Podcasts of the Week Ending December 2


The Story Collider :: The Bats and the Bees

A reluctant field researcher finds purpose in showing drunk 17-year-olds how to tag bats with microchips, and a bee researcher who is allergic to bees.  Science!

Radiolab :: Stereothreat

Research into the effects of negative stereotypes and the difficulty of replicating that research.

Hit Parade :: The Queen of Disco Edition

Things I learned about Boston’s own Donna Summer: 1. she got her start in the Munich production of Hair where she became fluent in German, 2. she wrote or co-wrote most of her songs, 3. she and her producers basically invented electronic dance music, and 4. she continued to have club hits into the 2010s.

Afropop Worldwide :: A Brief History of Funk

A brief but beautiful story of funk with many funky classics and interviews with Bobby Byrd and George Clinton.

Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate

A new podcast that tells the story of the Watergate scandal with an as-it’s-happening approach focusing on long-forgotten key players in the scandal.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: The Lights of Wrigleyville

The story of the contentious battle between theChicago Cubs and their residential neighbors to install lights in Wrigley Field in the 1980s.

More Perfect :: Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man

The story of a legal case that underlies our current crises in policing in America, and the legal fiction of the “Reasonable Man.”

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 18


Radiolab :: Match Made in Marrow

A story about how faith and science are in conflict, but how people who disagree can come together in dialogue (and still disagree).

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Disney Parks

An overlooked aspect of the Disney theme park experience: sound design.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: Hoodies Up

Trayvon Martin was murdered during a broadcast of the NBA All-Star Game.  Five weeks later, his hometown team the Miami Heat posed for a photo with their hoodies up.  This is the story of that photo and the rebirth of athlete activism.

WBUR News :: An ‘Underground World’: This Urban Tent Community Is Dangerous For Heroin Users

A scene from the opiod crisis with a visit to a hidden tent community in the Boston region.

Fresh Air :: Priest Responds To Gang Members’ ‘Lethal Absence Of Hope’ With Jobs, And Love

An interview with Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries and how to care for children in gangs.  You can also read my review of his book Tattoos on the Heart.

#TryPod Day 4: The Story Collider


All this month, I’ve heard about the campaign to spread the news of podcasts called TryPod.  As I am a voracious listener of podcasts (you can see the complete list of my current subscriptions and other recommendations on my podcast page), I figured I ought to participate while I can.  So I will post about one of my favorite podcasts every day for the last 9 days of March.

The Story Collider allows scientists to tell the personal stories of their research, discoveries, and personal journeys in a way that allows them to share scientific knowledge with a novice audience as well as give a human face to scientific researchers.  It’s a great project to bridge scientists with the general public, and there are some spectacular stories.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Rochelle Williams: “Potential”
  • Daniel Engber: “Distracting Mark Cuban”
  • Meghan Groome: “Being Brave About Sex-Ed”
  • Layne Jackson Hubbard: “Still Myself”

Movie Review: Dolphins (2000)


Title: Dolphins
Release Date: 14 April 2000
Director: Greg MacGillivray
Summary/Review:

Watched this at the Mugar Omnimax Theater at the Boston Museum of Science.  It kind of falls into every cliche you’d expect of an animal-themed IMAX film, but who can complain  about seeing larger than life dolphins leaping and diving?  Pierce Brosnan provides the narration but often yields to the featured scientists who share their knowledge and passion regarding these aquatic mammals.  On the odd side, the soundtrack is by Sting which makes me wonder what dolphins did to deserve this (especially since most of the music is reggae-tinged instrumental arrangements of Sting’s hit songs which have nothing to do with dolphins).
Rating: ***1/2

Podcast of the Week: “Rochelle Williams: Potential” from The Story Collider


The Story Collider is a storytelling podcast for scientists to tell their stories – a great idea both for getting scientists to communicate and for the general public to learn about science.  In this episode, Rochelle Williams tells the story of her experience studying engineering as a young, black woman.

Book Review: What’s It Like in Space? by Ariel Waldman


Author: Ariel Waldman
TitleWhat’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There
Publication Info: Chronicle Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

One of my favorite science writers, Ariel Waldman, collects anecdotes and quotes from astronauts about their experience in space in a small, illustrated coffee table book. Did you know that one cannot burp in space?  And while farting is possible, it is not possible to propel oneself in microgravity using only flatulence.  There’s a lot of bits about “functions” such as eating, sleeping, and excreting in space.  But there are also more inspirational stories such as an astronaut not wanting to sleep so as to not miss a moment of the mission or the experience of watching the Earth rotate beneath one’s feet while on a spacewalk.  It’s a fun, charming, and colorful that’s a quick read, and especially enjoyable if you’ve ever wanted to go to space.

Recommended booksPacking for Mars by Mary Roach and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield.

Rating: ***1/2

Podcast of the Week: “Mosquitoes Must Die” from To The Best of Our Knowledge


First, the To the Best of Our Knowledge podcast “Mosquitoes Must Die” makes me think of Caephus from Jesus Christ Superstar.  “Must die, must die, mosquitoes must die!”

Second, to hear this series of experts seriously consider completely eradicating an entire species is astonishing.  There’s just so much hubris to consider that it would not have negative effects on ecosystems.  And I don’t even like mosquitoes.

