The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: 99% invisible

For Lack of a Better Title

Listening to these podcasts, I was intrigued by the 99% Invisible episode, Vox Ex Machina. 

I think Roman Mars does an excellent job of holding his listener’s attention. This is not to say that the subject matter is boring or would be uninteresting but for its presentation, but his ability to establish an idea, get the listener invested in it, and follow through on it helps him stay at the forefront of the listener’s attention. At the very beginning of the episode, he introduces this story about the Voder, a machine introduced in 1939 that could synthesize the human voice. After introducing it and talking about it for a bit, Mars moves on to something that at first seemed completely unrelated, and then made the connection. Rather than introducing the main idea and then discussing related information, he starts with the related information and then explains how it’s connected to the main idea. The podcast was also well-broken-up. As lovely as his voice is, it would be harder to pay attention if the podcast was just Roman Mars talking at me for 25 minutes. The fact that he gets sound bytes from his interviews, and introduces different voices helps him break up the show and also creates the feeling that there are multiple perspectives being brought to the show instead of one guy just talking about what he thinks. This is clearly something Anna Butrico thought about when she used so many clips from other podcasts and had a friend voice Aristotle. 99% Invisible has been going for a while, so it’s no surprise that it’s a well-produced show.

What makes a Good Podcast?

My first thoughts after listening to both the professional podcasts and the student made podcasts was that podcasting is very difficult, and to be good at it, one needs to put in a lot of time and practice. The professional podcasters in 99% Invisible sounded so fluid and smooth, as if they were having a completely normal conversation. Music and sound effects fit in extremely well, and they complemented the podcast without distracting from what was being said. I imagine that it would be very easy to accidentally mess up how the music fits into a podcast properly, so I was very impressed.

In both of the 99% Invisible podcast, and especially Vox Ex Machina, I liked how the producers used stories to describe all of the examples they were making. They started with a relatively broad topic, and slowly narrowed it down to the specifics of how it was used in the war, using stories and narratives. I found it very interesting how the vocoder turned out to be something used commonly today in a lot of music. I’ve heard so many songs with that “robot voice”, but I never knew the vocoder was responsible. It seems like a lot of things that were created for wars have ended up being remade into common modern day items. I find this very interesting, but it also makes sense. Wars are a time where we are trying to make new technologies to one-up our enemies, and a lot of this stuff can eventually be adapted.

After listening to these, I think it would be cool to do a podcast on Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, though I’m not sure how unique of a topic that is.

You don’t realize how often secret messages are still being transmitted

In the “Number Stations” podcast, I enjoyed learning about the fact that actual secret messages that nobody knows the reason or meaning of is actually being constantly transmitted on certain radio frequencies and generally accessible to pretty much anyone who has a radio and a knack for tuning to every possible station. Their message itself is kept secret but the transmission of the encrypted one is totally open to the public. What’s more interesting is that this isn’t only used by one country–many countries such as Germany, Spain, Russia, and China are exploiting this means of communication. I’m guessing that as long as the coders are confident in the strength of their system, it doesn’t matter who hears it. But what does matter to them is an easy way of getting messages out and heard by the receiving end (radio is pretty common).

What bolstered this podcast’s grip on the audience came from the insertion of actual radio dialogues that show us what these “number stations” usually sound like in addition to quotes from relevant sources or experts, such as Bruce Schneier.

Though I was very captivated after about 10 minutes into the podcast, it initially felt a little awkward and unorganized, just because without reading anything else on the website, this podcast sort of starts out of nowhere and is confusing. We’re not entirely sure what their main point is until 3 minutes in. Thus, in this case, reading the text article beforehand is essential, which many people may not immediately realize (they might go straight to the podcast, sit back, and enjoy). Unlike papers that are organized with an introduction, body, and conclusion, the podcast seemed like it started with a point and decided to go wherever with it on a whim, like speaking on a stream of consciousness.

This gives me the idea to make sure that right from the start of my own podcast, I will introduce the main points covered so the audience has a very clear idea of what they’re about to listen to.

I did like how this podcast has supplemental information when you scroll down the page. More visual components such as graphs that show data or directly depict the situation in the order that they are discussed would be extremely helpful to people who are listening to the podcast simultaneously.

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