Announcing Hub & Spoke, a New Collective of Independent, Idea-Driven Podcasts

Huge news! Yesterday I joined up with my fellow podcasters Tamar Avishai of The Lonely Palette and Zachary Davis and Nick Andersen of Ministry of Ideas to unveil Hub & Spoke, a new audio collective designed to help each show grow through mutual support and cross-promotion. Here's the official press release!

Boston, Mass. — October 5, 2017 — To bolster the Boston-area podcasting ecosystem and ensure that great independent shows made here reach a wider audience, local audio producers joined today to launch Hub & Spoke (, a Boston-centric collective of podcasts produced outside the traditional public media system.

Taking inspiration from existing podcast collectives such as Radiotopia and The Heard, Hub & Spoke provides a community where producers share mutual support and advice. Member producers also work to grow the listening audience for all of the Hub & Spoke shows through “on-air” mentions and other forms of cross-promotion.

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New England, as the home to institutions such as WGBH, WBUR, Atlantic Public Media, Transom, PRX, and AIR, has long been a mecca for public radio. But today, much of the local audio community’s creativity is flowing into podcasts, including many non-station-affiliated shows. Hub & Spoke’s goal is not only to boost the success of each member show, but to contribute to the growth of the vibrant community of audio makers in Boston and around the country, and to help all independent podcasters reach the audiences they deserve.

Hub & Spoke’s inaugural lineup includes: THE LONELY PALETTE, where art historian Tamar Avishai demystifies artists and their works through enchanting interviews and talks of a sort rarely heard in museums; MINISTRY OF IDEAS, an exploration of the ideas that shape our society, from producers Nick Andersen and Virginia Marshall and host Zachary Davis; and SOONISH, a show from veteran technology journalist Wade Roush that tells the human stories behind the technologies that will shape the future. Full descriptions are below.

“I fell in love with podcasting—first as a listener, and then as a creator—because it’s such an intimate, engaging, accessible, and memorable way to share ideas,” said SOONISH host and Hub & Spoke co-founder Wade Roush. “I’m excited to start Hub & Spoke because we always need more ways to spread the word about great work. I think Tamar and Zach and Nick and Virginia make awesome shows, and I’m already learning a ton by collaborating with them.”

“The world of podcasting is a little like the Wild West right now,” said THE LONELY PALETTE host Tamar Avishai. “There are so many opportunities for collaboration and infinite potential for new ideas and new listeners. But figuring out to best way forward as an independent producer is an ever-expanding experiment. I’m thrilled to be supported and motivated by such a talented collective. It’s a lot less lonely in a community.”

“As one of the intellectual capitals of the world, Boston deserves world-class intellectual podcasts,” said MINISTRY OF IDEAS host Zachary Davis. “That’s what I think we’re all trying to do with Hub & Spoke—create shows that make powerful ideas as engaging as possible.”

Davis’ producer, Nick Andersen, agreed. “I’ve always been delightfully surprised by the curiosity and passion of the Boston-area audio scene,” Andersen said. “And with Hub & Spoke, I hope we can help fan that vital energy out to listeners and podcasters around the world.”

Hub & Spoke’s launch coincides with the public unveiling of MINISTRY OF IDEAS. The show, produced in collaboration with the Boston Globe’s Ideas section, celebrates its debut on October 5 with an event at the Matter and Light Fine Art Gallery in Boston. Host Zachary Davis will discuss “The Real Threats to American Democracy” with Yale University professor of law and history Samuel Moyn. The live conversation will be recorded and used in a future episode of the podcast.

The name “Hub & Spoke” is a mixture of puns and allusions. The Hub is a traditional nickname for Boston, deriving from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1858 remark describing the Massachusetts State House as “the hub of the solar system.” Spoke is a reference to the world of spoken-word audio and podcasting. Together, the words evoke a bicycle wheel—a metaphor for the collective itself, which starts with a core group of shows based in Boston and environs but will soon radiate out to other cities, states, and countries.

