Skeptically Speaking Podcast #94 - Art and Science

In case you missed last week's Skeptically Speaking Podcast with host Desiree Schell:

This week, it’s an hour on the intersection between science and the creative arts. We’ll speak to Lauren Redniss, author and illustrator of Radioactive, a visual narrative about the work, life and love of Marie and Pierre Curie. Art historian Jenna Marie Griffith explains the historical influence of science on the visual arts. And we’re joined by Glendon Mellow, painter, illustrator, and author of the blog The Flying Trilobite, to discuss the tension between creativity and scientific accuracy.

My thanks to producer K.O. Myers and host Desiree Schell for the interview.  A lot of fun, and great questions - one of them is edited out, and Desiree asked a question I was stumped to answer. Total brain freeze. The interview is also a good overview of the topics I raised at ScienceOnline11, though you'll have to wait for the video to see how David Orr, John Hawks and I handled even more than that.

After I speak, the segments with Jenna Marie Griffith and Lauren Redniss are fascinating. 


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Flying and Asthma - repost

One of the most popular things I have ever posted here is due to search engines.  I have asthma, and posted a drawing about what it feels like, and because of the word "flying" in my blog's title, a lot of people come here looking for information about taking puffers on planes and asthma in general.

Summer is here, smog warnings are up, and the post has gone up in frequency. Here it is again.  
Originally posted in May 2008, and worth going back to to see the original comments it generated.  If you like the art, I experimented with an updated version.


* * *

The Flying Trilobite already receives a lot of pageviews due to a steady stream of people searching about being an asthmatic and flying (in an airplane, I presume). I thought it may be somewhat useful for me to therefore pen a post on the subject. The reason so many asthma-sufferers find this blog, I believe is because of the post I did of a drawing called, Asthma Incubus back in May of 2007.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, then welcome! Drop in for the 
asthma, stay for somepaintings inspired by the awe of modern science. I am an artist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Please don't be frightened by the atheism. With atheism comes a healthy dose of skepticism, which you will need if you are suffering from asthma and don't know where to turn next. And anyway, the way I see it, when it comes to asthma relief, it just means instead of thanking god(s), I thank the fine scientists, pharmacists and chemists that have helped save more lives than prayer ever has.

Without skepticism someone may try to wave their hands over you or ask you to carry a small doll to cure your asthma, and while both could be entertaining, you and I both know it's hard to laugh when your lungs feel like they weigh 200 pounds and are made out of bags of rusty harmonicas.

So to begin: a caveat, a warning, a caution. I am an artist, 
not a medical respirologist. If you are looking for relief from your wheezy lungs, I strongly, mightily urge you to seek out a "Western" medically-trained respirologist and asthma clinic that keeps up on the latest advances in drugs to ease your lungs back into contributing members of your chest cavity. All I will share in this blog are anecdotes, individual stories about asthma, which is not how you should make a diagnosis! Medicines and remedies using double-blind, empirical and statistical trials are the ones to trust. Your respirologist will know which ones. I would also suggest checking out The Asthma Society of Canada for some up-to-date "'evidence-based', market-tested, " information on a regular basis.

Also to begin: some reassurance. I am a skeptic, and I will 
not try to sell you on the idea of water-pills, drinking urine, homeopathy, acupuncture, taking something just because it is "all-natural", or rearranging mythical chakras. If people seriously think they are helping you with this advice, I would strongly advise you to laugh, ask them to explain further, laugh some more, and do nothing they tell you to treat your asthma. If you are unsure of whether something someone suggests is pure nonsense or not, look for information that has piles of trustworthy studies behind it. To get you started, check out The Skeptic's Dictionary, particularly under "Alternative Medicine".

Oh, and get your children vaccinated too. It doesn't cause asthma, and will save their lives.

So, flying with asthma.

I have flown a number of times in my life so far, probably about 8 trips there and back again. As I said, I live in Toronto, and I have flown as far away as Aruba and Calgary, some 6 or 7 hours at a stretch. I have taken numerous shorter flights from Toronto to Montreal on a variety of airlines; Air Canada, Westjet and Porter, small planes and large ones.

