Monday, November 11, 2013

Pod people

Although we're a lot closer than we would have been before we moved, it's still about a 20 minute drive to Katherine's school. Add in dropping Alec off at preschool two days a week and taking B to work and I've been doing a lot of driving lately.

Since listening to the news lately makes me want to swerve into oncoming traffic, it's to all of our benefit that I bought an mp3 player for the car this summer. I've been enjoying being able to carry a large percentage of music collection around in one tiny package again, something we haven't been able to do since we bought the Vibe 8 years ago, with its one disc regular cd player made in Outer Mongolia. In the fourteenth century. Anyway, I've been reacquainting myself with a lot of music I haven't listened to in a while, which is nice, and also discovering some new music. But I'm also missing the NPR news shows I used to listen to, before all they talked about was news that makes me want to drive the car directly into the ocean. The solution? NPR podcasts. My favorites are:

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, which is probably the only palatable way to hear the news these days. It's a very funny panel quiz show about the week's news. It's also been around for 15 years, so I have a hard time imagining anyone who listens to NPR on the weekend at all hasn't heard of it, so I won't waste more time describing it beyond that.

Ask Me Another is a much newer NPR quiz program which is brainteasers and trivia, plus Jonathan Coulton providing music. I read an article about it recently that said it was part of a new breed of NPR program where they were developing experimental programs on the cheap, and it certainly doesn't sound like they're spending much money on it. The grand prize for the winner at the end (there are a bunch of quizzes between two contestants, then the winner of each quiz goes to the final round for a spelling bee-style playoff) wins a custom Rubik's Cube, plus whatever prize furnished by the g-list celebrity of the week, which has included things like "the things we found in his bag."

Anyway, if you like brainteasers like, "Add the chemical symbol for copper to the chemical symbol for boron to get a bear's child," plus Jonathan Coulton, this is the program for you.

Pop Culture Happy Hour is four NPR writers sitting around talking about pop culture. They're all geeks in the best possible sense of the term - people who enthusiastically analyze things with thoughtfulness, humor and passion. Listening to them brings back the best memories of sitting with friends at our table in the college dining hall. And I've added all sorts of new tv, music and books to my list of things to check out when I have the time because of them.

The Alton Browncast isn't as much of a favorite, but I do enjoy it more often than not. I had some hesitation about this podcast, because while I love Alton Brown's tv shows, he strikes me as the sort of person (usually male) who is very... firm of opinion in a way that I find very irritating after a while (here's a sign: if they end some declaration with "Just my opinion," which is usually an attempt to inject faux-humility into an arrogant, narrow minded rant). And while the format of his tv shows haven't lent themselves to general opinionating, an hour-long podcast leaves a lot of room for bloviating.

Fortunately, the format of his podcasts haven't lent themselves to that either. He answers questions through both phone and e-mail and a large portion is given over to an interview. As it turns out, he's an excellent interviewer. There have been some unfortunate moments, like the first podcast where he was interviewing the maker of a particular Southern delicacy and decided to eat a bag of them throughout the interview, SMACKING AND CRUNCHING INTO THE MICROPHONE THE ENTIRE TIME. By the end, I wasn't sure if I wanted to punch him in the nose or just claw my ears off. There's also been the rant about how the solution to industrial egg production is for everyone to have their own backyard chickens, and the occasional somewhat misogynist comment (so the reason you like the movie 2001 is because you've never met a woman who likes it? Do you and Calvin watch it together in the G.R.O.S.S. clubhouse?). But he does give good advice, is usually spot on when talking about food and has done some very interesting interviews, so I'm still listening.

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