Podcasts have been a big part of my life in the past year. I always listen to them when running, but also over the weekend when I’m doing housework. I’ve compiled a list of my favourites from the year.
- 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy
- The Allusionist
- The Changelog collection of podcasts
- Command Line Heroes
- Developer Tea
- Field Recordings
- Frontend Happy Hour
- In Our Time
- It’s the Pictures That Got Small
- KEXP Weekly Mix
- The Lonely Palette
- More or Less
- Omega Tau
- What Trump can teach us about Con Law
- 99% Invisible
50 Things that Made the Modern Economy
From the BBC World Service, 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy builds on the format first popularised by A History of the World in 100 Objects. Each episode is a short discussion about various inventions or discoveries and their impact on the modern economy. Example episodes include the disposable razor, concrete and prohibition.
Becoming newly independent in 2020, The Allusionist is the first language-related podcast on this list. I find it hard to describe any more than saying that it is full of interesting and curious aspects of language, how it is used and how it evolves. Like a few podcasts on this list, there are episodes that I play for the sake of something to be playing in the background, only to find myself restarting it so that I can properly absorb the detail.
The Changelog collection of podcasts
The Changelog produces a selection of podcasts, all about the world of software:
- Brain Science
- The Changelog
- Go Time
- JS Party
- Practical AI
Brain Science is a little different in that it discusses more general work-related philosophy and psychology. It’s very good if you’re interested in things such as balancing your life and work.
Command Line Heroes
Now in its sixth season, Command Line Heroes covers computer history with one theme per season. The most recent one covers some crucial inventions by unsung people of colour, such as the IBM 5150 and the mathematical modelling of the earth that underpins GPS.
Another hard-to-categorise podcast, I think all I can really say is that it offers an interesting take on the more philosophical aspects of work. For example, a recent episode of Developer Tea made me re-evaluate my typical dismissal of New Year by suggesting that we do react to such changes and that they can be used to create a sense of renewal. Another episode looked at CVs from a different perspective – more an exercise in data reduction than of trying to sell your skills in the traditional sense.
Field Recordings is exactly what is described. A variety of field recordings made by different people in different situations. I first became aware of this in April 2020 when everything suddenly seemed louder outside without the traffic hum. This podcast makes you open your ears more as you go about your day – you’ll be amazed at how much there is to listen to.
Frontend Happy Hour
Another “background noise” podcast for me in most cases, but still full of interesting conversation. As expected, this podcast revolves around frontend development but covers a much broader range of topics, including things such as imposter syndrome, inclusive language and working from home.
In Our Time
From the BBC, In Our Time is presented by Melvyn Bragg, who invites a panel of three experts to discuss a large variety of topics. These topics and the discussions are best described as serious: each episode comes with a reading list. I do not attempt to absorb the majority of the content, but what I do manage to follow is very interesting, and it is a refreshing change to hear serious discussion by experts in fields other than my own.
It’s the Pictures That Got Small
This short series appeared during that peculiar time between April and June when it felt like the entire world’s population was stuck at home. In each episode the group discuss a classic film that they haven’t seen. You can watch the film and listen along, but I found that the more interesting films were those that came up in conversation. This podcast introduced me to Fury (the 1936 thriller, not the 2014 tank film), The Spiral Staircase and Gaslight. I also tried to watch Dune, but the less said about that the better…
KEXP Weekly Mix
A weekly mix of music from the Seattle radio station. It’s nice to hear a bit of a different perspective from my usual goto of BBC Radio 6 Music.
Another podcast about language, or perhaps more accurately the science of linguistics. One of the most fascinating parts of this subject is how children learn language without being able to speak, and another is the study of how language constantly evolves – this made me think twice about my entrenched positions regarding some aspects of grammar that seem to be changing in common use.
The Lonely Palette
A podcast about art. Not as bizarre as it might sound, but this is one that I have to pay attention to. The host takes a work of modern art and uses it as the basis for what is best described as an essay on the art, the artist and the period of time that it was produced. It’s easy to miss some details if you’re not careful, so repeated listening is sometimes necessary.
More or Less extended series
More or Less is a BBC Radio 4 programme about statistics in the news. During the beginning of the first lockdown in the UK, I started listening with interest, not least because the government was making a pig’s ear of recording and reporting statistics about the pandemic, as well as just about everything else. That particular series had so much information to report that it was extended into the summer. It was a rare source of sensible application of science for me and provided a mixture of reassurance and dark humour as each mistake or omission was calmly unpicked by experts.
One of the few podcasts I know of that discusses non-software-based engineering. Omega Tau episodes are interviews with a variety of people who talk about all things science and engineering. One of my favourite episodes was about the history and development of nuclear weapons, but I’m also trying to understand particle physics through a series of episodes that revolve around the work of the Large Hadron Collider. It needs careful listening, but it’s worth it.
What Trump can teach us about Con Law
I stumbled across this series quite recently, but listened to all episodes while being quite baffled at the situation the world has found itself in. Being from the UK, US constitutional law is not something I have much need to know about, but it is still quite fascinating, especially during the apparently endless election process that is happening.
If I could pick only one podcast, it would be 99% Invisible. I actually don’t listen to episodes as quickly as they are released – I’m still a few behind after spending months working through the archive. Only some episodes are memorable to me, and some do not interest me a huge amount. It doesn’t make a lot of sense why this is my favourite, but I have no doubt that it is, and also the one I am most likely to recommend to other people, especially anyone with a passing interest in industrial design or the built world. It’s fantastic.
I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days to Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com.