December 31, 2009
This post has nothing to do with the kiddos and everything to do with a list of non-family “things” I have found myself enjoying immensely or finding highly informative over the course of 2009. Documenting them here for posterity’s sake (with my signature verbosity, unfortunately).
As I think about it, I can trace my days of listening to podcasts well back into our time in Texas. It was one thing I missed when I was working from home — having a daily commute to both get a daily dose of NPR and to listen to some podcasts. Since I’ve been commuting again for this whole year, I’ve gotten that pleasure back! I use iTunes to subscribe/download them, and it’s a 5-minute weekly exercise for me to connect my Blackberry to my computer and drag the latest podcasts onto the device. Very simple. And free. I subscribe to ~10, but some of them are hit-or-miss, so I’m just going to list the consistently outstanding ones here:
- Slate’s Political Gabfest — a weekly podcast of hip, left-leaning, Washington insiders John Dickerson, David Plotz, and Emily Bazelon (participating from New Haven, CT), the format is three current topics, generally with a political bent, on which Dickerson facilitates a discussion. These are three exceedingly sharp, knowledgeable people, and the exchanges are both informative and entertaining. They’ve got a great chemistry, and it feels like listening to a marginally structured discussion between three smart people having drinks and discussing the news of the day. The last segment in the gabfest is “cocktail chatter,” where each participant lists one thing they have heard or seen in the prior week that they find particularly interesting…which I always find interesting!
- Slate’s Culture Gabfest — this is the smaller, younger sibling of the political gabfest, but it is equally entertaining. The mildly acerbic Stephen Metcalf facilitates the weekly discussion with Dana Stephens and Julia Turner (with frequent guest appearances by June Thomas), and this gabfest, too, follows the three-topic format, but the topics are more culture-oriented: the Lady GaGa phenomenon, the movie Precious, Brad Paisley, etc. It’s not uncommon for a topic to be inspired by an article in The New Yorker, which is particularly fun if I’ve read the piece. The culture gabfest ends with an “endorsements” segment that is similar to the “cocktail chatter” segment in the political gabfest…and is the inspiration for the title of this post.
- Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! — this is a fantastic weekly NPR quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell that tackles both major and obscure news stories of the prior week in a whimsical way. Each week features a different 3-person panel (regulars include Paula Poundstone, Tom Bodett, P. J. O’Rourke, Charlie Pierce, Roy Blount, Jr., Amy Dickenson, Roxanne Robers, Mo Rocca, Adam Felber, and Kyrie O’Connor) who participate in the quizzes in various ways, but who also chime in with spontaneous commentary throughout the show. It’s highly entertaining.
- This American Life — hands-down, the most brilliant radio program on the air, Ira Glass hosts a show that, “each week, picks a theme and then brings a variety of stories on that theme.” The number of stories in a one-hour show ranges from 1 to 5, most weeks, although the show has done some extreme cases where they’ve covered 20 stories or more. It’s difficult to describe the format or the magic behind the show’s success…so you’ll just have to check it out if your interest in piqued!
- Stuff You Should Know — Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant host this (roughly) twice-weekly podcast where they take an article from howstuffworks.com and spend 15-25 minutes walking through the details. Like Slate’s gabfests, part of the real fun of this podcast is the chemistry between these two mid-30s Atlanta-based guys. They’re prone to entertaining and unplanned tangents, and they both clearly love what they do. The range of topics they cover is broad — from how cannibalism works to the super hadron collider to the history behind Cannonball Run, you just never know what you’re going to get, but it’s hard not to pick up some interesting facts every time.
- Sports with Frank Deford — this is a three-minute weekly podcast of the Wednesday segment on NPR’s Morning Edition where veteran sports journalist Deford comments on some aspect of sports; it’s short, and he tends to have an interesting perspective that’s worth listening to.
Those are my biggies. As I noted, I’ve got a handful more that I download each week, but they’re not as consistently excellent and addictive, so they didn’t make the list. A number of these podcasts are sponsored by audible.com, so, although I’m not a member, I’ve got to mention them here. Audible provides downloadable audio books…and if I had a longer commute or fewer excellent podcasts, I’m sure I’d be a member!
