Friday, 24 May 2013

Consilience #66: Kill All Jedi!

I'm audible for the ninth time. Not only is this 2 episodes in 2 weeks for me, but it also makes a hat trick with #64, the last episode before the hiatus. Time to lay low for a while. There were horrid problems with the recording process, and several times someone (always me, now that I think about it...) got cut off and reduced to staticky garbling. As a result, we had to cut the episode short and Owen and Sue each lost one of their news pieces. Hopefully those can be covered in future episodes.

There is no traffic anecdote. My navigation was 100% spot on for a change, and the route was comfortably (but not suspiciously) easy and clear of traffic. I'll try to cock something up next time.

You can find the file and the show notes for #66 here:

Friday, 17 May 2013

Consilience #65: Resurrected!

I was as surprised to see him here as he was.
I'm audible for the eighth time. After a wee bit of a hiatus, Africa's number 1 (one) science and skepticism podcast has returned. I think we got back into our best possible um-er-ah vocal stride, but I do feel that we were a tad short on detail, and I was definitely not as deeply prepared as I'd have liked. I'm quite sure I didn't get the explanation of Einstein's "beaming" sufficiently accurate.

You'll note also that I abandoned my new Citation Needed segment. I wasn't entirely happy with it to begin with, and the big hiatic gap kind of made it impractical to carry on. So it's out for now, but if you have suggestions on how to make it run more smoothly, or for a better replacement segment, I'm non-literally all ears.

Now, the traditional traffic anecdote. A large part of the hiatus was that Owen moved all the recording gear to a new house (and then eventually decided it would be most practical to store himself and all his stuff with the recording gear). I went to this place for the first time on the Saturday before we recorded, and had no problem finding it, even though it's another part of Joburg I have zero prior familiarity with. And yet, somehow, on the Tuesday we recorded, I still managed to get myself lost for a while. At least that time Owen & Sue let me into the house when I arrived, so silver linings everywhere.

You can find the file and the show notes for #65 here:

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A Good Future, Today

(If you hate Star Trek, skip this post. But then you might just need to skip my whole blog.)

[EDIT: I can no longer endorse the Dauntless, nor honestly suggest that it meets the ideals suggested below. I'm only leaving this here because I don't delete my blog posts. However, there are better STARFLEET chapters that you may wish to consider instead.]

Take a look at this slightly aged but well-made video:

Doesn't that just make you want to rush off and find your nearest Starfleet recruiter? Good news: That's me! Let me recruit you, in my official capacity as Recruiting Officer of the USS Dauntless. Free red shirts for anyone with no first name.

In all seriousness, if you enjoy Star Trek, and science fiction in general, and even more generally all the nice things science gives us, then you should really consider signing up with the Dauntless. It's a Star Trek fan club, but that doesn't describe it well. Liking a TV series isn't the only thing we have in common, as our members share a lot of other interests and activities. I originally got involved with them through the Gauteng skeptics and Consilience, as there's some big overlap between those communities. All the Skeptics in the Pub/Park meetings I go to are full of Dauntless crew. Real science is a key interest for most of us, and there's even a big expedition we're planning for the end of the year out to Sutherland, looking at all the big telescopes.

Then there's gaming. Our Joburg region in particular has a well organised collection of people who're into miniature wargaming, CCGs, board games, paintball and, on occasion, roleplaying games. The other regions have also dipped into these sorts of things, a bit less, but probably only because they don't have as many members.

We also do some useful, constructive stuff. The Joburg region has a big blood donation day every couple of months, down in the South East, and I keep meaning to organise a second one for the North West of Joburg, so hopefully that'll be a thing soon enough, especially if we get some more members on this side of the world. And the Cape Town region is currently leading the charge, putting big Joburg to shame, on collecting supplies for the SPCA. Really, our good works are only limited by our members' time, money, energy, skills and social connections, so we could potentially do a bunch of other useful things too, with sufficient planning and imagination.

The underlying theme of it all - the sciencey stuff, the fun and games, the stuff that's useful to society - is a desire to push, step by realistic step, towards the idealistic future presented on Star Trek, because it's a good vision, one worth wanting to emulate. It's a world made better by science and reason and getting shit done without crushing jackboots. All these little activities, small things we'd likely want to do anyway, give us a way to express that ideal and do something small but practical to make it real, a centimeter at a time.

None of it's compulsory or obligatory. It's just a nice way of associating with like-minded geeks who're comfortable being geeks. We have ranks, but that's not about control and authority, it's just a fun way to acknowledge your contributions and participation. To add flavour, the whole club is represented as a starship, the USS Dauntless (a name with a rich legacy), which adds a bit of a subtle roleplaying element to all our interactions, and the rank thing fits with that nicely. It's better than just clicking 'Like' on Facebook, because you actually get something out of it, but it's all fun, easy, voluntary stuff, so you need never feel trapped by it. You have almost literally nothing to lose by joining, since Dauntless membership is free.
And we're saving up all of our non-fees for a club house just like this!

The Dauntless is also just one chapter of a larger network of Trek clubs called STARFLEET International, and we're so far the sole chapter in the entire Africa & Middle East region. STARFLEET membership does have a small cost, but that's separate from basic Dauntless membership, and isn't necessary for most members. Again, everything's very casual and easy with us. STARFLEET as a broader organisation does lots of good and interesting things (I'm an especially big fan of their online learning system, Starfleet Academy), but it has two components that bug me: The Starfleet Marine Corps and the Chaplains' Corps. In other words, the subsections for fans of violence and religion who share a preference for strict order and hierarchy. Presumably these are a product of the gun-totin', god-fearin' segment of STARFLEET's predominantly US membership base, and maybe the Federation's principle of tolerance can be applied to including them, but they do seem to have completely missed Roddenberry's ideal of peace and reason. Luckily, both corps are minorities within the global membership, and have effectively no practical effect on the Dauntless's activities, so it's easy to ignore them.

So, join the crew of the USS Dauntless today, and boldly go where you want humanity to go in future, and have a good time doing so.