Attempting Normal on Sale

For those of you who are fans of Marc Maron’s podcast, his book Attempting Normal has been out for a few years but the Kindle version has been over $10 for all that time. Right now it is on sale for $1.99 and there is never any way of telling for how long so if you have an interest in the book I’d suggest getting it sooner than later.

No time like the present, friends. I just bought mine because my experience in these offers is there are two primary time periods for them: now and never.

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Observations from Recent Podcast Listening

Here is a rundown of some podcasts that I’ve felt particularly strongly about lately, either positively or negatively. These are only my opinions and have a high likelihood of not matching your opinion. Please don’t celebrate too hard or feel too bad if you do one of these shows, or my opinion is opposite of yours. Everyone has their own tastes and these are mine.

Podcasts I’m Digging Lately

WTFPod
Time Subscribed: 1.5 years

I jumped into this show when it was in the early 30s of episode numbers. Because Marc Maron regularly puts out two episodes every week like a machine, it took a long time to catch up because in the time I listened to those 30+, he had published another 15 or 20. I’m close enough to the beginning to call myself a charter member of his listenership. This show has one of the better quality arcs I’ve ever experienced. The shows in the 150s are significantly better than those first 30. At first he was trying to be a bit more zoo crew with prepared bits, almost all of which were unnecessary. I much prefer just listening to him talk to people with as little artifice as possible.

He has an interesting strategy of taking older episodes offline and making them only accessible to premium subscribers. It seems to work for him and is upside down of many podcasters in that regard. Personally, I have 600+ episodes in my queue, which now is 19 days long added together. Good luck trying to get me to shell out for “special subscribers only podcasts”, which would just be another hour in my 450 hour backlog. Maron is doing good work and now using the hunger for that older work to monetize it. Apparently his audiences at his standup gigs are way up too, so good on him all around.

Random quotes I’ve liked from his shows:

Thomas Lennon: “Is Enya rich? She did the music for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, so she must be. She’s got that sweet sweet hobbit money!”

Marc Maron: “C’mon Gallagher!”

Michael Showalter: “In a western what does it mean when the main character wears a white hat?”
Marc Maron: “He keeps his hats clean?”

Dork Forest
Time Subscribed: 5 months

This is a program I learned about from the above WTFPod when she was a guest on his show. Jackie Kashian does a fun program and at this point where I have a huge and groaning queue, I’m always happy to hear one of her shows start. She interviews people – mostly but not exclusively other working comedians – about the stuff they are obsessed with. There is a lot of fun geek talk about many topics, some of which I’m interested in and some not but almost always it is a fun time. The one exception was the ghost episode. When her friends pulled out the “ghost finding iPhone app” I had to hit the skip button. Still, I dig it a lot and have since I started listening.

Pod F. Tompkast
Time Subscribed: 2 months

Following the chain, I found out about this show from the Dork Forest, which transitively means Marc Maron gets the credit I guess. Paul F. Tomkins does a monthly show with his own bits, recorded bits from his monthly live variety show, and phone calls with his friend Jen Kirkman. I frequently laugh my ass off when I listen to this show. I have not a lot more to say about this show other than that it makes me laugh.

Thrilling Adventure Hour
Time Subscribed: 3 months

Also via the Dork Forest, this show is a recreation of the golden days of radio. It has the distinction of being on both of my lists. There are a bunch of sub-shows in this one, and really what I’m putting as my favorite is the “Beyond Belief” shows, which are parodies of the Thin Man and similar series. The Frank and Sadie Doyle characters are completely unrepentant drunks who are also paranormal investigators. I really dig this series, mainly because of the performances by the above Paul F. Tomkins and Padgett Brewster.

Renfest Podcast
Time Subscribed: 2 weeks

This one is the biggest surprise on the list. It came in via my AmigoFish prediction list. I had gone in and unrated many shows that I no longer remembered specifically which opened me up to a lot of new predictions. This show came in and I was pretty sure that I’d listen to a few minutes, hit skip, rate it low on AmigoFish and be done with it. To my pleasant shock, I enjoyed listening to it. It’s goofy, with a lot of the kind of music you’d hear in the filking room at any science fiction convention and sometimes has interviews conducted at various renaissance festivals. I’m not a filk fan nor a ren fest fan, but something about this show just calms me and I find enjoyable.

