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I’m working on something big. I promise.

In the meantime, I have two diversions for you.  One is my gig-of-not-much-prior-notice at the Beetle Bar tonight. The second, is a trip to the edge of space with James May.

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Marly Marl – Droppin’ Science

I admit I’m surprised by this, given the high standards I hold my homeland to, but I suppose I shouldn’t expect so much of the 16 to 18 year old set regardless of the locale. A Canadian survey recently found that only 4% of Canadian teens see science as ‘cool’ – which leads me to ruminate upon the sorry state of science PR when you can’t fucking make robots and lasers and spacecraft appealing to youth. Seriously. You know, robots. Robots! Dinosaurs, too!

The same survey found that only 37% of these students were considering post-secondary study in a science course. This badass infographic tells me that that’s comparable with China’s current crop of university students, where enrollment in science and engineering is just over 40%, so I don’t think that’s actually too bad a figure. Not when you compare it to the USA’s unsurprising and paltry sub-15% of enrollments in those degrees.

Across the Pacific, a recent poll found – in total disregard for national stereotypes – that Australians are more interested in science than sport (although, I dare you to prove that during prime-time in football season).  All this despite the presence of this anti-reason douchebag as a prominent public figure and both state and federal governments intent on funding the exact opposite of science education.

I don’t know what conclusion to draw from all this. All I know is that a basic understanding of science is going to become more and more essential for every member of society, as the problems we face will grow more and more complex and require more knowledge to understand. It’s especially damning if our only science graduates are reclusive antisocials and all the cool kids run off to do law and economics, because science desperately needs to be communicated (and communicated well) in order to be accepted and understood.

We’ve already seen examples of what happens when scientific illiteracy reigns: Americans with their bizarre restrictions on stem cell research; Europeans with their paranoid aversion to GM crops; drought-stricken cities voting down recycled water; the continuing spread of HIV across Africa courtesy of false wisdom bestowed upon us by the king of all douchebags; and the myriad of horrible things done by witch doctors, exorcists and homeopaths across the globe. It’s not so bad now, but when a frighteningly large percentage of people don’t even know how long it takes the Sun to go around the Earth, what completely avoidable problem will we march willingly into next?

I’ll get around to the children’s edition of ‘Make Yourself a Scientist’… soonish.

Some bits and bobs (space-bits and space-bobs included as well, of course) today:

That’s from an awesome blog I accidentally found, Geek Art. Nice stuff here. Very nice stuff. Go, go now.

Check these mad videos I found there:

I recently gave my dad the following advice about web browsers. For your own safety on the web as much as everyone else’s, give the following some consideration.

It’s important for the health of the internet as a whole to have users on a variety of web browsers out in the wild – it cuts into criminals’ profit margins to craft virii* and exploits that target multiple browsers.  That being said, IE has a lot of unbeatable  compatibility advantages, so I recommend using IE for safe browsing like web banking, your corporate intranet, government sites, etc. and another browser (any other browser, as long as it’s not IE: Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Camino) for run-of-the-mill surfing and visiting new sites.

* Yes, I know it’s ‘viruses’ these days, but I enjoyed the eccentricities of Latin words in English that we had last century. It’s not often I’m the crazy old guy clinging to the past.


My new FaceBook avatar. Yes, I’m a dork

Okay, the rant (a topic I’ve hit on before, but damn is the sequel a good one):

Dear lady at the pharmacy who tried to sell Atomique on homeopathic remedies because ‘this one time there was this cat who got hit by a car and I gave it something homeopathic because I couldn’t think of anything else to do and then when the cat got to the vet the vet said he was amazed that the cat hadn’t gone into shock and so it must have been the homeopathy that did it therefore homeopathy works’.

Listen, lady at the pharmacy: that story about one cat is a very very very poor sample size to back any statement of efficacy of your magic potions. Statistically speaking, I’m sure that one out of every such-and-such number of similar accidents involving cats results in the cat ‘surprisingly’ not entering shock. In clinical trials (and other, not so clinical events), homeopathic remedies DO NOTHING. Medical studies require a certain amount of test subjects to ensure a significant number of results in order to determine what effects a substance has. Not one thorough study, ever, has produced any observation that indicates homeopathic remedies do anything at all.