My asthma has been diagnosed as "brittle", though that seemed to be a mistake; I have never fallen unconscious, even in my worst heart-pounding, suffocating moments. The most recent diagnosis was "moderate persistent asthma".

I haven't had any trouble flying with asthma. Whew! I know, all this preamble to find out you should be okay! Modern planes are pressurised so the air will not be thin as you fly up to 35'000 feet. A smaller plane, you may feel light-headed I guess. I have hiked in the Blue Mountains of Virginia before up to 4'000 feet, and I could still breathe and carry a 60 pound backpack.

Flying in a plane is exciting, and I am not jaded by the experience yet. So, sometimes I will need to take a puffer during the duration of the flight, but ask your doctor, or use your own experiences to see if this is necessary. For myself, I do not experience any sudden tightening of the chest, and I suspect I may take it in those moments larger as a psychological comfort. Perhaps the next time I fly I'll skip it if I can and see how it goes.

Most puffers are pressurised canisters, and there seem to be no negative effects on these in a plane. They do not explode or leak. Again, a pressurised cabin would give the canister a steady barometric pressure, and it will function as though you are on the ground. Take your medications in-flight with you in your carry-on luggage. Be comfortable, and relax. Get a window seat and enjoy the flight.

Currently, I take two medications to treat my asthma. One is preventative, and another for fast relief in moments of distress. A while ago, I switched away from a ventolin inhaler to Airomir, and I find I am sleeping better at night. I recommend it. (
Ask your doctor!) My wife also informs me that I am not jerking my full body in my sleep anymore the way I used to once a night. There are a lot of options on the market, and you should work with your respirologist to see what works for you. A new medication, which I will not name, gave me some anxiety attacks when in combination with another puffer. My doc said it happens in a small samples of patients, about 5% of cases. So I switched.

I hope this has been helpful. Asthma is manageable, and sufferers have many options to help nowadays. If, however, I am wrong and there is some folklore I do not know about and people are finding this blog to learn about flapping their arms like Icarus and flying while suffering some asthmatic-like effects afterward, I have only one response.

"Umm." 


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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.

Portfolio
Blog
Print Shop

Introducing: "Trilobites had no astrology"

Introducing my new skeptic-paleo mash-up, the Trilobites had no astrology series. Above is Wave 1 (click to enlarge), featuring "had no" Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer.  I plan on doing a poster and calendar once all designs are presented in the next few weeks.

The idea behind it is to make a fun conversation-starter: how could there be a trilobite version of sun signs?  The constellations looked different 500 million years ago, and many of the animals astrological symbols are based on hadn't evolved yet. It's one more way of pointing out the moot pseudo-science of astrology - while sporting an awesome trilobite.

Each drawing has the astrological symbol incorporated into their design: can you spot the Roman II-like symbol in the Gemini trilobites?




Available as stickers, and a variety of colours and styles of 

shirts, hoodies, and toddler clothes.

 

As a now-skeptic who used to fervently believe in astrology, (it's bloody tempting) I think it could be fun to sport your own astrological trilobite or slapping stickers down on your bike or workspace.

Perhaps I've lost my marbles this time.  Aw, whatevs.  Two more waves coming in the next few weeks!

Shop for these here!

- - - - - - - -
Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.
Portfolio
Blog
Print Shop

How I'm categorized on Twitter

In the interest of artistic narcissism and the urge to examine, I took a look a few minutes ago at what Twitter lists I have been included on.

To date, I'm 60 lists (2 of them mine), and from the titles, here's an interesting breakdown:



Science lists: 35
Artsy lists:
18
Skeptic/Atheist lists:
4

I did count three of the lists as both art and science. At any rate, interestingly enough, on Twitter at the moment, I'm considered more scientific than artsy.

I know why there's such disparity.  We need a Chosen One to bring trilobites to the unwashed artistic masses.  I will be their savior.  I will spread the word of the Trinity-Lobed Ones and the paintings will be glorious.

You can follow me on Twitter @flyingtrilobite.

