Time to share a good book

Time to share a good book

[Update: the book drive is now finished — and they collected 962 books. Yay!] What an easy idea to say yes to. I live in East Vancouver, and pretty much my favourite present to give the kids in my life is a good book. So, when I heard that the clever folks behind Rain City Chronicles were holding a book drive to benefit the Writers’ Exchange which helps East Van kids? Yes. (And you can say yes too; they’re collecting new kids books until November 30 in these spots.) It’s been really fun to see which books Vancouverites are donating, and why. Musicians, reporters, support workers, funnymen, a baker, a librarian, and many more are sharing the stories that shaped their imaginations growing up. It’s hard to single out one — thumbs up to Tammy for her shout-out to Lowly Worm — but here’s my pick. Yet another Dr. Seuss, but one of his lesser-knowns: On Beyond Zebra. A letter he never had dreamed of before! At the start of the story, the narrator introduces us to a young boy, named Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell (his “very young friend who is learning to spell.”) Conrad is quite proud of himself for learning the entire alphabet, which, as everyone knows, ends with Z. But no, says the narrator: “In the places I go there are things that I see that I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.” You can see where this is going. The rest of the book describes all the other letters, and the fabulous, creepy or odd animals whose names we can now spell with...
Who I think of on Food Bank Day

Who I think of on Food Bank Day

Today is the Open House and Food Bank Day at CBC — the 25th year that CBC in Vancouver has raised money for B.C. food banks so they can provide for people who need a little help. This generally happens in December. It always makes me think of a day in November. In 2004, to be precise. I was working as CBC Radio’s reporter in Nelson, and our assignment desk was expecting the annual report on child poverty in our province. So, I was asked to go talk to a family, with children, who were struggling. An articulate and brave single working mom with a young son agreed to talk to me on the radio. She invited me into her apartment while she made dinner for the boy; I remember her stirring yoghurt into some organic macaroni and cheese to add a little more protein for him. She told me she got help from the food bank, at times, and healthy protein was hard to afford. It’s not a dramatic story, but I think of them every time we talk about food banks. About one in three people who rely on food banks in B.C. is a child. Food prices are on the rise too. That’s something we all sense in our grocery bills, but it’s really striking when you look at the numbers, especially for staples. Here are changes in food prices, from Oct. 2010 to Oct. 2011: Potatoes – up 24% Carrots – up 20% Coffee – up 19& Flour – up 17% Eggs – up 13% [Data from Statistics Canada, calculation by me.] I did that...
How my science degree helps me in journalism

How my science degree helps me in journalism

Tomorrow I get to return to my alma mater, to talk to first-year Science students. This is pretty exciting for me because I really enjoy teaching, and visiting campus brings some nostalgic joy too. They invited me because I use my degree in science in a non-traditional way. Here’s a sneak peek at the Prezi I made for the talk. It’s not that rare to be a reporter with a background in science; we have a few in our local newsroom. But it’s still uncommon enough that when people I encounter on the job learn I studied biology, they’re surprised. Many ask whether it was my plan all along to learn about science, then report on it. (Not at all —I really thought I was going to be a biologist). And, I often hear, “Oh that must really help you on scientific stories.” (Absolutely! But not in the way you might think.) Bring on the data! The fact is, the facts I learned don’t help me much. Even if I remembered every nephron and neuron I scribbled down in a final exam, my information is more than a decade out of date. What’s important about what I learned is it gives me the faith that even complex things can be understood, and it’s my job to make sense of them, and use that information to critically evaluate what people tell me. That helps on science stories, but not just on science stories. Being unafraid of numbers and spreadsheets is good too. I learned Excel spending many hours volunteering in a lab measuring millimetres of stickleback tails. Now on the...
Stories from the Sea: Listen here

Stories from the Sea: Listen here

At long last, here are my radio stories from the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress. I was lucky enough to cover the conference for CBC Radio’s On The Coast and All Points West. I think my favourite of the three stories was the one on sharks, which also aired nation-wide on CBC Radio. [Updated June 2012: The CBC links expired, so I put the stories on Soundcloud] I walked into the conference with pretty remedial knowledge on why people are so concerned and passionate about the world’s shark species. Yes, I knew about the problems with “finning,” or killing sharks by cutting off their fins for soup. But I didn’t have a context for why overfishing sharks would be any different than other types of overfishing. I also wasn’t sure whether this was something that affected sharks off Canada’s Pacific coast, or if it was only a problem other places. It turns out, yes, overfishing sharks is different, and yes, the fin trade around the world affects endangered sharks here. I connect the dots with the help of patient scientists, to tell a tale about endangered basking...

Stories about the sea: I’ll be reporting from IMCC

So, killer whales form a pod, fish school, and sharks are said to travel in shivers*. But what do you call 1000+ marine conservation types gathered at once? A “congress,” apparently. The second International Marine Conservation Congress starts in Victoria today. Scientists, policy makers, resource managers, and NGOs are here to share science on our changing oceans, and ideas on how to save them. It’s only been held once before, 2 years ago in Washington, D.C. What I find so interesting is the goal is not just moving the conversation forward by publishing papers in the scientific literature — but also by crafting recommendations that let science inform public policy. I’m here to report for CBC Radio — you’ll hear me talking to Stephen Quinn, host of On the Coast, and Grant Lawrence, guest-hosting All Points West. I’ll be on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at about 5:40 or so in the Vancouver area and 4:50-ish in the rest of B.C. Changing oceans It’s not easy to decide what to cover. The program is huge, covering invasive species, overfishing, aquaculture, planning, and many more issues. I’ll be looking for stories that mean something to a B.C. audience. One piece will be on climate change and ocean acidification — there is a lot on it at this conference, and a topic I find really interesting. We know the pH of the ocean is changing as it absorbs excess CO2 we’re dumping into the atmosphere. It seems to already be causing problems for the shellfish industry in some coastal areas. But it’s not clear just how the complex systems of the sea...
Canada’s beef-is-safe campaign, circa 2003

Canada’s beef-is-safe campaign, circa 2003

The main purpose of this post is to put up a neat graph from my Masters thesis project seven years ago, mostly because I want to refer to it elsewhere. Please read on for the backstory, or if you are interested in political rhetoric about science (or to see a pic of Jean Chretien gnawing on beef). My thesis was on risk communication, using mad cow disease as a case study. I looked at the language and sources used in news articles to discuss the safety of Canadian beef after Canada’s first mad cow was found in May 2003. I remember that day vividly. It was my first summer at CBC, and I was interning at Quirks & Quarks in Toronto. As soon as the news broke across the wires, producers from The Current in the next room were buzzing about what to put on tomorrow’s show. Quirks, a weekly show, was deciding what people would want to know by Saturday about it. As It Happens was also chasing experts on the topic. The name on everyone’s lips was Dr. Neil Cashman, a Canadian neuroscientist who specializes in prion diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. As the summer progressed, BSE remained a major national story, mostly because the U.S. had banned Canadian beef, leaving cattle producers without a major source of income. There was a huge SARS benefit concert in Toronto that summer, but I remember dubbing it “Beef-stock” because of the amount of Canadian beef promotion, including a city block-long aisle of BBQ. I wrote about it at the time: Veteran comedians...