British Airship R 101

Airships and the Future that Never Was

They are hulking, but graceful — human-made whales that float in the air. For over a century, lighter-than-air vehicles have captured the public imagination. In these visions, cargo and passengers traverse the globe in smoothly gliding aircraft, then dock elegantly at the mooring towers on top of Art Deco skyscrapers.

Today, blimps are mostly just PR gimmicks, but for 100 years, lighter-than-air crafts were seriously considered as the perfect design solution for all kinds of problems, at least in theory. And despite setbacks and failures, people just wouldn’t give up on the promise of airships.

The most promising, and most opulent, rigid airship of the 1920s era was Britain’s R101 and its rise and dramatic fall is the primary subject of engineering expert Bill Hammack’s new book about Britain’s last great airship, called Fatal Flight. In this podcast he evokes futures that might have been.

99% Invisible


Don Quixote - sketch by Pablo Picasso Don Quixote - sketch by Pablo Picasso

Constructed Reality: Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

What if we are living in a computer simulation that more technologically-capable humans have constructed for us? Tech mogul Elon Musk says the likelihood that we are not actually all living in a simulated world is ‘one in billions’. In this episode philosopher and cognitive scientist Dr David Chalmers weighs in to explore those odds.

Chips with Everything

Talking Bodies

Modern medicine, personal health tracking, and why health journalism is broken. Jody Avirgan talks to James Hamblin, the doctor-turned-journalist and a seriously entertaining authority in the field of health. Hamblin, the author of “If Our Bodies Could Talk: A Guide to Operating and Maintaining a Human Body”, draws from his own medical training as well from hundreds of interviews with distinguished scientists and medical practitioners.
Illustration by Ski

What’s The Point

Hacking the Iphone for Fun, Profit, and Maybe Espionage

The story of one man who stumbled on a flaw in Apple’s operating system, a way to hack the phone.
Every time there is a big new release of some software, an operating system or a new browser, hackers get to work. There’s money to be made. But it’s not just hackers looking for these glitches. Tips on how to break into phones, computers, and Internet-connected televisions helps C.I.A. too.

Planet Money

The Portable Cell Phone Booth by Boston based performance sculptor Nick Rodrigues. The Portable Cell Phone Booth by Boston based performance sculptor Nick Rodrigues.

The Bookie, the Phone Booth, and the FBI

The Fourth Amendment doesn’t mention privacy once. But those 54 little words, written more than 200 years ago, are a crucial battleground in today’s fight over digital rights in the United States. That one sentence is why the government can’t listen to phone calls without a warrant. And it’s why they don’t need one to find out who the citizens of the United States are calling.

But now, we share our deepest thoughts with Google, through what we search for and what we email. And we share our most intimate conversations with Alexa, when we talk in its vicinity. So how does the Fourth Amendment apply when we’re surrounded by technology the Founding Fathers could never dream of?

Stories of bookies on the Sunset Strip, microphones taped to phone booths, and a 1975 Monte Carlo. And where the Fourth Amendment needs to go.

With Laura Donohue, director of Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology. Supreme Court audio from the wonderful, under a Creative Commons license.

Note to Self


How the Nation of Luxembourg Is Racing to Privatise Space

Arkyd 6 spacecraft
Arkyd 6 spacecraft

Mining asteroids is the new old game, though no longer science fiction. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – which has all the square footage of an asteroid and, with a population up to slightly over half a million – has earmarked €200m to fund NewSpace companies that join its new space sector. In July, the parliament passed its law – the first of its kind in Europe, and the most far-reaching in the world – asserting that if a Luxembourgish company launches a spacecraft that obtains water, silver, gold or any other valuable substance on a celestial body, the extracted materials will be considered the company’s legitimate private property by a legitimate sovereign nation.

Should space benefit “all of humankind”, as the international treaties signed in the 60s intended, or is that idealism outdated? How do you measure those benefits, anyway? Does trickle-down theory apply in zero-gravity conditions?

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads

Making it Work: Affordable Medical Equipment in India

In India around one fifth of the population still live below the poverty line, according to the most recent World Bank estimates. Businesses selling to this market need to keep prices low. In the famous tech city of Bengaluru, south India, we visit a veterinary clinic for pets, the unlikely home of a surprising young start-up, which is set to revolutionise one of the most common medical devices on the planet – the stethoscope. In a village in Mathura, about three hours drive from New Delhi we take a look at the installation of a new affordable solution to providing solar energy. We then meet a young entrepreneur in Kenya who is looking at the success of firms like Amazon and has developed his own similar internet based delivery system for Kenya’s low-income customers.

The Compass – BBC World Service

How to Beat Distraction and Stay Focused

Today we discuss what goes on in our brains when we use our digital devices, why they distract us, and what we can do about it. Our guest walks us through the cognitive functions we use to focus our attention and to avoid distraction. He then explains why these evolved cognitive functions are mismatched to today’s constantly buzzing digital devices, using a theory of optimal food foraging borrowed from biology. We then discuss action steps grounded in science on how you can beat distraction and stay more focused throughout the day. We end our conversation talking about “prescription” video games that can be used to help elderly patients and individuals with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Art of Manliness

On the Future of Cars

Two significant trends for the future of personal travel are unfolding – the increasing number of electric cars and a world of autonomous vehicles. Benedict Evans of venture capital firm “Andreessen Horowitz” talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how these two trends are likely to affect the economy, urban design, and almost every aspect of how people live. “Just as electric isn’t about removing the gas tank, autonomy isn’t actually about the car driving itself. It’s about you getting rid of the person. And it’s about changing everything else about that vehicle. And everything about the city around it. In much the same way that removing the horse wasn’t just about removing the [horse] – it changed everything else about vehicles and everything else about it.”