- - - - - - - -

Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Art Monday: search, download, comment

One of the things about blogging that appeals to me is seeing a bit about the people who come across my art. Widgets can help a lot with the ever-welcome lurkers and shed some light on their shadowy existence. Everyone uses them, so I think the Big Brother aspect of them is largely mitigated by their egalitarian use.

The concept of everyone watching everyone else and the failure of privacy as a right is excellently explored in David Brin's Earth and in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. In Earth, there is still tension; in The Diamond Age, new social mores modeled on Victorians and Confucianism make spying uncouth.

Anyway, I'm not opening this up to reveal ISP's or anything. But as an artist, the subject of who is downloading my stuff is fascinating and a bit daunting at the same time.

If you don't expose artwork to viewers, you languish in obscurity. No security is great enough to stop someone from ripping you off though. I've heard a number of stories about how people have been caught doing just that.

Today, I would like to look and speculate.

-Someone who works at an ad company in Belgium looked at a few pages of my blog, searched for the word "coelacanth" and finally downloaded my Darwin Day liveblog result.

-The most popular download in the last little while is my poster for The Centre for Inquiry-sponsored PZ Myers lecture last Hallowe'en. And surprising to me, is half again as many people downloaded my scribbly rough sketch! What for?

-The second-most popular download is a photo of an albino squirrel in Trinity-Bellwoods park I snapped here in Toronto. Albino squirrel populations exist in a bunch of places, and I suppose the sight of one is rare enough people go online scrambling for photos of the skittish mammals. Perhaps I should apologize for my photography.

-To the person in Sweden who searched for "fossil encrinurus photo" and downloaded my pencil drawing - I make no guarantees about scientific accuracy. Although I aim for a high degree of accuracy to reach out to my core scientifically-literate audience, sometimes I just like how the pencil pattern looks.

-For the Arizona resident searching under "flying trilobite hoax", I'm kind of glad you didn't find one. I don't paint inaccurately-winged flying trilobites on pieces of shale for the same reason people make crop circles or launch flares. In other words, it is not to test people's gullibility. That's why they are usually labeled "Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil". I paint flying trilobites largely for the same reason people paint dragons or faeries. It's fun and interesting, and hopefully sparks the imagination. (Hmm, is there a children's book of flying trilobites hiding inside me somewhere?) Can you imagine if I did try to perpetuate a hoax about finding a genuine flying trilobite fossil? How many people would read their morning papers or bloggy news-source and be shocked? Richard Fortey, Marek Eby, and Sam Gon III?

My stuff is under a Creative Commons Licence, specifically one that means you may share, email and download my art, you simply need to a)always cite it as mine with a link to me, b)not alter it in any way, and c) not make any $$$ from it. That last part's my job. So by all means, share and enjoy my artwork.

And don't be afraid to send an email or make a comment! Feedback for a blogging artist is all that and a bag of chips.

- - - - - - - -

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Flying & Asthma

The Flying Trilobite already receives a lot of pageviews due to a steady stream of people searching about being an asthmatic and flying (in an airplane, I presume). I thought it may be somewhat useful for me to therefore pen a post on the subject. The reason so many asthma-sufferers find this blog, I believe is because of the post I did of a drawing called, Asthma Incubus back in May of 2007.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, then welcome! Drop in for the asthma, stay for some paintings inspired by the awe of modern science. I am an artist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Please don't be frightened by the atheism. With atheism comes a healthy dose of skepticism, which you will need if you are suffering from asthma and don't know where to turn next. And anyway, the way I see it, when it comes to asthma relief, it just means instead of thanking god(s), I thank the fine scientists, pharmacists and chemists that have helped save more lives than prayer ever has.

Without skepticism someone may try to wave their hands over you or ask you to carry a small doll to cure your asthma, and while both could be entertaining, you and I both know it's hard to laugh when your lungs feel like they weigh 200 pounds and are made out of bags of rusty harmonicas.

