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Completely Optional Knowledge

#CompletelyOptional

The podcast where we answer the questions you never knew you had. Produced by Andrew Norton with music by Breakmaster Cylinder.

Archived from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/completely-optional-knowledge/id1036859550. Items in this collection are restricted.

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Completely Optional Knowledge
Jan 2, 2018 #CompletelyOptional
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An update on the podcast and some exciting news. Spoiler - the exciting news is a new podcast. Subscribe Now
Completely Optional Knowledge
Dec 26, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Brigitta Green from the perennial winter wonderland of Minnesota has a fitting question for us about ice. After a mysterious, late night howling sound caused “mass slight curiosity” on the streets of St. Paul last winter, she wants to know how it is that a frozen body of water can produce such an eery noise. Chris Polashenski, Arctic researcher and expert on all things cold, has our answer.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Dec 13, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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What's the coolest or weirdest official name for a species of plant or animal? And how do they get those funny sounding Latin names anyway?
Completely Optional Knowledge
Nov 29, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Is a watermelon a vegetable? Biologically it’s logical, but does the answer depend where you live?
Completely Optional Knowledge
Nov 15, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Zookeeper Rick asks why why animals see color differently? Dr. Jay Neitz of the University of Washington Department of Ophthalmology says there is more than one factor that accounts for how animals perceive color. Some plants and animals present vibrant colors we can’t even see and for reasons they don't want us to know.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Nov 1, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Listener Ross Wintle, driving past a cemetery near his home, wonders if animals other than humans have rituals around death? Barbara J King, professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary and the author of How Animals Grieve reports that when it comes to animals and death, you’ve gotta look at elephants. However there are also some interesting reports about magpies, red foxes and dolphins showing some interacting with the dead in their groups. Appropriately in a Day of...
Completely Optional Knowledge
Oct 18, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Listener Matthew Hollingshead, a skateboard enthusiast, asks why it’s so funny to watch people get hurt. We’re not necessarily talking about critical injuries, more like America’s Funniest Home Videos style failures, pain, and embarrassment. Caleb Warren, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Arizona helps us answer this question and feel a little better about finding joy in other people’s “hilarious misery”. If you like Completely Optional Knowledge, help support...
Completely Optional Knowledge
Oct 4, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Hilah Johnson hosts a show about cooking (and, naturally, eating)and she came to us with a very on-brand question. Do animals have eating contests? We spoke to biologist Elise Huchard to get the answer. Check out Hilah's cooking show! Find her on Twitter @hilahcooking.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 20, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Listening to Shohini Ghose talk about what would happen if a human reached light speed in Episode 16, Fred Papon of Australia wanted to know more about her research into quantum teleportation. Ghose reveals that teleportation has already happened, but don’t expect someone on the train with you to disappear after saying “Beam me up Scotty.”
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 6, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Dallas College professor Patrick Moore, seeing his dog Abbey eating her own poo and swallowing dirty socks, wonders how animal tastebuds work. Danielle Reed, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, takes a break from feeding her cat Diet Coke to talk about the chemical properties of taste. Both cheese and sweaty socks smell like isovaleric acid. Dogs being omnivores unconstrained by the social cues that govern human behavior are going to go ahead and see if that sock is food....
Completely Optional Knowledge
Aug 23, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Molly and John Knefel, sister and brother co-hosts of the daily podcast “Radio Dispatch” wonder why siblings become rivals. Naomi White, PhD, of Cambridge University, explores the evolutionary and cultural roots of sibling conflict and finds that working things out with your sister or brother teaches important lessons about life and relationships.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Aug 9, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Inspired by freeze-dried ice cream at Space Camp, podcast producer of 99% Invisible Avery Trufelman wonders what the sun really sounds like setting aside the hokey furnace effect shown in movies. Knowing that no sound waves can travel in the vacuum of space, fellow space camper and Completely Optional Knowledge host Andrew Norton finds a marvelous audible version of satellite data from sonification specialist Robert Alexander who trains heliophysicists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in...
