Thoughts and opinions of a technology enthusiast.

30 Podcasts You Should Be Listening To (part 1)

flickr-abletoven-rss-headphonesI recently put together a show for Hacker Public Radio. Seeing as I had done all this writing, I decided I might as well put together a couple of blog posts.

These are 30 podcasts I listen to very regularly. I have listened to many of these since they began (often retroactively) and very much enjoy them. There are a lot of tech shows in here with a mix of science, food, history and popular culture mixed in for good measure.

Because most people have attention spans only slightly longer than your average gnat, I’ve decided to break this up into three separate blog posts, each highlighting 10 different shows.

99% Invisible

Storytelling is the focus of Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible. This show tells the stories behind the design of things you may have never noticed before, or things about which you didn’t give a second thought.

Mixing interesting and compelling stories with brilliantly produced audio this is one of the shows I look forward to every single week. 99% Invisible is a member of the newly founded Radiotopia network. If you like stories or have any interest in design I recommend you check this one out.

99% Invisible has also put on a couple of very successful Kickstarter campaigns the past couple of seasons in an effort to generate some funding to further support and expand the show. I have donated both times and will undoubtedly back it again when they come around again for next year.

Accidental Tech Podcast

When three developers try to make a car show but end up talking more about technology than cars, you get an accidental tech podcast. Hosted by Marco Arment, John Siracusa and Casey Liss the trio provide an Apple and Developer centered discussion each week about various goings on in the tech world.

The show quality is quite good (if a bit long-winded at times.) Episodes run about 90 mins to 2 hours.

All three hosts are developers so there are often developer or programmer topics (or at least topics discussed from that slant.) They are also all Apple fans, so the majority of the hardware and software discussed is Apple/Mac/iOS related.

The Alton Browncast

TV Personality Alton Brown has a podcast. Being a big fan of the Good Eats series I had to check this out. Each week features an interview with someone in the food or food-entertainment world and it gives an interesting behind-the-scenes look at this world that I typically have no insight into.

It’s also nice to get some items in my feed that don’t have anything to do with tech or computing. I don’t have a lot of them, but this is definitely a good choice.

Usually pretty well produced, the episodes run about an hour and is a member of the Nerdist podcast network.

Astronomy Cast

Astronomy Cast is a fantastic podcast that takes a look at one specific space-related topic each episode and tries to delve into just enough detail to make you think. Hosted by Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay Astronomy Cast is an excellent primer for those who are interested in learning more about space, the cosmos and the underlying science and physics that makes it all work.

I first stumbled across this show from some links to IYA activities back in 2009 and it has been a mainstay ever since. The episodes are kept pretty short (under 30 minutes) and pack a lot of information into a nice bite-sized science snack.

Astronomy Cast is also closely affiliated with CosmoQuest the group behind the very successful 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and other citizen science initiatives.

Back to Work

Nominally a show about productivity and communication, Back to Work is hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin and is a member of the 5by5 network. Each episode is as much a chance for Dan and Merlin to have a chat as it is about productivity. Recent episodes have included the blight of buzzwords, bad customer service, nostalgia and sleep.

There are a lot of running bits and gags that date back to the early days of the show. Often referenced is the venerable “episode 7″ (which is quite good).

The show is produced similarly to many of the 5by5 shows with very good audio quality and a very conversational feel. Like other 5by5 shows the episode titles rarely describe the episode, which can be annoying, but leaves you listening for where the joke occurs during the show.


The BBC World Service produces a number of fantastic shows. One that I like, which is tech focused, is Click. Hosted by Gareth Mitchell and Bill Thompson Click tries to offer a fairly global perspective on new technology often taking advantage of BBC field offices to provide insights from Asian or African correspondents.

Similar in many ways to Spark (which we’ll see in a few days) Click focuses on more than the hardware and software, but how the technology actually interacts with and impacts the society and culture of the people who use it.

As you can expect the audio quality and production values are excellent given it’s radio heritage. Episodes typically run about 30 minutes.

The Domestic CEO

The Domestic CEO’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Manage Your Home. It’s a mouthful. Like many shows on the Quick and Dirty Tips network it takes almost as long to say the title as listen to the episode. Each week this show covers tips for managing the day-to-day things in your home.

There is a lot of good information not only for people who are just starting out in their own place for the first time, but even for those of us who have been managing our own places for years. There’s always something new.

I have put a large number of these tips to use in my own place and have learned ways to better clean and organize my home as well as save some money along the way. Episodes generally run 5-10 minutes.

