🎙️ Album Club on Sharp Tech

It was so great to hear Andrew Sharp read out my email on the latest edition of the Sharp Tech podcast. On recent episodes, Andrew and co-host Ben Thompson have been talking about the joy of gathering together in person with friends, focused around a hobby. They are now both members of ‘cigar clubs’. I wanted to let them know about our slightly healthier alternative that has been running since 2011.

🎙 Advisors

Having listened to The Postlight Podcast since episode one, I was so glad when the ex-CEO and ex-President Paul Ford and Rich Ziade returned with — not one, but two — new podcasts. Last week’s episodes were insightful and also made me laugh out loud on my commute.

On the Ziade & Ford: Advisors show, Rich explains how managers need to be seen to be doing useful work:

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I’m gonna give you four pieces of advice.
Paul Ford: Okay.
RZ: First, get in there and do work that, raises an eyebrow as to why that person is doing that work.
PF: Okay, so wait a minute, hold on, cause this was a, this was a problem I used to program or jump in on things. That’s a disaster when the boss starts to do a project.
RZ: Yeah craftspeople don’t like it when you come into the, the wood shop, right? They don’t like, they don’t, they don’t appreciate it. Um, they are the experts, you are not. You have your job, they have theirs. But I don’t mean you need to do their work. You need to do work, you need to not just be waiting for deliverables and wagging your finger. That may be you holding up and writing a major like position document about the strategy of the business. That might be something else. That might be you saying, you know what? I don’t want you just deliver this to me. I wanna workshop this with you, brainstorm before you hold up and do stuff. I want to work with you, I want to collaborate with you. That is different than the corner office and just “what’s going on in there? He doesn’t seem to do anything”.

On the Aboard podcast, Paul reflects on what the word ‘cookie’ should really be in the context of tracking users on the web:

Paul Ford: You know the greatest bit [of] unintentional branding on Earth is the word cookie.
Rich Ziade:
I mean it’s insane.
PF: It sounds nice, “Oh, hey, you’re giving me a cookie, uh oh, okay, okay”.
RZ: I like cookies.
PF: Well, yeah, it should be called like face licker.
RZ: Yeah.
PF: “Hey, we’re gonna give you some, would you accept five or six face licks?”

…followed by a loud slurp.

It’s so great to have them back in my ears every week.

Thoughts on WB-40 at OpenUK

The latest episode of the excellent WB-40 podcast is filled with a series of interesting interviews from the recent OpenUK Open Source Software thought leadership event. The conversations are wide-ranging and well a listen.

One of the discussions noted that open source software development was resilient in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, given that contributors worked remotely and asynchronously in the first place. This got me thinking about Automattic, the company behind WordPress. They are remote-first, with staff spread all around the world. Last year, Matt Mullenweg, Automattic’s founder, appeared on the Postlight Podcast where he enthused me with his passion for all things open source:

…WordPress is actually not the most important thing in the world to me, open source is. […] essentially a hack to get competitors to work together and sort of create a shared commons of knowledge and functionality in the case of software, that something getting bigger, it becomes better, where with most proprietary solutions, when something gets bigger, it becomes worse or becomes less lined with its users. Because the owners of WordPress are its users. And […] the sort of survival rate of proprietary software like they’re all evolutionary dead ends, the very long term, that might be 20, 30, 40 years. But it’s all going to move to open source because that’s where all the incentives are. I think even a company like Microsoft, being now one of the largest open contributors, source contributors in the world, is astounding, and something that I think most people wouldn’t have predicted 10 or 20 years ago, but I believe it’s actually inevitable.

Another interview covered the concept of a ‘software bill of materials’, where applications come with a breakdown of the components that they use. Driven by the US Government Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the goal is for organisations that use specific software to quickly identify where they may be exposed to security vulnerabilities in the underlying components. For open source projects that have not published this information, there are some automated tools such as It-Depends that go some way to discovering these dependencies.

There is often an argument that open source software is safer than closed source, proprietary software. The idea is that open source software will have more eyes on it and therefore people will have the ability to discover, report and fix critical security defects. I wonder if there is always a point where a community has built up around a product to make this true, with less popular products being more at risk of vulnerabilities or deliberately rogue code?

Ben Higgins and Ted Driggs from Extrahop appeared on an episode of the Risky Business podcast last year to take the ‘software bill of materials’ idea one step further. They advocate for a ‘bill of behaviours’ where software is supplied with details of what its users can expect, e.g. external and internal network destinations, and a list of ports and how they are used. These behaviours would be published in a format that common security products can understand. I love this idea and hope it gains traction. Driggs gave an update on the podcast in February about how the initiative is going.

