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N.A.S.A are a DJ collective who have just released their first album, The Spirit of Apollo. The album features over 30 guest collaborators, among whom you’ll find the likes of Chuck D., David Byrne, DJ Q-Bert, Karen O. (from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Kool Keith, Tom Waits, Method Man, George Clinton, Lykke Li and on and on and on. Huh, I’m not quite sure why I said ‘the likes of’ since there’s not much alike going on in that roll-call.

Unfortunately, in this case, N.A.S.A. stands for North America / South America rather than anything astronautical. Fortunately, I think we’ll all agree that both George Clinton and Kool Keith are quite obviously from outer space.

There are six tracks up on NASA’s Myspace page and more yet on their Youtube channel, all of which are bombs dropped on us from low-earth orbit.  There’s a mighty amount of genre-bending going on here – Brazilian funk, hip-hop, Swedish folk-pop, regular funk, big beat, electro – all blended exquisitely. As soon as this album makes its way to the distant tillium-mining colony of Oz I’m grabbing a copy.

N.A.S.A. (feat. David Byrne, Chuck D, Ras Congo, Seu Jorge, & Z-Trip) – Money
(bonus points for André the Giant Stencils in the video)

N.A.S.A. (feat. Tom Waits & Kool Keith) – Spacious Thoughts
(Not the official video, but seriously, Tom Waits & Kool Keith? ZOMG!)

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Mistabishi‘s track Printer Jam is all about the squishy place where technology becomes music.

Enjoy.

At ease, cadets.

Well, Viper Pilot is busy working on something big (to which you’ll all be indoctrinated soon enough), but I’m taking a break from the project to catch up on some comments from my last post.

Fred asked:

Are there any examples of evolution being observed that are not slight morphological changes?

Off the top of my head, I can point to one example that everyone ought to be able to relate to: the Persian cat.  It’s a purr-fect (har har) example of natural selection in action. That being said, it doesn’t explain the whole of the concept as natural selection is only part of the equation – but it certainly gets us looking in the right direction.

The above article and images are from the September 1908 edition of Country Life in America (if that title doesn’t sound like a ho-down in your pants, there’s something wrong with you).

PersianCompare those Persian cats with the monstrosity over to your right: the modern Persian cat. In only one-hundred years of meddling by humans, choosing which cats to breed with others, in order to promote certain traits (in nature, how useful traits are at keeping an individual alive until breeding age determines what traits are promoted) has resulted in a very noticeable change to the physical form of the animal.

(Off the record, I consider anyone who breeds pure strains of these poor creatures a total bowl of dick. In their quest for an aesthetic form, breeders have created a line of cats that can’t clean themselves, suffer a build-up of eye-goo that needs to be cleaned daily by their owner, and are plagued by severe respiratory problems due to the unnatural shape of their nostrils and sinuses. Persian fancier? Prepare for a fistful of Viper Pilot.)

Hang on, VP, dude said ‘other than slight morpholigcal changes‘.  Fair enough – the cat was an example of what can be done in a mere century or so.

Staying with the natural breeding theme, inspect the contents of your refrigerator’s crisper. Most of the vegetables in there bear no more than a passing resemblance to what our ancestors were eating a few thousand years ago.  Carrots have been bred to that familiar bright orange (I presume for Industrial Revolution-era marketing purposes). Wild bananas are full of seeds! Heck, a lot of vegetables and fruits are supposed to be full of seeds!  But, through plant breeding techniques, we’ve removed the fruit’s role as a method of propagating the species. We’re changing the function of the fruit, ergo it’s more than a morphological change.

The evolutionary process is, necessarily, a slower process the longer the life-cycle is of the organism in question.  A species that only has five generations in a century (say, us) isn’t going to generate as many mutations as something that has five generations in a day (say, a virus).  At this point I should menntion that the all-mighty Smarty Pants chimed in with a comment on my last post, directing us to look at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-misconceptions.html for more info on evolutionary theory – following a link from that page takes you to an FAQ about observed speciation, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s both dreadfully boring and all about plants and insects (who have short life-cycles).

Continuing where we left off, this means that our observations of evolution in larger creatures is based on observation of the living animals and what we find in the fossil record.  Or, if you’re Darwin, you’ve got a keen eye and you pick up on variations between living, but separate populations.