FLOSS Weekly

Host Randal Schwartz is at the helm this podcast on the TWiT network delving into the world of Free Libre and Open Source Software. Each episode provides a deep dive into an open source project or technology hosted by Schwartz and a number of rotating co-hosts.

Episodes of FLOSS weekly generally run about one hour.

From Python Import Podcast

If you want to learn about the ins and outs of the Python community this is one way to get your fix. Though it’s rather sporadic in its releases and the audio quality is only average, the information into the background and back-rooms of the Python community has been excellent.

The current lineup of hosts includes: David Noyes, Mike Pirnat, Ben Smith and David Stanek. Shows vary as much in length as in release schedule, recent episodes (3 in the past 12 months) have been 1-2 hours.

Geologic Podcast

This has nothing to do with geology, though that’s what I was looking for when I subscribed back in 2007. Host George Hrab talks about skepticism and rationality interspersed with personal stories and a series of recurring bits or segments. In some ways it’s like an audio blog, but it’s a lot of fun particularly if you enjoy the subject matter. There are occasional appearances by guests (Geo’s Mom reads Jay-Z lyrics) but for the most part all of the voices and segments are put together by Hrab.

This show actually led me to explore the skepticism movement in more detail and let me to several of the other shows on this list which you’ll see in a few days.

With his background in music and experience with audio the show sounds great and is very well produced. Episodes of the Geologic Podcast typically run about an hour.

Image Credit: abletoven on Flickr.

Enable Intelligent Tabbing in OS X

466364263_4cdd5f95aa_mI can’t believe that after 14 years Apple still defaults Mac OS X to the most ridiculous tabbing option I’ve ever seen.

By default, OS X only allows you to tab between text box and list fields in forms. This includes applications and web sites. If you tab through a page you will only land on the text boxes. Check boxes, radio buttons, links and any other control in the system will not be hit. This means that you’ll need to pull out your mouse to click on these controls. Insane.

To fix this insanity and make your Mac behave like a normal computer:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Click on Keyboard
  • Click on the Shortcuts tab
  • At the bottom of the dialog, select (with your mouse) All Controls

Keyboard Screen

(It’s worth noting that Apple built a special keyboard shortcut in to fix this setting because they broke it in the first place. Ctrl-F7 will toggle this setting.)

Image Credit: mrwynd on Flickr

Let It Go – Putting XP Out to Pasture

keep_calm_and_let_it_go_by_lordani0512-d6yfjy3On April 8th, 2014, Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP. After that date if you are still running Windows XP you will no longer receive security patches or other updates for Windows on your computer.

What does this mean?

If you still have a computer running XP it means that it will start to become less safe to browse the web and open email attachments on Windows XP than it is on Windows 7 or just about any other operating system. Your computer will continue to work, but in essence you’re now driving your computer without wearing your seatbelt. You might be fine, but you have an ever-increasing chance of catastrophe.

Why is Microsoft doing this to us?

One of the implicit contracts we make as users of technology is that it will need to be upgraded at some point. Windows XP is old. In software terms, it’s ancient. Microsoft has supported Windows XP for 12 years (that’s 56.4 in Internet years. As a point of comparison Apple launched it’s first version of OS X about 5 months before Windows XP was released. Apple is typically quite cryptic about their security policies but as a rule of thumb only supports an OS up to two versions back from the current one. That means that since the release of OS X 10.9 in October 2013 the following releases of the Mac Operating system are no longer supported:

With the exception of “Cheetah” all of these releases are newer than Windows XP and all of them are no longer supported by Apple.

What can I do?

Buy a new computer.

It may sound trite, but the simple fact is that for about twice the cost of a Windows upgrade you can get a brand new computer which in all likelihood will outperform whatever you’re using today. (If this isn’t the case for you, chances are you don’t have XP.)

Buying a new machine is hands down the best way to get yourself off of the Swiss cheese that is the XP security scene and into something else. Buy a Windows 8 tablet/laptop. Buy a Mac. Buy a Linux computer. Something. ANYTHING!

No. I’m stubborn.

If you can’t or simply don’t want to upgrade there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They won’t be as good as running a modern operating system, but they’ll help.

Stop Running as an Administrator

You can stop about 90% of hacks in their tracks by running as what Windows calls a “Limited User.” While this is a bit less convenient for most people since it will prevent you from installing software or changing core system settings, it will protect you from the majority of attacks because it prevents you from installing software or changing core system settings. See what I did there? Yes. You are your own greatest threat. Follow these instructions from the Microsoft Knowledge Base to create a limited user account for your system.

