Great Podcasts

I’m constantly talking up all the cool insights and inspiring stories that I hear on podcasts. Some of my friends are finally coming around and asking for my suggestions. Verbally listing a bunch of podcasts (or books, or whatever) becomes taxing to the receiver who is trying to juggle a new information and categorize it for later. So, I have written down this short list of lists.
For you super busy folks – you can do this – I listen to podcasts on double speed while walking to and from the grocery store, running with my dog, cooking dinner, etc. When I’m moving and listening, I get the most value from the podcasts because I do not try to multi-task. Personally, I get no value from podcasts if I’m doing any other mental task, like reading or typing…even browsing instagram. I’ve listed a bunch of podcasts here, but there are others that I have just started trying out and can’t recommend yet. There really are podcasts for every interest. Happy listening!

  1. My absolute favorite podcasts that I’d recommend to everyone
  • Her Money with Jean Chatzky: This weekly podcast runs about 30-40 minutes. Jean targets this podcasts at professional women, but the stories and lessons are really for everyone. The guests are thoughtful and well-spoken; Jean is knowledgeable and keeps the pace. There is good advice in every show. I discovered this one just a few months ago, but it is already a favorite. The Jean Chatzky’s website has tons of information including calculators and guidance on where to get help (see Tools) if you need it.

  • Myths and Legends: This (mostly) weekly podcast runs about 30-40 minutes. Jason Weiser retells myths and legends from folklore in a quick and relatable way. His style is quirky and good humored. The format of the show is consistent – with a fun story and a creature of the week. He often connects the dots between stories, and he sometimes fills in holes in stories. Jason always points out when he has taken creative license with a story or picked one version over another, and he often says why. This is a wonderful diversion. The podcast website includes links to his sources, other places to look up information, and the music used on the show.

  • Side Hustle School: A daily! Short podcast from Chris Guillebeau showcasing what other people are doing for their side hustles. The podcast is usually less than 10 minutes long and describes: what the person is doing, how they are doing it, why they are doing it, and how they are making money. It’s inspiring and well-produced. If you listen on the go, like I do, you will love how organized Chris keeps his show notes – everything is there, nice and connected. Just listen to all of them; if you do fall behind, though, Chris produces a weekly summary show.

  • Radical Candor: This weekly podcast runs about 20 minutes and focuses on helping everyone Care Personally and Challenge Directly. The idea is that we tend to fall into patterns that are not helpful to ourselves, our own bosses, or the people who call us boss because walking the line between being a nice person and being a successful person is challenging. The show was a little bumpy at first but hit its stride after the first few shows. Each show has a theme related to not sucking in the workplace and has little actions that you can do to get better in this area. The hosts use their experiences over years leading teams to bring understanding to how to do something well; sometimes, they bring in external interviewees for another perspective. The show always feels shorter to me than it is.

  • Hidden Brain: This weekly podcast usually runs just under 30 minutes. Shankar Vedantam also appears on short NPR segments in shows like Morning Edition. You can find the podcast on any podcast app, and see both podcast and shorter segments at the Hidden Brain site. This show brings up and discusses one curious human behavior item per episode, and it is almost always something that has broad appeal, like the one about what our Google searches at 2AM mean about us.

  • Dinner Party Download: A weekly podcast (~50 min) that comes out on Friday afternoon (US time) to get you ready for the weekend cocktail parties – if you go to those. The format is perfect: a quick joke, some interesting facts from the week, some history mixed with a new cocktail recipe you could try, a few recommended songs from someone in the music industry, and an interview with someone charming. This one took me a few weeks (years ago) to fall for, but it is a nice bit of audio.

  • Two Guys on your Head: A very short (~7min) weekly podcast from two psychologists/psychiatrists/some kind of head brain doctors (Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke). They discuss one issue of human behavior or a question, kind of like Hidden Brain, but with a different style. It’s interesting and short. I listen to this one on NPR One, so I’m not sure if you can get it on regular podcast apps, but it is available at the Two Guys on Your Head site.

  1. Podcasts that I like that I would recommend individually to some people – grouped broadly by topic area:
  • Academic Life / Research:

    • Not So Standard Deviations: This (usually) weekly podcast runs about 30-60 minutes. There is quite a bit of banter, so do not listen to this unless you do data science for work or fun. Hilary and Roger will crack you up with their stories from the pits, but only if you can relate. Ignore all the laughing. The “free advertisement” is really my favorite part, even thought I enjoy these two personalities – at that point in the show, they bring up something that they really like or enjoy which can be anything from an actual thing to a person or an article.
    • The Effort Report: Elizabeth and Roger are fun to listen to, and they have a natural conversation style. Who wouldn’t want to listen to smart people get real about challenges and joys in their work life? That they are talking about academic life, which is largely shrouded in mystery, is all the more fun for me. Sometimes, they bring in other folks to interview – anywhere from senior faculty to postdocs.