Completely Optional Knowledge
Jul 26, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Breakmaster Cylinder, creator of the Completely Optional Knowledge theme music, wonders if music can be used to trigger specific responses in people. Jessica Grahn of the Music and Neuroscience Lab at Western University explores ways that music can influence people and create personal playlists for happier, healthier lives. For host Andrew Norton, a turkey sandwich might be in his future. Listen to Breakmaster Cylinder at https://breakmastercylinder.bandcamp.com/ and find out more about how...
Completely Optional Knowledge
Jul 12, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Lauren Ober is the host of WAMU's The Big Listen. She wanted to know the answer to a relatively simple question - what is wind? With help from UCLA mathematician Marcus Roper, she got an answer plus something unexpected: the fascinating way mushrooms catch a breeze by making it themselves.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Jun 28, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Jonathan Mehring has photographed all over the world, but there’s one place he hasn’t been yet that he’s dying to learn about: outer space. So we talked to someone who’s spent a whole year in space and taken thousands of photos while he was out there, astronaut Don Pettit. As we learn, even the simplest photography tasks are made difficult when you’re orbiting the Earth in zero gravity. Listen in for Don’s pro-tips on how to capture amazing photos from outer space! Check out Don’s...
Completely Optional Knowledge
Jun 14, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Have you ever seen an ant just … hanging out? Completely Optional Knowledge listener Bryan Fox hasn’t, and it’s getting under his skin. To get Bryan the scoop on whether ants’ seemingly steadfast work ethic is just a facade, we called up biologist Anna Dornhaus. Anna explains to us how ants have evolved into highly specialized roles that keep their colonies running smoothly, and one of those roles is just … hanging out.
Completely Optional Knowledge
May 31, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Who makes the rules in outer space? That’s what Completely Optional Knowledge listener Tim Burberich called in to find out. So we got in touch with space lawyer Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz (dream job alert) who walks us through highly political processes and treaties that allow humans to get along in places like the International Space Station. Houston, we have a treaty.
Completely Optional Knowledge
May 17, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Emily Schorr Lesnick is the co-host of the SoulGlo podcast, a show about how diversity helps humans thrive. Naturally, she wants to find out if diversity in nature helps animals thrive the same way it helps us. Thinking about unlikely animal partnerships might conjure images of kittens riding turtles, or fish and birds joining forces, but researchers Michele Lanan and Mary Jane Epps bring us some suprising (and actually true) examples of ways life in the wild couldn't continue without what...
Completely Optional Knowledge
May 3, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Jessica Abel is working on a new book about Mars (Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars - available in November 2016) - which got her wondering about the most amazing creatures here on earth. Dr. Roberto Guidetti gives us the lowdown on the incredible and nearly invincible animals he studies. For more on Jessica Abel's upcoming book visit: http://jessicaabel.com/books/trish-trash-rollergirl-of-mars/
Completely Optional Knowledge
Apr 19, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Tom Sortodden wants to know what would happen if he went the speed of light. Physicist Shohini Ghose of Wilfrid Laurier University explores the implications of the theory of relativity, abstract art, time and distance and infinite force. Prepare to have your mind blown or a few circuits in your brain shorted.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Apr 5, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Award-winning filmmaker Troy Hale comes to Completely Optional Knowledge to find out which animal has the smelliest farts. Zookeeper Rick of the San Diego Zoo is in the right job to sniff out the answer. He works with 60 different species of animals. “Whether you are in the second grade or in your second retirement, when you hear a rhinoceros fart, you laugh, it’s funny,” he says. Listen and learn about the winds that blow around the animal kingdom. If you are intrigued, you might want to...