Good Clean Fun
Time Subscribed: 3+ years

I don’t remember exactly when this show started, but I’ve been listening since episode one. My favorite recent episode was the one from pre South By Southwest where co-host Jasper Borgman was lit up from one of the tech parties with open bar and a schwag bag full of stuff. Co-host Michael Butler completely freaked out at how hard it was to deal with drunk Jasper and it just made me laugh all the much harder. I’m friends with these guys but even without knowing them personally, this show has been one of my most fun weekly listens for over half of the podcast era.

Tell ‘Em Steve Dave
Time Subscribed: 1.5 years

This program is the only one on the SModcast.com network that I unreservedly love. I flirted with dropping the main SModcast program but relented and stayed subscribed. I’m at best a moderate Kevin Smith fan. I loved Clerks, Dogma, and Clerks 2; liked Mallrats and Chasing Amy; absolutely hated Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and haven’t seen any of the rest. I just like listening to these New Jersey knuckleheads bust each other’s balls. I generally dislike multiple people banter shows, but this is one exception. The reason I almost dropped SModcast is the episode from their tour where Brian Quinn and Kevin Smith were together and I thought Smith was such a condescending dick to Q that I couldn’t take it (that and I hate their live episodes, which are ever more frequent.)

Regardless of what I do with other SModcast network shows, I plan on sticking with Tell Em Steve Dave as long as they keep putting out shows.

Webcomics Weekly
Time Subscribed: 2+ years

Even though I’m not in the demographic for this show that is mostly geared to creators of webcomics, some of my favorite insights about creativity itself and making a career out of one’s work have come from recent episodes of this show. If you are a writer, artist, cartoonist, knitter or anyone trying to combine their creativity with commerce, I recommend this show highly.

Podcasts I’ve Bounced Off Lately

Smodcast.com’s Plus One
Episodes Listened before Dropping: 3ish

I tried this out, and it’s Kevin Smith and his wife Jennifer Schwalbach bantering. On the shows I listened to, mostly Smith tries to steer the topic to sex and Schwalbach threatens to get up and walk out. I just couldn’t care less. If I wanted to hear spousal bickering, I can get plenty of that in my own living room. Some may like it but I just can’t hang with it.

Triangulation
Episodes Listened before Dropping: 1

This is yet another Leo Laporte show. I don’t know how many there are now, 50 or 75 I guess. At this point it would be hard to imagine an idea Leo has had for a podcast that hasn’t already happened. I listened to an episode where he and Tom Merritt had Cory Doctorow on as a guest and it was probably the least interesting interview with Cory I’ve ever heard. It might be churlish to suggest that Laporte has spread himself thin at this point. Who am I to critique the guy who has a zillion listeners and deeply committed fans?

He’s said nice things about me at various points in the early days of podcasting and I have nothing against him personally but it’s been a long time since I got anything out of any of his programs. I wish him well and hope he keeps on full steam for as long as he can but I’ve checked out as a listener.

Back to Work
Episodes Listened before Dropping: 3

I tried out a few episodes of this newish Merlin Mann podcast. There was a point where I really enjoyed Mann and his work but after a while I burned out on the sameness of his schtick over time. I listened to episode one all the way through and thought it was OK, episode two was more of the same and I skipped halfway through. By the third, I only made it a few minutes before I completely got tired of it. I also got tired of Merlin fawning over how good Dan Benjamin is as a podcaster when I couldn’t figure out what he does that is any better than the 10,000 other practitioners of the form. He seems like a solid yet uninspiring guy to me.

Much in the way that I can’t stand listening to You Look Nice Today, I just don’t find him as funny as he finds himself. I’m sure many people feel the same way about me, but that’s just how it is. I once enjoyed listening to his goofiness, now I just find it grating. Also, a personal productivity guru who announces he’s writing a personal productivity book in 2009 that will be published in 2010 and doesn’t have it out as of 2011 (Amazon says spring 2012 now for Inbox Zero) that serioously undercuts that whole being an authority on productivity thing.

