Is it better to be fearful or fearless?

“It seems like such an odd bargain. If you have no fear, more terrible things will happen to you, but you don’t personally experience them as terrible. If you have a lot of fear, fewer bad things are likely to happen, but it’s very probable that your life is more painful to you. So is it better to be fearful or fearless? Which side of the continuum do you choose?”

Invisibilia

From NPR’s new podcast, Invisibilia, Fearless. A transcript is also available.

NPR’s Serial podcast was the hottest thing last year in the podcast world. People started listening to podcasts who had never done so before to follow the story. I hated it. They dragged things out and I got bored and unsubscribed after 3 or 4 episodes. Invisibilia is NPR back on form. It’ll blow your mind. Great show.

What’s Bill Gates up to now?

It’s still weird to me that Bill Gates is one of the good guys now. As head of Microsoft he was a ruthless business man who ran a monopoly that every Linux user despised. Since then Microsoft has faltered, or at least the computing arena has changed since the nineties and they’re still catching up.

Anyway, he and his wife now head the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that do amazing work combating disease and helping projects all over the world. For a taste of what they do here are two podcasts worth listening to:

nerdistgates

  • Bill Gates on the Nerdist Podcast. I loved hearing his anecdotes from the early days of computing but what was more interesting was hearing about the fight against polio.
  • Scientific American have a two part show here and here that I’m listening to now.

The Great War Diaries

This is an amazing podcast by the BBC about how ordinary men and women experienced World War One. Stories are brought to life by dramatizing what happened using sound effects and actors.

If you’re a fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast you may remember in Blueprint for Armageddon IV Captain Charles May’s story was told. He wrote a touching letter to his wife before he was due to “go over the top”. You can find it and other stories in this Independent post.

Captain Charles “Charlie” May, 27, thinking of his wife, Bessie, and baby daughter, showed none of his comrades’ enthusiasm to go into battle.

A member of the 22nd Battalion, The Manchester Regiment, 7th Division, he wrote to his wife on 17 June, a fortnight before the bloody first day of battle of the Somme: “I do not want to die. Not that I mind for myself. If it be that I am to go, I am ready. But the thought that I may never see you or our darling baby again turns my bowels to water. I cannot think of it with even the semblance of equanimity.”

Over the months his attitude changed to resigned fatalism. May’s final diary entry at 5.45am on 1 July, reproduced from Malcolm Brown’s history of the Somme, was among the last testaments to be written by the 19,240 Britons who would die on the Somme that day. “No Man’s land is a tangled desert,” he wrote. “We do not yet seem to have stopped his machine guns. These are popping off all along our parapet as I write. I trust they will not claim too many of our lads before the day is over.”

Suspecting he might not return, he asked his friend, Captain FJ Earles, if he would look after his wife and daughter. May led his men over the top at 7.30am that day. The 22nd Manchesters made progress across No Man’s Land, but the machine guns he wrote of cut down many of the battalion – and May was among the dead. Earles kept his promise, and later married May’s widow.

Logical Insanity in World War II

I started listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History recently and I’m now on episode 42 dealing with the morality of dropping the atomic bombs in World War II.

If you’re at all upset by graphic descriptions of war you don’t want to listen to this or read the following which Dan quoted in the episode.

The heart of the firestorm area; a picture taken by the Germans soon after the attack. The buried vehicles are gutted firetrucks that had to be abandoned because of the heat.
The heart of the firestorm area; a picture taken by the Germans soon after the attack. The buried vehicles are gutted firetrucks that had to be abandoned because of the heat. (source)

The rain of large sparks, blowing down the street, were each as large as a five-mark piece. I struggled to run against the wind but could only reach a house on the corner of the Sorbenstrasse . . . .[We] couldn’t go on across the Eiffestrasse because the asphalt road had melted. There were people on the roadway, some already dead, some still lying alive but stuck in the asphalt. They must have rushed onto the roadway without thinking. Their feet had got stuck and then they had put out their hands to try to get out again. They were on their hands and knees screaming.

Kate Hoffmeister, then nineteen, on the firestorm in Hamburg in 1943 (source)

The Venus Transit: history and stories

Mark Anderson, author of the book The Day The World Discovered the Sun on the Science Talk podcast last week talked about the transit of Venus that’s happening today. Also make sure you listen to part 2 of the podcast!

It’s an amazing story about the efforts in 1760 to measure the distance to Venus. They had to travel far north and also south to the tropics to measure the angle of view from two known locations. Astonishing that they did this so long ago, even using the moon as a GPS, a technique that had only just been figured out.

The global positioning satellite in this case was the moon. In the 1760s science was for the first time able to predict with uncanny accuracy the moon’s exact motion in the sky years ahead of time. So some of these Venus transit pioneers, especially England’s Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne, had mastered a method by which a ship’s navigator anywhere on the Earth could observe the moon with a £8 sextant and a reference manual (costing a few shillings) — and in short order discover their exact location on the planet. The long-sought solution to the longitude problem was now easy, inexpensive and at hand. (source)

Edit: Some amazing photos of the Venus transit, as taken from the Nasa website: 1, 2, 3

Free audio books at podiobooks

Now this is interesting. podiobooks.com offer free author-read audio books. I haven’t listened to any yet but I like that the site indicated which are family friendly. You can of course give a donation to encourage the authors and keep the site running!

The interesting bit is that books are serialized as podcasts and they deliver them using a personalised feed.

Via Scott Sigler who was interviewed on The Skeptics Guide podcast.