5 Podcasts Worth Checking Out

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time will tell you that I love podcasts.  I’ve been listening to them since 2005 when Ron D. Moore was doing one for Battlestar Galatica.  And before that I was listening to home-grown talk radio shows on Shoutcast internet radio.

So it would be safe to say that I’ve seen a lot of shows come and go.  I’ve gotten really intense about some show, and then I’ve just fallen out of love with them.  Currently, I have 21 feeds in my podcatcher.  Here are some of my current favorites that I think are worth checking out:

  1. This Week in Tech.  The granddaddy of podcasts.  Leo Leport has been podcasting longer than most, and it shows in this slickly produced two hours-or-so, roundtable, tech show.  In fact, Leo is so good, I didn’t like the show or the TWiT network at first because I liked the grungier, hacker shows of the early internet radio days.  But you can’t argue with the fact that by just listening to this show, you will be caught up with all the most important goings on in the technology world.  The commentary is never dry and it is done in such a way that you don’t have to have a degree in computer science to understand what’s going on.
  2. Fat Man on Batman. I make no mystery of the fact that I love Batman.  I also love Kevin Smith, the director of some of my favorite movies (Dogma, Clerks, Chasing Amy.)  So my love of this show should come as no surprise. Every week, Kevin interviews someone connected to Batman.  He’s done writers of the comic, voices on the Animated Series, Adam West, hell there’s even an episode where he interviews Stan Lee.  Don’t know what Stan Lee has to do with Batman, but I’m not going to argue with Stan the Man.  I’m always surprised by how thought-provoking, funny, and emotional the interviews are as Kevin doesn’t just focus on this person’s involvement with Batman but what in their life brought them to the bat.  It’s one of the best comic book podcasts I’ve ever heard, even if they aren’t always the main topic of conversation.
  3. AutoPilot! Each week, a different pilot episode of a long running television series is reviewed, and contrasted against the series as a whole.  The hosts do a good job of making each episode interesting even if you haven’t seen the show they are talking about (Who the hell remembers Airwolf?) What I like about the show is that each episode is kept tight.  The hosts never stray from the topic at hand, and move from point to point deftly and with little effort.  Given how many podcast can seem like a self-indulgent ramble, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
  4. The Linux Action Show! With as fractionalised as Linux is, it’s a miracle that this show is as focused as it is.  If you want to get a sense of what is going on with Linux and Open Source technology, this is the only show to listen to.  The hosts do a good job at picking the right stories to talk about, the right projects to review, and make a very dry subject matter interesting with humor but without losing any depth.
  5. Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project.  In college, Mythbusters was like a religion.  Everything used to shut down for a new episode or a marithon on Discovery. The show always reminded me of how me and my father were when we would be on a job together trying to figure something out.  He’d be looking at it logically, I’d be making jokes.  Adam Savage is one of the more interesting people on still allowed to be on television, and it’s great to have these twenty minute podcasts were he talks about building things or his favorite movies.  Each episode has something I’d never thought about before in it.

That should be enough to get you started.

Raspberry Pi first impressions

Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi (Photo credit: tkramm)

So it was my birthday last week, and after crawling out alcohol induced coma, I was a year older and found that my girlfriend, in her infinite generosity, had given me a Raspberry Pi. For those of you that don’t know, the Raspberry Pi is a credit card size computer that runs Linux.  It was designed to be a cheap hackable computer that kids could mess around with to learn how computers work.

I had been following the device ever since it made a huge splash in the tech world last year, and while I’d seen hundreds of pictures of the thing, nothing can really prepare you for how small the thing really is.  Looking at a Raspberry Pi is akin to staring an optical illusion because you know what you’re looking at is impossible, yet there it is right in front of you.

It took me a few days to collect all of the other pieces of equipment that you need to actually run the thing.  You get nothing out of the box other than the board itself.  They ship it naked without even a case, the way they used to with electronics back in my day.  (Now I feel really old.)

The first thing that you notice when you start plugin in the USB, SD card, and power plug is that you have to press them in a little harder than you should.  This gives the impression that you might break the thing at any second, but I’m sure it’s more durable than I think.

Setting up the SD card with the Raspberry Pi OS was a very quick and painless task that didn’t take any time at all.  Neither did the inital set up that I had to do on the first boot up.  Everything on the Pi is painless.  The thing wants to be hacked on.  It wants you to mess with it fearlessly.  It’s 35 dollar price tag really adds to this because if you do wind up bricking the thing, you’re not out much and you’ve gained some more “what not to do” knowledge.

