SciencePod — Invasive Action

BatsPhoto Credit: ‘Bats come out at sunset along the Yolo Bypass’ — Bev Sykes

In this episode

we take a look at two of the more interesting recent cases of invasive species. First up is the white-nose killer that is rapidly reducing the possibility of the photo you see above. And on the flip-side, what if an invasive species could actually help the local ecology? An invasive plant species is propping up the bee population in Fiji, so which should go? As usual, links to the research as well as a transcript after the jump.

Continue Reading

photo by: basykes

A Cast of Pods

US Navy Cryptanalytic Bombe

Every now and then

I get asked about podcasts that I can recommend, usually on Twitter, and most recently by James Tierney. Unfortunately, linking reams of podcasts on Twitter isn’t practical so I thought to make a post that I can update and give to people whenever I’m asked. I’ve split them into rough categories, so you can skip to ones you think might interest you. And of course if you have any recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments!


The Guardian Football Weekly

Much thanks to my friend Dino for putting me onto this one. No-one does sports commentary like James Richardson and his crew of fairly ladsy pundits. Half the enjoyment of the Premier League every year is listening to these guys talk about it without the bias and hyperbole that sports blogs usually possess. They also do really well to cover the other leagues and tackle (hurr) issues outside just the goals and results of the leagues, e.g. there was a lot of talk about the Spanish economic crisis and how that influenced/was reflected in the sport.

Gamers With Jobs

I don’t watch a lot of video game streams or review channels on YouTube because invariably the streamer is a) trying so very hard to be funny or quirky or whatever it is that the mostly-13-year-old demographic that video game streams cater to, or b) just not very good at communicating the information I want to know about the game. Anyway, the best thing about GWJ is that they are literally gamers with jobs; they’re in the roughly the same space as me and have much the same attitude to games that I have. For example, when one of the GWJ guys says they’ve been hammering a game, it’s usually followed by “I’ve put, like, eight hours into it this week!”. They don’t just talk about games though, with commentary about gaming issues, etc. also making the cut.



99% Invisible

Roman Mars has not only one of the coolest names in the business, but also one of the most relaxing speaking voices in podcast land. He also produces this awesome podcast about design and design choices that we take for granted as consumers. Hence the 99% invisible part; these things are generally mostly ignored, but once pointed out by the adroit reporters, become so obvious and so interesting that they can make a simple commute down the highway a lesson in how design decisions affect all of us.

This American Life

If I need to tell you about this, maybe you should just start with them and go from there. You’ve got around 500 episodes to catch up on and they won’t listen to themselves. Truly some of the best and most powerful radio that has ever been produced. And of course, Ira Glass, what a dude.

WNYC’s Radiolab

They went a little bit off the rails recently, but the last couple of episodes have been back to their best. And there’s still a back catalogue of really top-shelf, interesting episodes in the first three seasons that combine scientific discoveries, philsophical conundrums, and an interesting audio style thanks to Jad Abumrad’s musical background. Radiolab kept me enthusiastic and sane on so many walks down Parramatta Road while interning at COSMOS magazine.

Freakonomics Radio

If you’ve read the Freakonomics books, then you’ll know what to expect from the Stephen/Steven duo. Dubner and Levitt present interesting problems or questions and then tackle them (with help from other researchers and professionals) with an economists eye. This often means bringing in metrics that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of being influential, especially when it comes to emotional issues such as parenting and behavioural psychology, or broader, more global issues. Again they’ve got an awesome back-catalogue, so there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into.

Start the Week

Start the Week with Andrew Marr soon to return after having suffered a stroke. The subject matter varies, but ranges from art to science to politics, depending on what’s going on in the world. The guests are chosen to suit and are almost invariably incredibly well spoken and knowledgeable about the subject being discussed. Plus it’s British! Not sure why this is, but the rest of the podcasts in this section are all American. Weird.




Two of the coolest, most enthusiastic book lovers in Melbourne talk books and bookish things with a variety of guests. There’s a focus, mostly incidental, towards younger guests (’emerging guests’, perhaps?) which gives this podcast a really fresh sound. Plus both JoJo and Maddy are really great friends, and it comes across in their banter. I <3 these guys so damn much. P.S. You can even find me as a guest in the archives a couple years back!

Necessary & Sufficient

The premise is an intriguing one: host Evan Forman sends a guest an envelope with two index cards. On those index cards are written two words. The guest opens the envelope live, and the discussion starts. O.K. full disclosure here: I only started listening to N&S because Tim had been on the show, and he went ahead and recommended that I be a guest. But when I started listening, I mainlined about 50 episodes in two weeks. It’s supremely interesting stuff, seeing what connections people make between two words.


