July’s Top 10 Podcast Episodes

July was another special month for the podcasting world. This last week featured a delightful event called Cast Party, which I mentioned one part of in my post about Reply All. The stage show included many podcasts I adore, like Reply All, Invisibilia, Lauren Lapkus, and Radiolab. Every part of it was great, each taking a step in a new direction that isn’t normally seen in an audio-only podcast. I especially enjoyed seeing so many people fill the theater that the show was being broadcast to from New York. I would have loved more of an opportunity to chat with these fellow listeners as the podcasting world is too often a solitary experience.

I did plenty of driving for work this month, giving me ample time to listen to many shows. Here’s the list:

The Non Prophets 14.13

The Non Prophets is a podcast by atheists, for atheists. This episode covered both a very sad topic (the Charleston shooting) and a really happy topic (marriage equality). Russell Glasser, one of the cohosts, gives an extra-long version of his usual segment, “Shit Internet Apologists Say”, wading through a stream of vitriol and hyperbole in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Everyone has some great ideas and commentary about various parts of the news and the religious conversation around it. I consider this a quality episode to give this show a try.

With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus – The North Pod with Santa Claus

Don’t let the title of this show confuse you. Lauren Lapkus is a delightful improv comedian who plays a character on each episode of her podcast while her guest plays the host. This episode features Paul F. Tompkins, another amazing performer, playing the role of Santa Claus. It never ceases the be entertaining to hear Santa curse or insult children. There’s not much benefit to explaining or analyzing the comedy, but I was having a blast listening to this. I’m quite glad Lapkus came on the Nerdist podcast last month and mentioned this show!

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe #521

The Skeptics’ Guide is what I consider the premiere podcast on skepticism and science. News segments and discussions keep me up to date and informed about what’s happening in the science world each week.

This episode stuck out as a great one this month. The Australian Skeptics guest Joanne Benhamu gave a great update on their work and activism down under. Steve offered a mini-review of the Pixar film Inside Out and its strengths and weaknesses in portraying the brain and emotion. A question to the rogues asked them to think up their favorite, single lesson to instill in someone to make them more skeptical and critically thinking.

On a long car ride while listening, their conversation about being suspicious of a new, amazing eye lens followed a We Have Concerns episode about the very same development, which was timely.

(As a special bonus this month, it was announced that Cara Santa Maria will be the new permanent rogue on the show going forward! She’s delightful and will certainly offer a needed perspective to balance out that Novella family bias.)

Nerdist Podcast – Cameron Esposito

Cameron is a lesbian comedian who came on the show coincidentally the day the marriage equality ruling was announced. This episode is funny, but also especially thoughtful and meaningful. Esposito explores how this may change her comedy and her relationship, and the hosts reflect on how different the experiences of LGB people are. It’s refreshing to hear men say they don’t fully understand the experiences of people different from them. This episode plus the podcast Wham Bam Pow she hosts are quickly making me love and appreciate Esposito and her partner and cohost Rhea Butcher for how hilarious and insightful they are.

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Sawbones – Guinea Worms

This episode is horrifying. But I’ve shared what I learned from it at least three times this month. So.

This married medical tour is equally funny (Justin) and enlightening (Sydnee). This episode, though, Justin is relegated mostly to just trying to hold on while learning about what is one of the most disturbing parasites on the planet. Description follows: Guinea worms can be found in water, and once ingested, they stick around, burrowing out of your intestines and down your leg, under the skin. They want to escape back to water to spread their offspring. The way to rid yourself of them safely is slow, agonizing, and disturbing.

I also learned that Jimmy Carter spearheaded an effort to eradicate tropical diseases like this, which successfully reduced the prevalence of this disease and others.

Polygon’s Quality Control – Her Story

I fear this podcast suggestion will be one that isn’t for everyone, but I feel it’s worth highlighting for the game itself. Quality Control is a video game review podcast that generally asks the website review author to expand upon their feelings of the game. This one is a first in that it is a spoilerific episode. Don’t listen to it if you wish to play the game Her Story, which I will now make the case for.

Her Story is a small game in which you watch short clips of police interviews with a woman whose husband was apparently murdered. You find more videos by searching for keywords that expand your understanding of what truly happened. The story is fantastic and very surprising, and I’m very glad I played it. It’s cheap and definitely worth your time. (Check out my longer review on Steam.)

Come back to this podcast episode if you play it, too, because it’s fun to compare notes and perspective on not only the story but also how well the game was executed.

