Thursday, February 09, 2006


I listen to a bunch of science podcasts, including the Nature Podcast and, my favourite, Quirks & Quarks. One of the downfalls of such shows, however, is that for some reason science show hosts, more than most others, seem to feel the strange urge to pun. Chris Smith of Nature is the worst at this by far; I find myself cringing every time I listen to the show. Hardly a sentence goes by during the story intros and conclusions that does not contain at least one--usually terrible--pun. Bob McDonald of Q&Q isn't quite as bad, and generally his puns don't score as high on the groan scale, but he has been guilty of a few doosies over the years too; however, at least McDonald usually seems sheepish about it, unlike Smith, who doesn't even seem to realize he's doing it.

Not that I'm not so naive as to think that the hosts are entirely to blame. The show's producers and/or writers also have a lot to do with this dubious popular science tradition. The question is: "Why?" My personal theory is that science has been elitist for so long that those in the media who bring science to the masses feel it incumbent on themselves to try and make the uninitiated feel more comfortable. And punning, being such a base form of humour (though admittedly some view it as the highest of art forms), is apparently the magic ingredient. God forbid that science ever stand on its own as entertainment.

Anyway, now that I've got that off my chest, let me also offer up a little tip for Q&Q listeners who listen to the podcast on their iPods. For whatever reason, Q&Q is downloaded into iTunes as separate mp3 files rather than one long show. Apparently for those people who use non-iPod players (all 7 of them), these files will play sequentially without any problems, but the iPod treats them as separate podcasts, meaning you get kicked all the way back to the main menu after each segment--a PITA to be sure. Here's my trick to solve this little problem:

  1. You'll need QuickTime Pro, which will cost you some bucks, unfortunately (Bad bad Apple).
  2. Go to Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes and download his Join Together v3.2.1 script.
  3. Download podcast Chapter Tool (direct download link from Apple site).
  4. Install the Join Together script and Chapter Tool as per their respective instructions.
  5. Open iTunes, go to your iTunes library and select the Quirks & Quarks (or any other podcast) segments you wish to join together (you can't do this from within the podcast list).
  6. Choose "Join Together and Chapterize" from the iTunes scripts menu, follow the instructions and let the script do its magic.

Voila! You should now have a single file in your iTunes library that contains all the segments of the Q&Q podcast. The one hitch is that the file won't appear in your podcast directory, but you can easily create a smart playlist called, say, Q&Q, then set the playlist rules to include files for which the artist is Quirks & Quarks and for which the genre is not "podcast."

I contacted the show's producers about this little bug, and they blame it on Apple breaking the podcast standard (whatever that is). Jim Lebans, of Q & Q wrote, "we can either satisfy the Apple owners, or everyone else, but not both without using two feeds, [...] which is a lot more work for us." OK, so I can sort of understand this, but I must say it irks me a little. Apple aficionados are constantly getting the old "we'd love to develop [insert application or service here] for Mac but there are simply not enough users out there to make it worth our while. But with the iPod, Apple users are for once vastly in the majority and should therefore (and often do) logically enjoy the benefits of content producers tailoring their output to iPod users. In this case, however, what would appear to be an anti-Apple bias has the tail wagging the dog.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hate the puns too! And the world would be a better place without them. But I have to defend Q&Q. They write goofy better than a lot of other science shows. Their metaphors make sense and it's done not just to be funny but to help tell the stories too.