Still, food for thought.

Book Reviews: Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery by Stephen J. Pyne


Author: Stephen J. Pyne
TitleVoyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery
Publication Info: Viking Adult (2010)
Summary/Review:

I’ve long been fascinated by the Voyager missions to explore the solar system.  I kind of grew up alongside Voyager, with the launches occurring just a few years after my birth and the encounters with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune happening over the course of my life.  I was eager to read this book and learn more details of the program and its discoveries.  Pyne provides great detail about how the program started in the 1960s to take advantage of a once in a century alignment of the outer planets, funding and development, launch, and the various discoveries along the way.

Unfortunately, the author also has this theory of the Three Ages of Discovery when Western peoples voyaged out to learn what lay beyond their horizons.  The first age is in the 15th-16th century and involves mainly Spanish/Portuguese expeditions to find new sea routes, circumnavigate the Earth and colonize the “New World.”  The second age is the primarily British 18th to early 20th century efforts to seek the sources of rivers, climb the highest peaks, open up continental interiors and reach the poles.  The third age is the 20th-century exploration of space (and to some extent under the oceans).  This framework is problematic due to its Eurocentrism and skimming over the details of colonialism and exploitation of “discovered” places and people who long had lived in these lands, although Pyne does tie this idea into the military and propaganda purposes to the United States of the putative global Voyager mission.

The whole Three Ages idea might make a good introductory chapter to the book, but instead every time things about Voyager get interesting, Pyne keeps popping back to talk about Vasco de Gama or Lewis & Clark or Robert Peary.  This tends to distract rather than support the main narrative. I think a straight history of Voyager would make a more interesting book than the flabby, half-baked philosophical treatise we have here.
Favorite Passages:

Rating: **

Podcast of the Week: “The Fix” – Radiolab


I started listening to podcasts regularly a decade or so ago. I have a running list of podcasts I regularly listen on the Panorama of the Mountains home page and I’ve written about them many times before.  At the time I started subscribing, I thought podcasts were the next big thing and I was just a follower.  But apparently I’m more of a trailblazer than I realize.  A recent article by Matt Baume relates “Only about half of Americans have ever heard of podcasts, according to the Pew Research Center, and only 17 percent have ever listened to one.”

Since I already try to recommend a new song every week I figured I’ll add a new feature where I recommend a podcast episode I think deserves wider listenership.

For the debut POTW post, here’s the most recent of of one of Baume’s favorite (and my favorite) podcasts of the WNYC radio program Radiolab.  The Fix explores addiction and the possibility that it could be treated successfully with medication. The most fascinating part of the show for me is the suggestion that throughout human evolution, the people who responded most to the reward receptors in their brain were the fittest, but in the modern world are the most susceptible to addiction.

If you’re listening to a good podcast, let me know in the comments.

Book Review: What If? by Randall Munroe


Author: Randall Munroe
Title:What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Summary/Review:

This book contains the sentence: “Aroldis Chapman could probably throw a golf ball about sixteen giraffes high.” That alone makes it worth reading. The creator of the webcomic xkcd, Randall Munroe uses math and science to investigate cornball questions from his readers.  If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if a baseball were pitched at the speed of light, what would happen if every person in the world jumped at the same place at the same time (say, Rhode Island), or what place on earth would allow for the longest free fall, this book is for you.  In addition to Munroe’s humorous, but mathematically explicit, explanations there are plenty of whimsical illustrations.  There are also a series of questions too weird and worrying for even Munroe to answer.
Favorite Passages:

Our plastic will become shredded and buried, and perhaps some microbes will learn to digest it, but in all likelihood, a million years from now, an out-of-place layer of processed hydrocarbons—transformed fragments of our shampoo bottles and shopping bags—will serve as a chemical monument to civilization.

 

If humans escape the solar system and outlive the Sun, our descendants may someday live on one of these planets. Atoms from Times Square, cycled through the heart of the Sun, will form our new bodies. One day, either we will all be dead, or we will all be New Yorkers.

 

So we shouldn’t worry too much about when computers will catch up with us in complexity. After all, we’ve caught up to ants, and they don’t seem too concerned. Sure, we seem like we’ve taken over the planet, but if I had to bet on which one of us would still be around in a million years—primates, computers, or ants—I know who I’d pick.

 

if an astronaut on the ISS listens to “I’m Gonna Be,” in the time between the first beat of the song and the final lines . . .  . . . they will have traveled just about exactly 1000 miles.

 

Rule of thumb: One person per square meter is a light crowd, four people per square meter is a mosh pit.

 

Al Worden, the Apollo 15 command module pilot, even enjoyed the experience. There’s a thing about being alone and there’s a thing about being lonely, and they’re two different things. I was alone but I was not lonely. My background was as a fighter pilot in the air force, then as a test pilot—and that was mostly in fighter airplanes—so I was very used to being by myself. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t have to talk to Dave and Jim any more . . . On the backside of the Moon, I didn’t even have to talk to Houston and that was the best part of the flight. Introverts understand; the loneliest human in history was just happy to have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Recommended books: 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks, What’s next? : dispatches on the future of science : original essays from a new generation of scientists by Max Brockman, and Feynman by Jim Ottiavani
Rating: ****