So to begin: a caveat, a warning, a caution. I am an artist, not a medical respirologist. If you are looking for relief from your wheezy lungs, I strongly, mightily urge you to seek out a "Western" medically-trained respirologist and asthma clinic that keeps up on the latest advances in drugs to ease your lungs back into contributing members of your chest cavity. All I will share in this blog are anecdotes, individual stories about asthma, which is not how you should make a diagnosis! Medicines and remedies using double-blind, empirical and statistical trials are the ones to trust. Your respirologist will know which ones. I would also suggest checking out The Asthma Society of Canada for some up-to-date "'evidence-based', market-tested, " information on a regular basis.

Also to begin: some reassurance. I am a skeptic, and I will not try to sell you on the idea of water-pills, drinking urine, homeopathy, acupuncture, taking something just because it is "all-natural", or rearranging mythical chakras. If people seriously think they are helping you with this advice, I would strongly advise you to laugh, ask them to explain further, laugh some more, and do nothing they tell you to treat your asthma. If you are unsure of whether something someone suggests is pure nonsense or not, look for information that has piles of trustworthy studies behind it. To get you started, check out The Skeptic's Dictionary, particularly under "Alternative Medicine".

Oh, and get your children vaccinated too. It doesn't cause asthma, and will save their lives.

So, flying with asthma.

I have flown a number of times in my life so far, probably about 8 trips there and back again. As I said, I live in Toronto, and I have flown as far away as Aruba and Calgary, some 6 or 7 hours at a stretch. I have taken numerous shorter flights from Toronto to Montreal on a variety of airlines; Air Canada, Westjet and Porter, small planes and large ones.

My asthma has been diagnosed as "brittle", though that seemed to be a mistake; I have never fallen unconscious, even in my worst heart-pounding, suffocating moments. The most recent diagnosis was "moderate persistent asthma".

I haven't had any trouble flying with asthma. Whew! I know, all this preamble to find out you should be okay! Modern planes are pressurised so the air will not be thin as you fly up to 35'000 feet. A smaller plane, you may feel light-headed I guess. I have hiked in the Blue Mountains of Virginia before up to 4'000 feet, and I could still breathe and carry a 60 pound backpack.

Flying in a plane is exciting, and I am not jaded by the experience yet. So, sometimes I will need to take a puffer during the duration of the flight, but ask your doctor, or use your own experiences to see if this is necessary. For myself, I do not experience any sudden tightening of the chest, and I suspect I may take it in those moments larger as a psychological comfort. Perhaps the next time I fly I'll skip it if I can and see how it goes.

Most puffers are pressurised canisters, and there seem to be no negative effects on these in a plane. They do not explode or leak. Again, a pressurised cabin would give the canister a steady barometric pressure, and it will function as though you are on the ground. Take your medications in-flight with you in your carry-on luggage. Be comfortable, and relax. Get a window seat and enjoy the flight.

Currently, I take two medications to treat my asthma. One is preventative, and another for fast relief in moments of distress. A while ago, I switched away from a ventolin inhaler to Airomir, and I find I am sleeping better at night. I recommend it. (Ask your doctor!) My wife also informs me that I am not jerking my full body in my sleep anymore the way I used to once a night. There are a lot of options on the market, and you should work with your respirologist to see what works for you. A new medication, which I will not name, gave me some anxiety attacks when in combination with another puffer. My doc said it happens in a small samples of patients, about 5% of cases. So I switched.

I hope this has been helpful. Asthma is manageable, and sufferers have many options to help nowadays. If, however, I am wrong and there is some folklore I do not know about and people are finding this blog to learn about flapping their arms like Icarus and flying while suffering some asthmatic-like effects afterward, I have only one response.

"Umm."
- -
All original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.

Beyond Good & Evil - A Review

For skeptics and naturalists, what could a videogame look like? How about a game where one of the main objects of the game, is to photograph as many vanishing species on the planet as possible? How about using those photography skills to find solid evidence of a government conspiracy? A future where different races live together without strife?
Beyond Good & Evil is that title. Created by Michel Ancel, this game came out back in 2003, and won tons of praise from critics, and failed to sell enough to the public to warrant a sequel. I played it a few years ago, and now I'm photographing my way through it's pretty natural environments and industrial rust once again.

