I promised a colleague in work that I’d send him on a list of the science podcasts I recommend, but as I was composing the email I realised this might be of value to others, so I’ve compiled my list as a blog post instead. These are all podcasts I listen to religiously, and in most cases, podcasts I have been listening to for many years.

Astronomy Cast
The show’s tagline is “not just what we know, but how we know what we know”, and what could be more scientific than that? The show doesn’t just aspire to that tag line, it lives up to it, and that’s the main reason I’ve been a happy subscriber for many years. The episodes are about 30 minutes long on average, and come out about once a week. Details at www.astronomycast.com.
Big Picture Science
This show is produced by the SETI institute, but it’s a general science show, not a show focused only on SETI or even astronomy. This show is syndicated across many radio stations in the US, so it’s no surprise that what you get is a professionally scripted, presented, and edited show with amazing guests. The fact that the hosts are friendly and have a good report with each other is the icing on the cake. Details at radio.seti.org.
Gastropod
This is not a pure science show, but there’s a lot of science in it, and it’s definitely a show that does its best to separate fact from fiction. The show’s tag-line is “Food with a side of science and history”, and that sums things up pretty well. This is not a show where you go to learn how to cook, or to pick up interesting recipes. Instead, it’s the kind of show where you learn things like how you can turn the same basic ingredient, milk, into so many and such varied cheeses. This is a professionally scripted and produced show, and it’s released in seasons, so you often have to wait a while for new episodes to come out. I’ve always found it to be worth the wait though! Details at gastropod.com.
The Jodcast
This is a hard-core astronomy show produced by postgraduate students at the University of Manchester and the Jodrell Bank radio telescope. They do a main monthly show, and most months, you also get a bonus extra show about half way through the month. If you’re into Astronomy I think you’ll love the Jodcast, but if you’re not, this show is probably not for you. Details at www.jodcast.net.
The Naked Scientists
A professionally produced weekly podcast covering general science. The show is produced in the UK, and its original incarnation was as a BBC radio show. The show is about an hour long, and always very well researched and paced. One of the things I love about the show is that they put a big focus on interviewing the actual scientists who wrote the papers that are making the scientific news the show covers. Press releases and news reports can’t describe the context and significance of a result nearly as well as the people who actually did the work! Details at www.thenakedscientists.com.
Naked Astronomy
This is an astronomy-focused spin-off from The Naked Scientists. Episodes tend to be about half an hour long, and are obviously completely astronomy focused. If you enjoy the style of The Naked Scientists, and you like Astronomy, then you should enjoy Naked Astronomy. Details at www.thenakedscientists.com/podcasts/astronomy.
Science Vs
I only discovered this show recently, but it’s so good I listened to every show in the archive within the first week of discovering it. The idea is very simple – each episode the show takes on a controversial topic, and looks at it from a purely scientific perspective. Does immigration drive up crime? Do specific gun controls actually reduce deaths? Does removing guns from a society increase crime rates? Does having an abortion increase a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer? The show doesn’t shy away from any of today’s hot topics, but it’s totally apolitical – it’s about the science of these topics, not the politics, and I find that very refreshing. While the show has no problem tackling the big issues, there are also more light-hearted episodes like one which asks the vitally important question – are wine and chocolate good for us or not? Details at gimletmedia.com/science-vs.
Star Talk Radio
This is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ever-growing network of shows. While there’s often an astronomical focus, these are definitely general science shows, and they tend to be a nice mix of informative and fun. The format always involves a mix of scientists and comedians, which might sound odd, but it really works – it keeps you laughing and learning. The comedians play the role of the everyman perfectly, asking all the “dumb” (no such thing) questions you’re probably shouting at your phone as you listen. Details at www.startalkradio.net.

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Thanks Tim

Filed Under Computers & Tech, My Projects on May 18, 2013 | 5 Comments

Tim VerpoortenThis is not going to be an easy post to write, and I really hope I do it justice.

The Apple/Mac community lost one of it’s finest podcasters today. Tim Verpoorten wasn’t the first Apple/Mac podcaster, but he was one of the very earliest generation. I think it would be fair to call him a father figure to many of us who followed. I know he was one of the podcasters who inspired me to pick up the microphone myself, and I doubt I’m alone in that.

Tim had been unwell for some time, and hung up his microphone to concentrate on his health a while ago, but we all hoped it would just be a temporary hiatus. I don’t think any of us in the community wanted to believe we’d heard the last of Tim’s distinctive and friendly voice.

Every good Apple/Mac podcast brings something unique to the table, and Tim’s Mac Review Cast brought fantastic reviews week after week after week for years and years. Tim had a knack for finding great apps, particularly free ones, and he was able to find and review them at a truly impressive rate. Most people can mange either quantity or quality, but Tim could do both at the same time. Although he reviewed many many apps, you could always tell when an app really appealed to him. Those apps were almost never large apps with lots of features, but small apps that did just one thing, but did it really well. It’s fair to say Tim had a bit of a thing for menubar apps.

