Here are more quick takes on podcasts that caught my attention this week, in the order I listened. [See previous lists.]

  • Night of the Living Podcast 122. A cast of men and women discuss all things horror around a table in Cinncinnati. Not that you would know that is their focus for the first 15 minutes or so of the episodes I've heard. They tend to open with off-color, off-topic discussions. For example, this week featured recordings of farts, birthday messages to people you probably don't know and Andy Rooney impressions. Fifteen minutes in, the horror discussion started, with news about VH1's "Scream Queens" reality show, a riff on surviving zombie attacks, an extended negative review for the straight to video flick "Primal," about a killer sasquatch, then some reader voicemails. They crack themselves up a lot, and I'm sure someone finds it fascinating, but I'm not enough of a horror fan to stick with it. Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes. Released: Dec. 14.
  • The Bob Thurman Podcast #66 The Tibetan scholar riffs in another dharma talk aimed straight for your hypothalamus, with some discussion about the Indian demon Mara, who is a tempter, the god of pleasure, "sort of a superdude cupid" as Thurman puts it, and how Mara is in some sense a Bodhisattva sent to test other Bodhisattvas. Thurman tells a story about an enlightened king giving away his eyes to be transplanted to a beggar -- it turns out to be a test, and he the king's sight is not lost. Thurman says his Sanskrit teacher couldn't stand Buddhists -- "they're a bunch of damn goody-goodies." He relates the Buddhist story of the king to the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible. Sacrificing the firstborn. One way to break the cycle of attachment, he says, is to be willing to give up what is most precious in your life. At the end of parables, even the Buddhist ones, all is saved when you pass the test with your willingness to forgo attachment -- "usually." Good advice for print journalists in hard times, perhaps. Length: 14:24 minutes. Released: Dec. 13.
  • Uhh Yeah Dude, Episode 145 Intro: M83. A solid hour of riffing on weird news, like items from the world of horrifying science: Poor children's brain activity resembles that of stroke victims. Fat people eat more and get seconds at Chinese buffets. "Thanks, science." Top baby names of 2008. Gavin? Bryce? The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has banned smiling in driver's license photos. They urge listeners to watch the late-night TV shows, which have been particularly bad lately, and mock the latest laughable Burger King ad campaign: Whopper virgins. Getting plastic surgery to look good at your funeral. Fox apologizes for full-frontal NFL shot. Why is gasoline, which was $4 a gallon, now cheaper than orange juice? "It'd be like you went into Starbucks and you ordered your drink and they said that'll be 50 cents." Complaints about the post office. Jonathan is scammed by a credit agency collection guy. A discussion of H. Salt, a SoCal fish and chips place. Jonathan: "As a vegetarian, it is one of the few things I get a hankering for." That's why I went back to eating fish a few years ago. Sorry, fish. Outro: Peter Tosh. Length: 1 hour, 32minutes. Released: Dec. 13.
  • This Week in Tech 173: Dvoracanis Leo Laporte plays host to Sarah Lane, John C. Dvorak and Jason Calacanis. Topics include: Zinc air batteries from Energizer and battery life in general, bad iPhone battery performance, chargers for the Tesla, Google's use of humans to improve search results, and the top tech stories of 2008. Blu-Ray fails to grab market share. Dvorak and Calacanis disagree about who works harder, Americans or Asians. The Nintendo Wii: a girlie console? Australia cracks down on the Internet, and The Simpsons. Spectrum auction leaves Google a happy loser. And a discussion of the resolution of the Google Books fight causes Calacanis to say: "Google is not evil but lacks empathy." Audible ad around the 1-hour mark kicks off 10 minutes of commercial promotions. But I'm in a forgiving mood for the holidays, and one of the promotions is for a free installment (on Dylan's "Highway 51 Revisited" ) from the Continuum Books 33⅓ pop music series I mentioned here. It is a good series, and nobody paid me to say that. Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Released: Dec. 14.
  • The Futile Podcast: "Truck drivin' arm breakin' and arm wrestlin'" Is there such a thing as an action-movie nerd? Maybe the right word is geek. Description of podcast: "Deconstructing 80’s & 90’s action movies. Relating them to comics, TV, and cartoons from then and now." They get pretty quickly into the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie "Over the Top" (1987). The two guys say it feels like a made-for-TV movie, with the lesson, you have to take what you want in life. High point of film comes with interviews of actual professional arm wrestlers. It's an amusing enough discussion, but the main hosts seems to be eating and talking with his mouth full. "A really, really awful version of 'The Color of Money.' ... We did the poker movie, and we did the pool movie, what about arm wrestling?" I might listen to this show again, depending on the movie under discussion. It looks like some of the earlier podcasts have more participants, mostly but not exclusively men. On the blog, there's also this apology for excessive misogyny, a common feature of a lot of male-dominated podcasts, as I've mentioned before. On the plus side, it has some of the features of a good podcast: brevity with several engaging personalities talking with expertise about an obscure topic they love, in this case, action films. Length: 23:24 minutes. Released: Dec. 17.
  • "60-Second Earth, Santa in Danger: Polar Meltdown" First, I will note again that this show, despite the name, is longer than a minute. Second, I will note that this particular episode is a rapid-acting depression pill from Scientific American. Except that it doesn't cure depression. It makes you feel worse. You see, the icecaps are melting, and there's not a damn thing Santa can do about it, "no matter how green his elves are," children. Aaagh. Sponsored by God. Length: 1 minute, 20 seconds. Released: Dec. 11.