Superfans and marginal customer acquisition costs

Ben Thompson has been running some superb interviews for subscribers of his Stratechery newsletter. His recent interview with Michael Nathanson of the MoffettNathanson research group is no exception.

I loved this insight about how companies are valued when they are relatively new and growing quickly. Their maths may be over-optimistic as they underestimate the cost of adding marginal customers after their initial rapid rise:

Ben Thompson: …a mistake a lot of companies make is they over-index on their initial customer. The problem is when you’re watching a company, that customer wants your product really bad, they’ll jump through a lot of hoops, they’ll pay a high price to get it. Companies build lifetime value models and derive their customer acquisition costs numbers from those initial customers and then they say, “These are our unit costs”, and those unit costs don’t actually apply when you get to the marginal customer because you end up spending way more to acquire them than you thought you would have.

Michael Nathanson: That’s my question to Disney, which is, and I think you wrote this — your first 100 million subs, look at the efficiency of how you built Disney+, it was a hot knife through butter. But now to get the next 100 million subs, what are you going to do? You’re going to add sports, do entertainment, more localized content. My question to Disney is, is it better just to play the super-fan strategy where you know your fans are going to be paying a high ARPU [average revenue per user] and always be there, or do you want to, like Netflix, go broader? I don’t have an answer, but I keep asking management, “Have you done the math?”

$1,000 for you with no conditions

Rory Stewart’s comments on recent episodes of The Rest Is Politics have stuck in my head. He’s been working with a charity called GiveDirectly. Instead of providing aid to the poor in the form of food, bicycles, houses, toilets or micro-loans, they give each household in a community USD 1,000 in cash for them to spend on whatever they want. In Stewart’s words:

“…the truth is, time and time again, and there have been 230 studies of this, giving people cash is probably the most effective single intervention that you can do for a very poor family, because the truth is in almost every case they know how to spend the money much better than a foreigner does and there’s an element of dignity here.”

GiveDirectly have a very detailed frequently asked questions page. The cash is a one-time transfer, with no conditions, and they explain the reasoning and evidence.

I’ve been putting money into a Kiva account every month for a while, using the funds to make micro-loans to people all over the world. Reading this on the GiveDirectly FAQ has made me think twice:

Why not make micro-loans?

The evidence on the impact of cash transfers is far stronger than that for micro-loans, whose impacts have generally been below expectations. We think that micro-loans are likely beneficial for the poor, but given the evidence, see no reason to incur the added costs of administering them.

We suspect that the disappointing track record of micro-loans may have to do with their structure. These loans often bear high interest rates, reflecting the high costs of administering and monitoring them, which in turn limit their benefit to borrowers. They also tend to have short-term structures and require borrowers to begin making repayments shortly after borrowing. These features make micro-loans less useful for financing the kinds of long-term investments (e.g. education or durable goods) that recipients often make with grants.

GiveDirectly say that they deliver USD 0.89 to recipients for every dollar they receive. My understanding is that this is possible because transferring money directly minimises their overheads in administering the programme. I’m going to redirect my Kiva transfers here for now.


The second WB-40 podcast episode in their series on organisations with purpose is a fascinating listen. The hosts are joined by Kate Davies, CEO of London Housing Association Notting Hill Genesis.

The concept of being a non-profit that generates significant revenue in order to do more good with that money is interesting. In theory it isn’t so far from a for-profit organisation that puts its client’s (and employees’, and society’s) needs at the centre of what they do.

On the podcast Davies speaks about how expensive IT staff can be. They are able to keep their costs down by finding people who are motivated by the mission of the organisation. They use things like field visits to ensure that staff see the impact of their work first-hand. This got me thinking about whether I would be prepared to take a pay cut in order to work somewhere that was massively aligned to my values. I have great admiration for people who are willing to do this. For me, I think I would be more likely to forego future increases rather than deliberately reduce our family income.

Where have all the grown-ups gone?

Started the day listening to Michael Heseltine being interviewed on The Political Party podcast in 2017. I’ve never voted Conservative, but I would have someone like him in power versus the current crop of politicians — on both sides of the house — in a heartbeat.

David Allen Green’s blog post today seems to agree.

Perhaps – like a policy equivalent to a market adjustment – a new group of politicians will now emerge to supply the policy seriousness that is now demanded.

This would be like how in many wars, new worldly commanders come to the fore to replace the clumsy peacetime generals who make the initial mistakes.


But unless we soon have a generation of politicians that have the measure of the practical problems facing the United Kingdom then there can only be more chaos and crisis-management, instead of planning, thought and policy.

Brace brace.