Hub & Spoke’s founding shows are:

  • THE LONELY PALETTE — “The podcast that returns art history to the masses, one painting at a time.” Host Tamar Avishai begins each episode by interviewing real museum-goers in front of well-known paintings and other works, then builds sweeping, immersive stories of the artists behind the works and the movements to which they were responding. The show’s informal, inviting style appeals to serious art lovers and amateurs alike; in the words of Open Source’s Christopher Lydon, “it’s what those snooze-a-thon museum audio tours should be.” Tamar trained in art history at Tufts University and she launched the show in May 2016 as an offshoot of the regular talks she gives at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  Her show has been featured in Wired, Paste, NPR’s The Big Listen, Salon, and Hyperallergic.

  • MINISTRY OF IDEAS  — A podcast that investigates and illuminates the ideas that shape our society. How do we think about history? Why does modern society value efficiency so much? What happens when politics and comedy become indistinguishable? What do selfies have to do with Rembrandt? Ministry of Ideas asks leading thinkers in relevant areas of academia, journalism and culture to weigh on the complicated questions that keep us all awake at night. It is driven by the belief that a better world starts with better ideas. Host Zachary Davis has worked as a humanities media producer at HarvardX and is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School.

  • SOONISH — A longform narrative show about the technology and culture, Soonish enters its second season with the motto “The future is shaped by technology, but technology is shaped by us.” Its mission is twofold—to investigate the advances in information technology, the life sciences, and other fields that will alter the fabric of our lives in the future, but to do so in a way that reminds listeners of their own power to decide which technologies to adopt and which to avoid. The show’s first season covered topics ranging from space entrepreneurship to monorails to lab-grown meat. Wade has a PhD in the history of technology from MIT and has spent more than 20 years writing about science and technology for publications such as Science, MIT Technology Review, and Xconomy. In 2014-15 he was acting director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program. Wade’s favorite listener comment on Soonish: “It’s like This American Life, except I’m not depressed at the end.”

Hub & Spoke expects to grow quickly as the founders recruit new producers and shows into the collective, from both inside and outside the greater Boston area. Independent audio producers interested in learning more about Hub & Spoke can visit, follow the group on Twitter at @hubspokeaudio, or write to

Photos from the Soonish Eclipse Road Trip of 2017

Below, a few of my best shots from Gettysburg, PA, Future City, IL, and Makanda, IL. For the full story behind these images, listen to Soonish Episode 2.01, Shadows of August: The Eclipse Road Trip Edition.

Join Me on November 6 for a "Science On Screen" Presentation of Mike Judge's "Office Space"

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In Episode 1.08, Hacking Time, I argued that we’re not well served by the technology tools that promise to keep us productive and efficient at work. I’ve been searching for a long time, and I’ve never found the idea e-mail manager, the ideal calendar, or the ideal to-do list app. (Or the ideal robot-who-will-just-do-my-job-for-me.)

All I really want is a tool that can help me manage all the information coming at me and meet my commitments in a stress-free way. But it turns out that technology can abet the problem rather than aiding with it.  So I’ve hacked together a combination of digital and analog methods as best I can. And I think lot of people still struggle to survive in workplaces where the constant stream of tasks and meetings and memos can be deadening.

The up side to this truth is that it's the fuel for a lot of great office-comedy movies and TV shows—and Mike Judge’s Office Space (1999) is the granddaddy of them all.

At 7:00 pm on November 6, 2017, the historic Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts, will present Office Space as part of its longstanding Science On Screen series. I’ll be giving a short talk before the movie about the paradox of productivity: how, sometimes, it feels like the more technology we bring into our lives, the less we actually get done.

Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Science On Screen “pairs screenings of classic, cult, and documentary films with lively introductions by notable figures from the world of science, technology, and medicine,” in the words of the Coolidge Corner Theater’s website.

This time I’m the notable figure! Whose idea was that?!

The site continues: “Each film is used as a jumping off point for the speaker to reveal current scientific research or technological advances, providing the perfect combination of entertainment and enlightenment—even for the most science-phobic culture vulture!”

I know none of you Soonish listeners are science-phobic. So put the evening on your calendar, and buy a ticket online today. It’ll be a blast!

Fans of the show who support Soonish on Patreon at the $25-per-episode level or above are welcome to attend the talk and the movie free, as special guests of Soonish.

