The wonderful world of BBC Sounds

BBC Sounds is such a treasure trove.

It introduced me to You’re Dead to Me, a very funny history podcast by Greg Jenner. My favourite episodes so far are probably the ones on Mansa Musa and Harriet Tubman.

Around Halloween I came across Haunted Women, a one-off program exploring how women have used the ghost story form. Reminds me, I am way overdue reading some Shirley Jackson. I’ll probably start with the bookends, The Road Through the Wall and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Will definitely have to read The Haunting of Hill House as well, The Haunting is one of my favourite horror films. The film was released in 1963 under the Hays Code, so I’ll be interested to see how much more of Theodora’s character is revealed in the book.

Other BBC Sounds programms that I’m planning to listen to include:

Gogo Penguin + Koyaanisqatsi, and the memory of a tower in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Last night I went to a live screening of Koyaanisqatsi at EartH in Hackney with GC. I knew Gogo Penguin would be playing live, but I didn’t realise they’d be playing their own re-scoring! Pretty impressive, both the execution and to even take it on considering the epic proportions of Philip Glass’s original score. The synchronisation of the rhythm and the visual was maybe not quite as intricate as the original but it was expertly handled, particularly for a live performance. Most of the time the pace was frenetic, frantic. There weren’t quite as many despairing moments as in Glass’s score, but the overall vibe was very similar.

I need to listen to more Gogo Penguin and definitely need to watch the original film, before this I’d only seen small bits of it.

The derelict facade of the Ljubljanska Banka Tower, or “Sniper’s Tower”, in Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Photo taken 15 April 2009

The second half of the film includes many clips of derelict housing projects and other buildings. Those clips unearthed a ten-year-old memory of a tower I’d seen when visiting a good friend in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The angular concrete structure loomed over the playground in Park Zrinjevac. It was an inanimate casualty of the catastrophic conflicts that consumed the region in the early 1990s, abandoned but clinging to a few remnants of glass and insulation.

That much I knew from the pocked concrete, but I didn’t know the specific role it played in the war until today. Once called the Ljubljanska Banka Tower, it’s now known to some as the Sniper’s Tower. It was used by gunmen targeting people below during the 1993–1994 Siege of Mostar. The multiple sieges led to the widespread destruction of the city, and almost 100,000 people fled.

I searched everywhere online for pre-war photos of the tower but couldn’t find any, just this photo taken a few months after I was there. The photographer captured it in much better light than I, the photo hints at the building’s formerly mirrored, golden facade. It still stands from what I gather, but the exterior structure has been removed and the entries have been blocked off. Graffiti artists use it, and urban explorers try to have a poke around. It looks like a skeleton in the more recent images I’ve seen. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable going in.

Some excellent, specific podcast episodes

I often don’t end up listening to podcasts that are recommended to me. It’s a real shame. I think it’s sometimes hard to know where to start, to find a way in. The next time I get a recommendation, I’ll ask if there’s a specific episode I should try.

Along those lines, here’s a list of a few particular episodes I like. These are in date order, most recent first. Might add more at some point.


Risky Business #535, 20.03.19 — Stop giving Cloudflare money

Edit 28 August 2019 – Cloudflare finally dropped 8chan earlier this month following the El Paso Walmart shooting. From the Wired article: “‘When you have platforms that are effectively lawless like this, then maybe that shifts the responsibility further down the stack,’ [Cloudflare CEO Matthew] Prince says. Looking at [white supremacist site] Daily Stormer and now 8chan, Prince says that Cloudflare is attempting to find the line where ‘a site has shown repeatedly that it is causing active, real harm.’”

I’m very interested in information security but definitely an amateur, so most Risky Business episodes go a bit (or entirely) over my head. This episode with host Patrick Gray (AU) and guest Alex Stamos (US) is accessible for less infosec-aware people though. It’s heavy, but very worthy of a listen for anyone influenced by the internet (i.e. everyone).

The major topic is the Christchurch, NZ shootings on the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre where 50 people were killed and 50 more injured by a white supremacist. They focus on the web’s role in the rise of white supremacist communities and propaganda, and what could be done about it. Cloudflare is highlighted as a particularly irresponsible and unsupportable service provider due to the company’s response following the attack. They have refused to pull their services from 8chan, a website that facilitates the spread of white supremacist ideology and the site where the attacker announced his intentions.