UC Today podcast

I really enjoy the UC Today podcast. If you’re involved in administering or working with Microsoft Teams, the latest episode is well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Key points covered in this episode that stuck in my head after listening:

  • Calling plan will now be part of the Microsoft E5 licence (so no additional purchase necessary) everywhere that Microsoft is a telco except the US and Puerto Rico.
  • Teams is getting native integration to WebEx meetings, so you can join WebEx calls from Teams meeting rooms.
  • Microsoft are selling a bolt-on for API access to record calls/meetings. The list price is USD 12/user/month, which seems quite expensive. You will also need a third party tool to record.
  • Other features and enhancements to the user interface including the ‘Together’ mode, which is meant to make calls less tiring.

23 days

I think I may have insulted the creators of a podcast I listen to every week by telling them I hear it at 1.5x speed, with silences trimmed. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that life is too short and my interests too broad. You can’t sniff at 23 days saved over the past two and a half years.

Thank you, Pocket Casts

Thank you, Pocket Casts

My experience is that most podcasts can be sped up to around 1.2x without any issues. Podcasts that have an interview or conversation format can be boosted to 1.5x, and have their silences trimmed as well. It’s important not to trim the silence on podcasts with one presenter such as Hardcore History as the pauses are just as much a part of the monologue as what is said. The excellent Pocket Casts app allows you to set up the specific parameters on a per-podcast basis, so you don’t need to spend time changing it as you jump from cast to cast.

I jokingly suggested that the creators could speed the podcast up to 1.5x to begin with in order to get their revenge on me. Thinking about it more, podcast creators could add subliminal or ‘hidden’ messages to their recordings that you only hear when you slow it down, kind of like the mysterious and mythical additions to 60’s and 70’s vinyl. Maybe they already have?

The magical Internet, making connections and asking the right questions

The Internet has given us an embarrassment of riches in terms of our ability to connect with people. This is an obvious statement, but sometimes I take things so much for granted that I forget the opportunities that this puts in front of me.

When I started work at my current firm in 2010 the managers in the team were all walking around with newly-released iPads in their hands. I distinctly remember my boss raving about how he had been in contact with the developer of a mind-mapping app he was using and how changes he had requested were being released to his iPad just a few days or weeks later. It felt magical. Compared with the computing experience we had grown up with, it was magical. The iOS App Store’s ubiquitous links back to application developer websites made it so straightforward to get in contact, and the rise once again of applications created and maintained by solo developers meant that emails got straight to the right person. My boss’s enthusiasm gave me an ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that?’ feeling.

A few years later, I became very involved as a user of the Readmill social reading platform. Talking to the team via Twitter and providing regular feedback led me to having good long Skype conversations with a couple of members of the team. It felt great that they cared so much that they wanted my input and I really wanted to help them to make it more successful.

Serendipitously, I’ve heard three podcasts in the past few days which have made me start to think again about the connections we are able to make and the value that they bring. Firstly, Ryan Holiday on Tim Ferris‘ podcast spoke about how mentors aren’t necessarily people with whom you have struck up a formal relationship:

Ryan: People think mentorships are these very official relationships — the way that an apprenticeship was like your parents basically sold you to someone in exchange for like room and board for a number of years and then you officially learn a trade. A mentor is anyone who you learn from, who gives you advice and teaches you things…and you don’t actually have to meet them for them to be your mentor…I think a lot of people they hold out for this sanctioned, official relationship rather than learning from anyone who has wisdom or advice or value that they could pass your way, and if you put it into practice and you do something with it, they see value in that as well.

Tim: Asking someone to be a formal mentor is the absolute best way to never have a good mentor.

Ryan: Totally.

Tim: Because it’s like, “Hey! Do you want to sign up for an unpaid part-time job, because you have so much free time?” It doesn’t work. So I’d just be curious to hear what you did and what you would recommend people do if they were trying to find or looking for that type of teacher. I think ‘mentor’ is problematic as they think of it in such formal terms. Maybe you can talk on that point.

Ryan: I think it was once every couple of weeks — no, couple of months probably — and I would just ask questions that I thought would be helpful to me but very easy for him to answer. It’s like hey, if you want me to read your manuscript that’s a lot of work for me to do…if someone wants you to give a five-second instant opinion on a title, you’re like “Sure, that’s one email.” And so I don’t think people think about 1) what they are actually asking and then 2) they ask a lot over and over again.

