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Making calculus sexy Making calculus sexy
by John Pederson
Issue 5
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The lead to this story pulled me in with a familiar energy that I grew both to love and hate in college. I could hear my obsessive, passionate, and a bit nerdy college roommate Dave through the story’s main character, Ron.

Hearing Dave’s nasally voice on the radio wouldn’t have kept me tuned in for long. I usually tuned him out after a minute or so, as our conversation digressed into some banter about coding algorithms, but I couldn’t do that with this story.

This highly produced piece made computer programming come alive or, in Amy O’Leary’s words, “It made calculus sexy.” But how do you make radio sexy for a public radio audience? One factor was the perfectly selected music woven throughout the story. I especially liked the distorted guitar in the beginning. It helped elevate the plot above the sterile milieu of a software company into something more righteous and ridiculous, like some funky ‘70’s spy movie.

The production throughout the piece was fantastic, but the mystical flute interlude, emphasizing power of the “golden master hard disk,” was particularly effective. The selection struck a chord between seriousness and satire that perfectly fit that particular climatic moment, as well as the overall quirky tone of the piece.

I also thought Amy’s narration conjured extremely vivid imagery throughout the piece. For example, she described the computer display as “gorgeous undulating, three-dimensional pictures that change as you alter the equation.” She continues, “If such a thing can be said, it makes calculus sexy.”

This piece illustrates exactly how brilliant narration and production can “sex-up” a radio piece.

This American Life radio program:
Title: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (Act 2. Amy O’Leary’s portrait of two renegade computer programmers)
Aired: 11 Mar 2005
Audio Link: >>>> (Archives > 3/11/05)
 
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