Because I learned about so many great apps on the Mac Review Cast, I regularly look up at my menu bar, or into my dock, and think of Tim. One app in particular that I’ll always associate with him is the light-weight Mac-like text editor Smultron. I’d almost given up on finding an editor like this for the Mac, when I heard Tim review Smultron, and gave it a go. It was love at first sight, and that cute red strawberry icon will always bring back fond memories of Tim.

Tim was one of the founders of the Mac Round Table Podcast (MRT), and it was through that podcast that I was fortunate enough to get to ‘work’ (play more like) with Tim. One of the great things about the MRT is how different all the contributors are, and how that opens up some great conversations. We often agreed on things, but when it comes to temperament, I think myself and Tim were polar opposites – I’m know for being the cranky Irishman (sorta) who’s prone to impassioned (and hopefully entertaining) rants, while Tim was always as cool as a cucumber – I can’t remember him ever getting flapped, and I can’t remember him ever having a bad word to say about anyone. I think it’s much easier to go on a rant than it is to remain calm and collected, and I greatly admired Tim’s coolness.

I never met Tim in the real world, yet I feel I’ve lost a friend. The Mac community has certainly lost one of it’s finest ambassadors, but my thoughts are with the Verpoorten family tonight – their loss is so much greater than ours.

The photo that accompanies this post is a crop from this image by Allison Sheridan.

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It’s funny how one thing will often lead to another. It’s not long since I joined the production team of the International Mac Podcast, and now I’ve been invited to join the pool of panellists for the Mac Round Table Podcast. The MRT is a very interesting idea. They have a large pool of Mac Podcasters and each week they host a round-table discussion with three to five members from this pool on some Mac related topic. Because it’s a big pool there’s a great variety of voices on the show and no two weeks are the same. If you’re tying to figure out which Mac podcasts to subscribe to, the MRT is a great place to start since you get to hear lots of Mac podcasters in one place. I’m exceptionally honoured to have been invited into the pool. I recorded my first show last night with Don McAllister, Joseph Nilo, Chuck Joiner & Dave Hamilton, so keep an eye out for it on the RSS feed.

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Some of you may or may not know that I’ve been a regular panellist on the International Mac Podcast Live shows for a good few weeks now. I’ve also been blogging on Mac-related security matters on the IMP Blog. As of today I’ve also joined the IMP production team, so expect to hear more of me on the young but expanding IMP network. Although I’ve been contributing to a number of podcasts regularly for well over a year, I’ve never really considered myself to be a podcaster, I guess I am now!

While I’m talking podcasts, I may as well mention my other two regular spots. I do a weekly segment on The NosillaCast called Chit-Chat Across the Pond (or CCATP for short) where myself and the host, Allison Sheridan, chat about some geeky topic for about half an hour. I also do a monthly series on the Typical Mac User Podcast called “Introduction to the Terminal” where I try to encourage people to play with the Unix underpinnings of OS X a little more.

[tags]podcasting, Mac, technology, Apple, IMP[/tags]

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There are a lot of podcasts out there, an awful lot in fact. The hard thing can be separating the proverbial wheat from the proverbial chaff. I dedicated an entire segment of the IFAS Podcast to good astronomy/science podcasts but I’ve never done a post for tech ones here before. Of all the tech podcasts I’ve subscribed to there are only five I listen to regularly and they are all very different and have different target audiences. Unless you are pretty much my clone you’re not likely to be interested in all five but I’d be pretty shocked if at least one didn’t appeal to you!

[tags]podcast, tech, Apple, Linux, Windows[/tags]

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Creating my First Podcast

Filed Under Computers & Tech on March 28, 2006 | 1 Comment

I’ve just released the first episode of a podcast I’ve stared to do for the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies (IFAS) and thought I’d share some of my experiences in making it. First thing to note is that I had zero experience in anything audio related on computers apart from listening to stuff. Hence, I think it is fair to consider myself a total newbie at this stuff and you should judge the result based on that! I also decided to do a little experiment. Apple have a name for making really intuitive software that lets you do really powerful things with no training and a minimal learning curve, basically their apps are supposed to be a usability dream. So, could a complete noob like me, having never used iLife (or any audio software of any kind for that matter), manage to make a podcast and publish it in reasonable time and to a reasonable standard? You can judge the results for yourself here: www.minds.nuim.ie/~ifas/podcast/

