Man, there are a lot of podcasts these days! Here's a brief history of the podcasting phenomenon to date:
Podcasting largely began with a lot of bloggers playing with microphones and tech lovers talking tech. Radio stations started throwing their existing shows into the mix, followed by TV companies. Newspapers and magazines, including Slate, experimented with ways to translate our content from the page to the pod. Video podcasts cropped up, boosted mightily when Apple introduced the video iPod. TV networks and cable channels began selling episodes of their hottest series through iTunes. Millions of people across America threw away their radios and televisions and had iPod screens surgically implanted in their palms so they could watch and listen whenever they wanted.
OK, so that last part hasn't happened yet. But a little more than a year after podcasting entered the zeitgeist, you could easily fill up all of your media-consuming hours with the programming available for legal download, most of it free.
I can barely scratch the surface of all this content as I search for a Pod Pick of the Week. My goal is to filter through the clutter and find spoken-word podcasts that I think will appeal to the average Slate reader—who, surveys show, is well-educated, always nattily dressed, and far more interesting than the person at the next desk.
I'm not even going to touch video podcasts for the time being, and not just because I don't have a portable video player. The bigger reason is that so far, very little of the video pod material I've watched online is worth my, or your, time. (Podcasters should consider that more—asking someone to spend one of their precious waking hours listening to or watching you is asking a hell of a lot more than reading a paragraph-long blog post.) And I'll leave the reviews of the real TV shows popping up on iTunes to Surfergirl.
I've also avoided reviewing music podcasts, for the simple reason that you really, really don't want me to be your music guide. Trust me. Maybe I'll bring in some more qualified ears to help me on that front in the future.
And until today, I have avoided recommending any of the ubiquitous tech podcasts out there, because I wanted to find things of more general appeal. But on the assumption that anyone who listens to podcasts (and reads Slate for that matter) at least uses computers regularly, today's Pod Pick of the Week is one that focuses on tech news you actually can use.
It's called Security Now! (iTunes feed here, Yahoo! page here, Odeo page here), and it's part of the growing tech podcast empire of Leo Laporte. The extremely appealing radio personality and former TechTV host has several prominent podcasts, including the hugely popular This Week in Tech (which I enjoy but would only recommend to real gearheads). Security Now! is co-hosted by Steve Gibson, a well-known computer security guy who coined the term "spyware." Both Gibson and Laporte know their stuff, but they're very good at explaining things for the less tech-savvy.
Here's why you might find it useful. Any frequent Web surfer feels like he's asked to make a new password about once an hour. But what makes a good, safe password? Gibson and Laporte have two shows on the topic. Wondering if it's safe to use wireless Internet access points you come across? They've got a show on that, too. You may not be fascinated by all of their topics, but I'll bet there are at least a few you'll find useful.
This week's Slate podcasts are as insecure as they get, but they do include John Dickerson's popular two-part exposé of White House Christmas parties:
Dec. 9: Friday Gabfest
Dec. 9: Explainer: If You Shoot a Bomb, Will It Explode? ( Slate piece)
Dec. 8: Bush's Christmas Parties, Part 2 ( Slate piece)
Dec. 8: Explainer: What Happens to Your Social Security Number When You Die? ( Slate piece)
Dec. 7: I'm Dreaming of a White (House) Christmas, Part 1 ( Slate piece)
Dec. 7: Explainer: Take Me to Your Majority Leader ( Slate piece)
Dec. 6: A DVD Series to Leave Behind ( Slate piece)
Dec. 6: Explainer: Is It Safe To Do Sonograms at Home? ( Slate piece)
Dec. 5: Movies So Bad, They're Good ( Slate piece)
Dec. 5: Explainer: Commode—Toilet or Chest of Drawers? ( Slate piece)
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