Momentum is an all-digital imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, and Podmentum is their (slightly-awkwardly-named) podcast. While you might anticipate that a book publisher’s podcast would be all about pushing books, it’s really not. They tackle different questions in the publishing industry, pop culture, and of course, sexy politicians. It’s irreverent, awesome fun. Put it this way, when I want to digitally publish anything, I’m going to shoot these guys my manuscript.

Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage is the be-all and end-all of sex advice columnists. This is his podcast. Probably not to be listened to if you are homophobic/most-things-o-phobic, or a little squeamish with anything more than vanilla sex.



Slate’s Culture Gabfest

Pretty much the be-all and end-all of culture podcasts. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner talk about anything and everything that has been happening in pop culture that week. Movies, music, film, books, world events, twerking, you name it, they talk about it. The best part of their analysis is that it never comes off as condescending, and they’ll offer the same level of discernment when discussing Woody Allen’s latest movie as they do Miley Cyrus’ incident or organic chicken farming. It’s fairly U.S.-centric, although they do reach out every now and again. Very much a must-add.

NHR Pop Culture Happy Hour

I haven’t listened to this one as much as Slate’s, but there definitely seems to be a slightly more upbeat vibe to their discussion. There’s usually one more person — quartet to Slate’s trio — and for some reason this gives it a more raucous feel. Which, I should add, doesn’t mean that they can’t debate and deride with the best of them, it’s just a little bit more fun.



My Brother, My Brother, and Me

I have yet to make it through an episode of this podcast without laughing out loud, sometimes to the point of embarrassment in front of my colleagues at work. The premise of the show is that the three Mackelroy brothers do their very best to dispense advice to Yahoo Answers questions. But the real joy is that these brothers just love making each other laugh. Slightly NSFW sometimes, and it can take a few episodes to fall into the rhythm of their humour, but this is one of those podcasts I listen to when I need a break from the more serious ones on my playlist.

Downloadable Content

The Penny Arcade podcast that gets recorded when the creators of the comic are, well, creating the comic. Just like PA TV, itt’s a glimpse into the work process of two guys that know each other and their workflow incredibly well–as they should, they’ve been doing it for over a decade. I just really love listening to the process they go through of tossing ideas around, and spitballing until they get a comic idea that they can go for.



Taleteller Podcast

Clarkesworld Magazine

New Yorker Fiction

Other People

Selected Shorts

The Moth

These are all getting the same description because they all do basically the same thing: tell stories. The New Yorker Fiction podcast is the giant amongst them, and Deborah Treisman is always an amazing host. Clarkesworld is read by a breathy Kate Baker so if you find that kind of delivery annoying (which I sometimes do) then maybe steer clear. Selected Shorts is read by actors and actresses and so the deliveries can really make the stories pop. But they’re all worth a listen, for sure.



Here are recommendations that people have given me, but I haven’t listened to yet/enough to list properly. I’ll move them up once I can recommend them myself. (:

From James Tierney: Guardian Australia Politics Weekly, Crikey Calling, 360Docs, All in The Mind, Cherchez La Femme, Download This Show, Killing Your Darlings, Meanjin, Notes for Coode Street, Off Track and Paper Radio.

From Bronwyn Mehan: Bound Off, Paper Radio, Little Raven, and her upcoming podcast Earworms.


 And of course…

mine. The Toothsoup Science Pod aims to take recent scientific discoveries in various fields and make them understandable for the lay person. Have a listen!


photo by: brewbooks

SciencePod — Belting Along

Radiation Belts with Satellites

Image credit: NASA

My first post-Spain episode

features an apology for not letting people know where the hell I was for the past month or two, followed by the revelation that the Earth has a secret superpower: the ability to accelerate particles to near light speed using just the power of its magnetic field! Some work by the new NASA Van Allen probes (along with the usual host of scientists and universities) have found that we have our own natural version of the LHC just hanging out there in space. Listen on to find out how this affects our satellite television, and the way they discovered the mechanism behind it all. As usual, transcript and links beyond the jump.

Continue Reading

An Ode to Mushroom Bag Man




You’ve seen him

in the shops, hanging about in the vegetable aisles, dressed in brown and blue and etched with creases. His face is perpetually half-hidden by shadow, a top-teeth smile beckoning you forward to see what’s on his tray. Crouched between his arms, just in front of a striped butcher’s apron, are an assortment of domes that might be shrunken heads, might be the dish plate eyeballs of prehistoric lizards. He is The Mushroom Bag Man.

I’m not sure if the MBM is endemic to Western Australia, but if you haven’t been exposed to his creepy grin there’s a picture just up the top there. The stencil-cut design is—at least to myself and Louise—both hilariously baffling and slightly disturbing. Because if you were to choose one image for selling mushrooms, it probably wouldn’t be this one. I might have taken some liberties in the description in the opening paragraph, but it’s not far off. I think the reason the lighting is so off-putting is that in the process of accurately recreating the shadows, they’ve almost completely blanked out his eyes. So when I try and look for the eyes and don’t find them, my gaze is taken straight to that eerie fucking smile. His smile lines conspire to give him the look of someone who, despite the text’s assurance that mushrooms contain vitaman B12, has just chowed down on a juicy bit of steak and forgotten to wipe his chin. Even his posture is a bit off; a half-lean forward, as if offering some seductively evil object to the hero of a fantasy story.

