter 1 – scroll down in the article I linked above to see chapter 2 in all its glory.Continue Reading...
Time will tell, but I decided to dust off the site after losing my archives in the Great Cloud Transition Fiasco last year. I’m setting up a site for my upcoming podcast Nerdhole (with Paul and Mary of the Stranger Testing Department) and figured I may as well spend the marginal amount of extra time it takes to rebuild this old thing. RSS me!Continue Reading...