Rob O'Connor

Lecturer/Geek/Musician/DJ/Eejit

Five Podcasts to Help You Learn About Computing & Technology

I learn a lot from listening. There’s nothing profound in that short sentence – it’s a pretty obvious statement actually. Whether through real-life conversations, radio programmes or podcasts, I’ve always found audio to be a fantastic medium through which information can be absorbed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a new student, a seasoned professional or somewhere in between – everyone can learn something new every day.

Staying on top of technology and computing news can be daunting. Things change constantly and new developments are always on the horizon. The life-cycle of new technologies can be incredibly short – sometimes things can go from being novel and exciting to discontinued incredibly quickly (here’s looking at you Quibi)

With that in mind, here are five recommendations of technology podcasts you can digest in your own time to help you navigate the technology currents and stay afloat. Hopefully you might enjoy these while out for a walk, cleaning up the kitchen, sitting on a bus or wherever you listen to audio. There’s no shortage of tech podcasts available, but these are one I regularly listen to, so can personally vouch for their high quality.

The VergeCast

The flagship tech podcast from the Vox media group (their words!). Hosted by Nilay Patel and Dieter Bohn (with a revolving cast of side characters), this weekly podcast takes a wry and irreverent look at computing and gadget news. Episodes typically last 1hr 15mins in duration, though they often go past the 1hr 30 mark. It’s always divided up into chunks though, so if you just want to hear them review the latest phone or tech gadget, you can usually skip the first 30 minutes.

ReplyAll

A beast in the world of technology podcasts. Produced by Gimlet Media, ReplyAll has been going since 2014. They mostly cover internet technologies, but always from a human angle. Hosts Alex Goldman and Emmanuel Dzotsi are total pros and are always easy to listen to. Since they have such a huge archive, the producers have created a handy “New Listeners” guide, highlighting some of the best jumping off points. Episode 79 (Boy in the Photo) is particularly good. There’s an element of mystery to that one, so I’ll say nothing and let you experience it spoiler-free.

Upgrade/Clockwise

OK, this is two podcasts rather than one, but they’re from the same gene pool, both produced by Relay FM. If you want to get a handle on the latest gadgets, apps and services, these are well worth a listen. Clockwise’s format is where the 4 person panel discuss 4 tech topics in 30 minutes. It definitely has a very American feel and they tend to focus on the Apple ecosystem a lot. If you’re busy, this is definitely the one to check out (I usually catch Clockwise each week).

Upgrade is a deeper dive covering similar topics and episodes can last up to 90 minutes. They’re both well produced and easy to listen to, whatever your own level of technical knowledge. 

If I was to make a criticism, it’d be that there’s a lot of faffing about at the start of episodes – the radio producer part of my brain wants them to cut the waffle and get to the good stuff earlier. However, this seems to be a feature of many podcasts and Relay FM aren’t alone here.

The Digital Human

The Digital Human is a BBC Radio 4 production that discusses social aspects of techno-culture. Aleks Krotoski (PhD) and the production team usually take an abstract topic and explore how it is impacted by technology. For example, one memorable episode explored the concept of “getting lost” and how mapping technology has removed the random factors of wandering around a new city, trying to find a place of interest. If you’re following a line on a screen, you’re not looking around you and perhaps missing some unexpected gems. I absolutely ADORE this series as it prompts me to question technology from different perspectives.

One of my all time favourite episodes of The Digital Human was ‘Devotion’ about TempleOS which unexpectedly turned into a mini-thesis on operating systems, religion and the divine elegance of good design: 

“When a homeless man was killed by a train on 11/08/18 in The Dalles, Oregon, no-one realised how many people it would effect. He was Terry Davis, and he was on a mission from God.”

The Digital Human is produced in series batches and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. However, most listeners outside the UK (such as me!) will enjoy it as a podcast on BBC Sounds or their preferred podcast app.

The Machine

Naturally, when recommending tech podcasts, I’d include our own one, geared specifically towards computer science education! The Machine is produced internally in WIT, where a bunch of faculty members (hosted by yours truly) discuss topics related to computing and technology, such as programming, AI, Big Data, etc. The conversations are targeted at tech novices, so we don’t assume a huge amount of prior knowledge before listening. That said, we also seem to have a decent audience amongst technology professionals, so hopefully that means the conversations are both accessible and reasonably deep. 