Not only that, but the underlying mechanism you claim is at work in your snake oil, that water has some kind of supernatural ability to remember the things that used to be in it, is not possible according to the laws of the universe that every single person who studies the way the universe works has come to agree to as the best model to describe how reality works. Homeopathy was imagined by some crazy dickface who foisted it as a miracle remedy on the uneducated public (the same knuckleheads who thought bloodletting was the best way to help the ill) of the late 1700s  – without rigorous testing to see if it actually did anything, an ultimate act of ass-hattery. His fraudulent douchebag followers insist to this day that it has value, despite volumes of scientific discoveries that make its underlying principle laughably retarded.

This is not some elaborate conspiracy to keep you from padding your coffers healing the poor by selling them expensive vials of water, it’s many people in many countries of various cultures all making the same observations and drawing the same conclusion about what those observations mean.

Please stop behaving like what you’re talking about is real, makes sense, or can be conceived of as truthful by anyone capable of reason. If you’re ignorant of the truth behind homeopathy, shame on you for pretending to be knowledgeable so as to try and convince a stranger to part with their money for nothing (Atomique, a clever bear, tells me she tactfully laughed her way out of this laughable situation without incident); if you’re a charlatan knowingly fleecing your fellow humans, go fuck yourself.

One of the coolest things about Australian elections is that you don’t throw your vote away pitching your lot in with a minor party.  You order the candidates as you prefer; once the votes are tallied, if no candidate has 50% of the vote then everyone who voted for the least-voted-for candidate has all of their second preference votes cast, and so on until the magic 50% mark is hit.

Mathematical!

One of the lamest things about Australian elections is having to number all of the senate candidates for your state in order of preference.  Last time out I had sixty-odd names to order and boned my ballot paper twice because I was being very clever about putting the nutjobs at the bottom, the anti-bozos at the top and was working my way from both sides towards the middle when I hit numeric snags in the shape of duplicates. You can, of course, just pick one party and use their preferences (known as ‘voting above the line’) but then you’re kind of throwing your democratic rights out the window.

This time around, I’m prepared!  There are two websites which let you use a web interface to order the candidates at your leisure and print out a guide to take to the polling booth with you.

http://belowtheline.cc/

http://www.belowtheline.org.au/

Now there’s no reason to not do things the hard way. Use these tools to lodge a proper protest vote and tell the big parties they all stink! Or don’t – that’s the beauty of democracy.

Oh, speaking of elections:

Arcadia (AKA Duran Duran) – Election Day

With the Australian federal elections coming up, everyone might have to endure a bit of tunnelvision on my behalf until the whole thing is over (apologies to those of you elsewhere). Fellow Australians who value my company, you’d better hope that the crypto-fascist otherwise known as Tony Abbott doesn’t get in, otherwise I’m moving to Sweden.

I think the Internet is starting to shape the election landscape in Australia. I’m going to use that clever little revelation of mine to kick off a discussion of the technology, then selfishly segué into an assassination of a party I despise.

Enough people now see the internet as a valid broadcast medium; it’s a cheap and massively accessible medium at that. This is helping some of the fringe parties flourish as disillusioned voters gain access to information about options other than the big two (or the Greens). As far as I can tell, the big parties have ceased working to advance society and improve our standard of living – they are essentially massive self-serving corporate entities whose job it is is to see themselves re-elected again and again.

On Monday two of the smaller parties, riding this new wave of voter enlightenment, were offered a chance to participate in an informal debate on Channel 7’s morning show, Sunrise. The Australian Sex Party, a civil liberties party, and Family First, an uber-conservative religious party, went head-to-head in a debate that was a gazillion times more interesting than the ‘proper’ debate between Labor and the Liberals. Fiona Patten, leader of the Sex Party, embarrassed the pants off Family First’s Queensland senate hopeful Wendy Francis. During the debate, Fiona was level-headed, well spoken, brought real facts to the table and explained her party’s well thought-out platform; Wendy francis, on the other hand, had little more than schoolyard insults, poor manners and an amazingly large bag of ignorance at her side.

This is the point at which I shift gears from mostly level-headed discourse to spout vulgarities as I dissect some of the finer moments of the debate. I’m probably going to offend someone, but as they say: you gotta break a few eggs to make a Rigellian star-condor omelette.

Warning: I’m not going to be kind, now. I am going to drop some poingant science at the end of this post, though, so read on.

Viper Pilot’s Sex Party vs Family First debate notes and highlights:

The debate begins with Wendy Francis bangs on about taking ‘sex’ off certain billboards (to those of you outside Oz, this relates specifically to a company providing erectile disfunction treatment which was told to take down billboards that had the words ‘Want longer lasting sex?’ and nothing else other than contact details on them), because she’s embarrassed about having to have serious conversations with her children.

