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Saturday, September 28, 2013

OWL Magazine and Dr. Zed Memories

This is the last Saturday in September, and I'm thinking to myself...where the heck did this month go? I mean, I know September only has thirty days to begin with, but it seems to me that this month went by quickly.

Then again, as I get older, every month seems to go very quickly. The joys of aging. Gotta love it.

Anyway, if you've been following along with this blog over the last couple of months, you know that the fourth Saturday in the month is devoted towards print publications and books.

And for today's subject, I thought that I would take a look at a magazine that I used to read in my youth.

I have a story to tell you though before I continue on with this topic.

I'll be honest with you. Science has never ever been my strong point. In high school alone, I never bothered taking biology, I had some difficulty with chemistry class, and physics gave me such a major headache that I ended up dropping the class after nineteen days. I mean, the good thing about it was that I never once received an “F” grade in high school, but the bad thing was that I graduated high school without ever having a keen understanding of science related subjects.

It wasn't the fact that I absolutely hated science. I thought that science was very interesting. And as someone who absolutely loved learning, I really did want to grasp the concepts, and I really did want to get more out of it. Instead I left science class feeling more confused than ever before, and I was thinking that I was a complete idiot because there was no way that I would ever understand scientific concepts. It's the reason why I never followed through to be an electrical engineer, a physicist, a surgeon, or even the guy who installs disco lights inside of music clubs.

Now, I know that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses in this world, and I know that there is always one thing that try as we might, we will never be good at. For me, it happens to be the maths and sciences. But was it really because I was stupid, or was it because I wasn't taught it the right way?

In all the years that I had science class, I only remember one or two teachers who actually made science class fun. My theory was that the more interesting the class was, the more I took out of it. My grade eleven chemistry teacher was one of those teachers who made learning fun. Even though I could not understand the mathematics behind balancing chemical equations (which lead to my lower than average mark in the subject), I was a master at doing lab reports. And I will say that the lab experiments that we performed in chemistry class were quite a lot of fun. I think I got more out of doing the experiments rather than reading about them in a textbook.

Similarly, when I was in elementary school, we had the team known as ScienceQuest come in and demonstrate lots of fun experiments. We even got to take part in some of the experiments ourselves, which included everything from building the perfect building to making our own slime, to watching homemade pyrotechnics right inside the classroom.

Really, the only thing I didn't like about the ScienceQuest days were the experiments involving popping balloons because of the loudness of the pop. Needless to say, hydrogen makes a bigger bang than oxygen. And, yes, the kids in my school cruelly taunted me about that little fear for years to come.

Here's a note to some of those lovely sixth graders who harassed me by trying to pop balloons in my face at recess. I still want an apology. I'm not likely to get it, but I'm just putting it out there.

Oh, and then there was that time in which I was chosen to attend a workshop for environmental protection and education for a couple of days while I was in the fourth grade. I believe that it was known as the “Catch-A-Star” program. I was only one of six students who were chosen to attend the program, so it was truly an honour to represent the school in that manner.

Basically the program took students between the ages of nine and twelve and enrolled them in a series of activities that helped us learn more about how we could protect and preserve our environment (for reference, I want to state that my fourth grade year was from September 1990 to June 1991, which is right around the time when Earth Day was experiencing a renaissance of sorts). In fact, I actually remember when I went to the program because I was just about to turn ten, putting the Catch-A-Star event taking place in May 1991.

We actually got to choose four activities from a list of what seemed like two dozen. And each program was run by an expert in the field. Even though it's been twenty-two years since fourth grade, I still remember the activities I took part in. I designed my own T-shirt using earth-friendly fabric paints. I played a bunch of outdoor games where we learned more about the environment and animal habitats. And, for some reason, I decided to sign up for the course where we made our own compost. It was fun, but I have to admit that I wished I had selected a cleaner option.

And then there was program number four. A meet and greet with a man by the name of Gordon Penrose. But most of us kids knew him best as Dr. Zed, the creator of Magic Mud and other science experiments. He was basically an older, Canadian version of Bill Nye, the Science Guy. He wrote dozens of science experiment books (some of which I remember performing as a kid), and at the age of nearly ten, he was the closest version of a celebrity that I recall meeting in my young life. He knew what he was talking about, he made learning about science fun, and I have to admit that I completely idolized him. I even remember that he did ask me if I wanted to go up and touch the Magic Mud he made while he was there, but I refused. Many of the kids looked at me as if I was crazy for giving up an opportunity like that, but the truth was that if I played with the Magic Mud, I would have to leave the room for a few minutes to wash up, and I did not want to miss a single minute of seeing Dr. Zed performing his science experiments.

And everyone who ever read the magazine in which Dr. Zed would have a monthly column knew exactly who he was. I certainly loved the magazine enough to have a subscription to the magazine for almost six years.

