Thursday, September 21, 2006


I first heard of this show in June when someone involved in the show e-mailed me asking whether I still reviewed podcasts. A valid question, I suppose, since my last review at that point (and currently) had been in April. Like so many ideas, I started this review blog with good intentions but found that running three blogs can take a fair chunk of one's time.

But here I am, giving it another shot. I'll try to be a little more regular in the future.

Which segues quite nicely into the podcast at hand: Bran (Regular... Bran... get it? Honestly, I kill myself sometimes).

Topic: Tech news
Length: approx. 30 minutes

With a name like Bran, you'd expect the show to some sort of health food podcast, but it is in fact yet another tech podcast. BRAN in this case is an acronym for Bloddy Roulla Yiacoumi Angus Kidman and Nathan Taylor, three tech journalists from Australia.

Roulla "hosts" the show and makes sure things stays peppy. All three take turns mostly opining on the week's tech stories, and they usually seem to know what they're talking about.

But a couple of things make this podcast stand out from the other myriad tech podcasts out there.

First, it's from Australia. This is an advantage both because, let's face it, who doesn't get a kick out of listening to an Australian accent? It adds a certain je ne sais quoi that other 'casts lack (unless of course you're Australian). But beyond that, it's also refreshing to get a non-US-centric take on tech news. Much as I love Leo Laporte and TWit, it can get a little tedious when they start talking about US copyright law and assuming it applies to the whole world (at least that's the impression I get).

Second, being Australian, they tend to be quite irreverent and often fairly raunchy. It's nice to hear broadcasters chewing over the issues like real people would rather than the watered down discussions we so often get on tech podcasts. And nary an episode goes by without some mention of Paris Hilton or Jenna Jameson. And the out-takes at the end of each show are worth waiting for.

Finally, if I were to make one criticism, it would be to do something about the cheesy theme music. The tune itself is catchy enough, but when the canned horns come in, I get Yamaha DX7-style flashbacks; the 80s were a long time ago. Come on, people. If you want to compete with Leo & Company, you'll need to do better than that.

But this minor quibble aside, if you're looking for a refreshing and irreverent take on tech news, tune in to BRAN. 4.5 stars.

As always, if you know of a podcast you think I'd like and should review, drop me a line.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

The Science Show

This is the second in my open-ended series of informal podcast reviews. I've given myself a highfalutin name, but hopefully, the reviews will remain unpretentious.

In the short history of podcasting, public broadcasters have been among the leaders in the field. While Canada's CBC only has a few podcasts currently available (though they are working on more, apparently), NPR in the US, along with the BBC and Australia's ABC, offer quite a number of podcasts. In fact, ABC offers over 80 podcasts for the avid listener to choose from. And while this is nowhere near NPR's 293, it is a mine that I have yet to properly explore. However, one show in particular has caught my ear: ABC Radio National's The Science Show.

Topic: Science (general)
Length: approx. 45 minutes

The Science Show is a weekly science program broadcast by the ABC. Like most broadcast radio podcasts, the audio quality is generally quite high, as is the overall production value, so the podcast is easy on the ears. The program differs from many other science podcasts, such as the one offered by the journal Nature, in that it's not just a rundown of the week's science stories. The show covers stories that often don't make the science headlines and offers in-depth analysis of stories you probably wouldn't otherwise be aware of. For instance, the most recent program, for April 1, had a fascinating 20-minute segment on fish oil and brain development. But the show also has a quirky side, as evidenced by last week's mock-serious segment on the study of the disappearing teaspoons (no, really, it was quite funny). Occasionally, the program invites contributors to present a paper, or that's how it seems, which is a somewhat unusual format.

Not surprisingly, The Science Show has a perspective that seems more focused on Asia-Pacific stories rather than on North American or European science, though that may just be my impression since I've only been listening for a little over a month. But this is a good thing, to my mind; the Internet and podcasting are all about making the world a little smaller and seeing past our own back yards.

Host Robyn Williams is just funny enough (though he's no Robin Williams) to give the program some real personality without going over the top. I've come to enjoy it just as much as the CBC's Quirks & Quarks, another excellent Science podcast I may review down the road.

Podcritical rating: 5 stars.

If you know of a podcast you think I should review, drop me a line or leave a comment.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Jay Ingram's Theatre of the Mind

Jay Ingram's Theatre of the Mind. Get the podcast feed here. Subscribe in iTunes here.

Length: approximately 15 minutes, though the early shows were much shorter.
Subject: Consciousness and the brain

Sponsored by HarperCollins, the podcast is, it would seem, primarily a way to promote Jay Ingram's new book of the same title. But if so, it's a pretty soft sell. The show is co-hosted by David Newland, a Toronto-area singer-songwriter. The two make a good team and have a nice rapport. The podcast is non-technical yet interesting to those with a knowledge of science. Ingram is articulate and funny, yet obviously very serious about the subject. The show is well-produced and the sound is excellent. And yet in my opinion, part of what makes the podcast work is that it isn't over-produced. Ingram and Newmland seem to be two people having a regular conversation over coffee. And you can tell some of the questions Newland asks are not rehearsed, because Ingram frequently just shrugs and says, "I don't know the answer to that," which is actually quite refreshing.

This is not one of my absolute must listens ever week, but it is an enjoyable podcast that is worth listening too, and it's not so long that it gets boring. I rate it a solid 4 stars out of 5.

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