Wizard Rock!

Good friend and regular reader, Andrew sent me this link to the Eugene Weekly, about Wizard Rock:

What you may not know, however, is that within the last couple years, an entire music subculture has been spawned from the world  of Harry Potter: wizard rock. More than 200 bands have come up with clever names (The Hermione Crookshanks Experience, for example) and written rock ‘n’ roll, punk, acoustic and even dance songs about everything from going to Hogsmeade to saving Ginny Weasley from deadly basilisks. There is an engaging purity to the music these bands make since the often campy songs ooze with absolute joy and silliness. These folks genuinely have fun mixing their love of music and Harry Potter.

The best part is, several of these bands make regional tours playing in library’s and chanting slogans like, “Fight Evil, read books.” Good stuff all around.

Sorry, We Discarded Our Copy of the Necronomicon Back In 1986

A common feature in the Lovecraftian horror sub-genre is the idea that there is some class of knowledge that Man Was Not Meant to Know. This usually involved some mind bending aspect of the cosmos that turns our psyche inside out if we were to perceive it, or a race of semi-tangible aliens who resemble pineapples with bat wings that turn out to have genetically engineered us as at some distant point in the past because they liked the taste of our brains. This information is invariably located in a book with a tongue twister for a name kept handily on the shelf at Miskatonic University‘s Library, albeit in the closed stacks, though pretty much anyone could get it if they just asked for it. A recent poll by the Pew Research Group confirms that a surprisingly large number of people actually think there are books that contain Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, and that they are in our school libraries:

Since 1999, support for the idea of banning “books with dangerous ideas” from public school libraries has declined from 55% to 46% and has now fallen to the lowest level of support of the past 20 years, in contrast with the modest increase observed in concerns about pornographic material in magazines and movies.

The fact that the number of people who would ban books form libraries has fallen to 46% is bothersome.

Hat tip to Emily at Library Revolution.

The Truth About Atheism Today

Atheists and rationalists often lament about the increased influence that the dogmatic and religious have in this country and by extension, on the world’s political and social scene. We hear so much about religiosity and it’s discontents with modern civilization, that we think of it as a creeping force to be reckoned with, something to remain ever vigilant against, lest we be dragged kicking and screaming back to the Dark Ages. But a recent report by Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman says otherwise.

Their study looked at a number of factors and found that far from the popular claims of a Western World in the grips of a religious rebirth, we are in fact becoming far more secular, faster. And by we, I mean the entire human species, not just the US. The only disappointing news in the whole piece is that the US is moving slower in this regards than everyone else, including China and even Turkey (where one third of the population say that religion is not all that important in their daily life, compared with just over one half here in the US). But just because we’re a little behind in the race to a rational, secular world, it doesn’t mean we aren’t getting there, and faster than the Dominionists would have you believe [emphasis mine]:

Continue reading “The Truth About Atheism Today”

And Take Your Flappers With You!

Not satisfied with mangling facts and figures about Google, Information Retrieval Systems or the Internet in general, in his latest rant, Michael Gorman sets his sights on the big fish: Wikipedia. It’s really always been about Wikipedia for him. Trashing Google, bloggers, and Burst Culture is just a side project. He’s really pissed off about Wikipedia and what it does to authoritative credibility in general but his in particular. As his posts have been hosted thus far by the Britannica Blog, that’s no real surprise, seeing as how they’re primary competition comes form Wikipedia:

All the central institutions of Western society have responded in a similarly reactive and alarmed manner. Many of these institutions are driven by the middle aged and old acting in a domain that is widely perceived to be the province of the young. This discontinuity is not helped by reliance on a series of urban myths about the supposed uniqueness of the young generation based on the idea that its members have no useful memory of the pre-Web life. Let us leave aside the fact that the “uniqueness of the young” has been proclaimed every 15 years or so for almost the past century—from the energetic flappers of the1920s to the lethargic slackers of the 1990s.

He’s finally become that stereotypical cranky old man, ranting about young people on his lawn. And flappers. I’m not going to parse the rest of his two part rumination on why Wikipedia, and by extension the whole entire Web, sucks. And flappers. It’s more of what we’ve already seen: over simplifications, generalizations and straw men of unusual size.

Wikipedia works. This isn’t just a fan speaking, or some dirty webified Youtubian. I did graduate work on Wikipedia and found that it works pretty well, applying the peer-review concept on a larger scale. An article published in Nature two years ago reached the same conclusion: Wikipedia is just as good as Britannica in most places, better in some but could use a little more attention paid to the more complex, technical articles, a fact that Wikipedians have mentioned and addressed frequently. And, as we say on the Web, it’s just as easy to fix Wikipedia as it is to bitch about what’s wrong with it. But of course, Wikipedia won’t cut Gorman a check for his work, so why bother? No pay, no play for our Serious Academic.

