The mix this week is more culture than tech. Most of the podcasts I sample were off for the holidays, or they had recorded episodes in advance, so I went a little farther afield. [See all lists.]
- The Dinner Party Download, Episode 12 "The show that helps you win your next dinner party." A breezy podcast from Brendan Newnam and Rico Gagliano of 89.33 KPC public radio in Los Angeles. It starts with an icebreaker joke: "A penguin walks into a bar..." On to small talk, based on news tips from American Public Media reporters: How big of a wallet would you need to carry all the cash from the Madoff scheme? This big. Then it's on to a history lesson and related cocktail. The lesson: Why General Grant was bad for the Jews. The drink: an ounce of bourbon, an ounce of apple brandy, sugar or honey topped with hot water, a mix of North and South. An interview with David Fincher, director of "Benjamin Button." A food segment about mozzarella, including mozzarella restaurants and bars like Obikà in New York. A 30-second music clip (Low's "Just Like Christmas,"). Time to party. Get the cheat sheet. Fun concept. Length: 13:51 minutes. Released: Dec. 19.
- "Books on the Nightstand #20: Sci-Fi for the Rest of Us" Do you read the book, or the e-book? Like the hosts, I do both. They're using Sony Readers, and I use a Kindle, but the advantage of e-books for travel is clear in either case. In fact, I plan to be reading my Kindle for a couple of hours today on a flight out west. (I don't care for extended reading on my iPhone, though there are several e-book apps.) I used to strain my back lugging books on trips so I wouldn't be caught without something. Another segment focused on science fiction picks for people who don't like SF, including "Stranger in a Strange Land," by Robert A. Heinlein. I grok the choice, though it's not for everyone and I don't think the pitch here -- "fish out of water story" -- does it justice. Other picks in the podcast included "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell, "Life Class" by Pat Barker, and "Firmin" by Sam Savage. As podcasts, and book discussions, go, this did not strike me as particularly deep or compelling, but I may give it another chance later. Length: 18:18. Released: Dec. 17.
- Coffeegeek Podcast 64: Carl Sara Rocks This podcast is infrequently updated but my quest for the perfect espresso shot seemed to require more research, so I grabbed the most recent episode, from August. Intro/outro is Sinatra singing the jaunty "Coffee Song." The host, Mark Prince, founder of the excellent Coffeegeek.com, started by apologizing for a two-month delay pledged to get on a weekly schedule. Didn't happen. Oh, well. (The other day, I sent an e-mail asking what was up, but did not get a reply yet.) This episode is notable for Prince's grievance, discussed at length, about a "backlash to the pursuit of culinary coffee" that he sees in the mainstream media. He blames the bad economy. He says the U.S. coffee market breaks down this way: 80 percent of the people are "the untouchables... They are satisfied with Folgers and the junk around the office." He wants to reach the other 20 percent, including 1 to 2 percent who are culinary coffee experts, 6 to 8 percent who understand and love it but "they're not quite convinced the effort is worth it"; and 10 percent who may have had a cup or two and are open to it but they think it means Starbucks. "They don't know what culinary coffee is yet. They know it exists." He goes on a digression about iced espresso (the gist: to avoid a sour taste, brew the espresso into a cold cup, not directly into the ice). Back to the backlash. He blames a Burger King mentality in the U.S. "In a lot of cases the customer is always right," he explains. "But when it comes to the delivery of a culinary product, and you have a reputation you want to protect as a business for delivering a culinary product, I'm sorry, there are certain lines that a customer can't cross, and they can't ask you to do things in a certain way if you believe it is detrimental to the quality of the beverage. And I do blame Burger King for that for their 'have it your way' campaign." Of course, he says, "commodity or utility coffee" at Starbucks or McDonald's is O.K. in a pinch, but don't drink the stuff in the hotel room. At 38:15 minutes, a list of "awesome" coffee beans, followed by a recorded interview with Carl Sara, a New Zealand coffee champion, which takes up the rest of the podcast. Then Sinatra takes us out. Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes. Released: Aug. 9, 2008.