I can just see Wendy now, in the passenger seat of the minivan (because husband won’t let her drive if he’s in the car, I presume), cowed into catatonic fright when her darling children ask what ‘sex’ means. Either that or she’s got secret Tourette’s, and she worries constantly that she’ll yell “DADDY RAMS COCK INTO MOMMY’S VAJAYJAY.” to her children some day. Seriously, there are ways to handle that conversation without anyone being sexualized, tormented or grossed out.

Dear Wendy: Just because you’re too much of a simple-minded cow to field the answer like a good parent would does not make censorship okay.

Fiona, on the same issue: “That’s part of a free society: we all don’t have to agree with everything that’s out there.” She’s awesome.

Wendy then, completely off-topic, hijacks the proceedings and accuses The Sex Party of being an arm of the adult entertainment industry. First up, Wendy shows a lack of politeness and respect in the interruption, but she also displays how reactionary her and her kind are that she’d made her mind up about the party based solely on one word. Dear Wendy: ‘civil liberties party’ does not equal ‘dirty nasty sex tape lobby’, you stupid bowl of dick.

The next topic they hit is a royal commission into child abuse in the church. Not surprisingly, Wendy stumbles at a response to that. Grabbing at straws, she agrees that it’s a good idea on the grounds that the inquiry be extended to the sex industry as well. Fiona, calm in the face of the complete loon she’s facing, brings out statistics (something that Wendy, no doubt, has trouble understanding because of all the numbers): 1000 cases of child abuse in the church, while not one in the sex industry. Dear Wendy: do some research before appearing on national TV. Seriously, you should have learned how to look shit up in grade school, assuming whatever Church-run institution you attended valued the ability of girls to learn things other than cooking and sewing.

The next highlight for me is Fiona laying down her patronising voice on the mental midget she’s facing off against: “Child pornography is already illegal, Wendy.” Fiona scores points for resisting the urge to tack a bit of ‘Duuuuuuh’ in there.

Okay, more explanation for the out of towners, this time on the internet filter. The current Australian government is planning on creating a secret blacklist of sites that will be filtered out at the ISP level, and the government plans on keeping the blacklist’s contents secret. Wendy, again, shows how poorly equipped she is to contest an election or drive policy (let alone drive the microbus ferrying the corpses that vote for her party from the retirement village to the polling station), by requiring that Fiona explain to her the government’s proposed policy ON FUCKING AIR. Holy shit!

Holy shit!

It was a pretty simple plan, but Channel 7 did well in both choosing two parties so diametrically opposed and then delivering them topics guaranteed to start a fight. Next up: gay marriage!

“Why would we change something that’s been around forever?” asks Wendy, bleating out once again some words likely placed in her brain by her handlers. Sweet motherfucking monkeys, I wonder what Wendy thinks about abolishing slavery? If you ask Wikipedia, both marriage and slavery predate written history. That’s a metric assload of years ago. Then, one day, someone  had a think about it and decided that it maybe wasn’t quite so hot for some humans to not have the same basic rights as the rest of us. And then, shock horror, we changed something that had been around forever.

The more I think about it, I think this means that Wendy actually may be pro-slavery, since ‘keeping things they way they were’ is as far as I can tell a very core (some would say obsessively so) value for her.

Fiona again kicks some ass, deflecting yet another attack at the ‘clandestine high council of pornographers’ that are secretly running her party: <speaking to a child voice> ‘Wendy, the adult industry has no interest in marriage.” </speaking to a child>

I can’t even begin to describe how befuddled Wendy was at the idea of separating, for the purposes of taxation, charitable work done by churches and non-charitable work done by churches. Either she couldn’t figure out a way to come up with an intelligent response and so turtled, or she was genuinely too dim to understand the concept despite several attempts by Fiona to describe the process in small and easy to understand words.

Wendy, proudly: “I think it’s a free society”. Erk, do you? What? You’ve failed to advertise any notion that you value individual freedom so far, and don’t look like you’re going to do so anytime soon. Are you paying attention to what you’re saying? I suspect you’re not. Just a guess, but I suspect you haven’t the CPU cycles to multitask both saying things and thinking about the things you’re saying. Just a guess, though.

Last comment, this time on preferences (Outside Australia? You’re on your own to go Google how elections here work here because it’s a lot to absorb): Family First put the ultra-racist One Nation party and the imaginatively named The Climate Skeptics above Labor and the Greens as well as the Sex Party. Fucked up.