Don’t Use Internet Explorer

Don’t. Simple. Download something else:

Use Firewalls

Windows XP has a built-in software firewall as of Service Pack 2 (released in August 2004). Make sure you have enabled the firewall. No exceptions. Also make sure you have a router on your network between you and the Internet. The vast majority of home routers (and home gateways) offer a hardware firewall which stops uninvited guests (hackers) from getting in to your computer.

Do I have a router?

On Windows XP use the following steps to find out if you’re running a hardware firewall. (It’s not 100% conclusive, but this check will give you the right answer in the overwhelming majority of cases.)

  1. Point your web browser to http://icanhazip.com/
  2. Make a note of the IP address.
  3. Click on Start -> Run
  4. Type cmd and press Enter
  5. In the resulting command prompt window type ipconfig and press Enter
  6. Look at the text on the screen, if the line “IP Address” matches what you have in step 2, get a new router.

Connection-specific DNS Suffix . : workgroup
IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . :
Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . :
Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . :

Bottom Line

Your computer is not going to explode and melt through your desk like so much digital napalm on April 9th. You are however taking your digital life in your hands every time you use the Internet by continuing to run Windows XP.

It’s time. Let it go.

Image credit: lordani0512 on DeviantArt.

Python on OSX

I’ve just installed Python 3.3 on my MacBook Pro running OS X 10.8. By default, this version of OS X comes with Python 2.7. I would like my system to use the newly installed Python 3.3 as the default. The challenge is, that every time I type “python” from the command line I get Python 2.7.

I was able to trace the problem to Python 3.3 not having an executable (or an alias) called “python”. The executable is actually called “python3.3″ with an alias of simply “python3″. To get around this problem, I edited my ~/.bash_profile file to add an alias for python:

alias python=python3

Now when I type “python” (or a script invokes python) from the command line, it’s running the version I want.

I found the answer to my conundrum in this post on Stack Overflow.

Bad Decisions

As someone who considers himself a technology enthusiast I take pride in my ability to know how best to apply technological solutions to everyday problems. Part of knowing howa to do this is the ability to know what the options are and when to choose which option. Few decisions in technology demonstrate this abundance of options better than the selection process for a new computer.

I have had a MacBook as my primary computer for the past 6 years. In that time, my first Mac has helped me to accomplish a number of goals. It has been my main machine for all of my technological pursuits. Pretty much Avery blog post and podcast episode I’ve produced was conceived of, written recorded and released on that machine. I has travelled with me own dozens of trips and has supported my rather amateurish attempts at being an amateur photographer.

A trend that has persisted for the past decade or so is that the advances in personal computing technology have continued at a faster rate than the increased computing demands of most of the population. 15 years ago it made a lot of sense to spend ore money to get a higher-end computer in hopes that the system woould last you more than a couple of years. Fast-forward to today where most computer users need little more from their system than a means of getting to the Internet, and we see that most mid-to-low range computers could easily serve their users for 4-5 years.

With that philosophy in mind earlier this year I decided to make the leap from a mid-range laptop to a tablet as my main mobile computing platform. Many wolf the tasks at I like to undertake on a mobile device we well within the capabilities of most tablets, and I figured that the light weight and small form factor would make the device much easier to carry around with me. I’ve had the iPad for about three months now. I have tried to incorporate it as a working device, rather than just a content consumption device. I have successfully written a number of blog posts on the device and sent a few emails. But thre are limitations as to how the iPad can be used as a content-creation platform, and the majority of those limitations are a result of the device’s form factor.

Trying to write anythingr fo any length on the iPad is challenging with the on-screen keyboard. The touch screen is very responsive and I can write on it far better than I can write on the iPhone, but there are still 4-5x the number of typos in my work which take time to correct. Autocorrect is both a help and a hindrance when writing on the iOS devices. If you allow it to do its job you can have a number of your mistakes fixed, but if you hit the spacebar instead of the intended letter key you will most likely create a typo that will need to be fixed manually. Writing with a physical keyboard hooked up either via Bluetooth or the Dock. On rector provides better a curry when typing, but requires the user to place the iPad and the keyboard on a flat surface like a desk or a table, greatly reducing the mobility of the device.

