How is it August already!

I just don’t know. I hope you have been keeping well!

I have been holding things together here at home with the family, working most waking hours on Professional Work, regretting the loss of our daycare, and falling into bed exhausted most nights.

Getting a toddler into bed is like putting a motorcycle away with the throttle stuck open. It can be done, but it sure exhausts your reserves of willpower.

Here are the haps lately

• Before the pandemic, I was invited up to Sideshow Collectibles to participate in their YouTube show “Strike a Pose.”

Our episode is out now, featuring me and my pals Dave Kellett and Shing Yin Khor:

• My dear sweet 18-year-old Feral Cat (not really feral) has been at the vet for the past few days.

If you’re into cute little puzzles, this would be a great time to pick up one of the last few Feral Cat double-sided puzzles for just $6 (or any of my other puzzles for $12)!

• I lost the Eisner Award. (As in, I didn’t win — not that I physically misplaced it.)

That’s okay! Phil LaMarr said my name, which was pretty cool.

• My new favorite shirt is the ink swatch sample shirt from the shirt printer. A lot of people seemed to think it was as weird and charming as I do:

So, sure — I’ll print one for you too, if you like!

(Note that instead of the words “Men’s” and “Women’s” for shirt sizing, I’ve started using “Straight fit” and “Curvy fit.” In case you aren’t familiar with those terms!)

Here’s some other things I’ve enjoyed recently, and I think you might, too!

• This short film:

• This article about how LEGO bricks can embody principles of interface design:

• This oral history of Weekly World News:

• This touching but very funny story about Carl Reiner:

Comics will be published irregularly for the time being! The best way to stay up-to-date is to make sure you’re subscribed to the email list or the Twitter feed. Talk to you soon!!

Podcasts Well Worth Your Time for Sept. 2019

I’m overloaded with podcasts! Take a few from me!

Here are a few more individual episodes from my recent listening that I enjoyed, and thought you might too.

(I could not find written transcripts for any of these, unfortunately.)

Decoder Ring: “Truck Nutz” (Website / Overcast )

…These plastic novelties have a powerful symbolic charge and are often associated with a crass, macho, red state audience.

But truck nuts are a surprisingly complicated signifier whose symbolic power is increasingly divorced from their real-world usage.

On this episode, we talk to owners and users of truck nuts, investigate the origins of the accessories, and deconstruct the meaning of these oft-joked-about symbols. We’ll also take a tour of other novelty testicle products.

Decoder Ring is a Slate podcast about “cracking cultural mysteries”.

In each episode, host Willa Paskin explores a common thing from our culture and figures out why it matters.

I have made fun of Truck Nutz before. I did not think there was much more to think about Truck Nutz. I dismissed them as coarse and stupid.

I am the audience, then, for this podcast. It turns out everyone else thinks they’re stupid, too, and that, indeed is the joke.

We, as a species, are bad at identifying when groups we don’t belong to are being serious vs. when they are being tongue-in-cheek. This is a compelling exploration of the way that boundary can be straddled by Truck Nutz.

(Sorry for any weird mental images there.)

The World in Words: “The Sci-Fi of Another Language” (Website / Overcast)

The meaning of science fiction stories are often tough to pin down.

Do they depict the future or the present? Are they personal or political? Imaginative or reality-based?

Also, is sci-fi global or local? Were H.G. Wells and George Orwell dreaming up specifically British dystopias?

Are the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick manifestations of American ideals and nightmares?

Reporter Lydia Emmanouilidou set out to answer some of those questions for The World in Words podcast.

Lydia has been reading Chinese sci-fi for several years and has watched it blossom from obscurity to worldwide sensation.

This podcast about language is less about etymology or word origins and more about language itself — particularly how the different languages we speak can affect our lives and filter our understanding of the world.

This episode explores how a story written in a particular language (and cultural context) can be freighted with meaning that is not always apparent in translation, or that can be impossible to translate.

Without Fail: “The Tragedy Expert” (Website / Overcast)

In the days after September 11, 2001, Kenneth Feinberg took on an unenviable task.

Congress had created the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and it was his job to figure out who should receive money and how much they should get.

But much of his time was spent doing something else: listening to people’s stories.

Nearly two decades later, he’s still the person we turn to in the wake of our worst catastrophes.

This is a podcast about 9/11. So it’s a bit of a downer in moments.

It’s not about the tragedy itself, but rather how Mr. Feinberg was tasked with choosing who got compensation for losses sustained in the attack.

He is an enormously compelling speaker, and his stories from that time are fascinating and moving.

Miniseries recommendation: “The Dream” (Website / Overcast)

What if we told you that with zero experience and only a few hundred dollars down, this podcast could change your life?