    • Everything Hertz This weekly podcast runs about 50 minutes and covers the thoughts of two academic researchers – one in Europe and another in the US on the business of research. Not the money making side, but the “how do we actually get this done, and well” side of it. It’s interesting and nuanced. It may take a few episodes to get into their heads and understand these guys, but then it’s nice to follow along.

  • Politics / US News:

    • Backstory: This weekly podcast changed format from when I first became hooked. The current rendition is still settling in, but it seems to be weekly between 30 and 45 minutes. The hosts are history professors who take issues from our current times and look back over the previous centuries to tell related stories. It is very informative, usually lighthearted, and there is no loss if you skip an episode or hear them out of order.

    • Politically ReActive: This weekly podcast runs about 50-60 minutes. The hosts, W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu discuss race and politics in America and sometimes have guests come on the show. These guys are both comedians, but this show is usually quite serious. This one is interesting because they bring on people that I don’t hear from in other outlets, usually, and discuss their perspectives on race in a way that I definitely don’t get in real life. I’m not a huge fan of hearing how terrible I am for my whiteness, but the show is worth getting past that part.

    • The Fifth Column: This (usually) weekly podcast runs about 60-75 minutes and features 3 journalists discussing mostly current events. It is a highly opinionated show. I like that the hosts challenge each other and don’t just accept everything said by the colleague/friend as fact or right. They respectfully disagree with each other…perhaps less respectfully disagree with others. I do not always agree with them either, but I appreciate the discussion and different points of view. Sometimes they have guests. NOTE: Of all the podcasts I listen to regularly, this one is the hardest to follow and the one I am most likely to miss key nuance or need to slow down to 1.5 times speed. These guys talk fast and have a base knowledge about current events/people/history that is challenging to me.

    • Katie Couric: This is a weekly show (~40 minutes) where Katie Couric is the host, and she brings in people to interview – interesting people, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nate Silver, etc. I remember hearing her name a lot before I found this show, and I think she was a TV news anchor, but I am sure I never saw her on TV. I do enjoy this show, and I always learn something.

  • Life/Stories/Self-betterment:

    • Dear Sugar: This weekly show (~35 min) is hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond with beautiful human empathy. Each show is a response to a particular letter or type of letter (anonymous) about a tough question. They read the letter, discuss generalities, usually bring in an expert to interview, and come up with some solid, and kind, advice. The Sugars, as they call themselves are like your favorite aunt or gramma who you could ask anything, but you really could. It is an interesting show for perspective and reflection.

    • Art of Charm: This show is a 5 day a week deal with varying formats by the day of the week. My favorite is Monday which is “Minisode Monday” and just a quick tip (~5 min) that you can take and implement to make your life a little better. The show includes interesting guests and is basically just about a community of people trying to be more awesome and successful, without being obnoxious. I have not joined the AoC or whatever group of fans that is a community. I do still like the show. I do sometimes skip the middle of the week ones, depending on how much time I have.

What I learned this month

I focused intently on learning about developing the applications that I am keen to pull off next quarter (since I was not prepared this quarter). I have expanded my understanding of javascript, responsive web design, and so much more in swift for iOS programming. Unfortunately, this learning effort is really taking time. I am only able to achieve about 4 hours of forward progress in learning per day. I cannot maintain any higher activity. However, I am able to spend other time digesting and re-trying new things that I learned that day.

I have been able to frame out my favorite new application with Prott which is a super neat prototyping application. I did my framing on paper (with printed iPhone 6 screens) and I learned so much more about the structure required for the application than I had considered before I had the prototype. If you are considering developing an application (for web or phone), making a mock up of the screens and considering how a person will get from point A to point B and then to point C (and what they might want to see there) is very helpful. Of course, while I was going through this process, I considered that most UI designers likely have these considerations as a second nature and they are only novel to me because I do not have experience in application design.

This month, I went back and re-read some books that I had read many years ago, and I found that I am much more opinionated now. In fact, many of the “classics” that I’ve read or re-read in the past few years I don’t consider appropriate for high school literature classes. It isn’t that the students can’t read the text or might be offended or scarred for life by the content. It is that many of these classic works of literature deal with topics or subjects that simply have no personal anchor to children, even those in high school. Maybe I’m biased somehow.