Thrilling Adventure Hour
Time Subscribed: 3 months – I never dropped it

As much as I love the “Beyond Belief” segments, I really don’t much like several of the others. “Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars”, “Jefferson Reid, Ace American!”, “Amelia Earheart, Fearless Flier” just don’t do anything for me. I have yet to skip any of them (update: today I did skip a “Sparks Nevada” that really wasn’t working for me) but I have thought about it. If this feed were only “Beyond Belief” shows it would be one of my highest picks and if it was only “Sparks Nevada” I’d drop it in a heartbeat.

Summary

There are some interesting patterns in here. Several of my top picks are from working comedians. It seems like that field has really taken to podcasting as a medium in the last few years and made it their own. I suspect it is because comedians really have a lot of middlemen between them and their trade in their daily work lives, and they enjoy being able to do whatever they want to do on their own. That was my initial attraction to the medium in August 2004.

Also most of the shows that I don’t like are parts of larger networks by podcasters that do some shows, have success and then go off to do a shitload of different ones. In pretty much every case like that I’ve ever seen, the work gets significantly less interesting to me as the number of podcasts in the network grows. Kevin Smith has made SModcast and now SModcast Internet Radio (S.I.R. for short) his day job. I just can’t see listening to a streaming version of any of his shows. Being able to skip the 5 – 14 minutes of sponsor messages at the beginning of SModcast network shows is what makes them listenable.

Today, as in fall of 2004 what I prefer to listen to are unique, individual voices. The closer someone gets to a well-worn automatic shtick, the less interested I am which is why the podcaster-to-network fan out to producing many shows tends to lose me for all of them. My list grows and shrinks and turns over but I’m still subscribed to over 100 different feeds and still as deep in the medium as I ever was. At first I thought I listened to podcasts to “stick it to the man”, what I didn’t realize then was how easy it was for individual podcasters to convert to being “the man.”

What a Long Podcast Queue Means To Me

Obsessive podcast dork post warning – if you are uninterested in the deep miscellany of how one listener handles his podcasts, this post may not be for you.

Some time ago Garrick van Buren asked me about what a long podcast queue means to me. I had posted about the fact that my listening queue was over a month long. Out of curiousity around that time I wrote a ruby script to figure out how long my queue is in listening hours. When it was a month deep, I had around 9 days worth of audio files in my repository. Since the birth of the baby, my listening time dropped way down and the queue got longer and longer. At this point, it is right at a cool 10 weeks long. That means that in early March 2011, I’m listening to the shows from the week before Xmas 2010. Added together, this queue has a runtime that just blipped over 15 days long.

On top of the continuing subscriptions, I have been adding shows this whole time. I don’t get too upset about the long queue and have never found that to be a reason to not subscribe to new shows. Recently I added eBook Ninjas (heard about on The Kindle Chronicles) and Jackie Kashian’s The Dork Forest (heard about on Marc Maron’s WTF). In both cases, the shows had between 15 and 20 episodes that came down the feed on first subscription. For these shows I want to actually listen to the back shows, so I’m now in a situation where the first 25 shows in my list are those two podcasts. Each time I sync, I listen to one episode of each and then skip past the rest. It will probably take me at least a month to clear the queue of just those episodes at the front.

I’ve done this many times with shows I begin and want to listen to a number of older shows. When I first subscribed to WTF a year ago, it was on episode #33 and I did listen from the very beginning. For that show, because he puts it out twice a week like a machine, in the time it took to listen to the first 33 episodes, another 18 had been published. It can be a Sysiphean task to catch up on frequently updated feeds.

But to the real question that Garrick asked, what does it mean to me when the queue gets long? For me particularly, it doesn’t mean that much. I’ve been very far behind like now, and I’ve been so completely caught up that each night I was downloading fewer shows than a typical day’s listening. When the queue is long, the main thing that happens is that my patience and tolerance drops to near zero. When I’ve got 300 files waiting to be listened to, my willingness to listen to shows not cutting for me is drastically reduced. If I try out a new show based on a recommendation and the first five minutes are in-jokes and really boring banter, I hit skip and never come back to that show.

