Will the human race survive the twenty-first Century?

My guest in this edition of the After On podcast is British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. And just to state the obvious? Astronomer Royal is such a cool title. And it’s just one of a long list of positions and honors that Sir Martin has earned over his five decade career in astrophysics.

That said, most of today’s conversation is not about the stars. It’s mostly about how we could possibly survive this century in the face of multiple "existential risks." Along with Bill Joy (who wrote a highly influential Wired cover story on the topic), Sir Martin helped kickstart this urgent conversation back in 2003, with the release of his amazing book Our Final Century? (which had the more breathless title Our Final Hour in the US).

You can hear our full conversation by clicking below:

Despite the interview's main thrust, I couldn't help to ask Sir Martin about two really cool deep space topics. Toward the start of the interview, we discuss the most violent events that have occurred in the universe since the big bang itself - roughly one of which detonates with ZERO warning somewhere in the observable universe, daily. It’s crazy, and fascinating stuff.

Then toward the end of the interview, we discuss a truly eerie phenomenon called fast radio bursts (FRBs). These are intensely strong radio wave sources with utterly mysterious origins. And while this will sound breathless, it's not out of the question that advanced extraterrestrials could be causing them. Now - astronomers have discovered across many mysterious celestial phenomena in the past, which now have well-understood natural explanations. Read the rest

Talking about Ron Howard's Haunted Mansion album with the Comedy on Vinyl podcast

It's been two years since I last sat down with Jason Klamm for his Comedy on Vinyl podcast (we were discussing Allan Sherman's My Son, The Nut); we were past due for a rematch. Read the rest

Comedy/documentary explains quantum computing for a "confused general audience"

Jim Mortleman & Stuart Houghton write, "We're two UK tech journalists who also write comedy. This is our (UK-based) scripted comi-documentary podcast explaining the weird, wacky and potentially world-changing field of quantum computing to a curious but confused general audience. With laughs. In episode one we answer the question 'What the photonic muck is a quantum computer?' with the help of some of the world's leading quantum physicists and, er, Al Murray The Pub Landlord." Read the rest

Serial season 3 has launched: "A young woman at a bar is slapped on the butt. So why’s she the one in jail?"

A new season of Serial is out. I really likd the first season, about the murder of Baltimore high-schooler Hae Min Lee, and unanswered questions about her convicted murdered Adnan Syed. I thought the second season was OK, but I didn't finish it. Now the third season is out, and it is the story of one year in a Cleveland courthouse, told week-by-week. I'm going to give it a try. Two episodes are available. Read the rest

Bundyville: a bingeable new podcast that delves into the apocalyptic cult of Cliven Bundy

For many of us, the Cliven Bundy story started when a fringey rancher got a bunch of his militia pals to flex their white privilege by threatening to shoot federal law enforcement officers who'd demanded that Bundy stop stealing public land and grazing; then Bundy's loathsome offspring led a terrorist takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Read the rest

How politics became our identity

Dinner parties used to be where you avoided politics. Now talking about politics at dinner parties is the norm.

Years ago, we avoided politics because we assumed the people at our table had diverse political identities, and we didn’t want to introduce a topic that might lead to an argument. Today, we assume our guests share a single identity, after all, why else would we have invited them?

Something has changed in the United States, and for many of us, it’s only at Thanksgiving dinner, a gathering where we don’t get to sort ourselves by political tribe, that we must face people who see the world differently than ourselves.

In this episode, we spend time with political scientist Lilliana Mason who discusses this in her new book, Uncivil Agreement, in which she says we actually agree about most things, and strangely, “our conflicts are over who we think we are, rather than reasoned differences of opinion.”

As Mason explains, “Our opinions can be very fluid, so fluid that if we wanted to come to a compromise we could, if there were not these pesky identities in the way. We can’t come to a compromise because our identities are making us want to take positions as far away from the other side as possible. What that means is that we are trying to look like we disagree in order to defend our identity and our sense of difference from other people.”

As an example, Mason says that six months ago 99 percent of Americans would have said that, of course, children should not be separated from their parents. Read the rest

A comedian and the former president of Ireland have a new podcast about women and climate justice

Comedian Maeve Higgins is the host of the amazing Maeve In America podcast in which Higgins, an Irish immigrant to Brooklyn, discusses the immigrant experience in America with other immigrants (as an immigrant to the USA myself, I find this a consistently fascinating and uplifting listen); Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland (1990-1997), and after a tenure marked by much-needed, groundbreaking liberalization and secularization, she served as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002 -- she was forced out by opposition from George W Bush's UN delegation!). Read the rest

Talking copyright, internet freedom, artistic business models, and antitrust with Steal This Show

I'm on the latest episode of Torrentfreak's Steal This Show podcast (MP3), where I talk with host Jamie King about "Whether file-sharing & P2P communities have lost the battle to streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, and why the ‘copyfight’ is still important; how the European Copyright Directive eats at the fabric of the Web, making it even harder to compete with content giants; and why breaking up companies like Google and Facebook might be the only way to restore an internet — and a society — we can all live with." Read the rest

Interview with Stewart Brand on the 50th anniversary of the Whole Earth Catalog

Many people have equated Stewart Brand to the mythical “World’s Most Interesting Man,” who was featured for years in those Dos Equis commercials. Enough people that the comparison’s a bit of a cliché. But like many clichés, there is something to it.