Well, we’d be lying.

This season on The Dream, Jane Marie dives into the world of pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, and all the other businesses that require their members to recruit their nearest and dearest in hopes of a commission. 

This mini-series explores a subject that’s truly an enormous piece of the national economy, but which is also a source of heartbreak for many.

Part history, part documentary, and part gonzo journalism, it’s a very compelling look at get-rich-quick schemes and the folks who pitch them at the needy and desperate.

Hope you enjoy the listens!

[Previous podcasts & articles worth your time.]

Podcasts Well Worth Your Time for Oct. 2018

Embed from Getty Images

Here are some more podcasts (a couple individual episodes, and a mini-series) from my recent listening that I really enjoyed, and thought you might too!

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any transcripts for these first two episodes.)

Lexicon Valley: “The Rise of They” (Website / Overcast )

English pronouns are evolving. It’s time to embrace it.

Lexicon Valley is a podcast about language — often about how English has developed and changed — hosted by linguist John McWhorter.

In this particular episode, he traces the deep roots of the singular “they” in English, as well as the many ways “they” is used today.

Citations Needed: “The Media’s Bogus Generation Obsession” (Website / Overcast )

“Baby Boomers are bloating the social safety net!” “GenXers are changing the nature of work!” “Millennials are killing the housing market!”.

The media endlessly feeds us stories about how one generation or another is engaging in some collective act of moral failing that, either explicitly or by implication, harms another generation. It’s a widely-mocked cliché at this point, namely the near-constant analyses detailing what Millennials have “killed” or “ruined” lately — everything from Applebee’s to diamonds to top sheets to beer to napkins.

The first rule of drama — and by implication, the media — is to create tension. But what if tensions that actually exist in our society, like white supremacy and class conflict, are too unpleasant and dicey to touch — upsetting advertisers and media owners who benefit from these systems?

To replace these real tensions in society, the media repeatedly relies on dubious and entirely safe points of conflict, like those between two arbitrary generations. It’s not the rich or racism that’s holding me back — it’s old people running up entitlement spending or lazy youth who don’t want to work!

I appreciate listening to Citations Needed, because they cover issues and trends in media from a perspective far outside the mainstream of political thought. (A past episode on Modern Money Theory was particularly interesting.)

They’re very good at deconstructing “common sense” or “received wisdom” ideas — in this case the notion, so prevalent in mass media, that “generations” are any sort of accurate descriptor of anything, or useful for any purpose besides generating business for marketing consultants.

Mini-series Recommendation: Slow Burn (Website, with transcripts / Overcast )

Even recent history is rich with surprising subplots, strange details, and forgotten characters.

On Slow Burn, Leon Neyfakh excavates the strange subplots and forgotten characters of recent political history — and finds surprising parallels to the present. Season 1 captured what it was like to live through Watergate; Season 2 does the same with the saga of Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

I didn’t listen to the first season of Slow Burn (about Nixon’s impeachment), but I really enjoyed this latest season, about the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal in the late 1990s.

It’s eight episodes long (and some change), and describes the events surrounding the impeachment in methodical detail, including many new interviews with parties involved.

I was in high school during that time, and I remember hearing the broad outlines of the story as it unfolded without following many of the finer details.

The series walks through it in a way that clears up a lot of the blind spots in my recollection, which I think is useful just insofar as it’s nice to be well-informed about history — but it also looks at what happened with an awareness of how attitudes around sexual harassment and assault have evolved over the last 20 years.

Transcripts are available of each episode on the show page, and the season was introduced with an article in Slate.

BONUS LINKS: In a previous post, I recommended an episode of Futility Closet (a show which I still highly recommend, generally).

Last month, I also contributed a lateral thinking puzzle to this episode of Futility Closet, and submitted a piece of reader mail which was read in this episode.

I’m a participant!

[Previous podcast  episodes worth your time.]
[All previous things worth your time.]

Three (More) Podcasts Well Worth Your Time

Here are three more individual podcast episodes from my recent listening that I really enjoyed, and thought you might too!

(For those who don’t listen to podcasts, I have linked to transcripts where available.)

99% Invisible: “Breaking Bad News” (Overcast / Website, including a text version) 

When a doctor reveals a terminal diagnosis to a patient — that process is as delicate a procedure as any surgery, with potentially serious consequences if things go wrong. If the patient doesn’t understand their prognosis, for example, they could end up making uninformed decisions about their treatment.

That’s why many medical schools now offer training for students on how to break bad news, bringing in actors to help them learn how to navigate this critically important and very high-stakes moment.