The Verso Books podcast featured an interview with Ilija Trojanow, author of The Lamentations of Zeno, where he explained how he got in contact with a scientist as part of his research for his novel on glaciers and climate change:

Ilija: After a while I had the backbone of the story and I realised that if I was to write about it I would actually have to get seriously involved, I would have to get seriously informed about stuff like geology and particularly glaciology. And then of course in regard to the more scientific aspects of climate change. So I looked up on the Internet who is a well-known glaciologist and I found a professor in Zurich who has a very Swiss name, Haeberli. I called Professor Haeberli and he very kindly invited me [to visit]). I went to the university in Zurich and told him the story and asked him to brutally honestly tell me whether from his point of view as a specialist if it makes any sense. And when I was telling him the story you could see how his face kind of changed a little bit; I was thinking to myself “Oh boy, he’s going to tell me ‘No, forget about it. This is utter nonsense.'” And quite the opposite happened, he actually said “Where did you get the story from?” And I said “Well, I dreamt it up, basically.” And he said “This is incredible, this is exactly the way I feel and this is so pertinent and so close to my personal experience and the experience of so many other scientists I know. So, by all means, go ahead and write it and if you need any help…”

Anil Dash featured on the wonderful Track Changes podcast where he noted that:

The Internet was for people to communicate. The main thing people do on the Internet today is send messages to each other. That’s the most popular thing.

Anil takes this to an extreme by featuring his email address and phone number in his online profiles, for example on Twitter, which sounds crazy but doesn’t seem to have caused him any problems:

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about people I admire and want to be around — whether physically or virtually — in order to learn from. As I have grown up with the web over the past twenty years there are a few characters that have always seemed to have popped up in multiple contexts — Matt Haughey, Anil Dash, Jeff Atwood, Merlin Mann, Michael Lopp, Andy Baio, Euan Semple, JP Rangaswami and Marco Arment to name a few — and continue to do so. Their work and thoughts have been very valuable to me. I’ve always felt like a simple consumer of the great things they produced, admiring from afar, reading their blog posts and tweets, listening to their podcasts and watching their videos. On occasion, I’ve spoken to some of them through email, or more often Twitter, and in each case I find it amazing that they have ever found the time to respond.

Sometimes when I am grappling with solving a difficult problem or making something better, particularly at work, I forget that there are lots of experts out there who are just a few taps away. Remembering to cast a wide net with my communications is something I need to do much more often. However, as per Ryan Holiday’s comments above you need to make sure that you aren’t placing an unreasonable burden on people and that ideally the question has value to both of you.


I’ve been listening to podcasts for what must be ten years or so, mainly on my hour-long commute to and from work. Although sometimes I listen to music on my journey, this is rare—I usually reach for podcasts instead as there is so much knowledge to be gained from the recordings and it feels like a better use of time. Recently I’ve found myself in lots of conversations where I’ve been recommending specific podcasts and episodes to people and this made me think that it would be a good idea to jot some thoughts down here and share them more widely.

I’m old-school in that I use iTunes to download my podcasts and then sync them on an irregular basis to my 160Gb iPod Classic. I assume that most Apple users today are using modern applications on their iPhone or iPod Touch such as Overcast, Downcast, Instacast etc., however I have no idea how they manage to regularly get through more than a small handful of podcasts each week. I have nearly 1,000 unplayed episodes (20Gb worth!) and a lot of these I don’t want to skip—I’ll just get to them when I get to them.

My general listening process is to cycle through the different podcasts one episode at a time, i.e. listen to the oldest unplayed episode for podcast 1 and then going to the oldest unplayed episode for podcast 2 etc. This stops things getting ‘samey’ and makes sure that I’m covering all of the different feeds I want to hear. However, there are some podcasts that are either such good quality (e.g. Dan Carlin’s Common Sense) or so time-sensitive (e.g. FT Banking Weekly) that it is better to catch up with all outstanding episodes before moving on.

In the list below I have used a couple of tags:

  • [Recent] Means I keep the most recent five-or-so episodes only. This is typical for long, time-sensitive podcasts where it doesn’t make sense, for example, to be listening about the new features of a phone or operating system, or what happened at a particular technology conference, where the release or event took place over a year ago. You can set iTunes up to do this for specific podcasts while keeping all the episodes from the others. I don’t care if I miss shows in these feeds as for me it is like missing an ‘episode’ of the news on TV or the daily newspaper.
  • [Catch-up] Means I catch up with all outstanding episodes at once before moving on to the next podcast in the list, either because it is so good or because it doesn’t make sense to let them build up.

If you’re an iTunes user the best way to get access to these podcasts is to search for them in the store and subscribe to their feeds. If you use some other tool to subscribe then I have linked to the podcast home pages directly so that you can find their feed URLs or individual episodes and add them to your device.