Fair Observer Syndicates Soonish Episodes

If you follow @soonishpodcast on Twitter you may have noticed a few links to Soonish-related items on Fair Observer.

It's a California-based news publication and "crowdsourced multimedia journal" about global politics, co-founded by my friend Atul Singh. This summer Fair Observer offered to republish some Soonish episodes and blog posts, and of course I said I'd be delighted.

The pieces so far:

Meat Without the Moo (Soonish Episode 1.05), republished August 12, 2017

Exploring Space With "Astropreneurs" (Soonish Episode 1.07), republished July 30, 2017

It's Hacking Time (Soonish Episode 1.08), republished July 23, 2017

Washington, We Have a Problem (Soonish Episode 1.10), republished July 16, 2017

A Tale of Two Bridges (Soonish Episode 1.09), republished July 9, 2017

I know that many new listeners are discovering the show at Fair Observer. Many thanks to Atul Singh and to Fair Observer's co-founder and managing editor, Abul-Hasanat Siddique, for their interest and assistance.


WHYY's 'The Pulse' Features a Space Segment Adapted from Soonish

The Pulse, the weekly WHYY health and science show hosted by Maiken Scott, published a space-themed episode on July 21 called "Leap of Space."

The second segment of the show, '2001' Came and Went, But the Movie's Ideas Still Resonate, might sound familiar to Soonish listeners. It's a condensed version of Episode 1.01, How '2001' Got the Future So Wrong.

Staffers at The Pulse approached me about adapting the episode after they decided to do a space show and heard the Soonish episodes about 2001 and Astropreneurs. I said yes right away, of course. And working with them was a blast.

It was a challenge to squeeze a 33-minute episode down to about 6.5 minutes!  But with help from managing editor Taunya English, reporter Alan Yu, and Maiken Scott herself, I think we managed to capture the main ideas.

Other segments in "Leap of Space" cover advanced space propulsion technologies, space medicine, a communications snafu during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, attempts to bake bread in space, how astronauts deal with cramped quarters aboard the International Space Station, and the future of space tourism. The show will be broadcast on WHYY at 90.9FM in Philadelphia on Friday, July 21, at 9:00 am and on Sunday, July 23, at 12:00 pm. You can listen to my segment online here and you can subscribe to The Pulse's awesome podcast here.

ScoutSomerville Digs Soonish and the Sonic Soirée

It was fun to learn this week that Soonish was mentioned alongside other Cambridge- and Somerville-based podcasts and radio productions in a magazine feature about the Sonic Soirée, the monthly potluck and critique session for Boston-area audio makers. The piece is in the July-August issue of ScoutSomerville, the free bi-monthly.

I've been going to Sonic Soirées for a couple of years now, and I was at the May gathering when Scout freelancer Adrianne Mathiowetz showed up to do research for her story.

The real star of the story was my friend and colleague Tamar Avishai, maker of the awesome art history podcast The Lonely Palette (and one guest in Soonish Ep. 1.03, Can Technology Save Museums?).

But Adrianne also kindly talked about me and Soonish. She called me a "tall, gentle personality in a button-up shirt and rectangular glasses" and described Soonish as "a podcast that takes a more philosophical angle toward analyzing developing technologies, discussing how they're forcing us to make decisions and shaping our world." All quite fair!

Also featured were host Amy Bracken, Soirée organizer Daniel Gross of PRI's The World; Soirée regulars Galen Beebe, Sarah Birnbaum, Shannon Heaton (maker of Irish Music Stories), and Kip Clark (maker of Stride and Saunter); and newbies Tammy Padina and Olivia Deng.

Talking Robots and Jobs with Google's Hal Varian, Wharton's Lynn Wu, and WPI's Mike Gennert

From 2014 to 2016 I volunteered for the MIT Alumni Association as the founding host of a program called Faculty Forum Online — Alumni Edition. It was a series of live video conversations meant to illustrate the diverse jobs and challenges that MIT alumni are tackling around the world. The forums were multicast on Google Hangouts, and my guests responded to chat questions coming in from audience members watching remotely.