After booting into the Desktop Environment -which is LXDE– the first thing I noticed was that the Pi was not outputting to the 1080p that I knew it could.  It took me about two hours to realize that there was no simple utility to change the resolution, and that I would have to use the command line to go in and change the configuration file.  At no point in this process did I feel frustrated.  As I said, the thing wants to be hacked, so I’m actually glad there wasn’t an easy to find utility in the GUI that could change the resolution.

Of course, once I did change the resolution, I realized that it made the text way to small to read, but it didn’t slow down the desktop.

Currently, I’m going through the lessons at LinuxCommand.org to get really familiar with the command line before I turn the thing into a web server.

So my recommendation would be to pick one up if you have any interest at all in learning how a computer works.  It’s a great rough and tumble environment to experiment without fear of causing any real damage because you can always get another or four.

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The Beast and I: Living With a Very Old Computer.

I’m writing this on the Beast, a computer that has been my daily-driver for nine and half years.  We all have those computers that we keep for a little too long and tell ourselves that “one day soon” we will replace it with a shiny new system.  I just never got around to the last part.  Aside from a house and a car, a computer can be the most expensive thing that most of us will ever buy.  While I haven’t been that poor for that long, I just haven’t laid hands on enough cash to feel justified in a major purchase like that.

Not when my current rig worked as well as it did.

For those of you not good at math, I build the Beast in October of 2003.  While I did want a new computer, I built it as a way of dealing with a hard break up.  (Your first long-term girlfriend is always the hardest.)  It was the first computer that I’d ever bought with my own money and the first one that I’d ever built from scratch.  I’d had two other computers before that.  Both laptops.  This was to be my first desktop.

While it would have been easy to have talked my parents into giving me the cash to buy the parts, I wanted to work for the money to get over the pain I was feeling, so I went to work for my father installing fire alarms.  That was 10-16 hour days, 5-7 days a week of physical labor for a kid that’s only a buck seven soaking wet.  You get over any mental “pain” pretty fucking quick.

And at the end of the summer, I had the cash to build the Beast.

I should probably explain the name.  I call it that because the rig is in a black server case that comes up pass my knees and is as wide across as two of me.  It has the obligatory plastic window on the side that belches blue light into the room, and the huge fans in it sound like an air port.  I have a habbit for leaving it on all night, so I don’t how I’m ever going to get to sleep without it’s white nose if I ever to get up the balls to get rid of thing.

I’m sure some reading this would like to know its specs, but it’s been so long I’ve forgotten them, and I’m too lazy to look them up.  I do know it has Athlon’s first 64 bit processor (single core), and three gigs of DDR 1 ram.  After that I couldn’t tell you.

Using the same computer for almost ten years might seem strange for some of you, given that I post a lot about technology on this blog, but I think that keeping a system running every day for a decade can teach you a lot about computers.  For about eight and a half of those years it’s been an exclusive Windows XP box.  I’ve had to learn how to keep my system clear of almost every piece of spy and malware on the Internet.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use winconfig to close out all of the stupid programs that wanted to run on boot-up.

I never did get around to doing a reinstall, so my OS has a lot of personality.  I’ve also had an old wireless card in the thing that would make it crash every so often.  The only way that got fixed was be moving the router closer to my system and connecting it directly.

A little less than a year ago, I got tired of seeing that same interface for years, and switched to a dual boot with Ubuntu Linux.  Everything that everybody says about linux being fast is true.  I was running 12.04, which was the latest version at the time, and it gave my system new life because for the first time in year, I was running a modern operating system with all of the new design ideas of the last few years applied.  I have a powerful dock and a really slick interface.  Granted, I could only use the 2D mode of Unity, so I didn’t get all of the flashy transitions, but it was still good for me.

My advice to anyone who’s using old hardware would be to throw Linux on, because it can bring your box back from the dead.

That said, I did finally have to kill my partition because it started to act really strange.  (Locking up on back ups and such.)  This was because despite all my best efforts, my hardware has almost gone through three full presidential terms.  It’s really showing it’s age as a daily use computer, and in the next few weeks I’m going to replace it.

More on that later, but I expect when I do finally retire the beast to be a very emotional affair.