“Shades of Ignorance” by CraftLass (Interview)

In this very special Astroengine.com (and long overdue) post, I had the great fortune to catch up with singer/song writer CraftLass who wrote a very cool song about science, ignorance and the general state of society. I am particularly honored as CraftLass was inspired by my blog (amongst others) when she wrote this wonderfully catchy tune. As you can tell by the link below, she has a huge talent — follow her (yep, she’s one of my favorite tweeps) and hopefully you’ll get the chance to see her perform live. I’m hoping I’ll make it to New York soon so I can do just that.

“Shades of Ignorance” by CraftLass (streaming audio)

“Shades” is just one of many songs CraftLass has written and performed, so be sure to listen to all her work and buy her album, you won’t be disappointed (I’m a big fan).

Q: Mainly, what was your inspiration behind writing the song?

A: There were a few involved in this one, all inspired by reading. The main thrust of the song came from reading your blog as well as a few others like Bad Astronomy and marveling at the comments from people who truly believe in everything that has little to no evidence while refusing to believe what can actually be proven or at least has plenty of evidence that anyone is free to look at.

I think some people are convinced that the job of scientists, no matter the field, is to hide truth when it’s exactly the opposite. This annoys me to no end, especially when it actually hurts people, as in the case of people who hurt innocent children educationally by wanting creationism taught in the science classroom, or physically by refusing to immunize them because other people with a lack of credentials just happen to be effective communicators.

I guess I’d like to try to level the playing field on that one, communicate truths in a format that most people can understand and enjoy, since the other side tends to have “cool” celebrities popularizing their ideas. As much as I hate the sway pop culture has, it’s important to fight fire with fire.

The other big inspiration was the way people in America embraced politicians like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, I’m very politically aware and very independent (not a Democrat), these two and a few others make me sick because they are poster children of smart people who CHOOSE ignorance, willfully.

Leaders should be elected for having the brains and open-mindedness to make real decisions for themselves based on actual facts and Bush, in particular, was elected for being stubborn to the point of harm for not only this nation but the whole world. Elected for the exact quality that is worst in a leader. I’ve been trying to convey my feelings on that for many years and it just seemed to fit into the theme as I was working on this song. “Stubborn is not the same as strong,” is a line I’m particularly proud of since so many people seem to confuse the two.

Q: How has it been received (particularly when performing at a live venue)?

A: I’m astounded at the reception! It’s consistently one of the first songs that people come up to talk to me about. I’m lucky that I live in a pretty highly educated part of the country (the NYC metro area) and quite a few people have said it’s a message they hadn’t been able to put into words, which is extremely gratifying.

It also makes people dance, and I think that when people dance and start singing along the message sinks deeper, so I’m hoping it might somehow reach further into the public to the very people it’s about, perhaps inspire them to question blind beliefs. At some point I would like to record a full-band version to increase that effect!

The other cool thing has been the number of closet science geeks it’s brought out, people who come up to me and say it’s great to see someone wear her love for the subject proudly, makes them feel like it’s okay to love it, too. If more people were honest with themselves (including me) we would probably have a lot less of the brain drain effect in STEM. (It also doesn’t hurt that I’m a cute and social chick with a guitar, not exactly the old stereotype of science geek. LOL.)

Q: What are your thoughts on science communication in general (i.e. is it handled well by the media)?

A: Well, there are so many levels of media right now, we’re pretty lucky. Mass media has been pretty terrible at science communication for most of my life, at least, they tend to prefer stories of failure than anything that goes right, so many areas of science end up looking rather useless (this is particularly true when it comes to NASA and CERN for some reason) and you’ll never hear about the coolest things in traditional media other than the NY Times science section (which has now been gutted, anyway).

On the other hand, the fact that Discovery now has many channels and even created the Science Channel to air more science shows and competitors keeps springing up proves that people have been hungry to learn more than what the networks are willing to give them. These companies are filling the void pretty nicely with good introductions to many areas.

I get most of my science news from the internet, though, as it is the only place to find up-to-the-minute news and deeper information. The problem there is you really have to wade through a lot of garbage to find the good nuggets and read a lot of too-dry-for-non-scientists pieces to find ones that can engage and help someone self-educated like I am. There are quite a few modern-day Carl Sagans out there, though, who can communicate science beautifully, and it’s a very good thing they can publish whether or not they have backing from a major organization. The next thing we need is more clearly defined resources to match the audience with the scientist or writer.

Q: Are you a regular reader of science blogs?