This Monday, May 22, I reprised the moderator role for a special "FFO/AE" conducted with a live audience at Newbury Court, a beautiful retirement community in Concord, MA. The topic was "Robots & Your Job," an area I touched on in Soonish Ep. 1.04, Future Factories, With Workers Built In.

Dozens of MIT alumni joined the online audience to watch, and participate in, a chat with three experts on the impact of robotics, automation, and information technology on today's workplaces. Here's the video:

The Alumni Association rounded up a fantastic group of panelists for the talk, including:

  • Hal Varian, MIT '69, Chief Economist, Google; Professor Emeritus, University of California 
  • Mike Gennert, MIT '80, SM '80, ScD '87, Professor, Worcester Polytechnic Institute 
  • Lynn Wu, MIT '02, MNG '03, PhD '11, Assistant Professor, The Wharton School

As with any Web-based video conversation on a free platform like Google Hangouts, there were a few audio glitches. We overcame them—but I have to say that I'm really glad to be working as the host of an asynchronously produced podcast, not a live video show. It's stressful! I don't know how public media talk-show hosts like Tom Ashbrook, Michael Krasny, and Brian Lehrer juggle their guests, their callers, and their thoughts day in and day out. (Well, I do know—they're cool, consummate pros and they're backed up by very hard working producers.) Anyway, enjoy the video.

The Full Stever Robbins Interview

As a special bonus for all the productivity geeks out there, here's the full recording of my interview with Stever Robbins.

I spoke with Stever back on April 25, 2017, and I used a bunch of tape from this interview in Episode 1.08 of Soonish, Hacking Time.

I first met Stever probably eight or nine years ago after seeing him give a talk at a conference, and I've always been a big fan of his podcast, The Get It Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More.

In addition to being a podcaster, Stever is an entrepreneur and a career coach, an author, a fellow MIT alumnus, and simply one of the smartest people I know around the big questions about productivity. Like, how to stay motivated in your work or your creative projects; how to stay organized around those projects; and how much technology is enough for staying organized, and how much is too much.

Stever and I are both big productivity nerds, although he's obviously thought and written about the topic way more than I have. So we talked about Stever's own systems for staying productive, and how he's experimenting with the Bullet Journal system as an alternative to his old digital calendar and to-do list systems. We also talked about different ways to manage email, and about some of the cognitive science principles you should think about as you design a productivity routine that will be effective for you.

Mentioned In This Interview (website)

The Get It Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More (podcast)

Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More (book)

Work Less and Do More: The Zombie Musical (video)

Grammar Girl (podcast and column)

The One Thing, by Gary Keller (book)

The Bullet Journal system (website)

Eudora, the 1980s-era email client

Kobo, the Canadian e-book seller and e-reader maker owned by Rakuten

Getting Things Done, David Allen's website

Delete, Then Rescue, Episode 325 of The Get It Done Guy Podcast

The 30/3 Rule (blog post by Stever)

The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

The PalmPilot

Join Me on May 22 for an Online Forum on Robots in the Workplace

Big news! On May 22 I'll be hosting a live Google Hangouts discussion on "Robots in the Workplace: How artificial intelligence and automation are helping (and hurting) American workers." The event will feature Google's chief economist, Hal Varian, and scholars from the Wharton School and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. All Soonish listeners are invited to join.

To get the link for the online-only Google Hangout on May 22, register here. It's free!

If you're an MIT alumnus and you'd like to attend the live taping of the session in Newton, MA, register here.

The event is part of the Faculty Forum Online series produced by the MIT Alumni Association. I'll be moderating a panel of MIT alumni that includes:

Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google and Professor Emeritus at the University of California

Mike Gennert, Professor, and Robotics Engineering Program Director for Computer Science and Electrical & Computer Engineering Departments, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Lynn Wu, Assistant Professor, Operations and Information Management, The Wharton School.

This will an audience-driven event. After introductions and a short initial discussion, I'll turn to questions sent in by Google Hangout participants. And I'll be counting on Soonish listeners to do their part to send in smart questions!

For more on the future of robots, jobs, and automation, check out Soonish Episode 1.04: Future Factories, With Workers Built In.

The Full Ariel Waldman Interview

Ariel Waldman speaking at TEDx San Francisco in 2016.