And that’s not the only connection between acting and this particular facet of medicine. It turns out that one of the first doctors to recognize the challenges of this particular kind of doctor-patient communication wasn’t just a physician — he was also a comedian. And he drew on that experience to transform the way that doctors break bad news.

99PI (as it’s known) is a show about the design choices that we overlook in daily life. This episode talks about the deliberate design of a typical, but fraught, human interaction — and how, for example, none other than John Cleese tried to help it go more smoothly.

Hidden Brain: “When Everything Clicks” (Website / Overcast / Transcript)

There can be a lot of psychological noise involved in teaching. But what if we replaced all that mental chit chat….with a click?

This week, we explore an innovative idea about how we learn. It will take us from a dolphin exhibit in Hawaii to a top teaching hospital in New York.

It’s about a method to quiet the noise. The sort of clutter that can turn learning into a minefield of misery.

Hidden Brain is an NPR show that (like 80% of all public radio podcasts) is about sociology and the what we can learn about the strange ways people think.

It’s always interesting, but this particular episode I found particularly fascinating for its description of an unusual way that humans can teach and learn new things: using a dog training clicker.

Listen to find out how this sort of teaching might help learners of a new skill bypass various psychological blocks.

Waking Up with Sam Harris: “The Kindness of Strangers” (Website / Overcast)

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Tristan Harris about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret, and other topics.

I’m not a regular listener to this podcast (and I listened to another episode I didn’t particularly enjoy), but I read an interview with Tristan Harris about his particular area of expertise, and went looking for other interviews to learn more. (Here’s yet another.)

His area of expertise is distraction, or more precisely, attention control – how apps and websites are increasingly designed to play our neurology like a fiddle to capture as much of our time and attention as possible. Tristan has also done a couple of TED talks on the subject.

While it’s a bit obvious in the broad strokes, it’s disturbing to learn about the details — but like my read of The Righteous Mind a few years ago, I found it was the sort of idea that sat in the back of my mind to help contextualize other things I saw and did (like Facebook, Netflix, and YouTube’s specific and purposeful decisions to autoload new videos after you finish watching one).

Related to that, I have since installed Chrome extensions to block the autoloading of new Facebook posts on scrolling (Social Fixer) and block YouTube’s recommendations from ever appearing (Remove Recommendations). The destructive power of YouTube’s recommendation engine is another, wholly different topic, but it’s no less dire.

I have a new podcast too!

It’s on Patreon. Here’s a teaser. I’ll talk about it more very soon!

[ Previous things well worth your time. ]

Three podcast episodes well worth your time

I listen to a lot of podcasts, on a variety of topics. Here are three individual episodes from recent shows that I found particularly compelling, and thought you might too!

Futility Closet: “The Long Way Home” (Website / Overcast)

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the crew of an American seaplane were caught off guard near New Zealand. Unable to return across the Pacific, they were forced to fly home “the long way” — all the way around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the adventures of the Pacific Clipper on its 30,000-mile journey through a world engulfed in war.

Futility Closet is a relatively new add to my playlist, but I’ve already come to enjoy it quite a bit.

Hosts Greg and Sharon Ross share weird tidbits from history, as well as try to stump each other with “lateral thinking puzzles”.

I’m a sucker for aviation stories, and this was one I hadn’t heard before.

It’s full of all the drama you’d expect from a high-stakes globe-trotting adventure. (And here’s another recent aviation-themed Futility Closet episode.)

How I Built This: “James Dyson” (Overcast)

In 1979, James Dyson had an idea for a new vacuum cleaner — one that didn’t use bags. It took him five years to perfect the design, building more than 5,000 prototypes in his backyard shed. He then tried to convince the big vacuum brands to license his invention, but most wouldn’t even take his calls. Eventually, he started his own company. Today, Dyson is one of the best-selling vacuum brands in the world, and James Dyson is a billionaire. 

On How I Built This, host Guy Raz interviews founders and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s most successful companies.

In this particular episode, with vacuum cleaner innovator James Dyson, I really enjoyed hearing about Dyson’s engineering struggles, and how he approached the process of relentlessly perfecting his inventions.

How I Built This has a show website on, but someone tell them to give each episode a permalink, I couldn’t find one (besides the transcript).

The Moth Radio Hour: “The Kindness of Strangers” (Website / Overcast)

In this hour we delve into the goodness of humanity through acts both small and large. A tourist has a major setback while on vacation; a holiday gift exchange is botched; and a nurse in a fertility clinic secretly blesses hopeful couples.

The stories told on The Moth are always interesting, but sometimes they can be melancholy or obscure.

This particular episode is all about kindness, in unusual situations and against all odds. It worked wonders for my mood on the day I heard it.