Michael McClimon


Podcast Rundown

December 1, 2016

I’m a music academic by day, and I hardly ever listen to music in my spare time. (I don’t think this is altogether uncommon for our field.) I do have to spend a fair bit of time in the car, and don’t want to ride in silence, and so I listen to a lot of podcasts. Here are some of my favorites.


I assume if you’re reading a blog on the internet, you’ve probably heard of podcasts. I listen to them on my phone using Overcast, which I highly recommend! Most of the podcasts I listen to are just people talking about things they find interesting. To me it doesn’t really matter what they’re talking about: I could basically listen to anyone talk for hours about something they’re super into.


Some episodes are instant listens: they jump to the top of the list when there’s a new episode.

Hello Internet. This is a two-dudes-talking podcast with two YouTubers: Brady Haran and CGP Grey. Presumably they talk about making a living on the internet, but really they talk about whatever they want.1

Cortex. Another two-dudes-talking podcast, with Grey (again) and Myke Hurley. Here they talk mostly about productivity and business-y things. I came to this one before Hello Internet, and found Grey to be an interesting guy.

Reconcilable Differences. Yet another two-dudes-talking format, this time with Merlin Mann and John Siracusa. I’m still working my way through the back catalog on this one, so I’ve listened to a lot of this lately. They talk about various nerd-related topics. I find John to be a fascinating guy as well.


These are shows for which I listen to almost every episode, though I’m not as diligent about catching them when they first come out.

Comedy Bang Bang! This is a comedy/improv show, hosted by Scott Aukerman. I really like this one, although it’s definitely not for everyone. Usually Scott has a number of guests on: one real person, and one or more improv characters. Scott always plays the straight man, which gives the improv bits grounding that I usually find missing in these kind of shows. If there’s one of these with Paul F. Tompkins, it jumps to the must-listen list.

This American Life. A weekly NPR show that everyone knows. Like every other middle-class left-leaning white dude, I like this show too, though it can occasionally be a little too earnest. (I’m behind on this one since the election.)

The Paceline. This is a cycling podcast…if you have no interest in cycling, you can ignore this one. If you do, it’s the best one I’ve found. It’s a three-dudes-talking podcast: Michael Hotten, Patrick Brady (both of Red Kite Prayer) and Fatty (whose real name I don’t know offhand), formerly of Fat Cyclist. (Though they announced this week that Fatty is being folded into the RKP family.)

Lexicon Valley. This is a Slate podcast all about linguistics (a favorite topic of mine), hosted by John McWhorter. I happened on this one recently (via RecDiffs), but I’m a fan so far.

Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. Hosted by Chris Gethard, this is a show where random people call in and talk to Chris on the phone about whatever they want. I like this one a lot, though I’m behind: a lot of the callers seem to be slightly-unhappy people in their mid-20s.

The Pen Addict. Two dudes (Brad Dowdy and Myke Hurley), talking about pens. I like this show a lot, though I’m getting foundered on it a little bit.2 This show is how I happened upon Myke and his company Relay FM, which opened the door to Cortex, HI, RecDiffs, and lots of others.

Back to Work. Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, talking, nominally (but not really) about productivity. I happened on this one via RecDiffs, and like it pretty well too.


There is a whole other set of podcasts I used to listen to, or listen to only very occasionally.

WTF. Everyone knows this show: it’s Marc Maron talking to famous people in his garage. I listen if there’s someone I really like on. If you haven’t heard his show with Barack Obama, you should listen.

Penn’s Sunday School. Hosted by Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) and his friends. I used to like this show a lot, but I sort of stopped listening when they started talking about weight loss all the time.

Serial. Everyone listened to Season 1 of this show; the second season was meh. I’ll listen again when a new season comes out.

Nerd Poker. This was a Dungeons & Dragons podcast with Brian Posehn and some of his friends. I listened to the first campaign (episodes 1–73), which was great (if you like D&D). It’s now defunct, and I haven’t listened to anything after Episode 73.

With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus. Another improv podcast: Lauren’s a frequent guest on Comedy Bang Bang, and I listen to her show occasionally. Sometimes long-form improv makes me tired, so it’s not a regular listen for me (though Lauren is very funny).

Welcome to Night Vale. A Lovecraftian fiction podcast about a fictional desert town. I listened to the first season of this and haven’t returned, though I keep meaning to.


I’m tired of typing now. I’ll listen to one-offs of other shows, if someone tells me I should. This covers most of them, though. If there are others I should know about, let me know on Twitter!