A: Yes, well, when I have the time. Ironically, singing and writing about science has been tearing me away more than I’d like! I try to read at least a few articles every day over coffee, and every so often I’ll just devour everything I’ve missed on a site. I also research what I’m writing, so I’ll search the blogosphere for interesting facts and tidbits on whatever subject I’m working on (right now my obsession is Spirit as I have a song about her half-done, so I’m reading every post I can find).

A couple of lines for “Bake Sale for NASA” were inspired directly by a post by Wayne Hale (one of my favorite blog writers) about NASA satellites saving the American wheat crop, a story I had never known and found absolutely brilliant. My most consistent blogs include NASA blogs, Discovery News, Bad Astronomy, World of Weird Things, Noisy Astronomer, the Skylogs at Astronomy.FM, and, of course, Astroengine.

Q: What surprises you most about some of the comments you read on science blogs?

A: The way that so many people apparently seek out these blogs simply to rant against them. I like to read opposing viewpoints but I don’t understand the amount of time and energy people put into pure hatred. If you are so annoyed by what you are reading why don’t you read other websites? There are millions!

I’m also stunned that people can read the same things I read and just dismiss them. Learning is a lifelong experience and discoveries are constantly made that change what we know, why be so stubborn in clinging to old information and ways of thinking? Living in a time where there is so much exploration and so many ways to disseminate what is learned means we need to stop believing in belief itself and open up our minds to endless possibilities. That should be a cause for celebration rather than anger, and far too many people are in the latter category.

Occasional Songs For The Periodic Table – by George Hrab

George Hrab dominates the periodic table. Credits: Univ. Virginia/Geologic Records
George Hrab dominates the periodic table. Credits: Univ. Virginia/Geologic Records

When I heard that George Hrab had turned the Periodic Table into a musical opportunity, I had mixed feelings. The mixed feelings were of excitement to hear what George had come up with, and those of fear of revisiting my science class woes. You see, I hated chemistry at school… and college. You can probably imagine my horror when my chemistry nemesis came back to haunt me in my Masters year of university (I’d avoided it expertly during my undergrad years); I’d have to learn the thing for a key spectroscopy course! Bugger
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“FAR” (the 365 Days of Astronomy Theme Tune) by George Hrab

It is very rare that I come across someone with star quality. Having said that, I have stumbled across a few stars in LA, such as Harrison Ford (great), Clint Eastwood (awesome) and Brittany Murphy (nice) because I’m only 20 minutes away from the city. These things happen in a place where its main (only?) industry is celebrity and film. Oh yes, I’ve also had dinner with Billy Dee Williams, stood in a queue with Jerry O’Connell (he was buying dog food) and tripped over Nicole Richie (she is rather tiny after all). However, when it comes to meeting somebody before they became famous… I draw blanks. Hardly surprising really, I’m no talent scout and I spend most of my time typing, indoors. I need to get out more.

However, it all changed last month, when I met George Hrab. I’ve known about George for a while, but I only knew of his writing on Geo-Logic and that he was a musician. I had only heard the first couple of the 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts and I noted that they had one hell of a catchy theme tune. However, I didn’t give it any thought until I was introduced to George Hrab at the AAS in Long Beach last month. Ahhh, that George Hrab!

In the short time I spent with George between the AAS presentations and (free) beer, I realised this guy has star quality. This was confirmed when he performed live at the grand opening of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. And what did he perform? His signature theme tune, “Far” for the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, only this time with audience participation. Needless to say, George did a superb job, he has great talent and he’s a genuinely nice guy. Plus, he’s a skeptical thinker and embraces space, science and logical thinking. My prediction is that George Hrab really will go FAR (uber-far)…

Watch the video above, or you can download the full mp3 from George’s blog. Enjoy!

The Essential Selection for Space Exploration (Music)

The Astroengine Live Top 10 Space Tunes

Disco balls at Spundae, Hollywood in December 2006 (© Ian O'Neill)

Often when writing about space, I like to listen to music. Unfortunately, my brain is terrible at multitasking, so any music with vocals slows me down. However, trance music doesn’t seem to hurt my thinking-typing skills (probably due to minimal vocal tracks), so on go the headphones as I get lost in a mix of space and sound.

If you are a listener of my radio show Astroengine Live, you may be forgiven in thinking that it is based more on the music selection than my opinions on the current state of manned space flight! So I’ve decided to pair up trance and space to compile my favourite space-based tracks of all time (mainly trance and electro, but with some surprises thrown in).

Here’s Astroengine Live’s Top 10 Space Tunes, or the Essential Selection for Space Exploration
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