This leads to another more general point – I have come to believe that the first 3 minutes of podcasts are the most crucial bit of the whole thing. If your theme song is five minutes long, you’ve already lost me. If the beginning of your show is a long description of why it’s been so long since the last episode (which I and practically every other podcaster is guilty of doing at least once), I don’t want to listen to that. I especially don’t want to listen if the lateness being discussed in the episode is months or years old at the time I’m listening, which now is highly common. This has come back around to myself. When I record Evil Genius Chronicles episodes, I’m trying very hard to get things rolling fast and coming back to things like sponsorships or long explanations. The other end of this is things like SModcast, where the episodes I’m listening to begin with 12 minutes of promos for SModcastle plus the Adam and Eve and Fleshlight sponsor messages. I’m this close to dropping SModcast because of this. For sure, I begin the show with my finger on the fast forward button. I only wish the Sansa Clip had an audible fast forward so I could hear when the theme song begins.

The main thing that drives whether my queue builds up or gets cleared is how many meetings I have in my day job. Most of my team is in other physical locations so at times much of my day is spent with headphones on. When we changed to a new mode of working that had more phone meetings, my queue size and length began creeping up. I’m not that agitated by it. I’m not disturbed when it climbs. It is a slight bummer as I’m listening to ever older shows with things like offers and contests that are long over before I ever heard them, but overall I don’t care. The one show I make exceptions to my strict chronological listening is Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. I artificially goose the timestamps to make them the oldest shows in my list, so they are always at the head because these are the most timely shows I listen to.

Beyond that, Mr. van Buren, a long queue doesn’t mean that much to me. It lowers my tolerance, increases my impatience and makes my skip finger itchy. It doesn’t make me loathe so subscribe to new shows. In fact, the last few months I’ve added more new shows than in years. If it takes me years to catch up or it never happens, I can live with that. The queue works for me, I don’t work for it. As long as my ears stay full of interesting listening, I don’t care how much unlistened there exists. I don’t have to be a completist on this, just amused at all the times I want to be.

Around the Podosphere – October 2010

Here is some of the shows that have recently jumped out at me from my podcast listening. I’m about 6 weeks behind in my listening. I wrote a script to add up the running time of my queue and it currently is hovering around 9 days worth of listening. I’m in no danger of catching up.

I recently started listening to Rebooting the News with Dave Winer and Jay Rosen. The August 29th episode is particularly good. They had some interesting points to make about the business model of Consumer Reports but also about the then recent “ground zero mosque” controversy. I liked their analysis which paraphrased was “It’s not at Ground Zero, it’s not a mosque and if it was, who cares? Build houses of worship of all kinds at Ground Zero if you want to stick it to the religious intolerance of Al Qaida.”

I’m one of the original and longest duration fans of the Rock and Roll Geek Show. At this point I’ve been listening for six years. When Butler was burned out and in a bad mood he recorded  episode #415 which was all the music of Thin Lizzy. On his various programs, Thin Lizzy is his go-to bad mood music, particularly what he and Jasper call “tender jams” of which “Dancing in the Moonlight” is what Butler says is his favorite of all time. I’m inclined to agree.  

I’ve been listening to Marc Maron’s WTF Pod show since about episode 30 or so (and I went back and listened to all of them from episode #1). He had a three run tear of some of the best shows he’s done in the whole row. He did a two part episode with writer-director Judd Apatow for episodes 103 and 104 . Amazingly, the first part contains some of Apatow’s recordings of interviews he did with comedians in the 1980s as a teenaged comedy nerd. I’d put these at the top of the WTFPod list except for their immediate successor – episode 105 which was an interview with Thomas Lennon. I laughed harder at this than any episode in the series. Every 60 seconds, there was some kind of quotable wit. In a crazy digression about how Lennon finds Enya hot, the two mused on whether or not she is rich. Said Lennon, “She sang on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Of course she has money. She has that sweet hobbit money!” I found myself laughing at the phrase “sweet hobbit money” for hours afterwards. I highly recommend this series as a whole, but particularly these three episodes. Check them (and all of these show) out!

EGC Six Year Podiversary is Tomorrow

Tomorrow I’m going to do something I very rarely do. I’m going to sit down and record an episode of the EGC Podcast before I go to work, crackly morning voice and all. This is because I got a wild hair up my ass on August 20, 2004 and recorded the first episode of what became my podcast. I referred to it as an “audioblog” for a while and only stopped because some of the guys who were doing audioblogs before that time were such dicks about the term that I chose to abandon it to them altogether. The audiobloggers tended to record short pieces from crackly unlistenable cell phone connections, and my primary inspiration was the first few episode of Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code. I wanted to do more of a production with music and playing audio quotes of other shows and so on. Sure, the audiobloggers were doing what they were doing before I was but their esthetic and goals were so far from mine I never felt any kinship with them. Also, they were really prickly and not much fun.