  1. Fun fact: Carolyn really hates this podcast, because she listened to the most boring episode of all time (if you don’t follow the show) on a long trip to Indiana a year ago. I definitely wouldn’t start with Ep. 56, “Two Dudes Counting.”
  2. founder (v.) – to grow tired of. This is a usage that I think is exclusive to my father and his family, but that I keep around. If you “get foundered” on something, usually it’s something you used to really like but you’ve had too much of it and so it’s getting a little old.

November, in review

November 30, 2016

It seems like the end of the month is as good a time as any to take a look back to see what’s happened. Especially since this rebirth of the blog happened about a month ago.

The biggest happening of the month was my trip to Vancouver. Big trips like that always loom large, since it kills basically three weeks of the calendar: the week before is spent preparing; you miss the 5 days of actual travel; and the week after is spent catching up.

Actually, I take that back. The biggest happening of the month was certainly the election. I have no more coherent thoughts about that, other than holding out hope that things won’t turn out as badly as they seem like they could be at the moment.

Quick updates on more run-of-the-mill things:

  • Reading. I’m still (slowly) working on Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I usually get more reading done when school’s out of session; here’s looking forward to that.
  • Writing. Oof…I’ve written lots of cover letters; does that count? I have some writing I’m thinking of revisiting, but all of the regional theory conferences are far away from this year. (Looking at you, Music Theory Southeast in Ft. Myers, Florida.)
  • Teaching. As I said last time, the semester is coming to a close, like it or not. I have grand plans to rework next semester’s course, so we’ll see about that once this one is officially in the books.
  • Contract work. I don’t think I’ve written about this here (and won’t now either, really), but I’m doing some work for Norton publishing (digital learning things). I sent off another chunk of that today, so we’ll see what they say.
  • Cycling. I need to write a real post about cycling, but my November was pathetic: only 38 miles in total. I’m going to chalk part of that up to SMT, part of it up to being busier than usual, and part up to the fact that I don’t have appropriate clothing for cooler weather. (Excuses, I know.)
  • Computer things. In addition to the work for Norton, I’ve been working this week on the next issue of MTO, plus some work retrofitting older, mathy articles. I also did a bit of tweaking on this site (new fonts! footnotes!), and have written a fair bit of other nonsense to make my life easier: a minor mode for Emacs1 for editing MTO files, and some random Perl for munging SVG data for Norton.

Looking forward to December, the biggest things coming up are (a) the end of the semester; (b) my birthday2; and (c) Christmas traveling. And with any luck, some more writing here.

  1. Side note: when did the Emacs home page get so nice? Usually all of the GNU/FSF pages are hideous!
  2. !!!

Brain dump for 11/28

November 28, 2016

It’s happened again: every time I try to start (or restart) a blog, I go at it pretty well for a few days, at which point it lies fallow. It’s not that I’ve forgotten the blog exists – rather, I just feel like I shouldn’t post anything if I don’t have anything to say. But that’s a self-defeating attitude, so here’s a post with nothing in particular at all to say.

It’s now my least favorite time in the semester: the week after Thanksgiving but before finals. As of this evening, there are 6 more days of class left. There is still new material to cover, but nobody (teachers included) really wants to do it. This is one of the many reasons I’m in favor of Adam Kotsko’s suggestion to adopt Canadian Thanksgiving instead.

But, that means it’s almost the semester break. The academic calendar can be brutal, in that much of the work is concentrated into very small chunks of time. But as my friend Garrett once enlightened me, that’s a much better system than the constant, daily grind of a stereotypical office job.

Because it’s the end of the semester and I’m pretty busy, I’ve been playing around with different productivity systems. (“Productivity system” is such a terrible phrase, but I don’t know what else to call them.) I am currently working on a lot of different things, and all of them have different deadlines, and I don’t want to drop any balls.1 Right now I’m using a combination of OmniFocus and Emacs org-mode, which seems to be okay for now. I’ll spare you the gory details.

I’m spending a lot of time applying for jobs. I think that’s all that needs to be said about that.

I’ve been thinking that I should read more, but then again, that’s often something I’m thinking. When push comes to shove, though, I almost always pick sitting on the couch watching TV over reading. To that end, though, here are some things we’ve watched recently:

  • Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. ★★★★☆ – not a fan of the ending.
  • Search Party. ★★★★☆ – pretty entertaining, and easy to binge.
  • Kroll Show. ★★★★★ – a rewatch…such a great show.

That’ll be all for today. Next project: figure out footnote formatting here.

  1. A juggling metaphor! It’s been way too long since I’ve taken a deep dive into juggling YouTube videos. But for now, here’s one of my favorites.

