Sunday, 31 January 2010

Kids Can Press: "Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be"

available via

Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be is a straight-ahead introduction to the fact of evolution, to its mechanisms, and to the misunderstandings that surround it. The book aims to explain how evolution works ??? and how we know for a fact that it happens. It is suitable for readers aged 8 ??? 13.

There are many fine kids books about evolution, but this one is distinguished by its skeptical pedigree. While laying out the evidence for evolution, this book also takes a critical look at common objections to evolutionary theory. Those pseudoscientific notions (???Isn???t there a dinosaur still alive in Africa someplace? Doesn???t that mean evolution didn???t happen????) are major barriers to understanding for many people. Luckily, getting to the bottom of those sorts of questions is what skeptics do.

The writing is as clear as I can possibly make it ??? and then some. Nothing teaches you to strip out ambiguity and jargon like writing for kids.

the new book just out by Junior Skeptic columnist Daniel Loxton, this one goes out to that teacher who told Kaelin he couldn't do his science fair project on Darwin because the topic was "too difficult"

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Kids Are Alright

In the UK, the dates are a little different but the recent drop is similar: crime rose up to the mid 1990s and then fell back down to where it started (source):

The picture is roughly the same in other industrialized countries. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of crime is committed by young people (specifically young men), this is evidence that something is not rotten in the state of today's yoof.

That's in terms of how they relate to others - what about how they feel about themselves? Have rates of mental illness increased? That's a difficult one because mental illness statistics are problematic, but in terms of the body count, suicide rates in young people have declined, albeit slightly, over the same period (source US, UK).

We don't know why crime rates fell. Everyone agrees that it happened, but everyone has their own ideas as to the cause, ranging from more abortions (the "Freakonomics theory"), to less lead pollution, to cellphones making it easier to report crimes, to... I'm sure you can make up your own. Ditto for suicide.

The point is, whatever reduced them, it's unlikely that something else was acting to increase them by any significant amount over the same period. It's possible - maybe something about 21st century life causes loads of crime and suicide, but luckily, some other mystery factor(s) reduced them even more at just the right time. But that's pretty implausible; if nothing else, Occam's razor tells us not to multiply explanatory factors unnecessarily. Which means it's implausible that the internet, video games, and the rest, are causing any significant degree of harm.



testing the

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Consecrated Laptops

Will Pavia of London's The Times reports on efforts by the English Church to incorporate the blessing of modern technology, including ubiquitous Apple products such as the smart phone, into its centuries-old liturgy. The Church's willingness to adapt is evident, as Pavia reports, since "none had been brave enough to adapt its ceremonies to address the modern mysteries of 3G network coverage, iPhone apps and variable battery life" before the new liturgy was held January 11th at St. Lawrence Jewry in the City of London Corporation. Part of St. Lawrence's success in this endeavor is due to Canon Parrott, who exhibits a charisma and dynamism absent in many of England's quickly-emptying churches. "In his former parish", Pavia reports, "he once dressed up as a Christmas tree to promote the message of Christmas".

At first, this novel practice may appear to many as bizarre, newfangled, and even irreverent, as though the timeless character of the liturgy has been diluted. But this rite may not seem so bizarre as one might first think. In the Middle Ages, Pavia notes, laborers would commemorate Plow Monday by bringing their plows to the church door and leaving them there to be blessed by the clergy. Thus, ecclesiastical adaptation to modern-day needs and interests is not a new phenomenon; the Church (at that time the Universal Church, since the English Church had not yet been established) has long been appealing to its laity with innovations which would have been highly personal for, and contemporary with, them.

Why do congregation members bring their plows and laptops to church to be blessed? The ritual may have deeper and more anthropologically significant roots than we imagine...

Image and Source: The Times

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Red Green's Possum Van - Model Cars Magazine

more pictures at

An astute commenter points out how the original AMC model kit body was deftly hacked to change the standard van into a maxi-van, which is amazing way beyond the fine detail Tim Hortons cups, bent-bristle snowbrush and duct-taped bucket seats. Red says, "I think this is the first time in history where the 1/25th scale model is worth more than the full-sized version."

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Grime writing (reverse graffiti)


From the November 23, 2009 Financial Times: "Paul 'Moose' Curtis [above] founded Symbollix in 2003, after his particular brand of 'grime writing' ??? creating pictures and slogans by selectively cleaning the dirt off walls and pavements ??? caught the attention of corporate marketing departments."

