Latif Nasser is Director of Research for WNYC's Radiolab. He wrote a piece for Transom about how he comes up with story ideas for the show. He has an interesting "bag of tricks" to find stories and have lots on hand so that he doesn't panic under a deadline. The tricks include setting up dozens of Google Alerts on the names of interesting people, "juicy phrases" (such as “the human equivalent of”), and topics he finds fascinating (such as the "alford plea"). He signs up for lots of newsletters -- "The more obscure the field the better." (He recommends creating a separate email account for newsletters). He searches for oral histories on ArchiveGrid. He also talks to strangers -- on planes, in lines, "even wrong numbers." The piece includes many other tricks I didn't include here. Highly recommended!
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A reminder that I'm wrapping up my Columbia University lecture series tonight at 5PM, when I'm appearing onstage with Radiolab's Jad Abumrad at the lecture theater in Pulitzer Hall (RSVP here); and then I'm heading to Swarthmore tomorrow, to give a talk at the Lang Performing Arts Center Room (LPAC) 101 Cinema from 7-9PM. Both talks are free.
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For more than two years, Radiolab has been running a brilliant side-podcast called More Perfect which involves deeply reported, engaging stories about Supreme Court decisions, skilfully mixing in audio from the trials, historic or new interviews with the people involved, and commentary from scholars and activists that serve to illuminate the incredible stories behind the court decisions that have shaped life in America.
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I'm heading to the east coast next week, first for a lecture series in NYC for Columbia University (including a conversation with Radiolab's Jad Abumrad about Big Tech, monopolies and democratic technology); and from there I'm headed to Pennsylvania for a talk about my novel Walkaway at Swarthmore, on Sept 28 from 7-9PM at the Lang Performing Arts Center Room (LPAC) 101 Cinema. All the events are free, though some require tickets, so be sure to check in advance. Hope to see you there!
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Columbia University's Brown Institute is hosting me for a trio of lectures later this month in New York City: I kick off with a conversation with the Brown's Dennis Tenen about science fiction, copyright, and the arts on Sept 25, then a lecture on copyright and surveillance on Sept 26, and wrap up with an onstage conversation with Radiolab's Jad Abumrad about Big Tech, monopolies, and democratic technology on Sept 27. (I'm also dropping by Swarthmore for a lecture on Sept 28, details to follow).
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Rodney Brooks -- eminent computer scientist and roboticist who has served as head of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and CTO of Irobot -- has written a scorching, provocative list of the seven most common errors made (or cards palmed) by pundits and other fortune-tellers when they predict the future of AI. Read the rest
Economist Tim Harford (previously) traces the history of denialism and "fake news" back to Big Tobacco's cancer denial playbook, which invented the tactics used by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to ride to victory -- a playbook that dismisses individual harms as "anaecdotal" and wide-ranging evidence as "statistical," and works in concert with peoples' biases (smokers don't want cigarettes to cause cancer, Brexiteers want the UK to be viable without the EU, Trump supporters want simple, cruel policies to punish others and help them) to make emprically wrong things feel right. Read the rest
Radiolab brought to my attention this great five-part podcast series on poverty in America. Busted: America's Poverty Myths breaks down accepted wisdom about poverty to reveal the reality of what it’s actually like to be poor in America. The show takes familiar concepts like the social safety net and the rags-to-riches narrative and explores the ways in which they’re not quite what they seem. You can download the podcast on the On The Media iTunes feed or listen to it on the WNYC website. You can also get a taste of Busted by listening to the latest Radiolab episode, which offers a compilation of Busted stories. Read the rest
David A Banks argues that the boom in NPR explainer podcasts -- Radiolab, Note to Self, Hidden Brain, Freakonomics Radio and others -- are ideologically bankrupt, presenting individual, often neurological explanations for social phenomena -- rather than turning to the traditional social science accounts of these issues, so that the weird, broken, messed up things in our world are the result of our human "hardwiring" rather than the outgrowth of policies and ideology. Read the rest
When I first heard that Radiolab (previously), the wonderful podcast that combines deep dives into technical subjects with masterful storytelling, was going to start a new podcast about the Supreme Court, it sounded like a weird fit. Read the rest
Radiolab's Jad Abumrad riffs on "The Function of Music" in this spectacular cut-up video by Mac Premo.
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Since its publication in late 2015, science writer Oliver Morton's The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World
has swept many "best book" (best science book, best business book, best nonfiction book) and with good reason: though it weighs in at a hefty 440 pages and covers a broad scientific, political and technological territory, few science books are more important, timely and beautifully written.
Media artist Michael Naimark writes:
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In 1990, right as the first VR wave was swelling, Stewart Brand and Grateful Dead manager Jon Mcintyre concocted a scheme to produce an invitation-only 24-hour VR event modeled after the Electric Cool-Aid Acid test. They convinced Colossal Pictures, the largest soundstage in San Francisco, to host it. Dozens of demos and scores of talks were presented, by far the largest and most prominent VR event of its kind. I directed the video production. In total, 66 hours of video, both from a pro crew and a “basket full of prosumer cameras”, was shot.
Shortly after the event, David (Lawrence), Jim (McKee), and Earwax received an NEA grant to make a radio show. The funding enabled all of the video to be logged and transcribed. From it they made several versions, organized in short 1-4 minute themed sections. Their style was very “pre RadioLab”. From the New American Radio website:
Virtual Paradise—The Reality Tape (1992-93)
Earwax Productions with David Lawrence. An exciting production created in the spirit of the technology it focuses on. Virtual Paradise examines the ideas, issues, and attitudes that currently surround virtual reality. As this technology evolves, it brings with it the potential for redefining our most basic assumptions about media, experience, and reality. Virtual Paradise features many voices recorded at Cyberthon, a 24-hour virtual reality event presented by Whole Earth Institute in 1990. It also includes interviews with such visionaries as science-fiction author William Gibson, VR architect Jaron Lanier, artificial reality pioneer Myron Krueger, and Timothy Leary—all intercut with music and sound effects and shaped into a highly entertaining and insightful "virtual" tape composition.
If you've been struggling to make sense of the stories about Stingrays (super-secretive cellular surveillance tech used by cops and governments) (previously) this week's Note to Self podcast does the best job I've yet seen (heard) of explaining them. Read the rest
Pop-Up Magazine is a spectacular night of storytelling, performance, music, and film packed into a 100-minute extravaganza. It's coming to the beautiful Ace Theatre in downtown LA this Sunday.