I hardly suspect that many, if any, of the people who stumble upon this blog are would-be Family First voters. In case, somehow, you are, or you’re considering it, and you somehow also made it to the bottom of this dispatch, consider these closing thoughts:

If Wendy Patton is the best that family First can muster to represent them, you ought really be afraid of that pack of medieval fuckwads. On national TV, she had no qualms about fabricating claims, she brazenly lied on multiple occasions, she was rude throughout the debate and more than once displayed a complete ignorance of topics she needs to be aware of to represent her electorate. It’s not like Channel 7 blindsided her with the questions: they’re all big ticket items that have been in the news leading up to the election or, even worse, are priorities in her own party’s platform!

The question is, does anyone really want someone who is going to lie, concoct statements based on conjecture, wallow in ignorance on important issues and who demonstrates a lack of decency and social graces by yelling and interrupting – all on national TV no less – to be the person elected as their mouthpiece, their representative, their stand-in to direct the government on their behalf? If she’s like this with the cameras running, what’s she like in private?

The fact that she was selected by her party to be their face to so many people, and must therefore be vaguely something like an examplar for them, displays what a truly horrible sample of humanity she and her friends are.

Did you just say home-made 8-bit synthesizer? Yes you did? Win!

Hey there, if you buy a 3D TV, you’re only encouraging them to develop more retarded innovations in home theatre that nobody really needs.

A Pack of Losers
Super-Loser Home Fun Time, Now With Gay Dolphins

What do I want? What should we all have? I’ll tell you what, it’s not some retarded 3D TV that I have to wear fucking goggles to watch. Even worse, I wear the dumbass goggles and my reward is a magic dolphin in my living room? Fail, electronics giants. Fail.

What do I want in the TV of the future? I want a TV so thin and cheap I can use it for wallpaper! You’re wasting valuable R&D time on GOGGLES. Fuck, did I say TV of the future? I should have this shit before the end of the decade!

The Future
Here’s What 2019 is Supposed to Look Like

I want a goddamned flying car, not a 3D TV. Stop inventing crap I don’t want and then marketing the shit out of it to try and tell me I do want it. It’s not going to work. Seriously, it’s bad enough that the dental hygiene industry invents a new threat every six months to make me buy sonic floss or a new plaque scraper for the roof of my mouth, and their products cost a fraction of the cost of a 3D TV.

Put down the goggles and back away. Trust me.

If the video seems dry, just hang on ’till the 1:20 mark. I swear, your mind will be subjected to a powerfully strange new reality.

I watched Tron on the weekend. Good gravy, that movie still hauls ass. Yeah, the real-world fashion is pretty tragic, but the film is from that strange time between the end of the 70s and before the 80s really turned into the hideous monster that it became by ’85, after all. The art design is still, 30 years on, mindblowing. Lightcycles, vast city-like datascapes, freaky neon costuming and thoroughly imaginative set design (the command centre of a recognizer? ZOMG).

And, of course, Wendy Carlos’ visionary soundtrack.  And thus I segue clumsily to today’s actual subject…

Data visualisation is awesome. Data visualisation about musical artists and the labyrinthine interconnections between them is, as it turns out, kind of neat.

Flared Music lets you plug in an artist’s name and then you can sit back and watch the web of collaborations and production tie-ins unravel before your eyes. It pulls data from the BBC’s Musicbrainz database and renders it onscreen.  It doesn’t take too much clicking around to end up with a giant, glorious tangle of names.

Wendy Carlos’ web above doesn’t appear that full.  Wendy must have been something of a loner; plug in, say, Jean-Jacques Perrey, who’s been recording music for just as long as Carlos and you get a constantly-growing screen full of wow.

In fact, it gets me a lot more than that – I captured that image early on in the generation of the Perrey-web.  The guy’s been recording music (and collaborating on music!) for a long time, and if you let it go the sprawling mass of connections gets effing massive.

Anyhow, go have a play. I had thought of something else clever to say, but the older child made me forget when he ran around the house with a box on his head, shouting “Tycho-robot!”

More flash game awesomeness this morning.  Record Tripping is a short (I finished all five levels in 5:45) yet incredibly clever game, which combines engaging visual design with a well-curated soundtrack and a unique use of the input device.  The gameplay is all done via one mouse button and the scrollwheel, controlling the speed and rotational direction of an on-screen device like a barrel, windmill or conveyor belt – which also ‘scratches’ the game’s vocal sample (an audiobook reading of Alice in Wonderland) over the backing track.

Go play now!

Viper Pilot Audio

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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