Hello. CAN MACHINES THINK?
December 17, 2017 3:20 AM   Subscribe

 
In the background, a lone producer shuttles back and forth, shirt drenched in boiling tea or coffee
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 4:14 AM on December 17, 2017 [18 favorites]


I noticed that in recent years, In Our Time seems to have made a special effort to include more women guests, and also cover more women from history. Well done!
posted by adrianhon at 4:27 AM on December 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


Partway through this, I started giggling because I suddenly envisioned it as some sort of running gag, Soupy Sales style, where there's a knock at the door, Melvyn is there saying "Hello..." and then he gets hit in the face with a pie. Or maybe just gets the door shut on him mid-sentence.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:05 AM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


For all that Melvyn occasionally irks me by getting a bee in his bonnet and butting in, I think he's the most amazingly effective host you could hope for this sort of programme.

That burning desire to get every last drop of information out of his guests / victims isn't just exemplified in the Hello... , it's kept up relentlessly for another 2578 seconds, every single episode, 700+ episodes in.

I also love the fact that there are now so many episodes of In Our Time, and it's so information dense, that I'll likely be able to just keep looping back through the archive 2 or 3 times a week for the rest of my life and still feel like I'm always feeding my brain something fresh.
posted by protorp at 5:16 AM on December 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


I mentioned in the podcast thread that I'm in the throes of an In Our Time obsession right now. When I first started listening to them, I was most struck by the sheepdog-sheep relationship between Melvyn and the academics --- he chivvys them through the chosen subject, nips them right in the tangent when they start to stray, and they generally end up bewildered but compliant.

As I've listened to a bunch more though, it's interesting, collectively they're almost a plaster cast of the shape of his brain. He's thoroughly versed in the classics, but his true love is poetry. He's a great enthusiast for science but that and maths are where he most often has trouble following the guests along. You can detect a sort of bias in the earlier years to the sort of perspective a well-educated mid-20th century public school boy would have had, in terms of the selection of subjects. But in more recent years I've been impressed with how much of an effort they make to be a bit more globalist in their perspective. I've been introduced to Islamic historians, the history of the Sikh empire, they voyages of the Ming.

It has made me feel I should actually read more philosophy. To quote Browning (an impulse I think Melvyn would indulge), my reach may exceeed my grasp there, however.
posted by Diablevert at 5:36 AM on December 17, 2017 [13 favorites]


The cold open is actually just a consequence of how he switches into character.
posted by metaBugs at 6:01 AM on December 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


I love Melvyn's cold openings. What else do you need? Theme music? An announcer shouting today's topic? In Our Time begins exactly as any good lecture should.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:16 AM on December 17, 2017 [11 favorites]


Does anyone have any specific episodes to recommend? I eventually stopped listening because I just didn't know what to listen to next. I myself quite enjoyed the one on eunuchs.
posted by Panthalassa at 6:33 AM on December 17, 2017


This is simply terrific. I would also appreciate any episode recs, although I may just dive right in.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:56 AM on December 17, 2017


These are great pick up lines.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:58 AM on December 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


Picking up at the latest and working your way back while waiting excitedly for the next weekly episode works, as does searching for any personal favorite topics of your own.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:02 AM on December 17, 2017




And as an aside, IOT does rather spoil one for other podcasts on virtually any of the topics Bragg covers when one realizes how much better they could be.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:06 AM on December 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


In Our Time begins exactly as any good lecture should.

'Thorzdad has it exactly right. These are perfect.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:10 AM on December 17, 2017


This dude is so reassuring. He is a British man who knows things or else is going to find them out. It’s a shame that I am still wired to respond positively to this, but I am. I love that they can just jump into something hell of abstruse without pausing for jokes from a comic relief person who’s pretending (or not) to be an idiot who’s never heard of any of this before. Don’t get me wrong, I like listening to shows like that as well, but the pure, unapologetic expertise of In Our Time is refreshing. I hope Bragg’s not the next monster or anything.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:18 AM on December 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


I love that they can just jump into something hell of abstruse without pausing for jokes from a comic relief person who’s pretending (or not) to be an idiot who’s never heard of any of this before.

/cough/ Infinite Monkey Cage /cough/
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:38 AM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


In Our Time is Wadsworth Constant-free.
posted by anthill at 8:10 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


I had this playing this morning and loved it, but one reason that Melvyn can swoop in and just get things started is that the BBC still has enough funding for podcasts that they don't need to stick in any ads at the beginning *side-eye with a tinge of compassion for the underfunded CBC*

My god, we even get the lagniappe of the podcast bonus at the end as everyone draws a deep breath, laughs, slurps some tea, and shares some of the bits the border collie didn't let them linger on during the broadcast portion. I think I heard a brief ad by the host of another BBC show after it all when I listened to the Moby Dick episode this morning, but that was about it.
posted by maudlin at 8:43 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have any specific episodes to recommend?

The Gin Craze

Cynicism

The Library at Ninevah
posted by Diablevert at 8:44 AM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm an obsessive In Our Time listener. I live for the moments when the nice polite academics suddenly hit a point of real disagreement and the gloves come off. Only happens about 1 in 20 episodes, but SO enjoyable when it happens.
posted by feckless at 8:54 AM on December 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


The episode on the Salem Witchcraft Trials was full of surprises in a story I’d thought I knew.
posted by velebita at 9:20 AM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's clear when you hear the early episodes that it took Melvyn some time to find the correct level of engagement with a subject—he would on occasion badger a guest, but he does not do that anymore.
Another highlight from years' past was when one of the guests turned the tables on Lord Bragg to enquire about what the peers in the House of Lords thought about some subject. He shut that right down.
posted by bouvin at 9:30 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


I wish every youtube instructional video would do this. Just kill the Wadsworth Constant.
posted by Emily's Fist at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Episode reccomendations:
The one on Bird Migration is amazing. And also from this year there's one on farmers in the south states of America called 'American populists' which is really eye opening, especially the parts about how racial disharmony was deliberately fomented by the govt. From 2 or 3 years ago the Ming Dynasty one is mind boggling.
posted by stevedawg at 2:40 PM on December 17, 2017


Bird Migration is currently on my IOT playlist. I'm halfway through, but got interrupted for some reason- probably done with my lunchtime walk and back to work.