15 minutes for 11/15

November 15, 2016

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which came recommended as a book on writing over a period of months by several random people on the internet. I’m only a few chapters in, but it seems good so far; one of the things she suggests (like everyone else who has written a book on writing) is to do it every day, no matter what. So here is mine for today.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about to-do apps. This is partly because it’s now getting to be the time in the semester when I have a million things piling up and seemingly very little time to actually do them. Of course, when I write them all down, that’s not actually true. One of the first steps I take when I’m feeling overwhelemed is to write down everything that needs to be done. Today, that entailed all school activities until the end of the semester: grading, writing assignments, giving exams, and so on.

Usually my to-dos are scrawled on 8 different notepads in three different places—a system I’m not at all opposed to. I also use a few different to-do applications on my phone: 2Do and Swipes. (I have also used OmniFocus, and today downloaded and quickly deleted Wunderlist, Todoist, and Any.do.)

Here are the things I want in a to-do app:

  • The ability to schedule tasks to start later. What I want is to be able to put a whole bunch of things in and not see any of them until I need to. (2Do is perfect for this.) In my case, I want to put in a bunch of deadlines for grading homework assignments, and not see them until I actually get the homework assignments in from students.

  • A badge icon that displays only things I can do right now. This is something that Swipes is pretty good at: if I have a task set to start at 7:00 pm (usually the case with my “clean the litter box” task), I don’t want a red badge staring at me all day.

  • Location-awareness. This is something that a lot of to-do apps seem to have, sort of. In a perfect world, I want the app to remind me at 7:00 to clean the litter box, but only if I’m at home. Often I’m out of the house at 7:00, but I don’t want to see the red badge of shame if I can’t deal with it.

You know, I thought there were more things than this, but that might actually be all. 2Do is pretty great, but the second point is killer for me: I used to have a recurring task to clean the litter box, but that damn red badge would stare at me all day long. I want the badge there to remind me to do something, but not if I can’t actually do it!

(Aside: from this post, it seems like the only tasks I ever have are to grade homeworks and clean the litter box. Come to think of it, that’s not too far from the truth. But, these are two tasks where checklist-style to-do apps seem to fail me, and so they’re always the first things I try with a new app.)

We’re now at that critical point in the semester where it seems like we just had midterms, but now all of a sudden we’re staring into the face of final projects, exams, and all of their attendant grading. Plus what is one of the most useless weeks of teaching: the week after Thanksgiving before exams. But that’s a topic for another day…my 15 minutes are up.

How I assign curves

November 13, 2016

Occasionally I need to curve grades. The way I like do this is by using a linear curve: effectively, it makes each point worth a different amount. I use this a lot, but I can never remember how to do it and have to look it up every time. I’m writing it down here mostly so I can remember it.

To do this, you need two grades that you want to change: we’ll call these M and N. Often I do this by picking an average and a top score, and deciding what I want to curve those to be. Then all you do is apply this formula (where \(x\) is the raw score you’re curving):

$$ \text{Curved score} = M_{\text{curved}} + (\frac{ N_{\text{curved}} - M_{\text{curved}} } { N_{\text{raw}} - M_{\text{raw}} })% (x - M_{\text{raw}}) $$

So, say you want to move the average (\(M\)) from 76 to 80, and take the high score (\(N\)) from 96 to 98. You’re looking at a paper that got a raw score of 81. What you need is:

$$ \begin{align} \text{score} &= 80 + (\frac{ 98 - 80 }{ 96 - 76 })(81 - 76) \\
&= 80 + (\frac{18}{20})(4) \\
&= 80 + (0.9 \times 4) \\
&= 83.6 \end{align} $$

One slight disadvantage is that this gives different students different numbers of extra points (a paper that got a 50 on the previous curve would end up with a curved score of 56.6). This is actually fairer, and easier to understand if you think about the curve as changing how much a point is worth. A paper that misses four points will obviously receive less of a point bump than a paper that misses fifty points (because the paper missed more points, which are now worth less).

The other thing you have to watch out for is to make sure that the fraction is always less than 1: otherwise, students that get high scores will lose points! (In cases where this might happen, I would find the inflection point and simply not curve scores above that point…nobody wants to get a paper back where their curved score is lower than their raw score.)

In a perfect world, I’d prefer to use a grading system that didn’t need a curve (like Standards-Based Grading, for example), but that’s not always feasible. In the meantime, this works pretty well.

(The site I’ve always cribbed this from before is at https://divisbyzero.com/2008/12/22/how-to-curve-an-exam-and-assign-grades/)