Ariel Waldman speaking at TEDx San Francisco in 2016.

One of my most fascinating interviews for Soonish Episode 1.07, Astropreneurs, was with Ariel Waldman, the creator of, the global director of Science Hack Day, and the author of What's It Like In Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There.

Waldman has made it her personal mission to get more people involved in science, especially space exploration. Her talk at the New Space Age Conference at MIT's Sloan School of Management in March was part of what convinced me that I needed to make an episode about space entrepreneurship.

A designer by training, Waldman formerly worked at NASA's CoLab program, which tried to connect communities inside and outside the agency. Today she serves on a council of external advisors for the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which gives seed grants to innovators and entrepreneurs inside and outside NASA who have radical new ideas for space exploration. Waldman says she's made it her role on the council to find and fund people from outside the traditional space industry.

"I think most people, if you went up to them on the street and you said, 'Would you like a job at NASA?'—just as you are you don't need to change anything about yourself—most people would say, 'Hell yes,'" Waldman told me. "Most people would like to be able to do something with [space] if they just knew that it was accessible to them. And so that's really what set me on on the career path I have now. I'm trying to give other people this experience of either getting a job at NASA..or just knowing that there's a lot of other ways to get involved in space exploration."


How to Review Soonish on Apple Podcasts or the iTunes Store

If you enjoy Soonish, one of the most powerful things you can do to support the show is to leave a rating and a review of the show in the Apple Podcasts directory.

There are plenty of other ways to find podcasts these days. But I've looked at my own download statistics, and more than half of the folks who discover and listen to Soonish are doing it using the Apple Podcasts app on their smartphones.

That means Apple is still a key gatekeeper in the podcasting business. Every five-star rating and positive review greatly increases the chances that Apple will feature Soonish in search results, which helps the show reach more listeners. And who knows—someday maybe the Apple curators will even pick the show for their New and Noteworthy section.

So, you're fired up to write a review? Great! The thing is, it's a slightly tricky, 10-step process, and the steps are slightly different depending on whether you're using a smartphone or a computer. Not everyone is familiar with all of the steps. So, here we go:

On Your Smartphone

  1. Open the Apple Podcasts app (the purple one).
  2. Tap Search in the lower right corner.
  3. Type "Soonish" into the search bar and tap Search.
  4. In the area marked Podcasts, the podcast art for Soonish will appear. Tap that square.
  5. You'll see a bar with three tabs. Tap the middle one, "Reviews."
  6. Tap "Write a Review."
  7. Enter your iTunes password
  8. Tap the stars to leave a rating. (Five stars please!)
  9. Write a pithy title and leave a review. Short is okay.
  10. Tap "Send."

That's it! Here's a good summary of the process on iMore, with screen shots.

On Your Windows or Macintosh Computer

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. There's a bar below the Apple symbol that says Library, Unplayed, and Store. Click Store.
  3. There's a drop-down menu in the upper right of the screen. Select Podcasts.
  4. There's a Search bar in the upper right of the screen. Type "Soonish."
  5. In the area marked Podcasts, the podcast art for Soonish will appear. Click that square.
  6. You'll see a bar with three tabs. Tap the middle one, "Ratings and Reviews."
  7. Under Customer Reviews, there's a button that says "Write a Review." Click it.
  8. Tap the stars to leave a rating. (Five stars is awesome.)
  9. Write a title and a review.
  10. Click "Submit."

Here's a video that explains the whole process on a Mac or Windows machine, made by the producer of a podcast about microbreweries.

Thanks again for taking the time to leave a review of Soonish. It really does give the show a huge boost.


Chatting About Space, Robots, and Journalism with Fellow Podcaster Chris Revill

At a "Maker Mingle" event at the PRX Podcast Garage a couple of months ago, I made a new podcasting acquaintance: Chris Revill of Providence, RI. He makes an interview show called Let's Chat with Chris Revill and Friends. It's part of the Core Temp Arts podcast network.

Soon after the Podcast Garage event, Chris invited me to be a guest on the show, and last week he published the resulting episode, which you can hear here. The conversation was fun and wide-ranging. We talked about everything from why I started Soonish to the evolving culture and business of podcasting to the state of newspaper journalism, the rationale for human voyages into space, and whether we should worry about an AI apocalypse (spoiler: we shouldn't). Check it out!