Stamos tries to present the difficulties that companies and law enforcement face. Gray understandably gets pretty heated during the discussion, I think initially interpreting Stamos’s comments as an excuse for the inaction of companies like Cloudflare (though I don’t think they were). Ultimately though they seemed to be in agreement. Towards the end of their discussion, around 40:51, Stamos summarises: “We’re going to have to start to treat white nationalists like the Islamic State was treated. To the point that if you’re on 8chan and you’re talking about an attack, you’re actually feeling that there’s some kind of risk, that somebody’s gonna bust your door down. That’s where we got to with the Islamic State. […] We’ve got to get to that same place, but [Cloudflare and other organisations] can make that hard for non-US law enforcement.” He is saying that white nationalist groups need to be classified as potential terrorist organisations so that there is a legal framework forcing companies to adopt stronger policies instead of just hoping they’ll do the right thing. It’s a very good point.

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BBC Earth Podcast 27.12.18 — Hide and Seek

I’ve never finished an episode of BBC Earth… but that’s why I like it. It’s the perfect podcast to fall asleep to if you’re having trouble drifting off. Interesting – but not *too* riveting – facts and stories about nature told by presenter/producer Emily Knight and guests. And great jungle sounds. I’ve put this particular episode on here because I really liked the wildlife calls while they were explaining how to track tigers. Can’t really say much about what happened after that though, I was asleep.

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Darknet Diaries #27, 01.12.18 — Chartbreakers

The tagline for Darknet Diaries is “True stories from the dark side of the Internet”. This episode is a little different, investigating something ongoing rather than covering something that has already occurred. Host Jack Rhysider tries to figure out why shady podcasts with zero reviews or subscribers regularly climb the Top Charts on Apple Podcasts. In doing so, he finds out that it involves dubious promotional activity, and it isn’t just the little guys doing it. He also finds out this isn’t a web-only problem, that a similar thing has happened multiple times with the New York Times Bestsellers list and could still be happening. It’s yet another wakeup call that we should be suspicious of algorithms, particularly those that are meant to be infallibly meritocratic. Rhysider ends the episode by saying that he hopes his listeners recommend the podcast to their friends since he puts no faith in likes or reviews. It made me think about how much I like receiving recommendations from people I care about, and kind of became the catalyst for this list.

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Roderick on the Line #300, 13.08.18 — The Airplane Doesn’t Care

One of Merlin Mann and John Roderick’s weekly Skype calls. Their conversations go all over the place, this one is no different. They always touch a bit on philosophy and mental health, but it’s more prominent in this episode due to a then-recent event. On Saturday 11.08.18, 29-year-old Richard Russell stole an empty turboprop from SeaTac airport, performed difficult stunts with basically no training, and then committed suicide by deliberately crashing in to a small island in Puget Sound (more here). One of those things that made me laugh and cry.

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Syntax #29, 24.01.18 — Hosting & Servers

Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski dive in to hosting. It’s a great primer on a lot of the options out there at the moment, even if you consider yourself relatively familiar with these things. It’s all about the way they walk through it, from Squarespace to Docker, including personal experiences, pitfalls, and use cases.

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Ear Hustle #2, 28.06.17 — Misguided Loyalty

Ear Hustle, stories of life inside prison, is presented by visual artist Nigel Poor and former San Quentin inmate Earlonne Woods. I had no idea which Ear Hustle episode to choose, every one is a jewel. This early episode is about gangs; the pressure, the violence, and the repercussions.

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Adam Buxton Podcast #37 and #38, 06.04.17 — Brian Eno

Adam Buxton having a chat in two parts with Brian Eno. Not much more to say.

“She sprinkles flowers in the dirt / That’s when a thrill becomes a hurt”

Wanted some soulful-but-not-overly-corny tunes to work to so I put on a “song radio” Spotify station for music related to Gillian Welch’s “Look At Miss Ohio”, specifically the v. from Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains. First track to pop up was “That Day Is Done” with vocals by Elvis Costello and The Fairfield Four, Larry Knechtel on piano.

Oof, my heart…

The song was written by Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, and it looks like it was originally released by Paul McCartney on his album Flowers In The Dirt. Personally, I prefer the Costello + Fairfield Four version. For a similar version, see live recording on YT. Related: see the history of The Fairfield Four, pretty exceptional. The group will soon be 100 yrs old.