As to what to recommend, they're all great, just that there are about a quarter of them in which I have no interest. I listen for a bit, and if I'm bored I assume it's my fault and go on to the next one.

He's got such a wide range, although he seems a little clueless getting into modern science.
I really like the show.
posted by MtDewd at 2:52 PM on December 17, 2017


"Hello, here is the shipping forecast issued by the Meteorological Office at fourteen-hundred hours, Greenwich Mean Time..."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:20 PM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


My favorite podcast!

I adore the ones in my wheelhouse, but from outside my wheelhouse, the one on the Fibonacci Sequence particularly stands out in my mind.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:24 PM on December 17, 2017


Diablevert: "I mentioned in the podcast thread that I'm in the throes of an In Our Time obsession right now. When I first started listening to them, I was most struck by the sheepdog-sheep relationship between Melvyn and the academics --- he chivvys them through the chosen subject, nips them right in the tangent when they start to stray, and they generally end up bewildered but compliant. "

I once spoke to one of the academics who had been on In Our Time about her perception of the experience, and she said that she found Bragg a slightly annoying host. I mean, I think she probably is 100% right about that, but I also think that that's how a sheep would feel about the sheepdog -- and I think it's vital to the successful dynamic of the show.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:46 PM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Every time I listen to In Our Time, I realize how little actual content most other podcasts have.

So many of these slick NPR-style podcasts just repackage the same thought-leader/TED-circuit stuff and add a lot of opining. The production values and the expert interviews may trick you into believing you've being given substance, but by the time you get to the end—listening on 1.5 speed, usually, while doing something else—you can summarize what you've learned in one sentence. I've given up.

In Our Time, on the other hand? It's literal paragraphs of completely new information, coming at you in a barrage. It's terrific. I love how much attention it's been getting lately!

In a similar vein, I also quite like BBC 4's Thinking Allowed, which is similarly academic but focused on sociological research.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 9:25 PM on December 17, 2017 [7 favorites]


Thanks for making a post on this. I hadn't heard of the show and had given up on most podcasts for their attitude that information and entertainment are at odds with each other so they need to emphasize the latter to get listeners. (That or they just didn't have much useful to say in the first place, which seems often the case.)

If anyone has other podcasts like this on any subject I'd love to hear them, particularly those with some focus on the arts beyond today's pop culture.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:32 PM on December 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


HELLO, this in-browser player has no volume control.
posted by jferg at 4:40 AM on December 18, 2017


If you're looking for similar information-dense podcasts, The Inquiry is quite good. They pose a single question, then bring in four "expert witnesses" to respond to it. Runs a tight 23-24 minutes with professional but understated production. You can browse their 12 favourite episodes here, but if you want to try just one, go for "How do we stop people dying in floods?"
posted by maudlin at 8:34 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


I love In Our Time.

Can't find a copy of it online but I remember a Private Eye cartoon from a couple of years ago.

Three slightly dishevelled-looking bookish types are sat around a table, each with a mic in front of them, all of them looking like hungover shit. Bragg - identified by his luxuriant bouffant - is (in a speech bubble) talking, something along the lines of "HELLO. This morning we'll be talking about Wittgenstein's picture theory of meaning and its ramifications for the philosophy of linguistics and its attendant impact on ..."

Speech bubble from one of the hungover academics: "Fucking hell, Melvyn, it's a bit early in the morning for this."

(In Our Time goes out at 9am on Thursdays on Radio 4.)

Also: good IOT episodes: The Gin Craze, Moby Dick, Bird Migration (this one especially), Chromatography, The Picts, Maths In The Early Islamic World, The Fighting Temeraire, P vs NP, The Invention of Photography ...
posted by Len at 11:45 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wow. I popped on an episode of In Our Time last night on the drive home, and it's a big change from the sloooooooooow episodes of The Pitch (Sharktank, basically) that I've been hate-listening to lately*. I got about 10 seconds in and I have no idea who this Melvyn guy is, who he's talking to, why I should care about the East India Company, what its relevance to my life is, or even what the guests are going to be talking about.

This is fun. I don't know that I've acquired the taste, and I don't know that I can actually retain anything from this during my commute, but it's fun. I even got to to some of the sheep-dogging, which was really funny to hear after reading about it.


*The concept is fine, but I don't need to get a mini-bio of each VC during each episode. It's the same people every time! And lately most of the pitches are not greatest ideas, so I think I enjoy listening to people with marketing and sales ability who haven't realized they don't have anything to sell.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:36 AM on December 19, 2017


Len - I think the cartoon is this one, which oddly enough I found in a comment in an older Bragg/IOT thread.

(I used to think I didn't like podcasts, until I discovered IOT via this thread)
posted by doop at 4:14 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Goodness, the most recent two episodes, on Beethoven and Hamlet respectively, have been excellent.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:19 AM on December 30, 2017


Does anyone else suspect that the producer has both a coffee and a tea ready for each guest at the end of the episode?
posted by anthill at 2:31 AM on January 10, 2018


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