(Part of me kind of wishes that I had stayed subscribed to that magazine through high school though. It may have made me understand the science concepts more!)

That magazine is a magazine that is known as “OWL Magazine”, a magazine which has been in print for nearly thirty-eight years, and the subject of this blog.

Now, OWL Magazine back in the days when I first started reading it (I actually won a free subscription to the magazine in December 1989 as part of a Christmas giveaway and kept renewing my subscription every year until 1995), was printed ten times a year. But the very first issue of OWL Magazine was printed all the way back in January 1976! Here's the cover of the debut issue below.

The mascot of OWL Magazine is of course, an owl. But the magazine itself is not about just owls. In fact, I didn't know this until just recently, but the letters in the word “OWL” actually stand for “Outdoors” and Wild Life”. Get it? OWL!

That's because when the magazine first started, it focused solely on wildlife, animals, and outdoor science. The bulk of the magazine featured articles on exotic and endangered animals, areas of the world that had beautiful scenery, and lots of puzzles and games about the various subjects that were featured in that month's magazine. As time progressed, the magazine became more science based, incorporating biology, zoology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and geography into the pages of the magazine. There were also various jokes inserted into the magazine, as well as monthly features.

Among the monthly features were of course, Dr. Zed's wonderful science experiments. The formula for magic mud was inside one of the magazines, of course. But there were other experiments that I can remember. You could use a solution of soap to build your own bubble cities, or you could use an eyedropper filled with water to break down all of the different colours of ink that make up a black marker. In fact, there was an experiment in OWL Magazine where you could make your own organic ketchup! I never did get around to trying that recipe out, but it looked very intriguing!

Oh, for the record, if you want to try and make magic mud for yourselves, guess who found the recipe for magic mud! It's so simple to make. All you need is cornstarch, water, a couple of mixing bowls, spoons, and small measuring containers. All you have to do is mix the right ratio of cornstarch and water (two parts cornstarch to one part water), and maybe add in a little bit of food colouring for colour, and voila!

Of course, Dr. Zed's experiments weren't the only selling points for OWL Magazine.

The Mighty Mites were also a huge part of the magazine. The original series featured three kids named Mark, Nick, and Sophie who had the ability to shrink down in size to investigate things a lot closer. They got to ride around on bugs, they got to wade through jungles of green grass, and in one memorable story, the three kids actually shrunk down in size and swam through a plant stem to answer the question of how flowers stayed alive inside a vase of water. It was really cool to see the kids experience science in a way that most nobody else could.

But then I saw “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”, and thought to myself that maybe shrinking down to experience the world wasn't such a great idea.

Another thing that I remember was the “End of Year” issues. Those issues would always have a cover date of January, and they would essentially be a recap of the past year, or it would be a special themed issue. Sometimes these issues would be devoted towards questions that were asked by OWL Magazine club members (known affectionately as the HOOT Club), and a team of scientists and experts would answer some of these questions within the pages of the magazine. Some of these issues would do an entire feature on a particular animal, and there would be a lot of activities based around this animal.

And, for some reason, I recall the January 1990 issue vividly. It was a retrospective of the decade known as the 1980s, as well as featuring predictions as to what life would be like in the 1990s. I actually still wish I had that issue, because it really was interesting to note what predictions people made back in 1990, and whether or not any of those predictions actually came true.

Some of them absolutely did. Many readers in 1990 believed that the world would become more technologically accessible. Certainly with the amounts of tablets, smart phones, laptops, and Skype, we're more connected (and in some cases, disconnected) to each other than ever before. I know that in 1990, I never expected that I would have a blog by 2013, but here we are!

Some predictions have not come true as of yet, but work is being done to make them come true as I type this out. In 1990, for instance, many people believed that AIDS would be a thing of the past by the time we reached the 21st century. While there's technically no cure for the virus right now, there have been cases of people who have lived full and productive lives since getting diagnosed as being HIV positive. Medical research and technology has improved the quality of life for people who have the virus, and I wouldn't be surprised if a full cure can be found within the next twenty-five or fifty years.

OWL Magazine celebrated their 35th anniversary in January 2011, and as of 2013 shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, two other spin-off magazines, “Chickadee” and “Chirp” were founded in 1979 and 1997 respectively following the success of OWL Magazine. Chickadee and Chirp are sort of like OWL Magazine except the target audience was directed towards a younger crowd (between the ages of three and nine).

And, the magazine was so successful that in 1985, a television series named “OWL-TV” was aired on both CBC and CTV, as well as a French-language version known as “Tele-HIBOU”. You can watch the intro below.

You know, it's been years since I read OWL Magazine, but if I am ever lucky enough to have children of my own, I would completely introduce them to this magazine. After nearly thirty-eight years in publication, it's outlasted other competing magazines for a reason. It's educational and fun! What better combo is there?

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