Without further ado…

The cream of the crop

  • Hardcore History: If I had to pick one podcast above all the others, this would be it. I have been listening to this since episode one and have watched it grow from 15-20 minute shows on particular historical topics (e.g. the influence of narcotics in history or the number of chance things that came together to enable the 1066 invasion of England) to epic six-part dissections of major events such as World War I that are released over a period of 18 months in shows that are over four hours long for each part. If you have even a slight inkling that you are interested in history, go to iTunes and download all of the past episodes now—you’ll need to pay for old episodes but they are worth every penny. Dan’s style of storytelling is unique and compelling and listening to his work completely fits the definition of time well spent. Because the quality of the output is so good, both for this podcast as well as Common Sense (see below), I currently donate USD 5/month for this to support his shows.
  • Back to Work: An amusing, insightful and often delightful podcast with Merlin Mann, of 43 Folders, Inbox Zero and general GTD[ref]Copyright DavidCo 2001.[/ref] productivity fame, and Dan Benjamin, owner of the 5by5 podcast network. There are lots of in-jokes and banter in each episode; having listened since the first one I feel like part of a club even though most of the other club members are way ahead of me in terms of episodes (I’m currently at episode 107, approximately 2 years behind)! Again, because of the number of hours that I have spent enjoying this podcast as well as other shows on the 5by5 network I currently donate USD 5/month to support them.
  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin [catch-up]: Despite having listened to Hardcore History (see above) since episode one, for a long time I had avoided listening to this as I assumed it would be a USA-focused political show and I wasn’t sure whether that would be interesting to me. After @linseyt mentioned to me that it was really good I thought I would give it a try and now wish that I had dived in much sooner. The show comes out more frequently than Hardcore History with perhaps two episodes every month and covers a very broad range of political topics and current affairs. This show always makes me think about something I hadn’t considered before, or gives a new angle on a topic, and is far less USA-focused than I had originally thought. I worked my way though a whole bunch of old episodes and every one of them was of fantastic quality. Thoroughly recommended to everyone.
  • EconTalk: A weekly show covering economics-related topics in an interview format. I’ve listened to this for a very long time and it is another one where I have a large backlog to get through. Russ Roberts is the host and covers a variety of subjects, such as the financial crisis, interviews with authors of recent economics-related books, discussions with other academics and in one particularly memorable episode where he covered a complete dissection of the MMR vaccine scandal. Very worthwhile.
  • Little Atoms: A weekly show from Resonance 104.4FM which covers topics of science, freedom of expression and secular humanism. Typically follows an interview format. The guests are varied and the show often delights with a topic that I didn’t know or hadn’t thought about.
  • Manager Tools: Over the years I have invariably recommended this to people as “the best free business resource you can find on the Internet” and I stick by this claim. They have recently been celebrating their tenth anniversary, a fantastic achievement when you see the quality of what they have made available. There is a wealth of knowledge in the episode archives that teach you how to be a better manager, whether covering the basics of one-on-ones, feedback, coaching and delegation to more advanced topics such as how to handle the situation where somebody has body odour at work. When I come up against a new management problem, their podcast back catalogue is one of the first places I turn to for help. Their multi-part series on ‘How to resign‘ was invaluable when I wanted to leave my previous employer after being there for 11 years—they start off by getting you to really think about why you probably shouldn’t resign and all of the things you will be giving up if you do, before getting into the actions you should take if your mind is made up.
  • The Infinite Monkey Cage: This is the podcast version of the BBC Radio 4 show, with an additional 10-15 minutes of content that they cut out for the radio. Brian Cox and Robin Ince[ref]I was privileged to meet him in person last year. What a great guy.[/ref] are the hosts and each episode covers a particular scientific question or topic with excellent panel guests and audience participation. The content can jump from a profound and serious point to a joke and back again within the space of a couple of minutes and manages to balance between the two to great effect.