The Full Natalie Rubio Interview

Winston Churchill wrote in 1931: "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."

Churchill's prediction hasn't come true on the schedule he laid out. But people like Natalie Rubio are working as quickly as they can to bring about his vision of lab-grown meat, or what's now known as "cellular agriculture."

The ability to grow meat in a laboratory or factory environment wouldn't just sidestep the "absurdity" of raising whole chickens, turkeys, pigs, or cows just for their meat. It could also save energy and water and help the environment by stemming the release of greenhouse gases.

That's a vision that Natalie says has obsessed her ever since her undergraduate days at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Now she's pursuing it as a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at Tufts University, where she's part of David Kaplan's laboratory.

Kaplan is a professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Tissue Engineering Resource Center, an NIH-backed project studying all the components that will be needed in the future to grow cultured tissues: cell lines, "bioreactor" environments, scaffold materials, and growth media.

Natalie's particular interest is in finding a suitable scaffolding material, such as bioengineered silk or chitin, that could help coax animal muscle tissue into growing to edible size. Her work is funded by a research fellowship from New Harvest, a New York-based non-profit devoted to cellular agriculture. In fact, she's the first PhD student to win the New Harvest fellowship.

Natalie gave me a tour of the Kaplan lab, and then we sat down for the hour-long interview reproduced here. I condensed her story into a segment for Soonish Episode 1.05, Meat Without the Moo. Check it out!

The Full Adam Salomone Interview

Adam Salomone. Photo courtesy of The Food Loft.

Adam Salomone. Photo courtesy of The Food Loft.

Presented for your enjoyment: the full tape of Soonish's interview with Adam Salomone. 

In Episode 1.05 of Soonish, Meat Without the Moo, Adam shares some perspectives on The Jackfruit Company, the startup Annie Ryu founded to introduce jackfruit to Western consumers. But the truth is I could have done a whole show just around my conversation with Adam.

He has an amazingly rich background in the food business, first as the longtime associate publisher of the cookbook publishing company Harvard Common Press (now part of the Quarto Group) and more recently as the co-founder and CEO of The Food Loft, a collaborative workspace in Boston for food and tech companies.

At Harvard Common Press, Adam helped to run an investment fund that invested in several foodtech companies, including the recipe search service Yummly and the restaurant delivery service Caviar, which went on to be acquired by Square. In other words, he's been watching foodtech companies and working with foodtech entrepreneurs for years. 

I went to visit Adam at the Food Loft in early November 2016, and we talked about why food startups and food innovation are in the midst of such a big boom right now. We zeroed in on startups offering protein and meat-substitute products from sources other than livestock, But it was a very broad ranging conversation that should be of interest to anyone in the food tech market. 

What's On Wade's Podcast Playlist?

I listen to a lot of podcasts. A lot. If you've seen my past lists of podcast recommendations, like this 2015 Xconomy piece and this 2016 sequel and update, you know that my list of must-listen shows runs into the dozens.

Now there's an easier way for me to share shows and episodes that I especially like. It's the new personal playlist feature in the awesome podcatcher app from RadioPublic. I've used the feature to set up my own running playlist, which features great episodes that gave me new stuff to think about.

By the way, that's a "deep link" with special superpowers. If you have the RadioPublic app installed on your iOS or Android device, and you tap the link from that device, the app will open directly to my playlist. If you click it from a regular browser, you'll see a Web version of the page, with fewer cool features.

A few weeks back RadioPublic invited me to curate a Soonish-themed playlist, which we called News from the Future. That list still exists. But it was a custom job, built using RadioPublic's in-house tools. With their new personal playlist feature, which is part of a pending update to the app, anyone can build and share a playlist. That's what I've done, using a preview version of the updated app.

The playlist builder lets you add a short explanatory note when you add an episode to your list. So if you check out my playlist you'll get a sense of which recent episodes of my favorite shows have left the deepest impressions on me, and why. Here's the deep link again. Enjoy!

