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Tomorrow is another Cadence global holiday. None of us will be working and Breakfast Bytes will not appear. I rather like these special Cadence holidays, compared to true public holidays, since most people are working. If you go to a park, the parking lot is not full like on a weekend or a true public holiday. So today is the day before a holiday, for me if not you, so as always I go off-topic.
I used to listen to a fair bit of music, but I have listened to very little over the last few years. Two reasons. One, when I was much younger, I could listen to music and do work at the same time. The Walkman hadn't been invented so when I was programming at the computer laboratory, I couldn't listen to music. But when I was working in my dorm room on pen and paper I could. Later, when I was programming here in California, I had a small CD player in the cabinet over my desk and I would listen to music partially as a way of cutting out the noise of all the computers and air-conditioning in the open-plan office. But now I seem to find music too distracting when I am working.
The second reason I seem to have given up on music is that when I am out walking or driving (which, for the last year, I have rarely done, of course), I listen to podcasts. I actually started the switch from music by listening to Pimsleur language CDs which is how I started learning Chinese and improved my German.
There is also a weird phenomenon, that doesn't seem to have a name. Some things are really boring to do and it is very hard to concentrate. But sometimes, doing two boring things together works really well. For example, walking on a treadmill is boring, and doing Chinese flashcards to learn the symbols is boring. But walking on a treadmill and doing Chinese flashcards seems to work. I find something similar with podcasts. I can't just listen to a podcast for long before my mind wanders and I realize I stopped listening. But if I am doing something else like driving, walking, cooking, or anything else that doesn't require a full-on brain, it works.
Another thing I recommend is to speed podcasts up. All podcasts are perfectly intelligible at 1.5X speed, and most at 2X speed. I think it also forces you to concentrate more to take in what is being said. If you do the experiment of listening at half-speed, you'll find it next to impossible to keep focused on what is being said.
One interesting aspect of podcasts is that there seems to be a lot of money to be made in them. People are paid a big sum to switch platforms, and others then say they sold out for too little. You never hear that about video stars. YouTube never seems to pay anyone to use their platform because there really isn't anywhere else credible to go for video. For audio, that hasn't happened. Stitcher is clearly trying to be the YouTube of podcasts, but it hasn't happened, at least not yet.
So, what podcasts to do I listen to and recommend? First, I don't listen to a lot of podcasts about technology. I guess my day job involves enough technology, so when I'm not working it is nice to look at other things. Some of thse podcasts are active, in that new episodes are added every week or two. Some have run their course but are still interesting (and if they have hundreds of episodes, I'm probably still working my way through them slowly).
One of my favorite history podcasts is The Fall of Civilizations by Paul Cooper. There are just 12 episodes of this, but they are around three hours long. New ones seem to appear only every six months or so. Each episode covers a big important civilization that built up, and then collapsed very fast. In many cases, nobody knows why, and in a few, it is understood. Since there are only 12 episodes, let me list the empires discussed: Roman Britain, Bronze Age in the Mediterranean, Mayan Civilization, the Greenland Vikings, the Khmer in Cambodia (Angkor Wat), Easter Island, the Songhai Empire on the edge of the Sahara Desert, the Sumerians, the Aztecs, the Chinese Han Dynasty, Byzantium, the Incas.
A different type of history is The History of English by Kevin Stroud. This is the history of the English language. Unlike the Fall of Civilizations, there are 145 episodes of this and counting. The first was back in June 2012, but that doesn't matter. It's not as if the history of a language goes out of date. New episodes appear monthly.
The History of Rome by Mike Duncan. This ran in 179 episodes from July 2007 (In the Beginning) to May 2012 (The End). It covers the whole history of the Roman Empire from its birth to its end with the exile of Romulus Agustulus in 476.