More great podcasts

  • A Point of View: A podcast version of the Radio 4 segment, typically a ten-minute monologue. I started by subscribing just to the Clive James episodes (the BBC Radio 4 website lets you filter the feed by host)—the man is an understated genius and his discourses are splendidly entertaining. I have recently branched out to listen to all of the Point of View archives available in the feed so will now be hearing from the likes of Will Self and Alain de Botton.
  • Accidental Tech Podcast [Recent]: Marco Arment, John Siracusa and Casey Liss talking about technology—mainly Apple-related. Their mixed backgrounds mean that they all bring something different to the table and have interesting and informed takes on the topics they cover but the episodes are (and feel) very long at nearly two hours a show.
  • Amnesty’s Comedy Conversations: A recent addition. A series of interviews with comedians at the Balham Comedy Festival and Edinburgh Fringe by Amnesty International. Interesting insights into the comedians themselves.
  • FT Banking Weekly [Catch-up]: A ten-minute weekly roundup of what has been going on in the world of banking. As this is the industry that I work in but I don’t often have make time to read the FT in as much depth as I would like, this keeps me up-to-date with the gist of what is going on.
  • HBR IdeaCast [Recent]: Covers one or two topics a show that are occasionally interesting. There is a gigantic episode backlog that you can download that goes back almost 10 years. Recently I deleted most of my backlog and have started focusing on recent episodes as I was too far behind and wasn’t getting much value out of trawling through the archives.
  • Invisibilia: This is a relatively new show from NPR (National Public Radio, the US ‘equivalent’ of the BBC) and is a joy to listen to. Every episode tackles a topic related to things that are not visible to us, such as how some blind people have learned to echolocate themselves in their surroundings through ‘clicking’. Very professionally produced and consistently interesting.
  • IWM Voices of the First World War: Given last year’s anniversary of the start of the First World War, I searched out a podcast that would compliment the Hardcore History series on the subject give me a greater insight. This is set of short episodes, each of which is made up of audio clips of people who lived through the War and the memories they have. There is something about spoken oral history that is very compelling and definitely gives another angle to the historical analysis format.
  • Morning Becomes Eclectic: KCRW is an incredible radio station in the U.S. that features live studio sessions with current artists. This podcast showcases a number of these live recordings from one or two sessions from the previous week. Not an episode has gone by so far without me following up by looking into one of the artists on Spotify. You can also look at videos from some of the live sessions on the KCRW website.
  • Lesterland: More of a short audiobook than true podcast. This is the audio version of Lawrence Lessig’s book ‘The United States is Lesterland’. The work details the institutionalised corruption in the way that political and presidential candidates are funded and how the politicians that get into power are beholden to the richest people in society.
  • Mastertapes: Another excellent music podcast. This is a relatively new Radio 4 show which dissects a classic album through two ‘sides’ (episodes) for each. The ‘A-side’ is an interview with the main player from the album in front of a live audience and the ‘B-side’ is where the studio audience ask questions. This again has got me exploring works that I know very little about, whether that is Suzanne Vega‘s second album or a 1981 album by Aswad. Yes, that Aswad—turns out that there is more to them than their 1988 hit ‘Don’t Turn Around‘.[ref]This podcast reminds me of something Ed Hammel said on his live album from 2000: “Because VH1 Behind The Music is my new crack. I will watch it 15, 16…20 hours in a row. Bands I don’t give a s*** about, I watch. And they hook ya, and they hook ya…did you think I give a f*** about The Osmonds? Do you think I do?”[/ref] (Hat-tip to my friend Michael for pointing me in the direction of this podcast.)
  • Out of School [Recent]: A podcast with Fraser Spiers and Bradley Chambers about technology in schools. Both of the hosts work in a school and have lots of first-hand experience to relate. Fraser’s school was the first one in the world to provide every pupil with their own iPad. It’s interesting to get their take on issues you need to think about specifically for a school. Very useful.
  • Reith Lectures (plus Reith Lectures archives 1948–1975 and 1976-2012): I had been meaning to pick this up for a while and finally took the plunge recently. Named after the BBC’s first director-general Sir John Reith, these are a series of annual lectures given by leading figures of the day. After listening to a couple of excellent art-focused lectures by Grayson Perry (and knowing nothing about him beforehand) I was hooked. The lectures are presented in three podcast feeds which is actually quite good for mixing things up a bit. As well as working my way through Perry’s lectures on ‘Playing to the Gallery‘ from 2013 I am also currently listening to Bertrand Russell discuss ‘Authority and the Individual‘ from 1948 and Colin Blakemore on ‘Mechanics of the Mind‘ from 1976. I will be here for some time.
  • Shift: Having followed Euan Semple on Twitter for many years and having read his fabulous book ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do‘ I have recently picked up the podcast that he hosts with Megan Murray. I’m only a few episodes in and already think it is one of the better, more useful podcasts that I listen to and often gives me lots to think about. We ran an experiment at work back in 2010 where we rolled out Yammer ‘virally’ and I have also started one or two internal blogs. As a social media user it is interesting to me when other people have different attitudes to mine with regard to the usefulness and benefits of these technologies. The podcast covers this as well as topics such as where organisations try to impose ‘culture change’ top-down.
  • The Critical Path: Hosted by Horace Dediu of Asymco, this show covers a variety of technology and business topics. I first came across Dedieu’s work on Twitter where he regularly presents fascinating graphs about historical rates of technology adoption and smartphone adoption over time to name but two. The podcast has a co-host but Dedieu dominates the ‘conversation’, typically providing an insight into what he has been up to and been thinking about. A recent topic has been ‘Jobs To Be Done‘ thinking which is now something on my follow-up list for looking at its applicability to my workplace.
  • The History of English Podcast: I am only three episodes into this an am already loving it. In the first episode it was fascinating to hear a well-known English verse (The Lord’s Prayer) being spoken in modern, middle and old English, the latter being almost completely unintelligible to my ears. I have already learnt so much from this, for example how English has sometimes adopted two different words for the same thing (e.g. ‘father’ and ‘pater’) but that these themselves often have a common root.
  • The Nerdist: Very interesting interviews with famous people. There is a massive online backlog of hundreds of episodes—instead of subscribing I have gone through the backlog and downloaded the individual episodes that I am interested in, e.g. Kevin Bacon, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Rick Moranis, Ozzy Osborne etc. The interviewers seem to have a way of making their interviewees very relaxed so that the conversations seem very natural and revealing. Consistently entertaining.
  • Turning This Car Around and Unprofessional: Two podcasts that I’ve been listening to for a while that are both hosted by Lex Friedman (amongst others). Both of these are listened to for pure entertainment value only and not knowledge or life advice. ‘Turning…’ is a show all about being a parent and ‘Unprofessional’ is a potpourri of random chat. Very amusing.

