Saturday, July 22, 2017

Grumpy man - what do you have against Patreon?

As far as I can see all history podcasters are struggling to find the time and the money to put their baby out there. The rule is still that the podcasts are free and as long as I have been following the trade, podcasters have been looking for ways to generate some income from podcasting, at least to cover the costs. Not so long ago many tried sponsoring by Audible. The latest route podcasters follow is Patreon.

I am no savant in business, so I have no suggestion to offer; I do not see a real business model for podcasts and I have seen most monetizing fail. Therefore, I was extremely skeptical about Patreon, but so far it seems way more successful than anything tried before. That should make me happy, should it not?

On the last episode I listened to from The Bulgarian History Podcast, Eric Halsey revealed he had managed to pay off his student debt and thanked his Patreon Patrons for their contributions to this milestone. That was also very satisfying to me, even though I was not among the contributors.

Since I love history podcasts so much, it will please me to no end if podcasters manage to get some income from their work - good for them, they have earned it and that is ultimately good for us listeners. However, if the constraints of monetizing are pulling the makers away from the podcast, or cause them to compromise on the quality, we have actually lost.

It is my observation that generally the monetizing schemes generate a pull to the podcaster to produce more content, yet there is no pull to make it better. Patreon, it seems to me, is no different in this respect. In the coming posts, I will try to show this with some examples. The bottom-line being: it is good there is income to be had and I am certainly not against more podcasts, but it returns us to the original question: There is more, but is it better?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Grumpy man - why so grumpy?

Kicking off a series of posts criticizing history podcasts is in a way a breach of style in this blog. It is my rule to write what is good about the podcasts I write about; if they are bad it is better not to write about them at all. Yet, as I also said in the interview at When Diplomacy Fails, I would love to sit down with any podcaster and shape them up a bit. The ultimate goal is to improve.

There is a parallel with my day job. I work in QA, that is, quality assurance, you can call it software testing, but the goal is not simply to find the bugs. Especially these days when software is rolled out at high speed. This is called continuous development, or even continuous deployment; new software is installed and patched up all the time. It is accepted that there are bugs with the end users, the idea is that the fixes come immediately. The role of QA is less clear in this constant flux, but we still search for the bugs and we report them so that they are fixed before reaching the end users.

The way I see it, one must report the bug, but the real goal is to make the developers do a better job. We must train them to dot their i's and cross their t's; to close their objects and clean the garbage. And this is what I need to establish as a reviewer to the podcasts.

For this I may come across as a grumpy man, but I am really pushing for better podcasts. I hope that as a reviewer I have the same authority as I have as a senior QA professional and my reports of what is wrong is taken seriously.

The reason I am aggravated and worried is that some of my criticisms apply nearly across the board. Almost nobody is doing it right and established podcasters are giving a bad example. I am worried that this can mean the death of history podcasting.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

There is more, but is it better?

In case you did not notice, I was interviewed by Zack Twamley on his podcast When Diplomacy Fails. He asked me: "Did history podcasting get better since you began your blog?" My answer was YES, mostly because there are more history podcasts than ever and everybody has got the technicalities of the audio and the supplies right, and most of all: I got excited again. It got me blogging again - for a bit.

In a way I evaded the NO that is enclosed in the answer; there is more, but is it better? Maybe NOT.

I did not entirely evade it; I did get excited again about podcasts and as I told Zack, I also got passionate about some things that are not right about podcasts. I do not know how to write about it though; as I put it in the interview: I do not like to be Anne is a grumpy man. Yet I am willing to give it a try.

It just so happens I am on a bit of a break - so let's have it. Anne is a Man about the things that irritate, aggravate and most of all worry him in the world of history podcasts.

Listen to part 1 of WDF meets grumpy Anne and part 2 of WDF meets grumpy Anne.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Revisionist Licensing

Malcom Gladwell's new podcast is called Revisionist History (feed) and this title instilled in me a slightly different expectation than what I got in the first episode. I was expecting either a revision of any widely accepted narrative, or a study of any such widely accepted narrative that had been challenged, more or less successfully. What Gladwell does rather, is take on a certain subject and show how we would generally assume a certain history and in stead get another. It is not very different, but still it is not negating an established thought but rather revealing the twist of closer inspection versus superficial expectation.