I learned that I am still challenged by the balance of long term and short term goals. While I can define my short term goals in terms of things to be done, I find that my long term goals are shapeless blobs of “be a nice and healthy person”, “raise kids to be contributing adults”, “be a positive member of my community.” lame. I’m still working on this.

What I learned this month

It’s already the last week of March. I have decided that I’m officially in the old camp because I am consistently surprised by how quickly time goes by. In any case, it has been a stellar week for learning. I have been building skills in iOS application development because I really want to create applications that solve problems that I see. Nearly all of my ‘free’ computer based time has been spent on some form of application development learning this week, and I’m so glad that I also spent some time away from the computer to listen to podcasts and read books.

  • I’ve spent much of the last week reading through the Apple Developer Guides as I work through developing my first iOS application. It’s a new world for me, with all the challenge of new language and framework, but I am so excited about this. So far, I have at least 3 applications that I have sketched out that would make my life easier. I’m hoping that I can learn fast enough to implement them before something drastic happens to the development frameworks. Along the way, I’ve bought more than one book and completed a half dozen tutorials, each covering something that has helped me discover new approaches to doing things with Swift and Xcode. By far, the best tutorial series for phone application development is Code with Chris. His tutorials are broken up into small chunks that you can fit in your day, and he walks through code development in a logical way, showing how you need to change things as you debug your code and expand your application’s functionality. Folks starting with a design background rather than a programming background might prefer Design+Code by Meng To, which is also quite well done. I did not find the Apple tutorial particularly helpful, and many others are based on older versions of Xcode or Swift without guidance for what has changed, a dreadful challenge.
  • Even fantastic data scientists, leaders, and academics struggle sometimes with feelings of insecurity, imposter-ism, and just plain remembering all that stuff that underlies their work. I truly appreciate hearing people honestly approach and address gaps in knowledge or understanding and give peace to the idea that we don’t have to be walking textbooks to do good work. Listen to The Effort Report, Not So Standard Deviations, and Radical Candor for more.
  • I really enjoy making flowcharts. I made a couple this week to diagram out processes, and they were incredibly satisfying. The processes became much clearer and decision points more obvious as I edited the flow charts.
  • There are applications that wonderful people made that will automatically create the artwork of different sizes required by Xcode to build your project on different size screens. One of these is Prepo. You can just drop graphics into Prepo and get other sizes. It’s so much easier than opening and resizing all of your images.

Summary: I’m still drinking from the application development firehose, and I feel close to a breakthrough.

Essential Podcast of the Month – The Effort Report

I discovered The Effort Report in around episode 13 (which was about the fun task of academic writing), and I immediately went back to binge listen to the first episodes. They are still going strong, even better, I think, as episode 31.5 wraps up.

Name: The Effort Report

Why I like it: Elizabeth and Roger are fun to listen to, and they have a natural conversation style. Who wouldn’t want to listen to smart people get real about challenges and joys in their work life? That they are talking about academic life, which is largely shrouded in mystery, is all the more fun for me. I’m one of those PhD-ers working outside of academia, and I’m always interested in what it’s like on the inside.
Sometimes, they bring in other folks to interview. These interviews have been fantastically interesting.

Any drawbacks?: Elizabeth is a medical doctor, and Roger is a biostatistician – both are at Johns Hopkins. Folks looking for a little more diversity may wonder if their experiences can be extended to other institutions. I’m not concerned by it.

Related: Roger has another podcast: Not So Standard Deviations, that started back in 2015. That podcast is focused on data science broadly. I recommended it already: Essential Podcast of the Month – Not So Standard Deviations

Website: title

Essential Podcast of the Month – Radical Candor

There are some skills that seem absolutely essential to a successful workplace environment but (in my experience) are mysteriously absent from actual discussion and training. These are things like: how do you give feedback? How do you receive feedback? Etc. I guess maybe we are supposed to just absorb good office relationship skills from the ether. There are books on these topics, but they seem to be absent from most workplace discussions. In December, I was super excited to hear about a new podcast launching in the Onward Project to cover these topics. It’s only been a few episodes, but I already enjoy how Kim Scott and Russ Laraway are bringing real life experience to bear with advice.

Name: [Radical Candor]

Why I like it: Kim and Russ have a back and forth style – each has plenty of separate experience to offer, and they’ve worked together. They use language that gets to the essentials of pitfalls and good strategies to be radically candid. I absolutely love their consistent advice to care deeply and be honest. The podcast seems to fly by.

Any drawbacks?: The podcast is still finding its rhythm. I’m sure future episodes will become more organized and neat.

Related: Radical Candor is part of the Onward Project started by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen hosts Happier with her sister Elizabeth. Kim (and Russ?) are also writing a book of the same name: Radical Candor.

Website: title