Others I’m listening to that I either tend to skip through or haven’t heard enough of to give a solid recommendation

  • 99% invisible: I found this from exploring the podcasts shown by Marco Arment in one of his slides in his presentation at XOXO in 2013. A short podcast which takes on a topic each week about something you may not have thought about. Sometimes feels as though it is a little more style over substance but the shortness of it and occasional payoff with a very interesting subject keeps it in my list.
  • Beyond the To-Do List: Interviews with people that have a productivity angle to their work. I often find with this podcast that I skip through them as I find that it isn’t as interesting as I would have hoped for, but occasionally there is a gem that is worth listening to right through.
  • CMD+Space: General technology/Apple interview show hosted by Myke Hurley. This podcast has been discontinued for some time—Myke started the show on his network 70 Decibels which was subsequently acquired by/merged with 5by5. When he left them to form relay.fm he started Inquisitive which seems to be a direct replacement. I am still working my way through the backlog!
  • Inquisitive: Weekly technology/Apple interview show with Myke Hurley, a replacement for CMD+Space mentioned above.
  • Mac Power Users: I probably listen to about one in four of these shows. I don’t own a Mac but I do have an iPhone and iPad and the episodes are sometimes very relevant. There are also more general topics covered such as running a paperless workflow or going into how people use web software such as Evernote etc.
  • Technical Difficulties (formerly Generational): Another smorgasbord of technology topics.
  • Systematic: Hosted by Brett Terpstra, I’ve dabbled in this podcast before when it was on the 5by5 network and for some reason it has never stuck with me. The podcast was recently moved to ESN.fm and they pulled me in with a gigantic, excellent show covering the life and times of John Roderick (which is worth listening to even if you have no idea whatsoever who he is). Sticking with this again for now.
  • The Accidental Creative: Haven’t made up my mind about this one yet, feels a little more style than substance but is sticking around on my iPod for now.
  • The Biggest Story In The World: The Guardian‘s podcast about their attempt to promote climate change awareness and action through the newspaper. I’m only a couple of episodes in but am already filled with the hopelessness of the cause as they battle to find an angle on the topic that would be actionable and appeal to the masses. I believe they eventually settled on a ‘keep it in the ground‘ campaign with a tactic of lobbying people, companies and funds to divest their holdings of fossil fuel company shares, but it didn’t (ahem) set the world on fire. Joking aside, this is without doubt the biggest challenge that we face and it is interesting to think about why it isn’t being addressed as such.
  • The China History Podcast: My employer was recently taken over by a Chinese firm. This podcast is my first step on a journey to understanding more about Chinese culture. There are lots of episodes to get through and they are (fortunately) not presented in chronological order. I’m only a few shows in and have already learned a few things. I’m curious as to whether the amateur production quality increases as time goes by as this podcast has been out there for some time and has good reviews.
  • The Productivityist Podcast: Just starting out with this from episode one, but seems right up my street in terms of content.
  • Unmistakable Creative: Another that feels a little bit style over substance. I haven’t managed to work this one out yet as some of the episodes have been interviews and others have been quite inwardly-focused about the podcast itself. Sticking with it for now.