99% Invisible – On Location

LA is known for its film industry, but not for its buildings and architecture. That’s what makes the focus of this episode, the Bradbury Building, such an interesting case. It’s a diverse structure, able to be the setting for dystopian sci-fi, noir, and a Twix factory. The story of how it was made, as well as its current state of use in film, is quite interesting to learn about. Towards the end, the hosts mention the rise of filming in Atlanta, which is pulling activity away from LA. That added a personal touch to the episode by pointing to something I’ve been experiencing and seeing lately, as well.

We Have Concerns – Butterflight Patterns

We Have Concerns is hilarious and informative as usual with this episode about the migration patterns of monarch butterflies. These butterflies fly south to Mexico from Canada and back again each year. Something I already knew, but yet still boggles the mind, is that this migration pattern is a multi-generational ordeal. Parents lay eggs on the way that hatch and become the next wave to carry the kaleidoscope on to its destination. Cannata and Carboni perform an improvised sketch about what it must feel like to plan such a trip, which felt a little poignant alongside the humor.

The new information for the episode is the fact that while flying over one of the Great Lakes, these monarch butterflies take a very circuitous route that scientists believe indicates there used to be mountains, obstacles in their path. Now, evolutionarily, that wasteful path is easier to leave in and make these butterflies waste time. Fictional, silly forces to avoid out of instinct, manipulating your behavior? Sounds like a metaphor for life to me!

Reply All #33 – @ISIS

One of the most fascinating and scary differences between the terrorist group ISIS and other terrorist groups the world has come to know is that ISIS uses technology to its advantage. This Reply All episode features an interview with a reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, who engages with ISIS supporters/members on Twitter and explains what comes of these conversations. She also describes watching beheading videos and observing the clear amount of production time and planning put into making them be as viral as possible. In recovering paperwork from an Al Qaeda headquarters, she reveals the banal office communications present in any other organization.

The episode explores the humanity of an inhumane group through these small lenses. It offers an important perspective on these people as well as on the value of looking deeper to understand the individuals behind a violent, terroristic group.

Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show – How to Enjoy Museums

Jeff Rubin keeps getting on my lists these past few months because there’s always an interview to love on his podcast each month. My favorite this time was towards the end of July, where Kathryn Potts explains her perspective as a head of the Whitney Museum of American Art on how to enjoy museums.

I found Potts’ insight into the common false assumptions guests to museums have to be quite accurate. A lot of her advice, while simple, I definitely needed to here. For example, she says that one shouldn’t resist being pulled or attracted to a specific work of art. The opposite also applies: if something isn’t of interest to you, don’t force yourself to stare at it! She cautions against viewing a gallery as a series of checkboxes to “have seen”, instead suggesting that guests spend time with works that engage them for as long as they feel drawn to it.

This conversation mostly focuses on art museums, though Rubin throws in a question about how science museums may or may not differ in this advice. For all museum types, this conversation opened my mind to the fact that an exhibit itself can be a work of art, with planning and spacing and selection all playing a role in guiding one’s experience of an art period, particular artist, or some other theme.

This episode may not affect your life as frequently as last month’s “How to Enjoy Your Pizza”, but this has made me want to head back to the High Museum here in Atlanta sooner than I would have, and with a fresh perspective on how I can enjoy it!

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Honorable mentions:

The Late Show Podcast – Live TLS Radio Coverage of Historic Flag Lowering

This is a short audio parody of coverage of the lowering of the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina. It’s brilliant and a delightful reminder that Colbert is as sharp as ever.

Nerdist Podcast – Leo Laporte

Leo Laporte is the head of TWiT (This Week in Tech), a netcast and podcast network that I used to listen to way back when I first got into podcasts. I listened to The Tech Guy, where Laporte would offer advice on product choices, give IT help, and always, always plug Carbonite online backup. It was a treat to hear him in a new context where instead of giving narrow advice to specific questions, he bantered with the hosts about the role of technology going forward in our lives.

Cast Party!

I know I mentioned it at the top, but it was recently confirmed that the broadcast will be available on demand on Vimeo next month! I highly recommend it if you’re interested in getting into podcasts but either don’t feel comfortable with just audio or don’t know what to listen to. Cast Party has a great sampling of different genres to give an idea of what’s out there. It’s got an NPRish bias, but balance that with what I share, and you’re getting a good picture.

No brand new shows this month. Got any suggestions for me? It’s often so great to try new stuff when there’s such a wide array of podcasts out there nowadays.

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