Lets start by setting the scene, the machine I did this on was a first generation G4 Mac Mini (1.42GHz and 1GB RAM) running OS X 10.4.5. This machine pre-dates the whole iLife thing so although I had some of the apps that are now bundled as iLife they were old versions and I didn’t have iWeb at all. As I mentioned before the first generation Mac Mini’s don’t actually have an audio in port so I would have to spend some money before I could go anywhere. The following are the things I bought and connected/installed before I started:

  1. Trust Headset (www.komplett.ie/k/ki.asp?sku=108145)
  2. iMic (www.griffintechnology.com/products/imic2/)
  3. iLife 06 (www.apple.com/ilife/)

So, with my shopping all done I’d spent about 140 Euro and for that I had a mic to record with, a way of connecting my mic to my Mac Mini via USB, and the software to record, edit and publish my Podcast. The question is, now that I had everything I needed, how easy would I actually find it to produce something decent?

Recording the Audio

The hardest part of this was to get over feeling like a complete idiot sitting in my room by myself talking out loud to my computer! I used the Podcast Studio in GarageBand to do the recording and I have to say it was trivially simple to use. I had the hang of it and was recording away in literally a few minutes. Initially I did the entire podcast as one recording in one go but when I played it back I realised that I’d made a mess of some bits and left out some important things I should have said in the middle etc so then it was time to start really using the software and breaking my big long track up into bits, naming them, deleting the bits I messed up, re-recording bits and then splicing it all together. I even got a 5 minute piece contributed by someone else that I now also had to include. This is the hard stuff so how did I find Garage Band for that? TBH I found it excellent. I had it all nailed in no time at all and in no more than 2 hours work I’d gone from nothing to a fully edited 23 minute podcast that was ready to go out into the big bad world.

Exporting the Audio Out of Garage Band

This is where things got a bit more interesting. In theory I should just go to the Share menu and select Send Podcast to iWeb and it should just happen. Well it did, kinda, but not perfectly. Firstly, because my Mac Mini is not exactly a PowerMac it took an annoyingly long time to first merge the various tracks in my podcast down to a single master track and then transcode this track into a format for publishing. This is not really a big deal. Had I started it and then gone and gotten myself a cup of tea, it would have been done well before I got back, but since I was sitting there watching it I found it annoyingly slow. The second problem however is a much more serious one. GarageBand will not export a podcast in MP3 format, it insists on using AAC. This is fine for iTunes users and users of some other players but is a serious problem for users of WinAmp and other free players. Since I have a real issue with people forcing me to use certain software for things when there is a perfectly good open alternative I just couldn’t go ahead and publish my podcast as AAC only. I go mad at people who mail me Word documents instead of PDFs, just think of how much of a hypocrite I’d be if I started going round publishing just AAC files and telling everyone go get iTunes! So, using iTunes (somewhat ironically) I converted the AAC file to an MP3. The MP3 file was smaller but I have to say I noticed a difference in Quality between the AAC and the MP3 so I decided I would publish both and have two RSS feeds for my podcast, an AAC one and an MP3 one.

Publishing my Podcast

So, I had now exported my podcast to iWeb for publishing, how did I find that? TBH I found iWeb immensely easy to use. It did all the hard stuff automatically and generated a nice, clean looking page that works well and looks good and it did all that in literally a few minutes. It even let me add in the second feed with minimal efford. Right up to the point I went to actually publish to the web I was absolutely delighted with iWeb.

The publishing though is where I got grumpy with iWeb. If you forked out on a pointless .mac account it would publish straight to the web for you but if you haven’t it won’t. This annoyed me because, firstly, FTP and SFTP are hardly difficult things to incorporate into your web software and secondly, considering .mac uses WebDAV, not letting you publish to your own WebDAV server is even more ridiculous. Basically iWeb is actively trying to pressure users into getting a .mac account and IMO that is just not acceptable behavior from software that you have BOUGHT! The fact that iWeb will not publish directly over anything but .mac is a real black mark against it in my book. Having said that it was not that big a deal to publish it really. All you do is tell iWeb to publish to a folder on your hard drive and then upload that folder to your server with what ever software you like.

Conclusions

At no point did the software make me feel stupid and at no point did it confuse or scare me. It worked and it worked well, so, from a usability standpoint I’d give it full marks. However, iLife did two things to annoy me and they are very symptomatic of Apple’s obsession with trying to get everyone to use their software and nothing else. Honestly, there are some things Apple could teach MicroSoft about railroading people into a particular piece of software! Anyhow, I digress, the things that annoyed me were GarageBand’s refusal to export as anything but AAC and iWeb’s refusal to publish directly to anything but .mac. All in all though I’m very happy and feel that the software deserves it’s reputation for being easy to use and powerful because it really is both. Bottom line is that I consider iLife to be excellent value for money and would recommend it to anyone interested in starting to play with podcasting and multimedia in general.

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