There are two episodes out, while I write this and I have only heard the first one, but this episode, The Lady Vanishes was so powerful, I just had to review immediately. Gladwell asks us: If Hilary Clinton will be elected as president, will that pave the way for more women in office or will generally enhance the chances for any other woman to be elected president? The historical sample taken is from the 19th century when the female painter Elizabeth Thompson was about to enter the Royal Society of the Arts in England.

Yes, we would expect such occurrences to work as a sluice that opens, but Gladwell invokes the concept of Moral Licensing from social psychology to show that the opposite might be true and presents the historic examples to support this kind of revisionist history (which I maintain is not exactly revisionist history in the regular sense, but we catch the drift). His point is that frequently individuals and societies allow particular cases of minority members (Women, Colored people, Jews etc) to enter a realm otherwise closed for them, only to satisfy their conscience and consequently proceed to discriminate with renewed ardor. The saddest example Jews in Germany as he takes it from Amos Elon's study "The pity of ot all" - which shows the Jews in German society from 1743-1933 occasionally succeeding to break the glass ceilings and walls, but nevertheless finding themselves eventually in a land that embraced the lethal antisemitism of the Nazis.

It is a very bleak conclusion; it cautions us that when we think discrimination might be over it may come back with a vengeance. While this may exactly be the case, there are two major reservations I have here. One is that this line of thinking has a tendency to be irrefutable because no matter how many examples you may find that discrimination is receding, it might still be a case of moral licensing. The second is that this idea of moral licensing comes from psychology, hence it describes processes in individuals and Gladwell takes this micro-level theory and applies it on a macro-level which is a jump cannot be made just like that.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wrong artwork for podcast - does anyone know a fix?

Some of the podcasts show up in my iPhone with the wrong picture. For a long time I thought I did something wrong, but some internet research shows that many more people complain about media files that have the proper artwork in iTunes on the PC are synched on a device with the wrong artwork. I checked my iPad and the same problem occurs there.

Take for example this episode from the Talking History podcast as it shows in the player on my PC (screenshot on the left - correct) and on my iPhone and iPad with the artwork of a totally other podcast (screenshot to the right). As a matter of fact, when you look more closely, more than just the picture is messed up. It seems that more mp3 labels are not exactly in place.

Does anybody else have this problem? Did you manage to solve it? I would love to hear about it and many more with me as the internet is full of complaints about this but few suggestions to solutions.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

History of Oil - resurrected from podfade

We have gone through this history in quite a number of podcasts: Sarajevo 1914, Pearl Harbor 1941 and even the fall of Mossadegh 1953, haven't we? How is it that I was glued to my iPod with these narratives all over again? I was listening to A History of Oil an amateur podcast by Peter Doran. (feed). I wrote this review in 2013 and for a long time this podcast seemed to have finished, but it came back from hiatus and promises to keep on from where it left off. All I wrote in 2013 is worth repeating.

Any new history podcast should reveal a fact about history that was not that clear until now. A History of Oil does that even where you hardly expect to be surprised. Take for instance Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. We already knew the Germans over-stretched themselves. We knew they had fuel shortages. We knew they had to capture the oil fields on the Caspian Sea around Baku and failed to do so. We knew that no matter how long they could hold out in Soviet territory, this was a turning point in the Second World War, but still A History of Oil's perspective gives something new.

A History of Oil effectively starts in the middle of the nineteenth century when crude oil began to enter the markets as a commodity and before long we approach the First World War. The British are the first to let their navy switch from coal to oil, but others are soon to follow, so that we are more than normally aware how oil has become a vital strategic resource by the time the Second World War comes around. Then, in 1941, as the Nazis invade the Soviet Union and have one success after another, oil became a problem. The Germans had used many times more fuel than planned. In fact operation Barbarossa rapidly depleted the oil reserves and no source was at hand that could meet the increased demand. So, if we thought that the defeat at Stalingrad was the turning point, A History of Oil, makes it clear that the defeat was inherent. Not a radically new point, but still a new support for the thesis that Barbarossa was a decisive Nazi mistake from the get go.

This is only one example of what the slightly altered perspective of A History of Oil brings to familiar data. Another refreshing experience is to go through the era not by means of national histories, but by means of the history of corporations; Standard Oil, Royal Dutch, Shell, British Petroleum and so on. It makes John D. Rockefeller more prominent than Theodore Roosevelt. It makes the Japanese invasion of Borneo more prominent than their attack on Pearl Harbor. It places Mexico, Venezuela and Indonesia in the center of attention what rarely happens and so on.

In short, A History of Oil is a remarkable enrichment to the library of history podcasts and highly recommended listening.

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