As I said above, I don't listen to that many podcasts on technology. Too much like my day job to be relaxing. But here are two that I do:
Ben Thompson produces the daily newsletter Stratechery from his lair in Taiwan. I don't subscribe to it, and only get the one edition per week that is free. But he also does a (free) podcast with James Allworth, which often discusses that free edition in more detail. The podcast has the generic name Exponent. It appears roughly monthly, depending on travel schedules.
One of the most interesting VC firms is Andreesen-Horowitz often referred to as a16z (since there are 16 letters between the A and the Z). They have been described as a media operation that monetizes from VC. I don't always listen to their podcast, which just goes under the name The a16z Podcast, but I always look at the topic and listen if it is interesting. I think it is especially interesting when Marc Andreesen himself is on...except he talks so fast he is hard to keep up with even at 1X speed!
I have always been interested in both economics and the financial side of business. One podcast I've been listening to for about fifteen years, back from the era when I would have to burn a CD and put it in the changer in the trunk of my car, is Econtalk hosted by Russ Roberts. It used to be interviews with economists who were so famous that even I'd heard of them. Pretty much every economist who has won the Nobel Prize has been on. It comes out weekly on Monday without fail and is now up to 780 episodes. It is less purely about economics these days, covering a broader range of topics. I continue to listen to it every Monday.
I don't know if Freakonomics Radio counts as economics. This is hosted by Steve Dubner, the journalist half of the pair (with Steve Levitt) who wrote the surprise smash hit book Freakonomics. It comes out weekly on Thursday and is now up to episode 455. Steve Levitt recently started his own podcast People I (Mostly) Admire. It is only up to episode 20, but new episodes come out weekly (on Fridays). Sometimes the guest is someone I know a lot about (Nathan Myhrvold, ex-CTO of Microsoft; Susan Wojkicki, CEO of Youtube and Larry and Sergei's landlord when they were starting Google in her garage). Others I'd never heard of, but they turn out to be just as interesting.
Tyler Cowen is an economist at George Mason University and also the most prolific of the two authors (the other being Alex Tabarrok) who write the Marginal Revolution blog. He has a monthly podcast called Conversations with Tyler. Pre-pandemic, these were always held face-to-face and never virtually like most podcasts with an interview format. But that has had to change, of course. Tyler seems to read incredibly fast (although he claims he doesn't) and when he interviews someone, he seems to have read everything they've ever written. His guests are very eclectic: Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia), Annie Duke (the most successful female professional poker player), author Neal Stephenson, Hal Varian (Google's economist), Jordan Peterson, Daniel Kahnemann...you get the idea).
A podcast that is much more about economics proper is The Grumpy Economist, who is John Cochrane. This takes the form of John being interviewed, usually by Edward Glaeser, on some topic of the day. It comes out roughly monthly. John also has a blog, also called The Grumpy Economist.
This doesn't really belong here, but it's close. More or Less is a podcast (actually a radio show) produced in London by the BBC, usually with Tim Harford hosting (the Financial Times' Undercover Economist). They investigate and often criticize the misuse of maths and statistics in recent TV and radio shows (including on the BBC itself). When the radio show is in its season, these are 30 minutes long. When it is off-season, there is a shorter 10-minute version done for the BBC World Service.
Here are a few more podcasts that I occasionally listen to. More that I am subscribed, keep an eye on what is coming up, and listen if I see something that looks sufficiently interesting:
99% Invisible by Roman Mars. Very eclectic. For example, the last four topics were the birth of the cinema megaplex, slogans on US license plates ("great potatoes"), Florence Nightingale, the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin (the one with the bats underneath).
China Talk by Jordan Schneider. Various aspects of China. Often guest-hosted.
The Tim Ferris Show. I find his interviewing style annoying ("if you had a billboard what would you put on it?") but if the guest is sufficiently interesting, then I sometimes listen. The show is too long, too.
Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford (who appeared above hosting More or Less). I find this overproduced, which actually distracts from the interesting stories being covered.
The Joe Rogan Experience. This is way too long but can be worth a listen (to me) if his guest is someone I'm really interested in.
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