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I listen to podcasts for many different reasons, but a sizable piece of my queue is geared towards learning about the world. Thanks to podcasts from this year, an unknown quantity of tidbits of knowledge are forever lodged into my brain.

Below are just a few of these that I plan to unleash onto a unsuspecting person once social gatherings are a thing again.

1) The supplement industry is largely unregulated.


Meet the unsung hero of modern podcasting: the illustrator

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Episode art left to right: “Olympic Destroyer”, “Mourning”, “The Lazarus Effect”, “Magecart

No matter how beautifully sound designed or researched a podcast is, a listener’s first impression nearly always begins with the art. And while every podcast these days has cover art, a growing number of podcasts are also investing in episode art. Episode art can be an effective way to set a show apart and give it more impact on social media, in audiograms, or in press kits. Most importantly though, images can add context and depth to the experience, and signal to the listener that a story does not merely exist in the earbuds. …


Our favorite illustrations tell a story about the power of art

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Clockwise from top left, “Shadow Broker”, “Look Up”, “Sad Ass Songs”, “Black Voices in Healthcare”, “The Holdout

As part of my research for a recent story on episode art, I created a collection of my favorite examples of this kind of work. Consider this your invitation to appreciate pieces created by the unsung heroes of the podcast team: the illustrator.

I have been stopped in my tracks on many occasions by the work illustrators do for podcast episodes. “Look Up”, featured in the image above, even hangs on my wall.

I’ve come to appreciate the unique ability of art to extend the storytelling of audio. Your brain can form an immediate emotional response to an image and longform audio can then slowly work its magic, adding depth to this mental imprint. …


We are all starstuff

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Image by Erik Jones

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

That is the brilliant first line from Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series, Cosmos, as well as the first line of his book of the same name. This series was a clear demarcation line in my life when I watched it a little over a decade ago. There was a before, and an after, where the after was marked by a much more intense desire to understand the world around me.

Sagan has a way of communicating the wonder of the universe and history of science in an erudite, yet down to earth way. He is also able to successfully pull off a level of earnestness and poetic language that feels missing or discouraged in today’s discourse. …


What happens if the timeline of evolution takes place over a 5k run?

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Richard Dawkins said in The Selfish Gene that “the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun.” While this is true, the mechanics of evolution are much less intuitive than the mechanics of the earth orbiting the sun.

Even for those who fully accept the implications of the theory of evolution, it’s easy to look around at all the life on our planet and feel a general sense of disbelief that literally everything alive shares a common ancestor.

The unfortunate key to this disconnect is that human brains are quite bad at comprehending huge numbers, and the workings of evolution fits comfortably in the huge number category. We need analogies to help us understand concepts that are outside our normal experience. For example, I know our galaxy is unfathomably large, but it helped to learn that the size of the solar system compared to the entire Milky Way galaxy is similar to the size of my palm compared to the entire continental U.S. …


It’s not always easy, but learning from podcasts as a family is worth experimenting with.

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“Teachers don’t get paid enough,” is a phrase I imagine millions of parents have uttered out loud at some point this month.

Stepping into the role of teacher is hard on a good day, and all the more difficult with a pandemic going on. There are countless permutations on what the new normal of home life looks like, none of which make it easy to prioritize education.

Our family situation is that I am navigating working from home, my wife is doing home visits part-time as an RN, and we have a four-year-old daughter in preschool and a six-year-old son in Kindergarten. Like most other parents, we had initial anxiety about what was going to happen with schools and our kids’ education. After it became clear that we were in this for the long haul, our ambitions grew around our homeschooling regiment. We’ll create a schedule! They’ll still learn everything! …


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An imaginary Zoom call with the favorite escapes of our family. Drawing by Alicia Jones.

By Alicia Jones

As a healthcare provider, it is exceptionally difficult to read about my peers around the world struggling with mental and physical health in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an attempt to focus on the good in the world and avoid a full-on anxiety spiral as healthcare systems continue to be overrun, I’d like to share the audio I’ve come to know as my happy place.

If you’re in need of a mental escape, this playlist is for you.

Kind World — “Is Everything OK?”

This is a story about Lynn Schutzman, a pharmacist who set herself up to be self-sufficient. Doing life on her own after her husband’s death, she found herself fighting through both acute and chronic debilitating health problems. Lynn was forced to downsize to be able to pay her bills but it just wasn’t enough. She and her dogs ended up living in her car for two years until one day when she was noticed by someone in her community. Lynn was asked, “Is everything OK?”, and although she said yes, it was apparent that she was anything but ok. Ultimately, Lynn’s community rallied together to find her an apartment, raise enough money to pay rent for two years and even furnished and decorated it with donated items. This story is such an inspiration for kindness and giving. …


This is YouTube’s moment to shine

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By author

Millions of parents are collectively figuring out that keeping kids engaged and learning is hard, particularly while juggling working from home. As Shonda Rhimes said, teachers deserve a billion dollars.

Luckily YouTube has been here, patiently waiting for this moment.

If you know where to look, YouTube provides outstanding educational content to take in as a family when you want to take a break from navigating the 20 websites your school district is emailing you.

YouTube has virtually unlimited content, so the purpose of this article is to point you in the right direction towards channels that are perfectly built for this situation we all find ourselves in. Talented creators who have spent years putting out finely tuned and edited content to keep our brains growing and engaged. …


Evergreen content to understand the times

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Everyone has their favorite source for up-to-the second news around the growing pandemic. These are selections that are biased more towards being just as useful two weeks from now as they are today.

PODCASTS

Short Wave: Coronavirus Latest: Testing Challenges And Protecting At-Risk Elderly

  • NPR’s daily science podcast with the best explanation to send your family and friends for why this isn’t just like the flu.
  • We all know people on social media and IRL who love saying how much more deadly the flu is and why this is an overreaction. Host Emily Kwong asks NPR correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce what to say to those who question why this is such a big deal. Send this quote to THOSE people. …


An ant-appreciation playlist of podcasts, videos, and a book.

“True warfare in which large rival armies fight to the death is known only in man and in social insects.”

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Our passing familiarity with ants prevents us from understanding what a bizarre and fascinating world they live in. It’s a world of forever wars, strange behaviors, and genetics completely different from our own.

The truth about ants is that even science fiction writers would have had a hard time coming up with the reality they inhabit.

Below is a playlist of ant-appreciation. It’s a collection of podcasts, videos, and excerpts from a book that will leave you in awe of these little critters that dominate the world on a small scale. …

About

Erik Jones

I love writing about and recommending podcasts and links that make you think. Get recommendations via email every few weeks at https://goo.gl/t8EpJK

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