Tag Archives: podcasts

Podcast Reviews – Business Podcasts

There are any number of business related podcasts out there and more every week.  Many are too pompous to listen to: universities use them to advertise expensive masters degrees and consultancies use them as infomercials.  Me, I like more grounded company on my drive to work.  

Here are are some of the regulars I spend a couple of hours with each week.  

Lucy Kellaway

5 minutes of infuriatingly intelligent common sense.  Lucy Kellaway writes for the FT and is a bright cookie with a degree in Philosopy, Politics and Economics from Oxford.  She’s ruthlessly sarcastic whenever business or business people get above themseves, and is particularly hot on language, bulls***, and self-regarding egotism.  I frequently disagree with her but she’s always thought it through.  She can sound like the celebrity old-girl speaking at a school prize-day day, but get past that and listen to what she says.  She’s funny too.

Peter Day’s World of Business

Superb 30 minute programmes from the BBC.  Peter Day tackles a specific topic each week, looking at it from several perspectives within different organisations.  Day gets insightful and illuminating answers out of the people he interviews, which says a lot about the questions he asks.  Topics in autumn 2008 are: branding, risk management in casinos and banking, agriculture, the future of the internet, and biotech and medicines. Wide-ranging, meticulous, insightful and fascinating.

The Bottom Line

Another 30 minutes from the BBC.  Ewan Davies invites some of the UK’s most senior executives to kick-off their shoes and compare notes.  It feels like listening to experienced friends at a Sunday afternoon barbecue talking relaxed and slightly theoretical shop. Davies directs things with a light hand on the conversational tiller.   Superb.

The Businessweek Cover Story

Another conversational programme: John Byrne, the executive editor of Business week, spends 15 or 20 minutes chatting through the week’s cover story with whoever wrote it.  It’s a painless way to keep informed about the forces in American Business as well as the occasional headline news item.  These podcasts were my first introduction to terms like “sub-prime”, “credit crunch” and “toxic title”.  These are often recorded late at night as sub-editors add the graphics and finish the layout.  On a couple of occasions Byrne and the magazine’s chief economist Mike Mandel were clearly a couple of drinks over a headline, but most of the time everyone concerned is on the tips of their well-researched and analytical toes.  An additional treat is Byrne’s baby-boomer taste in intro tracks.  

The Cranky Middle Manager

A show by and for pragmatists with nothing to sell, its for those of us trying to keep our heads above water and below the parapet.  It’s engaging, conversational, informative and oddly comforting.  Oh, and funny.  I like Wayne Turmel’s energy and enthusiasm too.  The podcast is long on experience which makes it a good counterpoint to the journalists’ analysis and the academics’ theorising.  And it’s got one of my favourite words in its title.

Mind the gap

Mind the GapThere’s a reasonably widespread idea that less and less can plausibly be explained by the existence of god because  science explains more and more about the world we live in. There’s even a term for a theology which uses god to explain things which science has not yet understood – it’s “The God of the Gaps”. So far, so widely accepted.

Recently I’ve been listening to Nigel Warburton’s excellent podcast series “Philosophy: the Classics”. (WebsitebookiTunes). I very much like listening to Warburton’s quiet and articulate summaries of the canon; I know I’d never make it through his book, and certainly not through the originals, but I am slowly becoming more educated as I drive in to work.

What strikes me though, is just how many of the questions which philosophers used to ask have now been answered by neuroscience. We know that Aristotle’s ideas on vision and matter were wrong, and we also know much more about the questions which the 18th Century philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, Locke and Kant were asking about how we know what we know. These questions are being answered by neuroscientists though, not by philosophers. I am of course not the first to notice this, even though it was a conclusion I came to on my own. The 18th century philosophers were, if you like, the philosophers of the gaps.

