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The Department of Tangents Podcast


Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Feb 13, 2018

Welcome to the extra-tangenty 50th episode anniversary of the Department of Tangents Podcast! This episode came about it a strange way. For years I have been trying to explain to people my favorite board game as a kid, Stop Thief. It had a regular cardboard square with a cartoon grid on it, and your job was to find the thief, who was still actively moving around the different stores and the outside on the street. What was different about Stop Thief was that it had a handheld scanner giving you audio clues – footsteps, doors opening, shattering glass, street noises. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve always been on the lookout for it at thrift stores. This Christmas, my wife Melissa gave me an updated version of the game released last year by Restoration Games who did a top flight job of it. The game included a quick history and mentioned that its creator, Dr. Robert Doyle, lived in Massachusetts. I got in touch with Restoration Games, and they put me in touch with Dr. Doyle, who, as it turns out, lives in the same house he has lived in since 1970, and it is stuffed with wonderful books and every new bit of communication technology you can can imagine, including a bunch of games he designed that were never released, like a handheld flight simulator, and the “suitcase computers” that contained the original electronics for Stop Thief and other games. That would have been fascinating enough on its own.

What I didn’t know when I initially contacted Dr. Doyle was just how accomplished he is and in just how many fields. We start the interview going through the cliff notes of that history – PhD in Astrophysics from Harvard and consulting on the space program before helping to simplify editing for Super 8, then on to Parker Brothers where he invented Stop Thief and, the one many of my friends were excited about, Merlin. Then he created MacPublisher, the first desktop publishing program, to bring publishing to the masses. And there might not even be a Department of Tangents Podcast if Doyle hadn’t worked with Christopher Lydon in 2003 to bring radio to the Web in a form that would eventually become known as podcasting. To top it of, he is what he calls an Information Philosopher, and a strong advocate for the existence of free will.

If you want to follow up on what Dr. Doyle is doing now, his books and lecture series, you can find that at www.informationphilosopher.com. There’s a lot more coming, so stay tuned.

Our featured track for this episode is called, appropriately enough, “Let’s Go To Mars.” It comes to us from Barrence Whitfield and the Savages from their upcoming album, Soul Flowers of Titan, which is out on Bloodshot Records March 2. You can find out more about him and the new album at www.BarrenceWhitfieldSavages.com.

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