All posts by johnke

My favourite podcasts

I wanted to make a list of my favourite podcasts, but I realised that’s probably a bit of a moving feast. So let’s just say these are my favourite podcasts right now.

And you know what? Fuck it, I’m opening the comments on this in case anyone has any recommendations for things I should be listening to.

Reply All
Podcasts about technology and the internet are a dime a dozen, but what makes Reply All special is that it seems to come from a place of genuine curiosity. They want to cover every corner of a story. Their most recent season-ender was a great example of this: one of the hosts received one of those Indian hoax “we are a Microsoft support partner and your computer has a virus” calls, and rather than just belittling the caller, they went to India to meet them and find out more about their business. This show jumps to the top of my to-play list every time it comes out.
Good place to start: The Cathedral. An episode about the background of the game That Dragon Cancer. It was first broadcast just days before my daughter was born and, not kidding, it almost broke me.

99% Invisible
99% Invisible is mostly about design and architecture, but you don’t have to be a design or architecture nerd to enjoy the podcast. Every single episode teaches me something cool I didn’t know about the world and gives me a dozen or so Wikipedia holes to fall down.
Good place to start: Ten Thousand Years, where they explore the various suggestions people have given for designing a warning sign that will last ten thousand years, not knowing if language or symbols as we understand them will be around.

S-Town
This was NPR’s semi-followup to Serial, released shortly after they realised that, actually, no-one really cared about the second season of that show. It’s about a rural town — Shittown — in Alabama (TBK) and it has the most amazing, almost unbelievably eccentric cast of characters you’ll ever hear. Yes, it’s slightly problematic (and gets even more so towards the end), but it’s still a great piece of long-form radio storytelling.
Good place to start: The first episode, obviously. I can almost guarantee that it will hook you.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review
There are a lot of film podcasts I could recommend (Filmspotting is good, I guess? The Slashfilmcast is okay?) but none of them have the unique blend of film reviews and hearing two men argue and banter like a couple who have been married for forty years. This is genuine comfort-listening.
Good place to start: Mark’s Sex and the City 2 review, in full flappy-handed glory.

Dan Carlin’s Common Sense/Hardcore History
I’m bunching these together because they’re both pretty essential. Dan Carlin is a really smart ex-newsman with a love of history. And this is what he channels into his Hardcore History shows – meticulously researched multi-hour, multi-part episodes dealing with historical periods or events. They’re as good as any audiobook and history text as you can find. His Common Sense show is about (American) politics, but again coming from a meticulously researched, erudite and insightful starting point.
Good place to start: Blueprint for Armageddon Pt 1. Part 1 of a six-part, twenty-five hour series of podcasts about the first world war. Move fast, because after a while, he pulls the episodes off the RSS feed and charges people for them (if you want to drop a few dollars, his series on Genghis Khan is amazing)

Til Death Do Us Blart
The podcast’s own description: “Once a year, every year at American Thanksgiving the five men will watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and record their thoughts, feelings and opinions. These personal expressions will be broadcast as a free, annual podcast. Should a member of the quintet pass away, protocol dictates that his baton must be passed to another, thus fulfilling the promise of five people watching and podcasting Paul Blart 2 from now till the end of linear time.” If this concept doesn’t immediately sound amazing to you then, yeah, maybe skip this one.
Good place to start: They started in 2015, so listen to that episode first, so you can really pick up and appreciate the subtle ways their spirits start to break in 2016.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect
Maybe it’s just me, but the most recent Radiolab episodes have been a little duff (“I prefer their earlier stuff” says the hipster dickhead). But that’s okay, because their recent limited-run series about the U.S. Supreme Court was fascinating. Now I’ll admit, this isn’t a subject I thought I’d ever give a shit about, but they brought along their great Radiolab storytelling ability and I binged the entire thing in a couple of days.
Good place to start: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. This is the story that inspired Radiolab to create More Perfect. And it’s one of the most heartbreaking podcast episodes I’ve heard.

The Daily
This is the New York Times daily news podcast. It’s a short podcast — about 15 minutes each — and it their format is usually to cover a single story in more depth than other news podcasts (e.g. NPR’s Up First, which is also pretty great). For example, while everyone was going on about how there’s some bad shit going down in Burma, The Daily actually went into a decent amount of detail, giving the entire background, laying out who the major players are etc.
Good place to start: It’s a daily news show – grab whatever is most recent?

Junk food cinema
I get it. There’s no shortage of podcasts where a group of friends sit around and watch films and talk about them later. It could be its own category in iTunes. But where most of these (e.g. The Flophouse) come from a place of detached irony, the guys behind Junkfood Cinema genuinely love the films they talk about. They recently did a “Summer of 87” season, covering films from, yep, the summer of 1987, and their enthusiasm for every single film was so strong, it made me want to watch the films too.
Good place to start: Pump Up the Volume is a perfect example of this happening. My wife and I listened to this episode on a drive home from her mother’s house and immediately settled in to watch the film when we got home.

My Brother, My Brother and Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fan. That’s good enough for me.
Good place to start: MBMBaM 369: Bro’s Better, Bro’s Best Ch. 122 – 133 – a collection of the best bits from the 10 most recent episodes.

The mysterious Voynich manuscript has finally been decoded

After looking at the so-called code for a while, Gibbs realized he was seeing a common form of medieval Latin abbreviations, often used in medical treatises about herbs. ... So this wasn't a code at all; it was just shorthand. The text would have been very familiar to anyone at the time who was interested in medicine.
Yay for solving the mystery and all, but it's such a mundane solution that I can't help feel a little sad. Update: via MacDara Conroy on TwitterHas a Mysterious Medieval Code Really Been Solved? (I'll save you a click: no)

Dear David

Comic artist David Ellis is in the process of creating an amazing twenty-first century ghost story. One that's told across weeks of tweets and incorporating videos, soundcloud clips and audience participation. It's so simple, so well done and I couldn't be more impressed.

The best homemade cacio e pepe

One of the things I miss most about living in Rome (apart from the awesome friends we had to leave behind) is not having steady access to decent cacio e pepe. I’ve written before about my love for this dish, how it completely changed the way I think about food. And it’s the first thing I order whenever I’m in Italy.

To make things worse, I’ve never been able to successfully recreate the dish at home. The versions I make are always too gloopy, or it’s too wet, or it’s too flavourless.

Until Kenji.

In my house, Kenji Lopez-Alt is to food what Mark Kermode is to films. Nothing gets made without first asking “how would Kenji make this?” and consulting his book, The Food Lab (which might be my favourite cookbook). So, on a whim, I checked out what he had to say about homemade cacio e pepe. And he’s got a video about it. I made his version tonight and it was, without a doubt, the best cacio e pepe I’ve ever made.

A couple of notes about his recipe:

  1. Don’t use fresh pasta for this. The timings are for dry pasta and they’re relatively precise – if you use fresh pasta, your pasta will be done before the oil has had time to cool down, so your butter won’t emulsify with it. Plus, this is just a personal thing, but I think fresh pasta is kinda wanky anyway. If you’re trying to impress someone with this dish, you’re much better of spending your money on better quality cheese.
  2. Maybe use normal olive oil to fry the pepper at the start. Even being as gentle as possible, the extra virgin just has a sharpness to it that can overpower the cheese. Drizzling extra virgin at the end is plenty.