- Stuff You Should Know This is a great find from the How Stuff Works folks, with a place on the iTunes "Best Podcasts of 2008" list. The hosts Josh and Chuck take apart a topic scientifically in about 17 minutes per show. On this one, we learn that flirting is a form of language important to our survival as a species, with a discussion of the ambiguous protean gestures preferred by women in flirting. I also listened to the previous two episodes about the safest parts of your body to take a bullet (answer: hands or feet), and eco-friendly ways to get rid of a body. All were entertaining and informative. Length: 17:29 minutes. Released: Dec. 23.
- New York Review of Books Podcast Compared to some of the stuff I have reviewed, this is laid-back, ruminative stuff from the bastion of New York liberal intellectualism. First I listened to this 17-minute interview with the veteran Washington correspondent Elizabeth Drew about the Obama transition, cabinet picks and other issues, based on her N.Y.R.B. article "The Truth About the Election." My takeaway is that she thinks Obama was different from other Democratic candidates in that he had been working on his message, plan and staffing long before the election itself, making his transition rather smooth. We'll see. The more recent 50-minute podcast is a recording of the 2008 Robert B. Silvers lecture by the novelist Zadie Smith, delivered at the New York Public Library on Dec. 5. Silvers is the editor of the review and delivers introductory remarks. It was framed as a lecture about lecturing. The description: "Drawing on literary and historical examples from Elizabeth I to Eliza Doolittle to Barack Obama, Zadie Smith explores race, writing, and what it means when we speak in different ways to different people." There's a lot more Obama than this description suggests, and a bit more about mixed race and the duality of language. She has a take on Obama -- "the man from Dream City" -- that is far more poetic than Drew's nuts-and-bolts assessment. In that respect, the two podcast episodes complement one another neatly. Length: 17:27 minutes and 59:05 minutes. Released: Dec. 15 and 19.
- The Futile Podcast: M.A.D. Men The action movie podcast. This episode was billed as a discussion of "preachy movies that are remakes of movies that were preachy about avoiding nuclear annihilation, or what was known ... as M.A.D., or mutually assured destruction." But it's mostly about the recent remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," with Keanu Reeves and the guy from "Mad Men." Overall review: "This movie sucks, but it doesn't." Beware of spoilers, if that matters to you. In the case of htis movie, maybe not. A couple of days after I listened to this, another podcast dropped, about the original "Lethal Weapon," but I haven't listened to that yet. Length: 23:15 minutes. Released: Dec. 20.
- Uhh Yeah Dude, Episode 146 Great episode. Topics include 50 Cent's fight with Floyd Mayweather, cameras hidden in the baby Jesus, cellphones for the dead, the new Burger King fragrance, adult video awards, the Michael Phelps video game, and Z-mailing, similar to sleep-eating, in which people send inappropriate e-mail while asleep. Jonathan: "Can't we just get back to sleep-dreaming?" Seth: "I was listening to U.Y.D. and the two hosts of the show have trained themselves to sleep-dream, where they fall asleep, they create almost movies in their head, I guess is how they would describe it. Literally, they'll think about people in their lives, not in their lives, who have been in their lives, in situations where they'll be in a house, but it's not really their house, it's their childhood home. They call it sleep-dreaming." Hey, that's happened to me. I dreamed podcasters were watching me in my sleep. Length: 1 hour, 7 Minutes. Released: Dec. 22.
- This Week in Tech 174: 10-Ferret Night Leo Laporte dispenses with tech for another appearance (recorded earlier this month) by John Hodgman, who is still on his book tour. Leo interviewed Hodgman the week of Nov. 2. This time they are joined by his friend Jonathan Coulton, a Brooklyn singer-songwriter beloved by nerds and geeks. There's no point in summarizing the discussion, which is entertaining and well worth a listen if you are a fan of their work, as I am. A few topics: Hodgman's career as a literary agent, the throwing of shoes at the president, the availability of Crystal Head Vodka, quahogs, and two things Laporte learned from his father: "Rummies have no wind, so you can outrun them. And never catch the eye of a hobo." There's more, plus Coulton music. Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Released: Dec. 21.