Monday, November 29, 2010

Quirks & Quarks and the Lost World of Radio

Ah, the CBC: providers of radio, television, news, my internet homepage, and most importantly, HNIC.

(HNIC = Hockey Night in Canada, for readers from outside Canada). Although stereotypes aren't nice, it's true that very nearly all Canadians are nuts for hockey. It wasn't always an official national sport, but we complained enough to have it join lacrosse as one of two official national sports. Lacrosse is a lot like hockey without ice, in fact. And it's even rougher, if you can believe it. Cross-checking is legal - ouch! The hockey lust runs deep in our collective culture - we sing songs about it (both seriously and in self-deprecation), we can't help joining games of pick-up road or pond hockey (usually road hockey out here on the South Coast - not a lot of deep freezing going on in Vancouver - Link here to a video during the Winter Olympics where we had accidental daytime highs of near 20 C or 68 F!), and we just stop short of worshipping hockey heroes as demi-gods. . . just.

I suppose I don't need to give any more examples of how hockey is important to Canadians - I've just included an entire unrelated paragraph on the subject when I meant to be talking radio!

Get on the Grados and tune in to CBC Radio (t-shirt optional)

Radio is definitely living on the periphery of modern communication these days, and I feel that gives it a cool, counter-culture status. I enjoy listening to it knowing millions of others are sifting through the new pop-up advertisements on YouTube and other websites. No, I really enjoy listening to non-commercial, government-funded programming on the CBC. I maintain that it's better for your brain, too (and certainly easier on the eyes!). I rather wish CBC television could do away with the ads, too.

CBC Radio One (English language - we have it in French, too!) has many programmes that are well worth tuning in for (DNTO is one, and so is The Early Edition and The Current in the mornings). There are other channels, too: CBC Radio 2 is mostly classical music and Radio 3 is independent Canadian music. (frequency guides here)

But my best-loved and most recommended programme of all is on Radio One, hosted by Bob McDonald on Saturday daytimes, repeating on Monday nights. It's the one and only "Quirks & Quarks", the last refuge of the closet scientific-infophile on the airwaves.

Screenshot: Quirks & Quarks homepage (courtesy

November 13th's show was Quirks & Quark's 35th Anniversary Special. Way back in the day, David Suzuki hosted Quirks & Quarks (if you don't know who David Suzuki is, you're probably not Canadian and not into environmentalism! Check out the David Suzuki Foundation here, and his profile on Wikipedia here). Here's a quote from the Quirks & Quarks website on the 35th Anniversary show:
It's been 35 years since Quirks & Quarks debuted on CBC Radio (with host David Suzuki). Back then, there were no cell phones or personal computers, no knowledge of the human genome, dark matter, or MRI. And Pluto was still a planet!  So we're going to take you back to 1975, and look at how much science has changed since we first went on the air. We've assembled a panel of 10 Canadian scientists, and asked each of them to tell us about the most significant change, development or discovery that has happened in their field of science since 1975. Recorded before a live audience at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.
Yes, when I heard that you could be in the audience for the taping of the 35th Anniversary show, I pulled out the calendar and started to shout to my fiancee that we'd be going! And then I noticed it was in Toronto (c'mon, really?!). Lucky Leafs fans.... I guess they need some breaks after all (that's hockey trash talk, if you didn't realise it)!

Quirks & Quarks runs for an hour, and generally has about 6 segments with interviews from either the scientist who made the discovery or conducted the research, or an expert explaining this complicated phenomenon for the layman (you don't need to be any good at math or physics to get this stuff - totally accessible to all!). They have Fact-or-Fiction to address common (or uncommon) misconceptions about scientific matters, comedic discoveries, and some really wild astrophysics findings that they dumb down so biologists like me can appreciate them.

Have a look at the past episode guide here - I'll bet you you'll see something that catches your imagination. You can listen to them online over your computer from anywhere in the world via streaming audio or by podcast. For example, a Fact-or-Fiction on redheads; how whale poo (which stinks like nothing else) feeds the oceans; why penguins wear 'tuxedos'; how sharks can smell 'in stereo', and so much more! Dark matter, dinosaurs, ancient human artifacts, the plausibility of living on the moon, why the honeybees are dying, factual information on climate change, how to win at game shows (the famous Monty Hall problem), you name it!

Two favourite books of mine either featured or referenced on Quirks & Quarks

I've even bought a book featured on Quirks & Quarks - The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely. Not my usual genre of literature, but I really enjoy it (nearly done)! It's a collection of thoughts on humans (and other animals) and our less-than-logical behaviour that is filled with interesting behavioural experiments done on humans. Have you had no success at all with on-line dating? Want to know why? It's not you, it's the interface - it's just not how we humans find mates naturally, so we end up meeting all sorts of people based on commonalities that although probably don't hinder a relationship, certainly won't jumpstart one! Also, it is true that men will routinely play 'out of their league', whereas women will, at least superficially, settle for less. (That's not just true of internet dating, but in real life too. Bet you'd figured that one out on your own already!). I'll let you read Dan Ariely's book for the whole story (it's a good one!) - it might even make you feel better! (Link to his website here).

Quirks & Quarks is seriously one of the best diversions out there, and it will give you all sorts of things to think about and talk about without stretching the sinews of your mind too far. The science is 'dumbed down' so as to be accessible to anyone. To my crochet and knitting friends from Ravelry: why not listen to an episode on your next knit/crochet session? Easier than watching TV and much more interesting (I promise!).

Listen to this week's Quirks & Quarks here, and enjoy relaxing and feeding your mind the old fashioned radio-way!

Tonight's show: a real-life invisibility cloak like Harry Potter's (or in the Lord of the Rings or even covering starships like Romulan Warbirds in Star Trek) - no really, Physicists can almost do it! Or maybe they already can?! (If yes, forgive me if I avoid using the women's washroom in the Physics and Math buildings for the remainder of my life..). Looking forward to listening to this episode (which also includes a fact-or-fiction on 'frozen tears'! No Canadians know this for sure 'cause there's no crying in outdoor hockey...).

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