October’s Top 10 Podcast Episodes

I talk about podcasts I hear to my friends just about every day, sharing the news stories, jokes, insight, or entertainment they provide. Now I’ve decided to collect them over the month to not only keep a record of what was great through the weeks but to also let folks who haven’t tried listening get some encouragement through these hand-picked selections of varying length and subject matter. Of course it’s all my opinion, but if we’re at all similar, I hope you enjoy any you listen to. Let me know!

Here’s my personal top 10 podcast episodes for October of 2014!

Mike and Tom Eat Snacks #85

On MATES, on October 1st, Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh pick one of the most iconic candy snacks in the snack game, eat it, and rate it. But not before discussing the financing of their orchestra to play the theme song before each recording.

It’s strange how much of a zenith this episode feels like when the entire show is this strange comedy platform, but it’s still an event when these two give their respects to and justify our love of the most classic of candies. All on a silly improv podcast.

The Atheist Experience #885

The Atheist Experience is a show significantly responsible for my atheism. I’ve been a pretty regular watcher/listener since around 2010. It’s a public access call-in television show, hosted by the Atheist Community of Austin (ACA), geared towards a theist audience. Lots of atheists including myself enjoy listening for the arguments and discussion.

This episode is special because it takes place after the yearly bat cruise the ACA puts on that seems to be one of the big events of the organization, involving presentations as well. This TAE episode has on Richard Carrier, a noted historian and proponent of the belief that Jesus never existed, and Chris Johnson, creator of A Better Life, a book about the lives of nonbelievers.

The questions get at the expertise of the two guests, which is nice, and the discussion with someone defending a religious argument has a sense of progression, which is sometimes rare. This episode seems to have just about everything one needs to get an idea about the show, except for the other hosts.

StartUp #4: Startups Are a Risky Business

Alex Blumberg is trying to start his own business to help create more podcasts like he creates and enjoys from his time at NPR, This American Life, and Planet Money. He’s also recording his efforts to do so in order to document this process that is so common, yet rarely captured so intimately.

This episode is about him and his business partner’s efforts to secure funding. They learn over the course of the episode that every investor is different. They value different things and are interested in different kinds of return. This was a great turn from a previous episode where his pitch failed pretty starkly. It felt like progress. Except when he started to relate to The Giving Tree

Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin #129: Zelda Speedrunner Cosmo Wright

Jeff Rubin, previously from CollegeHumor, is a delightful nerd who apparently has a mastery of finding fascinating people in niches of subculture to talk to! This episode features the current record holder of the fastest The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT) speedrun, meaning he completed the game faster than anyone else, at a bit over 18 minutes. That time should sound ridiculous for anyone who knows the time investment of narrative games but hasn’t seen a speed run.

Wright talks about the different kinds of speed runs with variable amounts of “exploiting” the games. OoT has been poked and prodded for years to hone down completion time and allow runners to skip huge sections of the game. It’s a wonderful story of cooperation! He mentions tool-assisted speedruns (TAS) that use programs to execute meticulously-planned perfect moves. Also somewhat distinct are speedruns based more on human execution (Super Monkey Ball) than strategy (Zelda).

I really enjoyed the level of detail Wright went into how the OoT speedrun breaks the game’s code (examples: (1)Apparently the Chinese version of the game is better in part because Chinese text is more dense (being a character language), so fewer button presses in cutscenes are required! (2)“Wrong warping” to skip huge parts of the game involves backflipping, releasing a caught bug in a bottle, and playing the ocarina at the same time! (3)By the way, I love that despite all these ingenious glitches, Link still must collect the Cuccos at Kakariko Village to get the bottle in the first place.), and I sincerely appreciated Rubin’s enthusiasm for the topic. OoT is a game that is foundational to so many people’s gaming experience that this feels like a natural next step for those who grew up on it.(4)This brings to mind my interview with Scott Buchanan last month and his mastery of Super Mario 64, as well. At first it was a magical world we as children learned to grow up in, much like Link himself. But today we conduct science on it, treat it as the work it is, expand the game beyond its low-poly-count borders.

If you grew up gaming and enjoy detailed conversations about people sincerely nerding out over glitches and details, this episode is great. Wright also mentions the emotions of completing his champion Zelda speedrun and the history and future of the community, both from the player and game development perspective. It was an engaging episode from start to finish.