After the first month, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to replace the laptop n my life with an iPad. It simply didn’t fit my way of working. I was a bit annoyed with myself for not having thought things through and for not hanging figured it out ahead of time, but I soon realized that the iPad had other virtues and it hadnt been a waste. It has been a fantastic content consumption device and has allowed our whole family an alternate avenue to enjoy. Intent that we love when we may not be particularly interested in what someone else has put on the big TV.

So I stepped back and took a look at the options for laptops. The machine that I’ve been using is getting to be a bit slow, and for some of what I want to use it for the two GB memory limit is a bit, well, limiting. my first instinct was to pick p the new MacBook Pro. That’s the model which most closely replaces the old MacBook I won’t get into the reasons behind why I’m sticking to a Mac since they aren’t really material to my point. Based on a number of factors I outlined in a previous post my ad choice of replacement laptop was the MacBook Air. It was plenty powerful for the types of things I typically use the computer for and it was small and light which was a nice change from the rather weighty MacBook White.

It’s Great But…

I was thrilled when the unit arrived and wanted to get it set up as soon as possible. That’s when I discovered my first error. I hadn’t realized that the mini DisplayPort connector on the new machine was something different than the connector on the existing Mac (which I realized later was mini-DVI). I would need an adapter to attach the New computer to my monitor. Looking at the two side-by-side it’s pretty clear that they’re nothing alike.

So I began migrating data over to it the first night. That’s when I realized that I had made my second error. I knew that the new machine’s 128GB solid-state drive would be significantly more cramped than the current 320 GB drive I was using. But I failed to actually check how much data I would want to store on the machine. As it turned out, my Aperture library was larger than the entire SSD drive in the new machine. I bought an external hard drive and was willing to live with the compromise because I did 99% of my photo work at my desk anyway, so I woldn’t need to transport the drive anywhere.

A week or so later I was to have a Skype chat with Dave and Knightwise. I had planned to use the new machine and that’s when I realized that I wouldn’t be ble to record on the new machine — it had no line-in jack. To use my existing podcasting gear I would need to buy a new USB sound device, or a USB mixer. This proved a rather frustrating discovery for me. It was the third time in a week that I had realized that the MacBook Air purchase was not sufficiently thought out. And it was maddening as this is specifically the kind of thing that I talk with people about when they are asking for advice on new systems: what will you use it for?

The Solution

The obvious answer to this is simple: do your homework. I could have realized two of these problems if I would have put a bit more time into looking at the options and precisely how I intended to use the machine. Looking into things more closely the MacBook Pro was clearly a better choice for how I use my computers.

  1. I have a machine that does most of what I need it to do on a day to day basis. Some expiring hardware and lack of ability to run the last two versions of OS X have precipitated the move to a new machine.
  2. I’m a podcaster. I need a line-in port to be able to do that without investing in more podcasting gear. While the lack of that port in and of itself likely wouldn’t push me to one machine or the other, it’s certainly a contributing factor.
  3. External drives are great — and they’re a pain in the ass. Needing to attach an external drive to your computer with any kind of frequency is a good indicator that you don’t have enough on-board storage. I needed an external drive on day 1 with the new MacBook Air.
  4. Expandability breeds longer life. Almost every computer I’ve owned has lasted me longer than 5 years. In many cases hardware upgrades have helped prolong the useful life of these devices. Having the ability to have the memory and hard drive upgraded is something I typically need.

I’m still doing some additional reading and research to make sure I don’t make another bad decision when I bring in a replacement model, but it certainly seems as though I should have ordered the 13″ MacBook Pro to begin with as it fits far more closely with how I do my day-to-day computing.

Accessorizing the iPad

With any new major purchase there are quite often smaller purchases that go along with the new big-ticket item to help you get the most out of it. With a car you may want an upgraded stereo, deluxe car mats and maybe a fancy no-scratch car washing kit to keep it clean. With a home theatre there’s the obligatory purchase of a stack of great movies on BluRay. For my new iPad I have a few things in mind, a case, a keyboard, a stylus, some apps and maybe even a new geek-bag to replace my Targus backpack which has become my de facto work bag.

The Case for a Case

Even though I’ve had the iPad for more than week, I’m still without a case. Part of the trouble I’ve had stems from the fact that I’m a klutz and, as a result, rather hard on my gear. The other issue is that I’m picky when it comes to spending money on gadgets and gear. I’ll drop money on some things without giving it a second thought, but because of the “luxury” nature of most tech stuff, it’s agonizing to spend money on something that doesn’t get used, or has to be supplemented because it wasn’t a good choice.