I came up the idea of grime writing orreverse graffiti 10 years ago, while trying to promote a record that myrecord label was about to release. There was no marketing money, so Iwent to a tunnel in Leeds with a friend who was a great graffitiartist, and in seconds made a huge piece ??? just using an old rag andhis fingers to write in the dirt. We had created legal graffiti. No onehad ever invested any time in these tunnels and our work shone likechrome.

After that revelation, I carried on writing on walls as a meansof self-expression. It was unique at the time. And it began to dawn onme that I could make money out of it. I had worked as a technician onevents for the launch of the Xbox and showed it to the people I workedfor ??? they programmed it into the launch a few months later. That???swhen my hobby turned into a business. But I don???t refer to my work asreverse graffiti any more because of the negative connotations attachedto graffiti. 

Monday, 4 January 2010

JLETB: The world's most advanced mobile non-profit recording studio


Yoko Ono Lennon, Quincy Jones and a Host of Other Celebrities Keep John Lennon???s Legacy Alive in 2010, with the Kick-off of his 70th Birthday Celebration at the 2010 NAMM Show

Legendary Icons Show Their Support of Music Education in His Honor; John Lennon Educational Tour Bus Keeps Legacy Alive for Students Across America

???This is precisely the type of project that John Lennon would have loved.???

???Yoko Ono Lennon

WHAT: Yoko Ono Lennon keeps John???s legacy alive by kicking off 2010 with a press conference at NAMM, the international music products association, supporting music education in celebration of Lennon???s 70th birthday. Quincy Jones and a host of other celebrities will speak out on the importance of music education on behalf of American youth. Students from South Central Los Angeles??? Fernando Pullum Performing Arts School will perform a medley of Lennon songs with Rickey Minor, the musical director of American Idol, Jackson Browne and Fishbone. Yoko is utilizing this year to celebrate John???s legacy and is showing her continued support of music education and the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, which gives students across the country free hands-on access to music and the digital arts.

WHO: Yoko Ono Lennon, Quincy Jones, Jackson Browne, Fishbone, Rickey Minor, Joe Lamond, CEO of NAMM, Brian Rothschild (Executive Director of The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus), Fernando Pullum, Principal of the Fernando Pullum Performing Arts School and his students.

WHEN: Thursday, January 14th, 1:30pm

WHERE: NAMM Show, Wanna Play?/Lennon Bus Stage at the Arena Plaza, Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, CA

WHY: As Yoko says,

???The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is a non-profit outreach program with the mission of giving kids a chance to express themselves through music and video productions. It has been a living legacy to John???s passion for musical expression and artistic freedom. By utilizing the on-the-road John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and its fine studio set-up, thousands of students have written, recorded and produced original songs and videos ??? students who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to explore these avenues of creativity. At a time with music education in the schools is facing tough funding challenges, the Bus has been a rolling testament to the enduring, positive power of music making.???

The students from the Fernando Pullum Performing Arts School are a shining example of what music education can do. In an area of Los Angeles where only 30% of students graduate from high school, 100% of Fernando???s students graduate from high school, and 99% have gone on to college. To learn how to keep music in your local community, go to, a non-profit outreach initiative of the NAMM Foundation.

I'd had a similar intent with the multi-media studio component at the Ontario Science Centre in 1994; I had coaxed Silicon Graphics to provide us with their very latest video post-processing gear to be housed in an isolated work-area of the Information Highway exhibit, even Alias Research came on board to provide the complete Maya kit for photo-realistic 3d animation, and as with the LennonBus we had arrangements with these vendors to re-furbish the gear on a regular basis to give the schools opportunity to use the very latest pro-quality tools.

Sadly, however, the schools refused to use the studio. We had one private media-arts college that agreed to bring about a half-dozen kids in a few times, and that was it, a free-access million-dollar studio sat there weeks on end, collecting dust, growing obsolete. I really did think it would work, I really though the schools would beat the door down trying to get their hands on that gear. Go figure.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT: John and Yoko, 40 Years Later


My Music is Words - the Poetics of Sun Ra

Nathaniel Earl Bowles's thesis submitted to the Virginia Polytechnic Instituted and State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English, April 17th, 2008