Hello! Welcome again to another entry of the podcast spotlight series. I hope you enjoyed last week’s entry, and more importantly the podcast episodes themselves. Without further ado, let us get into this week’s entries. In case you forgot, or if you are reading this blog series for the first time, each entry will involve a podcast show and one of their episodes. The entry will begin with a brief introduction about the show, and then delve into the specific episode. Links to the episode will be available at the end of the each entry.

podcast spotlight: Hidden Brain

Shankar Vedantam’s Hidden Brain podcast takes the first podcast spotlight entry. Each episode takes listeners into the underside of human action through the mixture of science and story-telling. As such, real life stories are interspersed with analysis from fields of sociology, psychology, and neurobiology.

Furthermore, Hidden Brain is part of National Public Radio, or NPR network of media content. This is significant in the sense that NPR shows rely mostly on public funding.  This allows NPR to give its shows editors, writers, sound engineers, etc. This is evident in the Hidden Brain podcast, where the team produces high quality content that sounds more like a documentary than a typical radio program.

Therefore, if you like your content curated, layered with scoring music, and edited to perfection, this is a great show to listen to. Otherwise, if you want to hear amazing stories and the science behind certain human decisions, give this show a chance as well.

Rap on Trial: How An Aspiring Musician’s Words Led to Prison Time

The first podcast spotlight episode comes from Hidden Brain’s latest story on the trial of Olutosin Oduwole. A student at Southern-Illinois University, Oduwole was arrested on charges of keeping a firearm in his dorm room and for attempting to make a terrorist threat.

Olutosin Oduwole (image credit to NPR)

The events leading up to the arrest were pretty surreal. 3 months after the tragic Virginia Tech mass shooting, authorities receive word of a suspicious customer from a gun dealer. The buyer, Oduwole, was said to have been agitated and anxious, and was purchasing 3 guns of the same model. 2 days after the report, Oduwole’s car was found abandoned near campus. Most peculiar was a piece of paper. It was scribbled with rap lyrics, but also contained the harrowing message :

Send $2 to this PayPal account. If the money doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next 7 days, then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated University.


Red Herring

At this point, if you think that this episode is going to delve into the mind of a mass shooter, you’re wrong. In fact, the episode uses the brief recollection of the Virginia Tech shooting and the detailing of Oduwole’s arrest as clever red herrings to detract from the crux of the episode.

In the following parts of the show, Vedantam interviews Oduwole himself. And the whole story becomes one big misunderstanding. Instead of being a potential mass murderer, Oduwole was an aspiring rapper. The guns were part of a small trading business he did to earn some income to purchase better recording equipment. He abandoned the car because it ran out of gas. He wanted to include the note as a spoken-word introduction but eventually discarded it. However, Oduwole was charged and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Because Oduwole’s rap lyrics were present as a substantial piece of the prosecution, the episode focuses on the legal grey areas. When are lyrics artistic expression and when is it a sign of intent? Can you assign intent on the artist? How do we perceive rap differently from other genres ? What are the legal ramifications of this bias? These are the actual issues that the episode tries to address.

If you want to find out the answers, definitely check out the episode here

podcast spotlight: ODD LOTS

The next podcast spotlight entry is the Odd Lots podcast run under the Bloomberg. Each week, hosts Joe Weisenthal and Tracy Alloway bring on a guest to talk about topics in markets, finance, and economics. Kind of like what I’m trying to do here at the Economical Rice Podcast.

It is worth pointing out at that as a business media company, Bloomberg produces a lot of podcasts under its brand. For instance, there’s the P&L podcast that runs through daily stories in finance and economics. Then you have Decrypted, which goes behind the scenes in the technology industry. Also, there’s Material World, which goes into consumer culture and looks at what we drink, wear, and even smoke.

So what makes Odd Lots special? Well, aside from the name being a dead giveaway, you could say that it is probably the wackiest  among the Bloomberg podcast family in terms of its subject matter. For instance, some of the past episodes include

  • How to Use Pop Music to Forecast the Stock Market (April 21, 2017) link
  • Poker Legend Phil Hellmuth Has Advice That Traders Should Hear (May 26, 2017) link
  • How a Hedge Fund Manager Teaches His Kids About Money (March 17, 2017) link

If any of these titles catch your eye, then this show may be for you.

inside the booming world of initial coin offerings

The second podcast spotlight episode is an intriguing look into the recent phenomenon of initial coin offerings. This episode, which features Chris Burniske of Ark Investments as a guest, goes through the basics of the phenomenon, as well as some other notable points of consideration.

One of the points that struck me was how to value a cryptocurrency. After all, we have established models for valuing stocks, property, and traditional currencies, but what should we use for cryptocurrencies? Well, as it turns out, valuing these new assets is a key part of Burniske’s work. The crux of his model is this: current utility value+ discounted expected utility value. To put it simply, the value of say a bitcoin is how much it is being used for transactions or trading plus how much expected use it will have in the future. In this way, the actual value of the bitcoin will be a matter of simple supply and demand: matching the amount of bitcoins currently in circulation with the demand for its use.

Initial Coin Offerings

The focus of the episode is the growing phenomenon of initial coin offerings, or ICOs. What are they? Are they similar to initial public offerings (IPOs)? According to Burniske, this is a bit of a misnomer. In actuality, ICOs are a combination of crowd-funding and block-chain technology.

What is peculiar about ICOs is that instead of issuing stock, firms issue tokens or some type of cryptoasset, which investors can purchase and hold just like traditional equity. Also, instead of investing in the company itself, investors participating in an ICO buy into a project that is built upon Block-chain technology. If this is starting to get confusing, Burniske has an example for you. Recently, he participated in an ICO for the project “Aragon”, which operates on top of Ethereum technology. Aragon in itself is a system which allows companies to run different functions on Ethereum, such as accounting, recording, etc. In the long run, Aragon seeks to help companies achieve decentralized autonomous systems.

the recent Aragon token sale, from their website

Finally, if you are looking for just one takeaway from ICOs, it is that they are a funding alternative. Previously, if you wanted to raise massive funds publicly, you only had the option of an IPO, which inflicts a lot of compliance costs on the company. Since the ICO market is yet to be regulated, the opportunity is ripe both for both investors and fund seekers. Note however, that because there is no regulation, the risk of failure is borne entirely by the investor or the company; with greater reward comes greater risk.

You can listen to the episode here.

And that’s it for this week’s podcast spotlight! Hope you found something worthwhile to listen to. Follow the Economical Rice Podcast on Facebook for the latest updates!

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