To this day, I still have XML URLs in my subscription list that I signed up for in the first 3 months of podcasting. Michael Butler’s Rock and Roll Geek Show, IT Conversations, Michael Geoghegan’s Reel Reviews, Georgia Popplewell’s Caribbean Free Radio. Some publish as regularly today as they ever did, some haven’t had episodes in years. Doesn’t matter, I’m still there when and if something comes down.

My goals have changed and my output radically lessened, but I’m still two feet squarely in the podcast camp. Since the first time I bought a portable MP3 player, I haven’t listened to the radio in my car except as a transmitter for my podcasts. All Things Considered is what I listen to only if it is physically impossible to listen to Deliberate Noise or Tom Vs. the Flash or The Hour of Slack or WTF Pod. Even then if my player battery dies I generally choose the sound of my tires on asphalt over that of NPR. Six years of listening to podcasts has changed my tastes irrevocably and turned me off of the faux populism of This American Life. I can’t even stand the way people talk in that weird, stilted affectation on public radio.

I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ll keep going for the foreseeable future. As the fifth podcaster in the world, that only means something while I keep going. No one cares about the pioneers who quit doing it. They are just historical footnotes.

Thanks to everyone who stuck with me this whole time, those who came in somewhere in the middle and continued, and even those who gave up on me. I’m appreciative for every second of attention all of you gave me, for however long it was, whatever your reaction. Thank you for the gift of your time and I hope to keep repaying that for as long as I can.

Around the Podosphere 5/26/2010

Here are some podcasts and particular episodes that I’ve particularly liked lately. Torn straight from my playlist!

I’ve been iffy on the Long Now Podcast and on the edge of dropping it. It’s got the same problem I have with TED talks – basically good-willed wealthy technocrats throwing the rabble a bone by letting them experience the sessions. Long Now is the far better of the two, TED always makes me feel like I’m being condescended to. The most recent episode really interested me though. It was Nils Gilman talking about “deviant globalization”, basically pointing out that while all business globalizes the business of criminals does so most of all. The whole thing worth it was for the part where he talked about “moral arbitrage.” I also liked the part when he said that Russian organized crime rose so quickly in the 1990s because only criminals had entrepenurial organizational skills during the Soviet era. Interesting stuff.

I’ve started listening to the Tell Em Steve Dave podcast. This is a Kevin Smith spinoff podcast, as players in the View Askew-niverse are forming some sort of a network of shows. To be honest, I’m not sure that I don’t like this show better than SModcast. I’m not a Smith fundamentalist. I like some of his movies but not all, and sometimes I even skip SModcast episodes. In particular, most of the live show recordings I find completely unlistenable. Playing to the crowd changes the dynamic and I find much to the worse. However, the first episode recorded from their tour I kind of liked.

My friends Michael Butler and Jasper Borgman keep it rolling with Good Clean Fun. I listen to all of them, but like any chemistry driven show some episodes hit better and some hit worse. I’m about 3 weeks behind so I just got to the May 4th show but I thought it was hilarious and I really dug it.

This morning I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac (the only thing I bump to the top of my queue so that I hear it when it is timely.) Today’s episode including a birthday shoutout to Caitlin R. Kiernan. This isn’t the very first time I’ve heard someone I know personally on that show but it’s always a nice surprise. Happy birthday, Caitlin!

A few months back I subscribed to Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. I think there were 30 or so episodes when I subscribed and it took me months to listen through the whole backlog. Now I’m relatively current (as current as anything – 3 weeks behind) and I heard his amazing episode with Robin Williams. I’ll admit that as much as I loved Williams 30 years ago, his relentless shtickifying has burned me out. Nowadays ff I see he’s in a movie I’m otherwise interested in, I rethink that interest. Imagine my surprise at the quality of this conversation between Maron and Williams about comedy, life, fucking up and recovering from it. It’s the kind of episode that by itself validates all the work that goes into the series. I’ve had those, and I think Maron has had multiple ones. Very highly recommended listening.