podcasts

Hope, Fusion and the Future

“This image shows the Sun as viewed by the Soft X-Ray Telescope (SXT) onboard the orbiting Yohkoh satellite.” By NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres and Yohkoh Legacy data Archive [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As a kid growing up in Southern Ontario in the early 80s, I enjoyed listening to a science program called “Quirks and Quarks,” on CBC radio. Imagine my surprise to find that -thanks to the wonders of podcasts- I could still listen to this program, which is as good as it ever was. One recent episode, “Let there be Light,” compares two different approaches to fusion. In France, ITER is a $20 billion project which has entailed 35 years of cooperation amongst multiple nations. The reason why this investment makes sense is that fusion would create a virtually limitless supply of energy, without the danger of either nuclear meltdowns or the long-term storage of nuclear waste. In contrast, a Canadian start-up has a radically different and smaller plan. What’s most interesting to me about this brief podcast (14:08 minutes) is the scientists discussion of the level of resources required to develop fusion. They contrast this amount with the $200 billion that Qatar may spend to host the World Cup. There is hope for a radically different energy system, if we as a civilization are prepared to make the required investments.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

American Horror Story

Although most of my work over the last 15 years has focused on public policy and epidemic disease, I’ve also written a book about Indigenous religion amongst Algonquian peoples, in particular one evil and old spirit called the Windigo. I recently did an interview for the public radio program Backstory, which is part of their Halloween podcast episode, “American Horror Story.” You can listen to the full episode here, if you are interested in monsters in American culture and history. If you just want to listen to my interview, it is available at the link “Where the windigos are.” Elizabeth McCauley also wrote blog post about the windigo, which has both the interview and a clip from the TV episode of Supernatural that dealt with the windigo. I thought that her blog post did an excellent job discussing media depictions of the windigo, and the issue of cultural appropriation. If you are curious to read more, you might want to look at my book, Dangerous Spirits. Or for an entirely different mystery, please read my account of the ghost ship called the Baltimore, which was found with only a single person left alive aboard. And she was not whom she said. Have a good Halloween everyone.

Shawn Smallman, Halloween 2016

Strange podcasts to make you afraid

Winter forest by Paige Smallman
Winter forest by Paige Smallman

Every Halloween I explore a suitably spooky topic, from a book about an alleged Canadian haunting, to Japanese books on the supernatural. I’ve also suggested some international ghost stories for Halloween. Still, there is no substitute for hearing spooky tales in audio, so this year I will focus on the best podcasts that cover mythology, mysteries and folklore, all of which have at least some international content. I’ve also included podcasts that take a more skeptical and scholarly look at these issues.

The Night Time podcast covers the strange and the supernatural in Atlantic Canada. This is a relatively new podcast, and it has content that would be difficult to find in detail in other venues. In the first episode the creator of the podcast, Jordan Bonaparte, interviewed his own grandfather about a possible UFO sighting. He then interviewed his own grandmother about the same sighting in a subsequent episode. What I like about the series is that the creator carries out his own research and interviews, on topics such as disappearances, visions and archaeology, usually with a strong Atlantic Canadian flavor. Some of the episodes, such as the “Overton Stone,” shed real light on the region’s history. As an Oak Island skeptic, the interviews regarding that topic intrigued me less. I was glad, therefore, that he also recently did an episode (#21) titled “A Skeptical Look at Oak Island and Bell Island,” which consisted of an interview with Brian Dunning of the podcast Skeptoid.

Some of the best episodes of the Nighttime Podcast have dealt with disappearances, such as strange case of Maura Murray in New Hampshire (episodes 14 and 16), and the three episodes that covered the case of Emma Filipoff (episodes 2, 23 and 24), who vanished from Victoria, British Columbia. As always, Bonaparte interviewed people who were closely involved in the cases. For example, in episode 24, he had a lengthy conversation with one man who had been mentioned in an earlier podcast as a possible suspect in Emma Filipoff’s disappearance. Overall, the Night Time podcast is an original podcast with unique content, which will leave you feeling that you are sitting at a kitchen table in Nova Scotia, while listening to a neighbor tell a favorite story. …

Intelligence failures and Vietnam

Marine gets his wounds treated during operations in Huế City, 1968. By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons . By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Marine gets his wounds treated during operations in Huế City, 1968. By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons . By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Author Malcom Gladwell has a new podcast titled “Revisionist History,” which had a recent episode titled “Saigon: 1965.” The podcast tells the story of the Rand Corporation’s efforts to collect intelligence on North Vietnamese morale through interviews with captured soldiers and guerrillas. In particular, it examines the history of three people deeply involved in the program, who brought their own biases and beliefs to the data that they collected. Gladwell’s point in telling this story is that often the challenge is not to collect the information, but rather to interpret it accurately. Each of the three people had access to an overwhelming amount of information. Still, their vision of the war was shaped less by the the interviews themselves, than by their own biases. In an age of big data, NSA and cyber-espionage, the challenge of how to correctly interpret overwhelming amounts of data remains critical to global intelligence services.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

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