The Full Dan Woods Interview

TechShop CEO Dan Woods. Photo courtesy of TechShop.

TechShop CEO Dan Woods. Photo courtesy of TechShop.

My interview with TechShop CEO Dan Woods for Soonish Episode 1.05, Future Factories—With Workers Built In, was so fun and wide-ranging that I wanted to share the full version here on the site.

Woods has an academic background in aeronautics and business administration. At O'Reilly Media, Dan was the co-founder of the how-to magazine MAKE, overseeing sales, circulation, marketing, media relations, and community outreach.

Together with MAKE co-founder Dale Dougherty, he dreamed up the first Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA, in 2006. That's where he met Jim Newton, who would shortly go on to found TechShop. Years later, Woods would leave O'Reilly to go to work for Newton at TechShop, and in 2016, he became CEO.

Woods was seemingly destined by his upbringing to wind up at the center of the maker movement, which is in turn at the center of the trend toward faster, smaller-scale, more customized product design and manufacturing practices in the U.S.

"I grew up in Silicon Valley before it was Silicon Valley," he told me during our interview. "I’m  a Hewlett-Packard brat. So around my dining room table were a lot of really great discussions [with] scientists and engineers and inventors, who frankly didn't give a darn about about flipping companies and exit strategies—it was all about science and engineering and what you were making now. You know, outdoor speakers, or a new amplifier or something like that.

"And so I found Dale's notion of celebrating real people doing projects—not because they had to, or because it was part of their job, but because it was part of life and they couldn't help themselves—I found that really intriguing and strangely familiar to me."

Woods helped O'Reilly build MAKE and Maker Faire into a huge national brand. Now, as the leader of TechShop, he is tasked with increasing the company's footprint around the world. He says he spend a lot of his time traveling to cities where local makers, educators, and government leaders would like the company to set up shop. (Opening a new location can be a multi-million-dollar proposition, and most TechShops so far have emerged from public-private partnerships, Woods says.)

"Probably every community needs something like this" in the interest of both community-building and economic development, he says. "Whether it's a TechShop or not, they need an open access maker space." 

In these spaces, Woods says, "You'll find poets, you'll find engineers, scientists, homeless people, veterans. All walks of life. People that are richly diverse in backgrounds, aspirations, skills, knowledge, things they are able to share, things they need to learn. The magic is that rich mash-up of people with diverse backgrounds. That's what makes it that third place, [where] we get a serendipitous connection of wildly creative ideas."


The Full Tamar Avishai Interview

You might think that an audio program about the visual arts is a contradiction in terms. Every three weeks, Tamar Avishai proves that's wrong in her podcast The Lonely Palette

In each episode, Tamar picks a specific work of art, goes to the museum that owns it, and interviews visitors about their reactions. Then, drawing on her art-history training and her experience as a lecturer at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, she brings out threads within those reactions to weave a rich audio essay about the work's creator and the context of its creation. 

Tamar's very first regular episode was about my favorite painting at the MFA: Cezanne's Fruit and Jug on a Table. Cezanne was a visual philosopher and a bit of a weirdo—there's no way around it—and Tamar goes right to the core of his art when she explains that he was exploring what it means to look at something with subjective eyes in a subjective head. "Cezanne wanted to capture what looking looks like," Tamar says. "And as it turns out, it's wonky."

The recording above is my full interview with Tamar from late October of 2016, for Soonish Episode 1.03, Can Technology Save Museums? We talked about Tamar's studies in art history, how she got her gig at the MFA, how that helped to spawn the podcast, and how she uses both the show and her MFA lectures to wriggle out of the straitjackets imposed by traditional art history and museum education and demonstrate how art can be fun, accessible, and moving.

(If you need further proof that great audio storytelling is actually very visual, check out Tamar's recent RadioPublic podcast playlist, Look With Your Ears.)


Soonish Fan Art: A Collage that Looks into the Future

I'm awed and touched by this Soonish-themed collage made by Ellen Petry Leanse. Browse the scans, and continue reading below for the story behind this gorgeous piece.

Ellen is a startup coach and consultant based in San Francisco, and she's been a dear friend since 2010 or so. She flew all the way to Boston to attend the Soonish launch party and my 50th birthday party on the weekend of January 13-15, 2017. 

