Questions and Answers: Volume 14

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Podcast Transcript

The month of January was named after the Roman god Janus who had two faces, one on each side of his head. 

Janus was the god of waging war and making peace. Of beginnings and endings, and of change and passages.

…and while there is no evidence to prove it, I’m pretty sure that Janus would have been the god of questions and answers.

Stay tuned while I answer listener questions on the 14 questions and answers installment of Everything Everywhere Daily.

The first question comes from Sean Vergowven, who asks, “Curious as a Wisconsin fan (which we don’t hold against you) what are your thoughts on the new Big Ten”

For those of you who don’t know what the Big Ten is, it is a college sports conference. It used to consist of ten large colleges in the Midwest that would also play each other in various sports. These tended to be large land grant institutions such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Iowa. 

In 1990, they expanded to eleven teams by allowing Penn State to join, but they kept the name Big Ten. This addition wasn’t really that bad.

Then, in 2010, three more universities joined: Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers. Nebraska made sense, but Maryland and Rutgers were completely out of wack and took away from the Midwest nature of the conference. 

Recently, USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington announced that they would be joining the Big Ten, bringing the number of teams to 18. 

So, my thoughts are…..

18 teams is too much for a conference, and the conference no longer has any regional focus. The reason this is being done, of course, is for money. College sports, especially football and basketball, are big business. 

The current trend of dismantling and merging conferences makes no sense, especially considering that it is only for a few sports. 

College football should consider a complete reorganization that only affects football and leaves every other non-revenue-generating sport alone. Even he current system of determining a champion is a bit ridiculous, selecting four teams by committee rather than determining a champion on the field. 

Graham McIntosh asks, “How do you and other Americans celebrate the New Year?”

Personally, I do absolutely nothing. I go to bed and wake up as if it were any other day.

That being said, I’d say the most popular things are fireworks and drinking. Some people watch the ball drop in Times Square in New York, and there is a tradition of singing the song Auld Lang Syne, even though most people don’t know the lyrics beyond the first few lines. 

Gabriel Cervantes asks You’ve been all over the world, shooting photographs. Where can we see your images?

You can see all of my images if you go to my website In the menu bar up top just click on “photography,” and you can view the many tens of thousands of photos I’ve taken all over the world. 

Fabio Fidanza asks “Do you know/practice computer programming? if yes, what’s your favourite language? Thanks!”

Well, I used to, sort of, but I haven’t in ages. Back in the 90s, I found myself at the right place and at the right time. It was right at the beginning of the World Wide Web, and my roommate at the time developed a tool known as Cold Fusion. Today it is owned by Adobe. 

It was a markup language with elements of a programming language that allowed you to easily and quickly integrate databases with websites, which was a difficult thing to do at the time. 

When he was building the product, some companies asked to have websites created with the tool, and he didn’t want to do it, so I began using the tool to develop these data-driven websites, and long with SQL statements of varying complexity.

I did this for a while, but I soon brought other people on board, and my focus shifted to running the company, not doing the actual programming. 

I’ve considered going back to goofing around with some simple scripting to do things on my own network, but I usually never get around to it because I have other things going on. 

So the short answer is I did in the past, but I haven’t done so in a long time.

TwoBuck Howie asks,  In all your travels, have you ever come across fellow explorers like Albert Lin or Josh Gates?

First, just because someone is on TV doesn’t make them great explorers. I know a LOT of people who are far better traveled than most TV personalities. 

That being said….

We had Josh Gates as a guest on my old podcast, This Week in Travel, but I wasn’t on the show that week because of scheduling. 

I once met the Australian photographer Peter Lik at the Camuy Caves in Puerto Rico. He was there filming a show for the Weather Channel. 

I also stayed at the same hotel as Anthony Bourdain in Lafayette, Louisiana, during Mardi Gras in 2018, just months before he died. Every morning, I’d see him outside the front doors of the lobby smoking a cigarette, texting as his crew got their equipment ready for the day. 

I also know a fair number of online travel influencers that I’ve met during my travels around the world. However, I’ve lost touch with many of them as I’ve shifted to podcasting.

Derrin Brown asks Can we determine the average length of an empire/commonwealth/superpower’s reign?

Yes, you can, but there is a problem with the question. You can get an average from almost any dataset. You can get an average from random numbers. 

However, I’m not sure that such an average would be meaningful. Each empire existed with its own logic and forces that caused its rise and fall. 

Pharaonic Egypt lasted through 33 different dynasties over thousands of years. Nazi German lasted a little more than a decade. The Soviet Union existed for only 74 years. 

Moreover, technologies have changed dramatically, rendering whatever lessons we could learn rather moot. 

So, yet you can calculate an average, but I’m not sure that it is meaningful.

Matt Goulet asks “Why do Americans call chocolate bars candy bars ?”

It is because chocolate is a candy. 

Steve Gulliver asks Do you suffer burnout from researching so much??

The answer is yes. Sometimes. I have no one to help me research, write, or record the show. The nature of the show is such that I have to get a show out the door every day. 