As much as I wanted to have a case in time to blog about it here, that will have to wait for another post.

The Key(board) to Success

One of the things I really wanted to do with the iPad was start writing more. I haven’t blogged as much as I’d like the past couple of years, and I’ve also had a podcast idea on the back burner for quite a while which requires research notes, interview questions and even some scripts. With all that writing todo I knew long before I purchased the tablet that I’d want to have an external keyboard accessible to help avoid the troubles associated with the on-screen touch-screen keyboard.

The keyboard I chose was the Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad. It’s a nice laptop-sized keyboard which has some additional Apple/Mac centric keys on it like CMD that allow the keyboard to work flawlessly with an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or even a Mac. It should work pretty well with other devices as well but your mileage on the “home” button and any other Apple-centric control keys may vary. Another big checkmark in the plus column is that this keyboard came highly recommended by Knightwise

Overall the keyboard has a nice feel to it. Good sensitivity to key presses and a similar chicklet key design to many contemporary laptops. The keys are large enough for my fat fingers to work on efficiently, and the overall size of the keyboard is still small enough to make it easily portable.

One of the best features the keyboard has (aside from shipping with batteries installed) is the physical power switch. One reason this bests some of its competitors like the Apple aluminum BlueTooth keyboard is that the keyboard can’t be accidentally pressed while it’s in your bag draining the battery on the keyboard and on your iPad. Simply flicking the switch off keeps your devices charged and you from having the where-can-I-find-an-outlet-in-this-stupid-airport meltdown.

What’s wrong with the on-screen keyboard? Nothing, I suppose. There are just a few things that make it less comfortable than typing on a separate unit. The increase in available screen real estate from using the external keyboard is a huge benefit. The lack of accidental touches to other parts of the screen which cause the curser to jump about is another. Finally the increase in speed I get from having a keyboard with tactile feedback makes a big difference to my overall comfort writing on the device. I did write a fairly lengthy post using the on-screen keyboard before the Logitech arrived, but given the choice I’d prefer not to write something of that length without a physical keyboard in the future.

Logiix Titanium stylus

Something that seems to be a bit of a divisive topic among tablet owners (iPad owners particularly) is the use of a stylus. Apple purists seem to think that you should be able to operate the device with your fingers as “Steve” and “Jony” intended.Then there are those who simply want the additional control that a stylus affords, particularly for sketching or handwriting applications. My hope is to make the iPad do double duty and use it to take notes in meetings using an application like Penultimate. For that I wanted a stylus that would give me pen-like control in as narrow a field as possible. When I was doing some research, namely on the Hand stylus and it seems that because of the way that the iOS driver layer is built the minimum width that it will detect is 4mm. It’s wider than I would have liked, but I did manage to find a stylus with enough weight to feel good in the hand, and narrow enough to feel like I’m not dragging a carrot across the screen.

After browsing online and then in a couple of stores I found a number of stylii that seemed to fit the bill. pretty well all of the capacitive stylii that I’ve been able to find all have soft rubberized tips on them which help them to emulate the squishiness of the human hand. While I’m not a huge fan of these soft tips they will certainly keep the

Siri Cheat Sheets

Right after I picked up my iPhone 4s late last year I found myself wondering if there was a list of valid “commands” for Siri. Since it’s supposed to provide “natural language” support, I was really looking for a comprehensive list of the things that Siri was supposed to be able to do for me.

I found a link to a blogger who has collected together a nice cheat-sheet of Siri commands. Available in both PDF and DOCX formats.

While I haven’t tried everything Siri can do (I live in Canada after all), I’ve tried a lot of them, and everything that “should” work, does work.

Review – iPod Nano (6th Generation)

iPod Nano (6th gen)I was fortunate enough to come across the program that Apple had put together replacing some units of their 1st generation iPod nano because of a potentially explosive battery issue. Though the process has been lenghty (nearly 3 months), I have finally received my replacement unit: a shiny new 6th generation Nano.

It’s a pretty fantastic upgrade: 2GB – 8GB of storage, touch-screen controls and the ability to turn it into a funky wristwatch are all pretty cool.

Now I need to figure out just where the device fits in as far as my usage patterns. Most of what it does I already do on my iPhone on a daily basis, but I’m sure there’s a good use for a microscopic 8GB media player!

If you have a 1st generation iPod nano, it might be worth checking out the iPod nano replacement program website to see if you are eligible for an upgrade.