Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I was having a chat with a friend from work the other day and he mentioned hearing about something on Radiolab.  He had told me about the site several years ago but it was during one of the rainy seasons when my DSL was running slower than SAE 30 motor oil on a 40 below zero morning.  Would that be F or C?  So at the time, when I tried to listen to one of the episodes I would hear 3 seconds of programming and then the computer would down load for 2 minutes for another few seconds of program then downloading for long minutes again....  So I gave up on RadioLab, with the intention of coming back when the DSL was working again...and of course, I forgot about it. So when we were chatting the other day, it was like "Oh yeah, Radiolab, I have to check it out."

So I did, and...

How can you be fascinated to the core of your being and yet be pissed off to the degree that you want to bite yourself at the same time?

First thing that happens on a typical episode is that Jad Abumrad will thank everyone for listening and supporting Radiolab. Fine.  Then we get the usual NPR "This show is supported by..."  OK, fine so far, there is nothing wrong with thanking supporters.  Then we get "You are listening to Radiolab, the podcast, from New York Public Radio, WNYC, and NPR.  And now I am pissed off enough to turn the damn thing off.  Why?  Excessive theatrical horseshit just pisses me off. Yes they must announce the station, and that is fine.  But can we not do it with one person speaking in a normal tone?  Does it have to be a group of people all talking at different times and rates?  Do some of them have to act drunk?  Do they have to have some cutesy music? Is this thing being produced by high school sophomores taking a public radio class at the 50 watt high school radio station?  Too damned cutesy.  OK, I know I am a crusty old bastard and I don't suffer cutesy well.  But hang in there.  These things are supposed to be excellent.

Robert Krulwich & Jad Abumrad of RadioLab
Now Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich will come on and generally introduce what the subject of the episode will be.  I have listened to about 5 episodes.  In one or two of them, Jad and Robert were acting so damned silly with each other that I had to bite my hand from clicking the thing off.  Fellow curmudgeons, keep a large caliber soft lead bullet handy when you are listening, or maybe one of those things that they stuff into a patient's mouth when they are about to administer electroshock therapy.  Unfortunately you will be subjected to a level of theatrical horseshit delivered in the most honey laden God awful fashion, that you may bite that bullet in half.  But hang in there, sooner or later Jad and Robert will get serious and they will knock your socks off.  Both of these guys are extremely intelligent and very good speakers who unfortunately have a thing for excessive whimsy.  But hang in and listen.  They interview some very fascinating people and in between all of the cutesy sound effects and cool things that a 13 year old can do with a sound mixing board, they will unleash in you a level of wonder that you have not experienced since you first heard about the birds and the bees.

Last night I listened to the episode titled Emergence.  Yes they had some NY highschool choral group singing "Coffee" in a way that I wanted to stick an ice pick into my eardrums.  I shall die of lead poisoning if I keep listening to these things, but I will have the glint of fascination fading from my eye as my lead encrusted heart stops beating. This particular episode was so fascinating that I spent an hour on the web afterwards checking out books and ideas that I picked up from the podcast. Ants are stupid individually but the colony is capable of amazing feats.  The same as our brains.  Neurons and synapses are stupid, yet the colony of those neurons is one of the most complex pieces of equipment in the universe, but who is in charge of it, where is the control center?

Try it out, go to , then click EPISODES.  You will see a collection of 46 (at this time) different episodes that have already aired.  Click on one.  You can either listen to it on your computer or download it into your iPod or other device.  Each episode is about an hour long.  Bear with the cutesy horseshit and I think that when you have listened to the entire program, you will find your self thinking "Wow! That was pretty cool!" despite all the horseshit.

Radiolab has Episodes which are the hour long  broadcasts, but they also have Podcasts which contain both the Episodes and shorter Podcasts.  There is also a Blog section.

Yes, I am one of the few people in the world without an iPod, iPad, iPhone or iWhatevers.  I wanted to listen to these things on the back porch or in the car.  So I downloaded it into my Kindle.  You can't fast forward or rewind. My wife asked me a question and I missed a section.  I had to start over.  Well that ain't worth a shit. So I dragged out my Garmin 5000.  Yes it lacks all sort of features that I want on a GPS, but by God it has a wonderful MP3 player on it.  So I downloaded the RadioLab episode on that.  Fine except you have to have 12 volts handy.  The Garmin 5000 has no internal battery.  So I can listen to it plugged into the car or with the AC adapter, but I can't listen to it out on the porch.  So I looked at iPod prices.  Whoa.  Not that interested, I am on a fixed income. So to hell with it, I'll use the Garmin in the car and the Kindle on the porch and just not be able to rewind. But as you listen to these things, you find that you want to rewind and listen to a particular point again. So the Kindle was really proving to be inadequate for back porch listening.

I had to buy one those cables with the male plug on both ends to hook the Garmin up to the car radio.  So as I am looking in Walmart for the cable, by God if I don't run into a 4 gig MP3 player with a small screen for $40.  It will probably sound like crap, but what the hell I want it to listen to spoken word (and cutesy horseshit). So who cares what it sounds like?

Amazon, Philips Go Gear Player

I bought it.  It works great, it sounds great. I down loaded all 46 episodes and I still have almost 1 gig of free space.  This thing has a folder view that allows you to arrange and select your music like files on a computer.  It shows the elapsed minutes and you can easily rewind or fast forward.  It is a tad larger than a Zippo lighter, but only a tad.  You can view pictures and videos, but the screen is so small that it seems a bit farfetched for that purpose.  However, the screen works great for selecting and rewinding your music.  I am quite pleased with the little contraption, something that doesn't happen all that often.

Yes Radiolab pisses me off, but far more so, it fascinates the hell out of me.  When Jad and Robert get serious, they can take you to intellectual vistas that just fill you with wonder.  You just have to bite the bullet on the theatrical crap.  This is how I wanted my blog to be.  I ain't smart enough of course, nor do I have access to really cool people other than VW Busman and Old Baguette.  But if I could make my blog like Radiolab, without the cute bullshit, I would feel that I was accomplishing my life's edify and entertain.  Yes, learning can and should be fun.   I would like my blog to be a Chautauqua as Robert Pirsig used the term.  I want to fascinate you and make you think.  I want you to get that feeling that your head is going to explode with novel ideas.  Not smart enough, but Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are smart enough, and they do an amazing job...even though they really piss me off.

Try it, I think you will like it.

Oh BTW -40 F = -40 C.  Ain't that cool.

You can find out more about Radiolab at Wikipedia, Radiolab

You can listen to an informative interview with Jad & Robert at: The Sound of Young America. This podcast is about 28 minutes long and Jad & Robert explain how the show is formulated and even acknowledge that there are old crusty bastards like me who both love and hate the show.

Here is a New York Times article on the show, New York Times, On Radiolab, The Sound of Science.

Edit February 11, 2012:  I am happy to report that the theatrical horseshit, the corny sound effects, Jad and Robert's silliness, and even the dipshit multi-voiced intro soundbite featuring at least one drunk, no longer pisses me off.  I don't notice any of the corny elements any longer.  I have listened to all the episodes at least once and am almost through them all again for the second time.  Having a poor memory, I can listen   to these episodes over and over and still manage a fascination.  With my particular temperament, I have noticed the best place to listen is while driving.  If I try to listen at home, I may drift off to sleep or get fidgety.  When I finish the second round, I will listen to them all again.  Once you get used to the theatrics, you find that these episodes are simply amazing in their ability to fascinate you and plant the desire to learn more.

Image Credits:


Krulwich & Abumrad:

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