  • CommandN Episode 161 Unlike the audio podcasts above, this is video, which means you will hurt yourself or others if you try it while driving or walking to work. It is also Canadian, and the recent episode is inexplicably taped outside, so the hosts, Amber MacArthur and Jeff-somebody look cold. This is their gift guide. Canadians are a little behind the times in technology. They lust for iTunes and Kindles. The show is short, but it moves too fast to really focus on anything. Discussions tend to be superficial. I'd suggest skipping this altogether and listening to Amber's far superior audio podcast with Leo Laporte, Net@Night, which I haven't reviewed yet, though I like it, and nobody paid me to say that. Length: 8:12 minutes. Released: Dec. 6.
  • Wired Gadget Lab 20: This Ain't Your Grandma's Motor Home Another video. A couple of 20somethings test-drive a high-tech modified Airstream RV. "Dude, let's take it to L.A." Oh, ha ha ha. Good thing gas prices are dropping. They make the trip, with footage from a pit stop at the world's weirdest urinal. Seriously? What does it have to do with this review? Nothing. They give the vehicle a 6 out of 10. Which is better than the podcast itself. I'm not really sure why I even watched this. Oh, it was short. And now I can put the whole series in the trash bin, because video eats up a lot of hard-drive space. Length: 7:10 minutes. Released: Dec. 5.
  • "This Week in Media 119: Adverteasing" Back to audio. This proved to be the most though-provoking show of the week, with a disturbing view of podcast advertising practices. Daisy Whitney of TV Week leads a discussion with Alex Lindsay, Susan Bratton of Personal Life Media (35+ podcasts), plus two others with complicated names that nobody spelled out, a media ad buyer and an active podcast sponsor. It starts off with a focus on how so many podcast hosts personally pitch products, as in radio, a practice that advertisers like. Lindsay nods to the church/state wall between content and ads, saying he avoids getting involved in deals and that he only pitches products on his tech podcasts that he uses and likes. I guess we have to trust him on that. He says his advertisers pay on a CPM basis (cost per thousand views), not based on revenue sharing or for favorable content. He does disclose that Scott Bourne, his co-host on This Week in Photography, personally sells ads for that show. Around the 28-minute mark, Bratton reveals even more flexibility: "...We'll also do a program that includes the CPM audio ads, plus things like, we'll post on the blog, we'll Twitter this information, we'll do a review of your product, whatever it might be, and then we're compensated in some way, typically a flat fee" to cover the hourly work for that. So, here is the followup question, which was not asked: Are reviewers free to give the product a bad review? Has it ever happened? Podcasters and bloggers on the Laporte/Lindsay podcasts often talk about how objectivity and fairness are outmoded journalistic ideas, but these practices arose to avoid this kind of problem. How do ad-supported podcasts (and blogs) ensure editorial integrity? If a camera gets a good review on Bratton's Digital Photography Life, how do I know it's an honest review, if the camera is made by an advertiser? I don't. How do I know if I'm getting the real deal, if the content creator is a financial partner with the sponsor or is taking freebies? I don't. Length: 53 minutes. Release date: Dec. 16.
  • Digital Photography Life, Episode 5 So, after that discussion on This Week in Media, I listened to one of Personal Life Media's podcasts, on photography, a topic that interests me a little. This episode opens with an ad for Smugmug, a photo-sharing site that the co-hosts Scott Sherman and Michael GW Stein "talk a lot about on the show," according to the ad. (Popularity isn't everything, but for reference, here's how SmugMug compares to competitor Flickr in terms of overall traffic.) Twelve minutes into the show, Scott and Michael were still talking about the podcast's photo contest, which entails e-mailing entries to the show's Smugmug album, where the entries will be displayed. Then they discussed the prizes -- bags donated by another sponsor. Then they asked listeners to leave five-star reviews of the podcast on iTunes. If you actually want to hear about photography, I recommend fast-forwarding to the 18th minute, for the start of a mildly interesting discussion of the new Nikon D3-X, audaciously priced at $8,000, followed by some good tips for taking holiday party pictures. This all seems to be aimed at beginners, with the Nikon discussed for the shock value. The hosts are amiable and sound like nice guys. But Smugmug is certainly getting its money's worth. The hosts slip in another ad toward at the end for a camera bag, then ask listeners to send holiday party shots to them via Smugmug (there's another ad for the site at the end of the show). Then listeners are again urged to write a five-star review on iTunes or to at least go there and rate the positive reviews as helpful. Scott: "Those reviews will move to the top of the list, so the negative reviews are not the first ones people see when they check out the show because that is just not helpful when it comes to building an audience." So I go to iTunes. The first review I see is for two stars: "Posted a lengthier review last week but for some reason it is not showing up here. To summarize, I used to be a huge fan of the old show but over time it became more boring... Shows are long usually due to senseless banter being included. The hosts wander off topic a lot and don't stay focused." Maybe he has an ax to grind. The average rating is 4.5 stars. Length: 59 minutes. Released: Dec. 8.
  • Macbreak Weekly 119: MacBreak Mania Alex Lindsay filled in for the traveling Leo Laporte, with guests Andy Ihnatko, Frederick Johnson, Ron Brinkman and Paul Kent of the upcoming MacWorld Expo. Topics: animated "Get a Mac" holiday ads, more Apple netbook speculation, fate of Apple TV and Mac Mini, iTunes vs. Amazon music store, and granular information about the MacWorld Expo, including a discount code (first 100 got a free pass and the rest get $20 off: RIDP1641). Alex read the Audible and Drobo ads, but kept them mercifully short. In the picks segment, Inahtko, a free-lance tech writer for The Chicago Sun-Times, spoke favorably of Slingbox products, which let you play your media library (and DVR content) on any TV, even away from home. Works best with a hard-wired network. More MacBreak picks here. Length: 1 hour, 8 minutes. Released: Dec. 16.