So, the production schedule of the show is sort of akin to that of a newspaper or a newsroom.

The only break I get is the occasional encore episode. Thankfully, I’ve done so many episodes now that no one really seems to mind them so long as new episodes are still being produced. 

Ayo Abíólá asks, would you use AI like ChatGPT to just draft the script in a second? If you did, has it made this venture easier?

There has been a lot of talk about AI within the podcasting world. While I recognize there might be some use for AI, literally creating entire scripts just isn’t possible.

Just for the heck of it, I actually tried to get several AI systems to write a script, and the results were horrible. If I actually tried to release something totally written by AI, people would stop listening.

Moreover, a great deal of what I’ve seen is simply factually incorrect. You’d still have to fact-check everything, which is difficult enough when you aren’t using AI. 

That being said, there are two things I have found AI useful for. The first is creating images for episode artwork. The second is to create an outline of major points for topics that are extremely broad. Trying to summarize some topics into 10 to 12 minutes is extremely difficult, and it can be helpful to help summarize.

Once it lists the major points, however, It’s up to me to make sense of it, and write and research the episode.

David Javid writes, Gary, you are probably the most interesting person at any dinner table, but if you could host a dinner party, who would you host, living or dead? Second, if you could live in any time in history or civilization, with, of course, with the help of modern medicine, which time or place would it be? Third, I love your podcast and am an avid listener.

Well, I’m not really sure who I’d want to have at a dinner party. The obvious answer is usually famous and accomplished people. However, some people I’d love to meet from history would probably not make for great dinner guests. 

Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman, and Peggy Guggenheim, I think, would make for great dinner guests. I’m not sure that Ted Williams or Emperor Augustus would be very entertaining. 

Second, I wouldn’t want to live at any point in the past. By almost every metric, things are better today than they have ever been. I wouldn’t mind visiting the past, but I wouldn’t want to live there. 

Abdelrahman Wael asks Hey Gary, love the podcast. I’m from Egypt, where sports like baseball and American football aren’t played often, but I have gotten to love football as I could understand it through movies but I can’t do the same with baseball. How do I understand the rules of baseball, and how do I get into it as a non-American. Much love from Cairo. 

Abdelrahman, your view of American Football and Baseball is quite common. 

Football is easy to grasp the gist of what is happening. Each team tries to march down the field, and if you can get to the other side, you get points. There is a lot more to it than that, but that is most of the game. 

Baseball is more complicated. Basically, there are four bases you have to run around without getting out, and you have to go all the way around to score a point, called a run. 

There are a lot of obscure rules in baseball as well, many of which are rarely evoked. 

What I recommend to learn how the game is played the same way I learned about cricket. I just watched games. When I encountered something I didn’t understand, I looked it up. At first, there will be a lot of things you don’t understand, but over time, it will become less and less. 

I’ve done episodes on the history of baseball, but maybe an episode explaining baseball for people who don’t live in baseball countries might be in order. 

Findaer asks, Have you ever gone into a topic for an episode expecting that you know a good bit about it only to realize you were completely wrong as you continued to research it?

The only episode I can say where something like that happened was the episode on the serial killer HH Holmes. I had heard that story that most people heard, but then, as I started researching it, I found that almost everything in the common telling of the story was exaggerated by tabloid newspapers of the era.

I eventually had to abandon the episode, and I put it aside for over a year.

That was an exception. Usually, I don’t find that something is totally wrong so much as I find that there is just more to the story. Most historical events either have more nuance or details than most people are aware of.

Dog on a Swing asks, I believe in the last Q&A you mentioned that some episodes can take years to be created as you figure out how you want to approach the subject. What are some examples of episodes with long lead times?

Yes, there is often a long time between coming up with an idea and doing an episode on it. Sometimes, like the recent episode on salt, it is just a matter of never getting around to it. 

Likewise, the episodes on how horses came to North America and the episode on Quasi-War took a long time to come to fruition. 

Other times, I’m just not sure how to explain a subject to an audience with a wide range of backgrounds. There are episodes on the standard model and quantum physics that I like to do, but I’m not sure how to structure the episode and how to explain it in an easy-to-understand way. 

I’ll conclude with a question from  Oatmeal who asks, What audiences do you think the podcast caters toward?

My intent has always been to create a show for people who are curious about the world and love to learn. Regardless of where they are from or what their background is, if you are a curious person, and most people are not, then this is the show for you.

If you would like to have your question answered next month, just join the Facebook group or the Discord server, the links to which are in the show notes.

The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel.

The associate producers are Peter Bennett and Cameron Kieffer.

As much as I try to avoid it, every so often, I do make errors in episodes that need correction. 

The first correction comes from my episode on Babe Ruth. At the very start of the episode, I said 1941, but it should have been 1914. I transposed the numbers 1 and 4. 

The other correction is another dumb one on my part. In the episode on the mathematical constant e I was explaining the exponential curve and how the slope of the line at 1 is one and at 2 it is 2. Of course, that is incorrect; the slope of the line at 1 is e, and at 2, it is e squared, et cetra.

The same holds true with the area under the curve as well. 

So, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.