Burton Cummings: the Canadian Man behind “American Woman”

The Guess Who and frontman Burton Cummings were the first huge Canadian rock ’n roll act, paving the way for border-crossing superstars from Arcade Fire to Justin Bieber. Burton Cumming’s main songwriting collaborator in the early years of The Guess Who was Randy Bachman, the band’s guitarist. Their collaboration changed the sound of the late 60s, but their difference in temperament ended up driving Bachman out of the band. Cummings tells about how life has just gotten better since The Guess Who broke up.

Here’s the Thing


Angles of a Hack

Photo by dustball / CC BY-NC

Sixty years ago, when hacking meant nosing around the telephone network, it seemed innocent enough. And not all modern hacking has criminal intent. Today, there are biohackers who experiment with implanted electronic devices to improve themselves, and geoengineers who propose to hack the climate. But in our efforts to cool an overheated planet, might we be going down a dangerous path?

Big Picture Science

The Rise of the New German Right

In just a few days, Germans will go to the polls to vote for a new government. For decades, Germany’s elections have been subdued and predictable, but this campaign cycle has seen a rise of fake news, hate groups and right-wing politicians with a nationalist agenda. There also are allegations of Russian meddling. In this episode we look at the rise of right-wing populism in Germany’s election.



Some of the southern US states have experienced severe flooding over the last few weeks. In the wake of these recent disasters we take a closer look at what happens when water falls from the sky, how it moves once it is on the ground, and what happens when people and water get in each other’s way. We also discuss the challenges of redirecting water through, under, and around our cities and communities.

Science for the People


The Risk Of Nuclear War With North Korea

Photo by gruntzooki / CC BY-SA

‘New Yorker’ writer Evan Osnos visited North Korea in August to understand what they really mean when they talk about nuclear war. Senior officials explained to him why nuclear weapons are an essential part of their society. “They will tell you that the reason they will never give up nuclear weapons is that they remember what happened to Saddam Husein and Muammar Gaddafi both of whom where developing nuclear weapons at one point, gave them up, and as a result ended up loosing their regime, and both of them ended executed. They talk about it quite openly, that the lesson of Libya – the lesson of Gaddafi’s fall – was that, if you go down that path, you leave yourself vulnerable to the changing whims of the United States, and you can ultimately be cast aside. And so Kim Jong-un and his government are adamant that they will not make the same mistake.”

Fresh Air

Why Don’t We All Speak the Same Language?

There are 7,000 languages spoken on Earth. Today we discuss if this is an acceptable number of languages for 7-plus billion people or perhaps we would be better off with just one universal language? As it turns out, the answer to the central question of how much linguistic diversity is the “right” amount could be stated as: enough for anyone to feel connected to the community of their choice, but not so much as to hamper trade or start a war.

Freakonomics Radio

How to Beat Distraction and Stay Focused

Today we discuss what goes on in our brains when we use our digital devices, why they distract us, and what we can do about it. Our guest walks us through the cognitive functions we use to focus our attention and to avoid distraction. He then explains why these evolved cognitive functions are mismatched to today’s constantly buzzing digital devices, using a theory of optimal food foraging borrowed from biology. We then discuss action steps grounded in science on how you can beat distraction and stay more focused throughout the day. We end our conversation talking about “prescription” video games that can be used to help elderly patients and individuals with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The Art of Manliness


This summer’s spate of acid attacks in London have caused concern for both the public and authorities. The seemingly random selection of victims by perpetrators, and the suspected use of acid by criminal gangs, seems to be a new twist in a story which has previously seen acid used in more targeted crimes against a specific person. Journalist Ayshea Buksh explores the complexity of acid attacks and the wide range of motivations behind the use of acid as a weapon. From hate crime and domestic violence to a fight that escalates, a mugging or a gang-related attack, the weapon may be the same but the reasoning can be wildly different. It’s a crime that can take just seconds to commit, but acid attacks can have a life-long impact on survivors – not just physically, but mentally. Some survivors speaking to Ayshea are just going through their first surgery after the physical impact of the attack, while others are now living their lives at a distance from their attack but with a constant physical reminder. For some survivors, the question ‘why?’ can play constantly on their minds, while others try not to ask it as they attempt to move on with their lives.

Seriously… BBC Radio 4


Plan of a Hack

Long before cyber criminals were stealing ATM passwords, phone phreaks were tapping into the telephone system. Their motivation was not monetary, but the thrill of defeating a complex, invisible network. Today “hacking” can apply to cyberwarfare, biological tinkering, or even geoengineering. Often it has negative connotations, but the original definition of “hacking” was something else. Today we look at the original practitioners – the teenagers and mavericks who hacked Ma Bell for thrills – and the difference between hacking for fun and for profit.

Big Picture Science