Review: Hypercritical is the best new geeky podcast

With my unavoidable daily commute, I’m desperately in need of some entertainment in the car. Sometimes, Boston sports radio obliges (especially now that we have a couple of talented Gen Xers on the air) but what’s my backup for all the rest of those slow rides down the Mass Pike in rush hour traffic? Podcasts, of course. And the best podcast for techies and gadget geeks I’ve found lately is Hypercritical co-hosted by Dan Benjamin and John Siracusa.

Benjamin is the founder of his own multi-faceted podcasting network,, where he co-hosts so many shows it sometimes seems like he must be using Hermoine Granger’s time-turner from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Boston blogger Siracusa has long been one of the best writers on Ars Technica. You might also remember him as the guy who used to write 50-page dissertations on each new version of the Mac operating system.

The two co-hosts have a great rapport. For each show, Siracusa, a first class kvetcher with an encyclopedic knowledge of personal computing history, focuses on an aspect of techdom in need of improvement, say data backup solutions or cable connectors or Apple’s online services. Benjamin brings his own wide-ranging experiences into the discussions and keeps the conversations moving at a pleasant pace. He’s the perfect foil, a tech everyman.

The show can sometimes run a little long or seem flabby when it drops into less attention-captivating niches like Siracusa’s aversion to travel or Benjamin’s job history. And Siracusa sometimes strikes a know-it-all tone even on areas where he’s less expert like tech firms’ business strategies or the physics of electrical flows through different materials. But the show’s strengths flow from the free-wheeling improvisations and recollections of the two hosts, so a little aimlessness now and then is a small price to pay.

Siracusa was particularly good last week discussing problems with Apple’ MobileMe and Ping services, getting off a few great, fact-filled rants without ever descending into overheated rhetoric or cheap shots.

The bulk of tech podcasts I’ve tried suffer from two serious deficiencies: too many speakers and too much news talk. The podcast medium is really best suited for listening to a one-on-one conversation. Think Terry Gross on Fresh Air. And I don’t need a podcast that’s just a rehashing the latest developments in the Windows Phone 7 versus HP WebOS versus Apple iOS versus Google Android saga.

Benjamin and Siracusa balance and complement each other nicely and the show focuses on meaty topics that will keep you thinking all week long — until it’s time for the next edition of Hypercritical.

(Link to Hypercritical episodes in iTunes)

Next version of Firefox gets ready for prime time

icon for firefox web browserSeems like the Mozilla project has been working on the 3.0 upgrade to free, open source browser Firefox since time began but really it’s only been since the Pleistocene Era. Finally, we’ve arrived at the so-called release candidate (download here), or the almost, not quite but really almost finished beta version. I was hanging around reading other people’s tweets on Twitter when I saw Mac expert John Siracusa mention it and link to the download page. So, I guess it’s about time to cowboy up and try it.

I’m usually not big on beta software, but it’s the weekend. At first, I grew very apprehensive when, reading way down the list of improvements, I eventually happened upon this sentence: “Please note that installing Firefox 3 will overwrite your existing installation of Firefox on Mac OS X and Linux.” Hmm. That’s a little scary. But I was comforted just three lines later when told: “You can remove Firefox 3 through the Control Panel in the Start Menu on Windows, by removing the Firefox application on OS X, or by removing the firefox folder on Linux. Removing Firefox 3 won’t remove your bookmarks, web browsing history, extensions or other add-ons.”

Some of the cool new features I’m looking forward to (and which I’ll be reporting back on shortly):
— Full page zoom: from the View menu and via keyboard shortcuts, the new zooming feature lets you zoom in and out of entire pages, scaling the layout, text and images, or optionally only the text size. Your settings will be remembered whenever you return to the site.
–Optimized Open in Tabs behavior: opening a folder of bookmarks in tabs now appends the new tabs rather than overwriting.
–Triple-clicking selects a paragraph.
–Integration with the Mac: the new Firefox theme makes toolbars, icons, and other user interface elements look like a native OS X application. Firefox also uses OS X widgets and supports Growl for notifications of completed downloads and available updates. A combined back and forward control make it even easier to move between web pages.
–Location bar & auto-complete: Results are returned according to their frequency (a combination of frequency and recency of visits to that page) ensuring that you’re seeing the most relevant matches. An adaptive learning algorithm further tunes the results to your patterns!
–Speed: improvements to our JavaScript engine as well as profile guided optimizations have resulted in continued improvements in performance. Compared to Firefox 2, web applications like Google Mail and Zoho Office run twice as fast in Firefox 3, and the popular SunSpider test from Apple shows improvements over previous releases.

Stay tuned.