The gap which is usefully plugged by philosophy is narrowing as neuroscientists and cognitive scientists do their job. For example, we will soon know whether or not a moral sense is innate and why it might be that some people appear not to have one. This will hardly put the philosophers out of a job – in fact we need ruthless critical thinking more than ever. To take a concrete example related to this issue of why some people have no moral sense: it was another podcast which told me that in the UK and Europe we have a far smaller percentage of our population in prison than is the case in the US, but that if you add those who are caught up in mental health institutions into the mix, then the percentages even out. In other words, in the US they imprison the mentally ill, while in the Europe we hospitalise criminals. These sorts of topics obviously give rise to questions which can be answered empirically: what is the best way to prevent offenders re-offending for example, not to mention the practical ones of how best to monitor people at large? However, they also prompt difficult questions we need to think very clearly about, and this is where philosophers and other critical thinkers can help. Do we want to punish or rehabilitate is the least of it. We can also prepare ourselves for what we do when we discover where the boundaries are between free will and biological determinism.

The gap for philosophers may be narrowing, I’ve no idea whether it is deepening. However, as technology makes us become more powerful and as science gives us answers which we may not want to accept, we certainly need the clearest possible thinking to stop us falling into the ethical and practical abyss between the two.

Podcast Reviews – 2 – Podcasting Fun

TigerMy week has some aural hot-spots that I thought I’d share with you, here in order of joy are some silly but articulate podcasts.

Answer me This by Helen and Olly – (websiteiTunes) – fresh, funny, witty, teasy, fun. They’re not afraid of swearing (hence the “explicit” tag) but, swearing aside, their content is pretty innocent. Helen Zaltzman and Ollie Mann riff off questions that listeners send in, with occasional interjections from Martin the Soundman, and I find them articulate and entertaining.

Friday Night Comedy – (iTunes) – Either The News Quiz or the Now Show – either way, top class topical comedy from the BBC. If your week doesn’t include this already, then you are several endorphin rushes short of a giggle.

The Bugle by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman – (websiteiTunes) – More riffing from the Zaltzman family, this time it’s brother Andy who discusses this week’s news with comedian John Oliver courtesy of Times Online. You’ve got to admire anyone with two Z’s in their surname. What I want to know is how you can make something this well prepared sound this unrehearsed? It’s impressive. Oh, and funny.

Skeptoid – (websiteiTunes) – not comedy as such, but a cheerful debunking of the frankly ridiculous, and there is something about Brian Dunning’s approach which is refreshingly un-dogmatic. As far from Dawkins as you can get and still be on the side of the angles.

Alt.text from Wired.Com – (websiteiTunes) – five minutes or so of Lore Sjöberg taking a perverse, diverse, subverse and occasionally obverse look at modern pop culture. Ach, let’s not be clever: it’s a bloke taking the piss out of things. Witty though. And don’t be put off by his photo.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast – (websiteiTunes) – the boys have been feeling the strain recently, but they’ve been podcasting weekly for over a year. However, their insights into the lows and lows of being a working troupe of actors are still better value than Wogan on the way into work in the morning.

Podcast Reviews – 1

iCatA lot of literary ladies here review books. Well I am going to review podcasts and I may continue to do so intermittently.

Let me declare here and now that the podcasts I like fall into four categories: History, IT, Management and occasionally Science. I’m a geekette, and proud of it.

Aphra’s favouritest podcast series ever is Hardcore History from Dan Carlin.

Carlin describes these as “conversations around the water-cooler”; he picks up an historical event or theme, peers at it from all sides, pokes it a bit to see what gives and puts it back so we can re-consider it from a distance. There are some very pedestrian history podcasts out there at least one of which must owe serious royalties to Wikipedia, but Carlin shows everyone else how it should be done. Very strongly recommended if you like to have thoughts provoked, connections made and paradigms subverted. Carlin’s not made that many of them, so I have started listening to his riffs off American politics and finding them almost as compelling.

Another must-listen podcast in Aphra’s car is The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast

A bunch of likable actors from the West Coast of the US shoot a themed breeze each week on some subject relating to their present and past touring shows. A particular favourite was Let it Snow. Gentle and amusing fun. I’m growing rather fond of them, and will of course go and see them next time they are in the Literary Festival in Little-Wittering-on-the-Wold.