Darwin found during his visit to the Galapapos islands that the islands had very little reptilian and mammalian life. The overwhelming population of the islands was avians and insects. This intrigued him, because if all the creatures of the world had been placed by the hand of the creator, why were the population figures so skewed here?  Surely if it was that life had been placed, the distribution ought to be the same here as on the rest of the planet.  He reasoned that the existing life on the islands was there because it had migrated there from South America.  In fact, there were mockingbirds on the Galapagos islands that were similar to the mockingbirds of South America, but with slight changes. Even more curiously, the mockingbirds were different on the various islands of the chain. Each island’s mockingbird species had evolved to suit the particular environment of the island they were on!

“Hey, let’s get back to this evolution in action thing, coach.” Fine, I admit it’s been something of a meandering (yet full of infotainment!) ride to this point, but I promise now that I’ll answer quite directly Fred’s question about observing evolution in action.

In late 2002, the world was hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic. The SARS virus caused a severe and potentially fatal pneumonia. The disease quickly spread from China to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Canada.  By early 2003 teams of scientists around the globe collaborated to complete the full genetic sequencing of the genome of the virus that causes SARS. With that data, they were able to determine the evolutionary origins of the virus and identify it as a new coronavirus. As coronavirii were known entities, valuable time was saved and work was able to be commenced immediately on developing tests for the presence of the virus and on a vaccine.

It doesn’t stop there. Evolutionary theory is being used to fight cancer, beat AIDS, and keep up in the arms race against every bug, disease and pest that evolves immunity to the drugs and pesticides we use to control them. There are more, but I’m tired and out of practice writing an article this long.

On that note, I’m going to wrap things up in spectacular fashion atop a much bigger soapbox than that rickety old crate that hosted the Persian-fancier tirade.

I don’t give a rat’s ass what thoughts you harbour within your head. That’s your headspace, and no-one has a right to impede, penetrate or direct what goes on in there. But if you truly care about your fellow human beings, you must insist that evolution be taught alone in science class, because evolutionary theory is saving lives right now, every day. To deny any future doctor, biologist or scientist the knowledge of a tool that uses observations of the world to heal and help humanity is beyond immoral. To put any one religion’s creation myth in the same space as evolution is retarding human advancement every day.

Ooh, a dinosaur with feathers. Surely that’s far more frightening than my creationism in schools rant.

After all that, I find that Wired Magazine has an article with 12 elegant examples of evolution (although I’d call it 11 examples, since the one about the moray eel’s second set of jaws doesn’t really seem to present any evidence of evolution in action, despite being TOTALLY AWESOME!) with way more pretty pictures than the ones I’ve stolen for this article.

Well, that there was some heavy shit. I promise less length and a bit more frivolity next time, class. Now go hit those flight sim pods!

Five Star Friday

This Thursday is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth (and later this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species).  There are Darwin Day events going on all across the world, to ‘Celebrate Darwin, Science and Humanity and come together as one human family in appreciation of verifiable knowledge that has been acquired solely through human curiosity and ingenuity’.  Okay, that’s a bit wordy, but those are the Darwin Day website’s words, not mine.

Here in Brisvegas, the Queensland Skeptics are showing the evolution vs intelligent design documentary Flock of Dodos at the Irish Club in the city on the 12th at 19:00.  That’s a bit late for our tiny mammal, so Atomique and I are going to miss out – but that’s a small price to pay for taking part personally in the evolutionary process.

Trailer for Flock of Dodos

hands

Björk – It’s In Our Hands

Art: Shane Willis

Ahhh, the march of technology.

Y’know, all things considered, this is probably the least cool thing I can think of when I see the words ‘digital’ and ‘conversion’ side by side. If  only this were about the digital conversion of dogs or children. Sign up now at your local government office!

Hmm, speaking of digital conversions of living matter:

Ahhh… dodgy University science communication.  Watched this with Atomique over the weekend and she picked this in the first five seconds as being such – and, lo and behold, it turned out to be  a production of the California Institute of Technology. Still, pretty pictures (and SCIENCE!), though.

I’ve made Atomique promise to me that she’ll consult me on soundtrack choice when she inevitably ends up producing one of these.

For more info on the Spitzer Space Telescope, check out the Hidden Universe website at CalTech.

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Looking for music by Viper Pilot? This blog is the current home of Viper Pilot's Munition Works, where he stores all of his mashes and mixes.

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