Secret Nap Time

Some people have said that I have a strong Rupert bias in my cat blogging. That’s only because the boy is a bit of a ham while Lucy is only secretly cute. She refuses to do anything photogenic while we’re home, let alone when the camera is handy.

But, yesterday morning, Elvira had to drop something off at home and found Lucy snuggling with the stuffed Bageera.

And so, we prove that there are no secrets on the Internets.

Throwing Shoes In the Machinery of the World

Michael Gorman is still showing his ass to the world over at Britannica Blog. This time he demonstrates that he hasn’t got a clue how Google works:

Information retrieval systems have been studied for many decades. In the course of that study two important criteria have been developed to evaluate such systems—those criteria are recall and relevance. The first measures the percentage of pertinent documents retrieved from a database (for example, if there are 100 documents on Zambian agriculture in a database and a search on that topic retrieves 76 of them, the recall is 76%). The second measures the supposed appropriateness of the documents that have been retrieved (for example, if you retrieve 100 documents when searching for Zambian agriculture and 76 of them are actually about Zambian agriculture, the relevance is 76%).

Information retrieval systems achieve high recall and relevance rates by the use of controlled vocabularies (indexing terms, etc.) and present the results of complex searches in a meaningful and usable order. By any of these criteria, Google and its like are miserable failures. A search on those engines on anything but the most minutely detailed topic will yield many thousands of “results” in no useful order and with wretched recall and relevance ratios. However, even when the documents retrieved by a search engine are on the subject sought, the quality of the material – often community-generated material that pops up high on a hit list because the material is free and easily accessible — is shoddy or irresponsible.

Let’s unpack some of the misconceptions that Gorman is, once again spreading heedlessly.

Continue reading “Throwing Shoes In the Machinery of the World”

How Would Jesus Drive?

Probably like my grandmother. Still, I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, that the Vatican has issue ten commandments for driving, or that millions of people will follow them just because some guy in a funny hat tells them to. As PZ Myers put it:

Somebody, please explain to me how religion hasn’t already collapsed under the weight of its utterly useless inanity. The Vatican can’t put together a rational policy on contraception, a far more serious problem for the world and to which their beliefs contribute, but they can send out these trivial and irritatingly idiotic suggestions for drivers?

At least now with the Encyclical on Driving out of the way, the Pope can tackle the problem of how the faithful should handle Spam and telemarketers. Truly, faith can work wonders.

Doctor Solomon and his Secret Library

I received an e-mail yesterday from Doctor Solomon, an author of several fascinating books on diverse topics such as “How to Find Lost Objects” (1993), “Japan in a Nutshell” (1997) and “How to Make the Most of a Flying Saucer Experience” (1998). What’s even better than learning a tried and true method for locating misplaced objects, is that three of his books are free for download as PDFs.

A Hundred Monkeys In a Hundred Space Suits

Charlie Stross has a great essay up about the futility of Space Colonization:

This is not to say that interstellar travel is impossible; quite the contrary. But to do so effectively you need either (a) outrageous amounts of cheap energy, or (b) highly efficient robot probes, or (c) a magic wand. And in the absence of (c) you’re not going to get any news back from the other end in less than decades. Even if (a) is achievable, or by means of (b) we can send self-replicating factories and have them turn distant solar systems into hives of industry, and more speculatively find some way to transmit human beings there, they are going to have zero net economic impact on our circumstances (except insofar as sending them out costs us money).

He does, however make a strong and pertinent distinction between Space Exploration and Space Colonization, the former being relatively easy, cheep and doable (since we are doing it and have been for the last fifty years)as opposed to the latter, which is nearly impossible, (whatever Gene Roddenberry had to say on the matter to the contrary). He also makes the point that the practical walking, working and moving about in space should be done by robot probes and satellites, a notion to which I heartily agree.

The news about the spot of bother on the International Space Station this week got sidelined, what with Paris Hilton having a courtroom meltdown and A dozen Republican Would-be-Kings shootting themselves in the foot over immigration. But if it hadn’t been for a couple of computers, we would have had a lot of dead Astronauts and an inoperable Space Station hovering above our heads. Putting people’s lives in the hands of computers is silly, criminal and wrong. Charlie Stross also points this out, that a manned mission to An extra-solar planet, given the current state of technology, might be considered a crime against humanity, given the horrible conditions they would be subjected to for decades.

There will always be a romantic idea about going to the Moon or Mars and maybe, just to go there and come back would be a worthwhile endeavor but living in Outer Space, is foolish and deadly. Besides, we can learn more from one robot probe on the moon than a hundred moon walking monkeys.

Please, won’t you think about the monkeys?

Link via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.