And all of this is precisely why we love him. It’s rare to see an image, that might just as readily be stencilled by a Banksy wannabe on the side of a warehouse, making inroads into the grocery store. He’s instantly recognised from across a dairy section and once the initial oddness has worn off, there’s an almost-apologetic helpfulness that can be detected in that smile. Sadly, he’s slowly been disappearing from wax strings all over the place, replaced by more palatable designs or, worse, blank brown bags. But every now and again we’ll run into the Mushroom Bag Man in discount markets and delis, and–following the advice not pictured–pick up another handful of mushrooms today.


Book Q&A Meme


My good pal

Laurie Steed asked if anyone would be interested in being tagged for a meme and I put my hand up so as to get this blog of mine kickstarted again (P.S. I’ll be making a new podcast this week, never fear). So away we go! P.S. I’m not going to tag anyone since, well, I have enough trouble getting things done that I don’t want to oblige anyone to do the same. Also I kind of just deleted the questions I didn’t really have an answer for. WOO!

What are you reading right now?

Right now, not a lot. I think I might have started Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide last night on a lark just before I went to sleep, but I can’t be sure.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?

Probably something genre-ey. I’ve been on quite a binge of sci-fi and fantasy lately, and I’m not looking to stop any time soon.

What five books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?

Ulysses by James Joyce — Okay it’s a bit of a ‘duh’ answer, but it’s been sitting on my shelf and I’ve started it a few times but never got through the first couple of pages. I probably need to buy an annotated version to ease me through it.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace — Another tome, but apparently one that’s worth reading. I know several people who have basically based their life around his writing (in a good way, not in a bad, Atlus Shrugged way).

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien — Yeah, yeah, I’ll hand in my nerd card now. I’ve read The Hobbit but not TLOTR, go figure.

I can’t really think of too many others. Usually when I want to read a book I go out and buy it and read it, so. But when they are tomes and require more than the small amount of time and attention I possess at the end of the day, that’s usually when I can’t get to them.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/ lounge right now?

Bathroom: 0, ew. Lounge: Tin House, Zoetrope, Meanjin, Voiceworks, Frankie, The Big Issue, The Lifted Brow, etc. etc. There are piles and piles of magazines strewn all over it.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

While it’s probably not the worst, the oen that sticks the most is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian for its utterly anticlimactic climax, following several hundred pages of well-word-rendered landscape paintings. It irked me then and still irks me now.

What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. The characters were two-dimensional, the premise interesting but let slip in favour of sex, drugs, and underbelly-style drama. Yuck.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

I don’t usually recommend one book to everyone (because everyone has different tastes) but one I’ve been recommending to a lot of people lately is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It’s not exactly a literary masterpiece, but for a fun nostalgia/pop-culture romp, you can’t go past it.

Where do you usually get your books?

Bricks-and-mortar bookstores, ordinarily. I’ll buy an e-book or two every now and again when they’re on sale or included in a bundle.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?

I remember reading in really odd poses. Like face down on the couch with the book on the floor, with my legs in the air, draped over an arm of an armchair. And my arms! They used to unconsciously just kind of flop over me in weird ways. I think maybe it helped me concentrate? I dunno.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?

I can’t remember which one, but it was a Culture novel by Iain M. Banks. I’d forgotten how great they were to read.

Have you ever “faked” reading a book?

Plenty of times; I worked at a bookstore. “Oh yeah, I’ve read that one, it’s brilliant. They reckon it’s <paraphrase dust jacket blurb here>.” I know, we’re bastards. For the regulars I’d always be honest though, and say I hadn’t read it (but go get someone who had).

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

Hell yes. In all recent memories it’s turned out fine.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

Hrm. Probably a Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton. I can’t recall, and besides, I read a freakin’ lot so I was probably just as enamoured with all of them.

What book changed your life?

Fiction-wise, it’d probably be The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I found this at the local library when I was around 10 and I think maybe I shouldn’t have read it that early. It gave me a lot to think about. Non-fiction-wise it’d be The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. He fascinated me with quantum physics in a straightforward language when I was in high school. Science communication is important, yo.

What books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?

In general just comic books, or ‘graphic novels’ if you want to appeal to the intellectuals. They’re an often under appreciated medium.

What is your favourite classic book?

Either Lolita or Midnight’s Children or Catcher in the Rye or Great Gatsby or The Bell Jar or I dunno, pretty much all of them. They’re classics for a reason!


photo by: gualtiero