Completely Optional Knowledge
Mar 22, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Annie McEwen has great hearing — but she's still only human — so she's wondering what sounds are out there that she's not able to pick up. To find the answer, we spoke to Milton Garces of the University of Hawaii's Infrasound Laboratory. He tells us about the constant din that eludes our futile human ears. Image credit: Flickr user Nickolai Kashirin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nkashirin/)
Completely Optional Knowledge
Mar 15, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Music critic Stacey Anderson has listened to a lot of songs in her time. So many, in fact, that she’s grown a bit bored of human music. Now she’s curious about the famous crooners of the deep blue: whales. We spoke to humpback whale expert Ellen Garland to find out what makes whales sing what they sing.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Mar 1, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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If you give a mouse a vodka tonic, will he even drink it? That’s the question Ben Harrison — host of the Let’s Drink About It podcast — has brought to Completely Optional Knowledge. And who better to give us our answer than Dr. Robert Dudley, UC Berkeley biologist and author of “The Drunken Monkey.” Disclaimer: no wild animals were intoxicated in the making of this podcast (though the same cannot be said for human animals).
Completely Optional Knowledge
Feb 16, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Listener Stephen Rang wants to know how fast he would have to run (or drive, as it turns out) to flee the world’s fastest known insect. We go off to the races with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Chris Goforth, who informs us that this particular insect can reach flying speeds of up to 70 mph — and it’s probably not one you would expect.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Feb 2, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Election season is upon us, and that means choices. If you’re still on the fence about who to vote for, maybe you’d like to take a cue from ants, whose prospective leaders duel with their antennae. We’ve got biologist Clint Penick, PhD on the show to guide us through how strikingly similar animals’ electoral behaviors are to our own.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Jan 19, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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If you could have a head start preparing for an earthquake to hit, wouldn’t you take it? That’s all San Francisco resident Terry Worona wants, and he’s looking to the animal kingdom to get it. To find out if his theory holds up, we talked to Dr. Rachel Grant, whose research examines how animals’ special “sensitivities” help them stay in tune with changes in the natural world.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Jan 5, 2016 #CompletelyOptional
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Swimmer Veronica Simmonds wants to know what happens when you take aquatic adventure to the extreme. So we called up ‘aquanaut’ — that’s like an astronaut but under the sea — Jessica Fain, who holds the record for longest time spent living underwater at 73 days.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Dec 8, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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Dr. David Kirby, author of "Lab Coats in Hollywood," digs into that fine line between sublime fantasy and falling flat at the movies. So, what irks scientists at the cinema? Comically rapid evolution, the time-space continuum, animal stereotypes, and pretty much everything else.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Nov 24, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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Sloths don't really "do" a lot, and yet they've managed to win our hearts time and again. Admitted sloth enthusiast Brooke Ziebell wants to know what's behind the emotions these cute critters manage to conjure. Yale's Oriana Aragon, an expert on human emotions, has our answer.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 14, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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New Yorker Alex Kapelman has never seen a tornado, and he’s curious: what do they smell like? With more than 20 years of storm chasing under his belt, extreme weather documentarian Warren Faidley has our answer. And no—he didn’t have to enter the eye of the storm to get it.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 14, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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Brigitta Green from the perennial winter wonderland of Minnesota has a fitting question for us about ice. After a mysterious, late night howling sound caused “mass slight curiosity” on the streets of St. Paul last winter, she wants to know how it is that a frozen body of water can produce such an eery noise. Chris Polashenski, Arctic researcher and expert on all things cold, has our answer.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 12, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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Space camp alumnus Avery Trufelman from Oakland, California wants to know what the sun sounds like, and so do we! NASA sound and space expert Robert Alexander has our answer, delivered through the wondrous technology of sonification.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 11, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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Vancouver meteorologist Kristi Gordon had a not so fortunate on-air experience with an arachnid guest descending on her from above, so she asked us to find out where this “raining spider” came from. Australian naturalist Martyn Robinson explains that this phenomenon isn’t actually as far-fetched as it sounds.
Completely Optional Knowledge
Sep 10, 2015 #CompletelyOptional
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On a recent vacation to Costa Rica, Indianapolis, Indiana nurse Amy Gastelum did what we all would if given the chance: she touched a touch-me-not plant. Now, she wants to know why the plant recoiled at her touch. Evolutionary ecologist Monica Galiano has our answer.