On the day after the launch party, Ellen and I met up for a tour of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and I showed her the fortune I'd gotten the night before, at an afterparty at Chang Sho in Cambridge, MA. It was a pretty awesome fortune, and she asked if she could borrow it and return it in enhanced form. Of course I said yes! 

A couple of days later, before Ellen went home to California, she presented me with the amazing collage booklet. It incorporates not just the fortune (on the third spread), but three varieties of the Soonish business card, glimpses of Piermatteo D'Amelia's Annunciation, and other references from our Gardner visit, such as the Calderwood auditorium and materials from the "Beyond Words" exhibit on incunabula. There's even a little door that opens up to show...a monorail!

Turns out that after our museum tour, Ellen had lingered at the Gardner's Education Studio and used materials there to complete the book.

What did my fortune say? "Put your mind into planning today. Look into the future."

A Silicon Valley veteran, Ellen was the first user evangelist at Apple and went on to work with Google and numerous other companies. Here's a TEDxBerkeley talk she gave in 2016 on "Happiness By Design." Thanks Ellen!

News from the Future: A Podcast Playlist on RadioPublic

Photo by Lucia Prosperi

Photo by Lucia Prosperi

Special Update, June 6, 2017: My "News From the Future" playlist is back in the featured rotation on RadioPublic this week! You can find it here. (The link works best from an iPhone or Android phone with RadioPublic already installed.)

Original Post, January 25, 2017: I've been working on something special with the fine folks at RadioPublic, a Boston-based startup that's creating new ways for people to find and hear great podcasts.

One of the unique features of RadioPublic's app (available for both iOS and Android) is a constant supply of fresh playlists curated by "tastemakers." I guess I'm one of those now! RadioPublic invited me to make a future-themed playlist for them, and I was thrilled to follow through.

Starting yesterday (January 24) and for the coming week, News from the Future is one of five featured lists within the app, alongside terrific lists from Gimlet co-founder Matt Lieber, radio producer Veronica Simmonds, The Audit (a podcast recommendation newsletter), and audio artist John Tjhia.

My list points to other shows that have inspired me as I've embarked on my own podcasting adventure. Within each show, I've singled out episodes that explore various aspects of the future.

To experience the playlist in its full glory, you'll need to download RadioPublic app to your iOS or Android device. Then, if you tap the link above from your device (here it is again), the app will open directly to my playlist.

The list includes a custom audio intro from yours truly, and then guides listeners to some of my favorite future-related episodes from 99% Invisible, Flash Forward, Imaginary Worlds, Inquiring Minds, Longform, Note to Self, Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Outside/In, and, naturally, Soonish.

Give it a whirl! And while you're at it, explore other areas of the app—there's a ton of great audio to discover. RadioPublic's Lauren Bacon has put together a compilation of all of RadioPublic's playlists so far. And for more about RadioPublic, you can listen to this intriguing episode of The Pub, Current's podcast about public media. Host Adam Ragusea interviews RadioPublic CEO Jake Shapiro and and chief product officer Matt McDonald about their thoughts on the podcasting ecosystem and their goals for the RadioPublic app.

A Trip to the Seattle World's Fair in "Century 21 Calling"

Calling all retro-futurism buffs! For your viewing pleasure, here's the full video of Century 21 Calling, the 1962 AT&T promotional film mentioned at the top of this week's episode, Monorails: Trains of Tomorrow?

The film was made for AT&T by Jerry Fairbanks Productions. (Fairbanks was a veteran Hollywood producer who invented of the Multi Cam sound synchronization system still used today to film TV sitcoms.)

The film follows an impossibly effervescent teenage couple as they ride the monorail to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair—also known as the Century 21 Exposition—and then spend some time at the Bell Systems pavilion learning about cutting-edge telephone technologies like pagers and call waiting.

The film has historical charm. But I fastened on it for this episode of the podcast because of the way the "reveal" in the opening sequence recreates the experience of actual fair-goers, eight million of whom arrived at the exposition on the monorail.

For a good laugh, check out the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film, with all the trademark MST3K snark.