Thrilling Adventure Hour #184: The Once and Future Thing

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a delightfully charming live stage show that emulates old-time radio serials. This episode is Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars, which sounds exactly like what it is: a show about space cowboys.

This episode is great and has nearly all of the major characters, including ones that come and go from the show. It plays with expectations a bit because one of the transients, Cactoid Jim, is acted by Nathan Fillion. Overall this was a really funny episode both within the series and in the meta among the actors and may be a good introduction to the series!

Nerdist: Keanu Reeves

Nerdist is a major interview/comedy podcast hosted by Chris Hardwick and cohosted by Jonah Ray and Matt Mira. Episodes are sometimes hilarious, sometimes insightful, but almost always entertaining.

This episode with Keanu Reeves is notable for a few reasons. One is personal, in that I’ve never heard Reeves talk so candidly. Somehow he’s always been Neo in my head, even though he’s certainly been in all sorts of different movies. But The Matrix is so seminal in my life and massively influential to my interest in philosophy. The second notable factor is that this episode is pretty short. That means Hardwick isn’t able to get into as much detail as is the hallmark of the show, but this could be a good introduction for someone who hasn’t listened to a podcast before!

We Have Concerns: Who’s the Robo Boss?

We Have Concerns is a comedy/science podcast. Hosted by Anthony Carboni and Jeff Cannata, it mixes the fun of conversation, the humor of sketches, and the fascination of a dissection of a science or news topic.

This episode has some of the funniest, most vivid, and best-connected sketches I’ve heard all along the premise that robots taking over middle management jobs, rather than manual labor tasks, will result in happier human employees. The hosts explore the different situations using example bot X-71, for which Carboni provides an exquisite robo-voice. But the finding is in itself very interesting! It’s a really fun episode that’s great for the casual or new listener.

TLDR #38: Ask Leah

TLDR (Internet speak for “Too Long; Didn’t Read”) is a short podcast about something internet-related. The stories are often untouched or unexplored subjects or new angles on well-known ideas.

This episode is actually the last of the current iteration of the show. The two hosts are leaving to do something perhaps similar, but not under this banner. Apparently the show will continue alongside its parent production On the Media. That fact that it’s the last of this run made it a top candidate for inclusion on this list, of course.

“Ask Leah” is about a woman writing responses to mail on a video game website. The job evolves over time to being a trusted source of advice for tons of teenage boys, including one of the hosts many years ago. She talks about the environment she cultivated and how it contrasts with what currently dominates online forums and discussions spaces.

Planet Money #576: When Women Stopped Coding

Planet Money is one of my very favorite podcasts. It’s NPR, it’s economics, it’s informative, and it’s fun.

The graph if you click through this podcast link sends a very strong message: in the 80s, the portion of women coding dropped precipitously. The entire episode is spent asking why. In the interest of getting people to listen while still caring about sharing good information, the answer has a lot to do with commercial marketing of computers and tech at that time and their biases.

I found this episode quite timely given the #GamerGate controversy happening concurrently. For how much the collective hashtag wills to be considered focused on gaming journalism ethics, a lot of the arguments were about social justice, feminism, and the changing landscape of video games. That sister industry to tech/computer science is suffering from the same problems, and recognizing the truth of the history can foster greater understanding of these issues.

Jonah Raydio: Barragánisode

Jonah Raydio is a podcast on the Nerdist network hosted by one of the co-hosts of the titular Nerdist podcast. It’s a lengthy conversation among the hosts and some comedian or musician guests with interspersed submitted music, written music jokes, or Twitter hashtag games. It’s quite informal and loose, good for background when doing something else (gaming, chores for me).

Chris Gethard was the guest on this episode, who I only knew from a rogue CollegeHumor sketch. He was a great counter-balance to the normal tone of the show, bringing a sincerity and softer touch to the discussion. In particular, around 1:44:40, Jonah played a submitted song called, “Fuck U Like A Dinosaur”, which is even more callous and hilarious than the title implies. Everyone had a good laugh, as usual, but Gethard paused to consider that this kid’s egregiously edgy lyrics were a cover for expressing genuine talent. It was a really great moment, and a nicer episode than usual.

Honorary mentions:

We Have Concerns: Back to the Hoverboard Future

Thrilling Adventure Hour #186: Jefferson Reid, Ace American, “Return to Castle Brunholdt”

Notes   [ + ]

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