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No. 3192:
Self Reflection

by Andy Boyd

Today, inside the Engines of Our Ingenuity. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

I'm often asked what goes on behind the scenes of the Engines of Our Ingenuity. How many writers are employed? What's involved in producing an episode?

The first question is easy. Engines has no staff writers. Of the three thousand, one hundred and ninety-two episodes that have aired to date, every episode, without exception, has been written by the individual who voices it. Of course, we've been the beneficiaries of wonderful ideas from listeners and colleagues, many of which then blossom into episodes.

We often write about things we're familiar with - math, philosophy and music are three of my favorites. But we'll take on anything that has the makings of a good story - something that's interesting along the way, introduces you to ideas you may not be familiar with, then reaches a satisfying point of closure. If we need to read up on a topic, then off we'll go. For me, that's always been one of the great joys of doing Engines. I've had a chance to learn things I may never have taken time to learn about and then share my joy of discovery with you.

We don't do news. We'd rather give you a break from it and an opportunity to revel for a moment in human ingenuity. You, our listeners, are intelligent, and we strive to respect that in our content and presentation. We also enjoy getting out in the community to meet our listeners. The recording booth can be a lonely place.

Houston Public Media Studio
Houston Public Media Studio

As for the nuts and bolts, Engines airs twice daily every weekday in Houston. It's picked up by stations nationally and by the Armed Services Network, and it can be downloaded as a podcast from the NPR website.

Episodes are about five hundred words long - about two double-spaced, typed pages. However, the more important factor is time. Episodes must run three minutes, twenty-three seconds plus-or-minus a second or two, leaving room for the intro, outro, and the sponsor's tag line. Sponsors have provided valuable and much appreciated support over the years - support that helps fund the general operation of Houston Public Media.

Mark up pages
Mark up pages

The time for completing an episode can vary substantially, but sixteen hours is representative: twelve researching and writing, two recording and engineering, and two more gathering materials for the website. For other production activities, Engines can thank a wonderful collection of devoted producers over the years.

And how do we keep the ideas flowing? For those of us who are generating new episodes on a regular basis, the antenna is always on alert for something promising. I'm diligent in keeping a list of ideas I can draw upon so that I don't find myself staring blankly at the computer screen when it's time to write. The process of creating a good Engines episode can be likened to the workings of a kaleidoscope. When writing we seek to create a thing of beauty through reflection. But it all starts with shiny things at the bottom of the can.

Kaleidoscope tube
Kaleidoscope tube   Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Kaleidoscopic pattern
Kaleidoscopic pattern   Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I'm Andy Boyd at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.

(Theme music)

More information on contributors and the people involved with the Engines of Our Ingenuity can be found here.

It should be noted that none of the Engines contributors receive any remuneration for their efforts, so that sponsorship dollars are able to flow directly to Houston Public Media.