Stewart was among the most culturally catalytic people in the turbulent years of the late 1960s - although back then, he did a lot of his catalyzing behind the scenes. He went on to become a rather visible founding figure of the environmental movement of the early 70s. Later, he created one of the earliest and most influential online communities, which he named The Well. He convened history’s first hacker’s conference, then later co-founded one of the world’s premiere centers of truly long-term thinking. He’s still running that today, and is also helping the renowned bioengineer and genomicist George Church resurrect extinct species, like the wooly mammoth.

If this makes you think Stewart might be something of a historic figure, you’re not alone. He showed up for his interview at my apartment with a production crew, who were filming a documentary about his life. Meanwhile John Markoff - who for decades at the NYT was among the world’s most influential and well-regarded tech journalists - is writing a biography about Stewart.

For the same reasons that Stewart attracts this sort of attention, I’m taking an unusual approach to this episode. Rather than focusing solely on a single deep and complex aspect of his work, Stewart and I speak broadly about the sweep of his experiences, and the unique perspective they’ve given him on technology, the environment, and our prospects of navigating the coming century. Read the rest

Enjoy the psychedelic sounds of West Coast Fog Radio

West Coast Fog Radio is the absolutely wonderful podcast of garage psych, avant-rock, desert drone, loner folk, ambient cut-ups, spoken word, and other far-out sounds hosted by Erik Bluhm, former editor of the greatly-missed "Great God Pan," a killer 1990s 'zine about outré California culture and news. Turn on, tune in, burn out.

Your host Erik Bluhm takes you on an audio tour of the West you might be unaware of, visiting obscure moments in musical history along the way. You might hear folk rock and proto-raga rock 45s from the mid ‘60s, rural psychedelic private LP meanderings, self-released audio poetry and sound collage, obscure history lessons and readings, New Age/ambient/ethno-honky visionaries, DIY art/synth, punk, and post punk sides, and/or experimental nothingness in tape form.

West Coast Fog Radio (Thanks, Jess Rotter!)

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Podcast: Petard, Part 03

Here's the third part of my reading (MP3) of Petard (part one, part two), a story from MIT Tech Review's Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling; a story inspired by, and dedicated to, Aaron Swartz -- about elves, Net Neutrality, dorms and the collective action problem.

MP3 Read the rest

A free internet is a configurable internet

I appeared on the O'Reilly podcast this week to discuss my upcoming keynote at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference. Read the rest

Announcing "Petard," a new science fiction story reading on my podcast

Here's the first part of my reading (MP3) of Petard, a story from MIT Tech Review's Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling; a story inspired by, and dedicated to, Aaron Swartz -- about elves, Net Neutrality, dorms and the collective action problem. Read the rest

Podcast: The Man Who Sold the Moon, Part 08: the FINAL INSTALLMENT

Here's the eighth and final part of my reading (MP3) (party seven, part six, part five, part four, part three, part two, part one) of The Man Who Sold the Moon, my award-winning novella first published in 2015's Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer. It's my Burning Man/maker/first days of a better nation story and was a kind of practice run for my 2017 novel Walkaway.

MP3 Read the rest

Podcast: The Man Who Sold the Moon, Part 07

Here's part seven of my reading (MP3) (part six, part five, part four, part three, part two, part one) of The Man Who Sold the Moon, my award-winning novella first published in 2015's Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer. It's my Burning Man/maker/first days of a better nation story and was a kind of practice run for my 2017 novel Walkaway.

MP3 Read the rest

Podcast: The Man Who Sold the Moon, Part 06

Here's part six of my reading (MP3) (part five, part four, part three, part two, part one) of The Man Who Sold the Moon, my award-winning novella first published in 2015's Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer. It's my Burning Man/maker/first days of a better nation story and was a kind of practice run for my 2017 novel Walkaway.

MP3 Read the rest

Pounded in the Butt by My Own Podcast: Chuck Tingle comes to your earbuds

The good folks from Night Vale have launched Pounded in the Butt By My Own Podcast, a new audio treat in which guest-readers read the extremely NSFW and utterly delightful erotic fiction of Chuck Tingle (previously). Read the rest

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