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Passing through my third-life crisis peacefully in South London, finding out new stuff, and then getting cross and excited about it.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Happy Birthday, Pod Delusion - The 21st Edition

Yesterday saw the release of the 21st proper episode of what is now firmly established as everyone's favorite newsy, political, skeptical, liberal weekly podcast with ska theme tune and numerous contributors.

So, it is time for a warm and heartfelt happy birthday to the Pod Delusion

If you missed it, here's an embed for the new edition.

I know the dangers of confirmation bias, but I think The Pod Delusion is developing into something quite special. In 6 months, it's regular listenership is at levels other podcasts have taken 2 or 3 years to reach. 

I'm not quite sure what James had in mind when he started out, but a neat balance is evolving between very focused and broader reports, ranging from straight out polemic to more sober analysis. Sometimes the focus is the views and expertise of the contributor, sometimes the contributor does an interview with someone else (although a few pieces probably fall somewhere in the middle). 

The range of interviewees (Ariane Sherine, DJ Grothe, Robin Ince, David Nutt, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris, Richard fricking Dawkins, etc) in it's first 21 shows is stunning and not a bad measure of the early impact.

Everyone will have favorite reports. Mine include Liz Lutgendorf on Darwin's Detractors (Ep13), Salim Fadhley's original report on the dodgy bomb detector (Ep15), Martin Norris's Quote of the Year (Ep15) and Misty's rant about education policy (Ep 5), as well as her love affair with Douglas Adams (Ep 17), a subject close to my own heart. 

My favorite contribution, though, remains the one that persuaded me to get involved in the first place - Crispian Jago's spoof of the opening of the Natural History Museum's new Darwin Centre. 

Here's an embed of Episode 1 in which it featured - you can hear it around the 21:40 mark. Have a listen before going any further.

Generally, I think the quality of the episodes has improved with time, as people get more practice and better equipment. I know, personally, I'm much happier with my later contributions than my early ones. Compare my interview with Evan Harris (10:23 special) with my now painful review of The Men Who Stare at Goats (Ep 9).

Finally, before writing this, I went and read the reviews people have left on iTunes. 

Most reviews are very good, but I actually found the less favorable ones more interesting.  They highlighted things I had thought myself when recording and listening, and that I want to bear in mind when doing future contributions. 

Briefly, I think these are as follows. If any of the other contributors are reading, I'd be fascinated to hear whether you feel the same. 

- Topicality - Part of the success to date is the format - it's weekly and the work of multiple people. This means the Pod Delusion can produce detailed commentary on up-to-the-minute issues more easily than other podcasts. This doesn't mean there's no room for me to something on my personal interests or bugbears, but that these come across better when I can link them to current affairs.

It's not just a skeptical podcast - The Pod Delusion has broader ambitions than me. I would be content to cover skeptical topics until the cows come home, but the remit is wider than that. Correspondingly, I have to be careful not to make my reports too niche.

- People aren't interested in me - This will come as a surprise to those of you that know me, but I quite like the sound of my own voice. As such, when I stumble on a nice turn of phrase or have something I really want to say, it can feel like I'm losing a limb if it obviously doesn't fit in the final edit.

- Length - I have trouble writing short sentences and paragraphs, let alone blog entries. As such, it isn't a surprise that I have to work hard to get my contributions down. I'm now working on the principle that anything over 7 minutes doesn't cut it, simply because that's about the length of my own attention span when listening.

- The quality of the show is only as good as the worst contribution - Here, I'm talking both about sound quality and how good the report is. James is getting contribution offers from ever more people, and the level of expertise, delivery and sound quality can be almost professional - witness Dr*T in Ep 19 on Homeopathic Labelling. I know I have to improve my game to keep up, which both scary and exciting.

- It's James's bag, baby - Finally, it's vital to remember that at it's heart, the Pod Delusion is about James O'Malley. It was his idea, he puts the work in every single week, and he is (I think) the biggest factor in the success so far. The acerbic wit of his links is the glue that holds the whole thing together. A couple of times, I've had ambitious ideas that were either wildly unfeasible or just didn't fit the show. James, in his very kind way, has always heard me out before pointing out the flaws in my plans and rejecting them. This has to be right. What he says goes, and further success will depend on the coherence that his ownership and editorship provide.

That's about it, except to say once again: Congratulations & happy 21st, Pod Delusion. It has been a joy to be part of the ride so far, and I can't wait to see what will happen next.*

*I do actually know some of what will happen next, and I hope it will leave your appetites whetted. Look out for an official link-up with Westminster Skeptics in the Pub & an interview with Professor Marcus du Sautoy about his Douglas Adams memorial lecture.


  1. I am so glad that I've somehow stumbled upon the pod delusion and all you wonderful people!

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