I also enjoy the Business Week Cover Story

These are cheerful interviews between one of the editors of Business Week and whoever wrote the cover story that week. They’ve not made me go out and buy the magazine, but they are interesting, informative and sometimes illuminating.

Alt.text from Wired Magazine is good for a quickie

Running to 5 or 8 minutes or so, one of Wired’s columnists casts a flippant and frequently surreal eye over whatever catches his attention that week. Geeky. Silly. Witty. Worth 8 minutes of anyone’s week.

The National Archives Podcasts

Informative and interesting British history from real live academic historians. The lecturers are specialists and really know their stuff, working from primary sources. The slides they refer to, which one cannot of course see, show original documents. No wikipedia here. So understated it’s cool.

Old English in Context

These are undergraduate lectures from Oxford University which provide background information on the Dark Ages for students studying English Literature. They are detailed, funny and fascinating, and – woo hoo – you and I can listen to them and know we don’t have to write an essay or sit an exam. How bloody jammy is that?

There are several podcasters I am trying out to get a feel for:

Dan Klaas does laid-back essays about whatever strikes his fancy. They are classed as comedy, but I find them thought provoking.

The Cranky Middle Manager seem to have quality interviews on business-related subjects without pretending its aimed at the directors of plcs.

Occasionally the HBR Ideacast has interesting interviews with the authors of academic papers or books, but I overdosed on them early on and now I shake nervously when I hear their theme music.

There was one outstanding podcast from The University of Bath Public Lectures by world-class academics and politicians. These are frustrating because the original lectures were illustrated and the podcasts are audio only. Even so “Dead Sexy – the corpse is the new porn star of popular culture” is an exceptional lecture in an exceptional series.

It’s gotta beat Terry Wogan on the way into work, eh?


I download all my podcasts from i-Tunes. However, it has not escaped my notice that you are going to be looking at this at a PC so the links go to web pages and you can download the podcasts directly and listen to them on your PC. Isn’t that helpful of me?

The Wonderful World of Pod

iCatMy iPod’s changed my life.

I feel slightly embarrassed about this, because I am such a late adopter and I have been very snooty about them in the past.

But I love it. I love podcasts. They are like Radio 4 on steroids.

What a privilege to be able to spend the morning listening to highly entertaining lectures on the social, historical and religious context of Anglo Saxon literature. Not just any lectures. Lectures from Oxford University. It sure made tidying and cleaning my kitchen easier. (How come I have spent FIVE HOURS on it and it doesn’t look substantially different? How can that be?)

Instead of driving to and from work while listening to and immediately forgetting ephemera like Terry Wogan, or being alternatively depressed and angered by the Today Programme and PM, I listen to and immediately forget ephemera like Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”, The FT Digital Business and stuff from the Harvard Business Review and I am entertained by the Now Show, the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Russell Brand. My brain does get a bit slooshy at times and then I revert back to Sir Tel or to Radio 3 if I really don’t want any words at all.

Some podcasters are definitely better than others. Skepticality Magazine’s main female podcaster has an “oh, wow, like, cool!” attitude to science which suggests a lack of any critical thinking ability at all, though maybe its some form of subtle American irony that I fail to appreciate with my literal British mind.

You don’t realise how high the audio standards of the BBC actually are until you listen to interview after interview conducted down bad phone lines. The Harvard Business Review is particularly guilty of this while their interviewees all seem addicted to saying “That’s a GR-r-r-r-R-R-R-EAT question!” as if they are advertising Frosties.

But the thing that astonishes and delights me are the university lectures one can listen to: Princeton, Berkley, Stamford and Yale. Oxford, Bath, Glasgow. What an amazing privilege. And I’m barely scratching the surface.

Isn’t the future cool?

PS – I apologise for the cuteness of the photo but I didn’t have a 50p piece to hand and I did have a rather small cat. Surprisingly, he didn’t scratch me.