The Machine is a bit sporadic in its output as everyone contributes to this in their spare time. We aim to release six episodes per semester, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Last year, more episodes than expected were produced, whereas we’re behind this year. Can I still blame the global pandemic??? 😜

The Machine is available on pretty much every podcast platform. It probably the best tech podcast produced at 3rd Level in Ireland (I may be biased in my pronouncement)

Pop In Those Earbuds

All of these are pretty much general purpose computing podcasts. If you need something that’s a bit more focussed or specific to a technology, there’s probably a podcast for that too. For example, when I was first learning Kotlin a few years back, I found JetBrain’s Talking Kotlin podcast very useful, but you’re really getting into niche listening there. 

Obviously, these podcasts are not meant as a substitute for real-life conversations, but we don’t always have fellow geeks around to talk tech in person. Next time you’re alone and seeking some brain food of the technology variety, pop in those earbuds and give one of these podcasts a whirl. If you find any of these worthwhile or have any recommendations yourself, I’d love to hear about it – drop me a line on Twitter @curlybert

Updates

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

I have been keep the MixCloud updated each week with every Irish Beats radio show, so if you want to have a listen to some of the latest and greatest in homegrown music, fill yer ears! The shows from the last two weeks are particularly interesting as they spotlight 18 acts from the South East whom I think are worth checking out. There’s a short feature on each on and one of their latest tracks.

Beyond that, I’m conducting some research in podcasting and trying to get another music project finished, whilst also experiencing home renovations. First world problems …

Irish Beats 23rd May 2021

Your weekly helping of fresh Irish music! All Tvvins, Saige, Amerik, James Vincent McMorrow, Moxie and more! My guests in the virtual studio were Steve Wall and Simon O’Reilly, chatting about their new track ‘Rise With The Sun.’ It was mighty craic talking with the lads, learning how they created their track using WhatsApp and Dropbox. Full playlist after the jump.

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Falling Down a Pi-hole

As part of a 4th year module, some students and I performed some test on Pi-hole, a network level ad blocker for your LAN. We wrote a short article about the experience and published it on Medium.

You’ll find the original piece here, but I’ll copy it after the jump to keep things handy for myself on the blog! Written by Andrew Brennan, Gianluca Zuccarelli and myself (they did most of the work BTW!)

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Irish Beats 2nd May 2021

For the Bank Holiday weekend, I decided to host a mini music festival on Irish Beats, playing an hour of live performances from stages big and small. The line-up included The Academic, when young, The Frames, Cathy Davey, Alex Gough, Wallis Bird, U2 and more! Of course, that was after a collection of fresh bangers from Anim, Wild Youth, The X Collective, Bantum and Soda Blonde. Lots to wrap your ears around!

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Irish Beats 25th April 2021

Plenty of new sounds to get your ears around on Irish Beats this week. Played stuff from Imelda May’s chart-topping album, Villagers’ new one and many more. Lots of guitars on the show this evening for some reason. Perhaps it’s the influence of my guest Dara Quilty from the band Apella. Who knows?!

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Irish Beats 18th April 2021

This week was pretty hectic for new Irish releases, so I kept the music coming thick and fast on the latest radio show. The playlist was made up of fresh tunes from the likes of Reuben Hester, KinetiX, Ruth Anne, SYML, Cat Dowling and many more. The wonderful Ann Scott was my guest, chatting about her new album ‘Lily.’

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Irish Beats 11th April 2021

I didn’t much in the way of new music on the radio last week because of the vinyl special, so I tried to squeeze as many fresh tunes into the latest playlist. 32 tracks in two hours is no mean feat! The second hour was devoted to track from the folk genre, allowing us to shift down to second gear and become a little introspective.

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Irish Beats 4th April 2021

It was an all-vinyl affair on this evening’s Irish Beats as I dug into my collection to bring you some of the warmest homegrown sounds around. There was one electronic selection before breaking into the guitars – well worth turning your radios up to 11! The second of the show was a documentary following one WIT student’s quest to get into the format. ‘Gianluca Wants a Record Player’ asks questions like what’s so appealing about vinyl? Who’s listening to the format? Does it really sound better than Spotify? Should Gianluca go ahead and get a turntable?

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Irish Beats 21st March 2021

Last night was the first radio show I’ve done in a while that didn’t feature an extended interview. I enjoy talking with people, but it was nice to focus on the music too! I managed to squeeze TWENTY EIGHT whopping tracks into two hours on the radio this week, with new music from Chasing Abbey, Tolu Makay, Inhaler and more as well as classics from the likes of David Holmes and Fred. ‘Be My Friend’ by Holly Macve is a track that’s really wormed it’s way into my brain. Her new album ‘Not The Girl’ is out in April, so I’ll definitely keep an ear out for that.

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