Notable one-offs

  • 5by5 at the Movies: This podcast has only had three episodes in the past three years but they have been fantastic. Dan Benjamin and a co-host dissect a classic film. If you have seen Goodfellas and enjoyed it then run, don’t walk, to download this episode—John Siracusa does a fantastic job of explaining why this film is so great and it took my appreciation of it to another level. Straight after listening to this I immediately rented it to watch again and noticed so much stuff that I had never been conscious of before. Likewise, the Glengarry Glen Ross episode is excellent if you are a fan of the film. I am saving up the Big Lebowski episode for when I get around to watching that movie again.
  • WTF: Another podcast where I have downloaded just a few selected episodes. The show with Louis C.K. was awarded ‘best podcast episode ever‘ by Slate and while I would probably not agree with that, it’s definitely a very good listen. I’ve just finished listening to an excellent episode with Henry Winkler (of ‘Happy Days‘ fame) and am looking forward to hearing the show where the guest is none other than Barack Obama!

Classical music

There are a couple of very high-quality podcasts of classical music that I have picked up and work my way through on occasion, typically in the office while I am working. Both shows feature one or two pieces each episode along with a short spoken-word introduction into what you are about to hear.

What I’ve stopped listening to

There are a few notable podcasts that have succumbed to the delete key in iTunes, presented here for completeness:

  • Serial: Everyone was raving about this and I think that for quite a few people this was their first venture into listening to podcasts. I picked it up to see what all the fuss was about but gave up after four episodes or so—the show felt so drawn-out to me and I didn’t feel myself caring for any of the characters, so I didn’t see any point in going on.
  • The Project Management Podcast: I listened to this from episode one for a couple of years and even blogged about it nearly a decade ago. In my line of work as a portfolio/programme manager in a financial services firm it hasn’t been necessary to have any formal project management qualifications for any of the jobs I have held. This podcast was very focused on the Project Management Institute qualifications and interviews with people in the world of project management but increasingly felt more and more misaligned to the areas I was interested in such as agile, lean and product development flow. Each episode felt quite drawn-out and eventually hit a tipping point of not being worth the time I was investing in listening to it.
  • Coverville: A very good show, hosted by Brain Ibbott. When I was listening to this he was creating 3-4 shows a week and there was no way I would have ever caught up. Each episode has a theme around a particular artist or topic and then presents a bunch of cover versions of songs relevant to the theme. Occasionally I would come across a gem of a song, such as Emm Gryner‘s ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me‘, Jon Brion‘s ‘The Game‘, Off The Beat‘s ‘Plush‘ or Steve Acho‘s Rio but like the Project Management Podcast I eventually felt that the time investment did not have enough payback so I abandoned it. Sorry Brian!
  • You Look Nice Today and Roderick on the Line: Two podcasts, both of which feature Merlin Mann of Back to Work fame (see above). I listened to a few of these episodes but gave up on each as the humour wasn’t quite in-tune with my own and I didn’t find myself laughing out loud enough. ‘Roderick…’ has a cult following and for good reason—it’s pretty unique—but I wasn’t getting enough out of them for them to continue to make the cut.

And there you have it!

I look at the amount of things that are accessible to us through the Internet and can’t imagine that I will ever be bored again. Podcasts are so great in that you can listen to them while doing other things, such as walking to work or doing the ironing. Now, if anyone has any life advice for how to manage a balanced media diet of podcasts, newspapers, periodicals, books, PDFs, blogs, tweets etc. I am all ears.

On Microsoft Project

Listening to episode 19 of the Generational Technical Difficulties podcast last night made me laugh out loud. The guys were discussing task management tools and one of them came out with this gem:

Using Microsoft Project to manage your task list is like using a cheese grater to shave your legs. It probably will get the job done, but in the most painful possible way.


(Listen from 44 minutes in for the exact quote.)

The Project Management Podcast

The Project Management PodcastSince I first heard about podcasting I had been looking for shows that interested me. I tried lots of different podcasts but none of them grabbed my attention for very long and I soon found myself unsubscribing. That is, until I came across The Project Management Podcast. Finally I've found something that is both relevant to my job and genuinely informative.

The host, Cornelius Fitchtner, does a good job of tackling a variety of project management topics, from setting up a PMO to reviewing different methodologies. His style can take a little getting used to and his jokes aren't always that funny (sorry Cornelius!) but in general this is something worth listening to. I've been working my way through the existing shows and have already heard a few “golden nuggets” that can help me – I'm looking forward to listening to the rest over the next couple of weeks or so.

If you're a project manager who would like to hear a bit more about the field and get some good advice about running your projects, give it a go.