The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Radiolab

What Makes a Good Podcast?

In the two Radiolab podcasts “Darkode” and “The Ceremony”, the producers make exceptional use of conversation and sound effects to make an effective podcast. Part of what made the podcasts more interesting is that the people speaking are not really talking directly to the speaker, which is what I’m pretty sure most of us did in the podcasts we made. Instead, they had an actual conversation. I liked the Darkode episode especially because of this. The conversation also wasn’t scripted, so the speech sounded normal and human, and not like it was written first. You could tell because the people speaking actually had to think about what they were going to say next, and because there were times in which they would hesitate or laugh in the middle of a sentence, which made it all sound very natural and appealing.

Another way in which these podcast were made more accessible was the way in which the producer told one long story throughout, and then branched off to explain certain parts of it. Each of these episodes really only revolved around a few topics, but they made sure to explain every detail of the things they talked about, which is what allowed them to create a 40-50 minute long podcast episode without running out of content.

An Unconventional Podcast

In Radiolab’s Darkode episode, the producers use a number of innovative storytelling methods to grasp the audience’s attention. Firstly, there was little to no conversation between the host and the listener. The atmosphere was that of a casual interview with first a victim of Darkode’s criminal activities and later its creators. The hosts never actually added a direct opinion but did ask questions which at face value seemed to add humor to the podcast but also inspired contemplation. Additionally, the interview with the victim had a blend of profundity and humor while bringing about a sense of paranoia since it alluded to something so ubiquitous. Just the thought of having to pay a ransom to get to your own information which is (apparently) safely stored on your laptop makes you reconsider the faith you have in privacy. Also, the structure of the podcast gives us a whole 360 degree viewpoint of the issue and gives us a vast amount of information in simple, casual conversation. Finally, I believe the music selection and the background effects intensified the ideas and emotions expressed in the show. Most of the jokes were made from a cynical perspective and the choice of music gave us a better idea at what the producers wanted us to make of a line. To conclude, I would call Darkode an engaging, informative podcast with a different but effective production style.

The Thoughtful Production of the RadioLab Podcast

The producers of the RadioLab podcast episodes, “Darkode” and “Ceremony,” implemented several elements in order to make the material more interesting and engaging.  First of all, the introductions did a good job grabbing the attention of the audience, with unique sound editing techniques.  Furthermore, the producers continued to add immersive sound effects throughout the duration of each podcast.  In the “Ceremony” episode, I really liked how they added amplified computer processor noises to imitate what it would be like to listen through the high-tech microphones that they were worried hackers might be using in the next room.  This made it clear just what these microphones were capable of and the extent that hackers sometimes go to.  I never knew such technology existed, and I would have thought it was ridiculous to worry about someone listening to the sounds your computer makes from another room.  Hearing how it is possible made me realize that sometimes being paranoid is justified.  There were also a variety of other sound effects that made the audience feel like they were part of the experience.

Another aspect that made the podcasts more interesting was that they told stories.  In the “Darkode” episode, they got a victim who was hacked using Cryptowall to give a firsthand account of what happened to her.  Her story helped make it easier to understand how Botnets work and how hackers can use them to infiltrate millions of people, encrypt their data, and make them pay ransom to get it back.  In the second half of the episode, they got one of the original creators of Darkode to explain its backstory and how it worked.  His account gave an interesting perspective on its original intended use, and how people twisted it to serve other purposes.  Personally, I found this content fascinating, and the way it was presented made it even more engaging.

An Engaging Podcast Format

In the first Radiolab episode, “Darkode”, hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad tell entertaining stories that are based on hacking, from a remote hacking of Inna Simone, to a highly optimized and well funded organization of hackers in Europe called Darkode (stylized as dark0de), where the episode gets its name from.

Right off the bat, the hosts pose a rhetorical question that grabs the listener’s attention, which gives the audience something to think about while the guests tell their story. The producers waste no time in putting in distinct soundbites that keep the listener on their feet. Throughout the episode, sound effects are used even more effectively to mirror and augment the natural emotional reactions to fluctuations and climaxes within the story, for example intense music when the story comes to a particularly exciting moment or silly music when someone says something funny.

In addition, the way that the episode was edited made the conversation flow better, but I’m not sure if it seemed more natural. Different parts of the conversation were spliced together so that there were almost no pauses between when people spoke, and although this started to stray away from the cadence of natural conversation, it somehow made the episode flow better. This made the episode both more interesting and more accessible, because the conversation was more engaging and never got boring.

Also, the format of the episode in which several “sub-episodes” were put into one big episode was interesting. It certainly didn’t drag on in the same way that shorter episodes dedicated solely to one topic tend to be, and even though the episode was very long, it didn’t get boring to listen to.

A Surveillance Story That Hits at Home

In Radiolab’s podcast, Darknode, the story of the “suburban Boy Scout turned black hat hacker” resonated with me the most in terms of the security vs. privacy debate. For starters, the story truly represented how “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” (The Dark Knight Rises). In today’s society, we are surveilled – plain and simple. So, what I found so compelling, was how Radiolab was able to portray that no one is immune to this new era of life and anyone can become part of it. Specifically, in this case, the person being surveilled eventually became the one executing the surveillance; I personally took it as his form of “rebellion” even though he was not necessarily as drastic as the friend that initially introduced him to the concept.

The second reason that this story resonated and made such a strong case with me is because I have actually lived the story being told. When I used to be much more active in my internet explorations, I actually encountered, and was friends with, many “script kitties” (as described in the podcast these are scripters who are able to take advantage of just enough of the tools available to scrape the surface of hacking). What I found fascinating, is the story and development of how botnets came into existence and how they initially had a more innocent origin. I was also able to piece together that his reference to “hitting people off the internet over video games” was a reference to a term I became very familiar with called DDoSing. It was truly amazing hearing an experience so similar to my own that was able to shape the course of someone’s life.

Overall, this section of the podcast furthered my opinion of how the issues of privacy vs. security are changing the way humans interact in today’s society.


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