I’ve subscribed to The New Yorker continuously for almost two decades, so it’s no surprise that my endorsement on that front comes from that magazine. Specifically, though, I’m just going to endorse three articles by Atul Gawande that appeared in the magazine. All three are about healthcare, and, although they had mildly depressing aspects, my general takeaway was that healthcare reform won’t and shouldn’t be a single, massive shift. It will have to evolve and morph, and experimentation and pilot programs will be needed. The three articles:
- January 26, 2009 — Getting There from Here: How should Obama reform healthcare? — Gawande made the case at the very beginning of the year that, by looking at how other countries have gotten to where they are with there healthcare systems, the best approach would be for our reform to be somewhat sausage-like in the making: starting with where we are, triggered by a crisis (WWII being the crisis that drove how many Western European countries healthcare systems work today), and mish-mashing together something that works
- June 1, 2009 — The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about healthcare — Gawande went to McAllen, Texas, which has one of the highest per capital healthcare costs in the country, and uses that as a jumping-off point to explore what drives healthcare costs up. He compares the way healthcare is delivered in McAllen to how it is delivered by the Mayo Clinic, and draws the conclusion that a fundamental problem is that the way we structure compensation for healthcare providers is flawed.
- December 14, 2009 — Testing, Testing: The health-care bill has no master plan for curbing costs. Is that a bad thing? — this article actually winds up circling back to the January 26th article in many ways. Gawande starts by pointing out that the current bills do little to make fundamental changes that will control healthcare costs…but then he draws the conclusion that the pilot programs that are in the bill are actually the best way to go. He draws an intriguing parallel between healthcare today and the agricultural crisis the country faced in the early 1900s — fascinating.
Three great articles…and that’s where I’m stopping on the journalism front!
Social media is the umbrella term for things like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, and so on. The sad fact is that no one has really done a good job of convincing the non-users of these sites that they’re worth using. And I’m not going to try to make the case here…but the fact that you’re (still) reading this post means that you’re already participating in social media in some fashion. I blog both here as well as on my “professional” blog (gilliganondata.com), which puts me in a group dubbed “Creators” by some smart folk at Forrester Research. My specific endorsements, though, are for three sites that are not blogs:
- Facebook — it’s been great to me, and it’s not a time sink. 2009 really saw an explosion in adoption of Facebook by people I know…or knew in the past. I’ve gotten casually reconnected with any number of people from high school (and a few from college), and I enjoy getting at-a-glance views into their lives. Despite what non-users tend to think, status updates on Facebook, in my experience, are not totally mundane — they’re entertaining! A lady I grew up with has a son whose one-liners could fill a best-selling humor book. Some people I never associated as even running in the same circles in high school…have now been happily married for over 15 years. One guy I never would have pegged as doing so has become a vocal liberal and even did a stint hosting a lefty radio talk show. Neat stuff. On top of that, our neighborhood uses a private Facebook group to communicate with each other as to what’s happening and when, which as been a very efficient way to organize spontaneous gatherings.
- Twitter — Twitter is less understood than Facebook, and gets a worse rap from non-users. That’s fine, but I find it inordinately helpful. I’ve tweeted 3,679 times since 2007, and my tweets (@tgwilson) are a mix of professional notes and personal observations. I use Twitter to update my Facebook status and LinkedIn status. It helps me keep an ear to the ground professionally as well as build relationships with a worldwide group of professional peers. It helps me stay in touch with co-workers who are two floors away. It gives me glimpses into Julie’s day. It makes me chuckle. And it’s something that I can tune in and out of as needed.
- LinkedIn — this was the first social network I was a member of, and it’s like Facebook, but with a more “professional networking” bent. Facebook’s explosion has actually turned up the heat on LinkedIn to start adding more features (ain’t competition great?). I’ve used it to get a quick read on the backgrounds of job candidates and clients before I meet them. I’ve used it to stay in touch with professional contacts from my past — always able to send a message to someone with whom I haven’t spoken in several years…and yet not need to worry about maintaining a rolodex of email addresses as they move around in their careers.
My book-reading is a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Watch me do a quick punt on the non-fiction front. None of these books came out in 2009, but they’re the ones that I enjoyed the most as read them this year:
- Non-fiction — although I didn’t read all four of these in 2009, I read Brain Rules, and that’s when the link between four books that all tackle how our brains work hit me. I blogged about all four on my other blog.
- Fiction — The Brothers K by David James Duncan; this was recommended by a neighbor and tells the story of four brothers who grow up with a father who was a standout minor league pitcher until his hand got mangled in an accident
- Fiction — Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson; this book was actually purchased and sent to me from a college friend’s iPhone at another college friend’s wedding; it’s a tale of WWII and modern cryptology
- Fiction — World Without End by Ken Follett; 20 years after he wrote Pillars of the Earth (which I read maybe 10 years ago), Follett wrote a follow-up that is based in the same town two centuries later, and centered around the cathedral that was built in the first book; highly entertaining historical fiction
And that’s it for my endorsements. I’m sure that, as soon as I hit Publish, I’ll remember some other favorites from the year.