The setting is the planet Hillys in the distant future. Humans and other races based on animal-human hybrids inhabit the pastoral and island-dotted land peacefully. An alien invasion by a species known as the DomZ disrupts day-to-day life, the invasion consisting mainly of aliens crashing like meteors from the sky. An army known as the Alpha Sections attempts to protect the populace, usually arriving too late.

The protaganist is a brash and confident 20 year old orphan named Jade. Jade is presented in a much more realistic fashion than most women in games, and there is no need for a love interest for her to hang her feminity on. Her endearing, tough-guy adopted uncle Pey'j is a Sus Sapien, or pig-human hybrid. The pair live on an island in a lighthouse, struggling with money while taking care of orphans who've lost their parents in the war. Jade and Pey'j own a hovercraft, an airship, and eventually a spaceship. Jade works mainly as a photographer and reporter, taking stock of the planet's biodiversity before too many species are wiped out in the fighting. Eventually, she joins the Iris Network as a photographer, a pirate broadcast group trying to expose the government's lies.

The game still holds up graphically, and the soundtrack has some excellent music, latin techno and classical score, depending on the scene. I love just toodling around in the hovercraft, visiting different islands through the night and day cycle, especially after a long steathy trip through industrial buildings exposing the conspiracy taking place. It's one of those games that just makes you want to revisit it from time to time; hang out at the Akuda Bar, talk to the kids at the lighthouse, or just explore the oceans of Hillys.

The details in the game are interesting and scientific, though fictional. Aim your camera at the sky, and it will label the different constellations, even indicating how much radiation comes from celestial objects. Each new species, like the anemonia mutabilis pictured at right is fascinating, and many of them fly or hover through the air. You can interact to some degree with each animal as well, and you find them all over the planet. There are different whales in the ocean, nautilus creatures that float in the humid air, and even a trilobite crawling around if you look hard enough. This part of the gameplay, cataloguing the different species, is made to feel so crtitical, I even found myself getting bitten by more aggressive species in my unrelenting effort to take their picture.

(This whole idea of taking photos would be great in a game about prehistory and dinosaurs...as fun as the fauna in Beyond Good & Evil are, imagine a similar game where one had to catalogue dinosaurs from each era? Tutorial in the Devonian! Bonus level in the Pleistocene! Since Michel Ancel also made the prehistoric-looking King Kong game, he'd be just the guy to blend the two ideas. ) Evidence is a key to winning this game. There are occasionally some battles which Jade handles with her fighting stick, but methodical presentation of evidence and love of family are the main triggers to propel the plot forward. Rumour has it Michel Ancel might finally be returning to this story again - I hope! - and who knows what alien fauna might be found on the next planet? I hope Jade brings her zoom lens.

Glendon Mellow featured on The Eloquent Atheist

The Eloquent Atheist, an online atheist & humanist magazine, has featured one of my paintings, Symbiosis.

This is the first entry by a visual artist on The Eloquent Atheist, and naturally (not supernaturally) I am very excited to be a part of it! From The Eloquent Atheist:

"Our intent is to expose people to the positive aspects of Atheism and
Humanism through various types of the written arts..."

I do consider myself to be a Bright , a term coined a few years ago for one who believes in a natural universe. It is an umbrella term, or at least it seeks to be for people who variably describe themselves as atheists, humanists, rationalists, Darwinists, skeptics and freethinkers. Some find the "Bright" name unappealing, and worry it is too arrogant or silly. A proposed term (I believe by Daniel Dennett) for people who believe in the supernatural, is "Supers". I have chronicled my growth out of agnostic-pagan thought before, and I like the Bright label. Hard to say you're a Darwinist when you are talking about astronomy or quantum mechanics, since evolution by natural selection doesn't enter into it.

Just to be all linky about it,
the article is here.

A bio about me is on
The Eloquent Atheist here.

My original post about the painting
Symbiosis is here.

I also posted
a sketch I did of the painting here.

There are a lot of great articles and pieces of poetry on The Eloquent Atheist. A special piece by Harvey H. Madison called Cosmic Connection struck a chord with me, it is secular numinism, if I may say such a contradiction in terms. As well, Michael W. Jones' short story, Night Sky is a thoughtful portrayal of realising which universe we really live in. Fans of astronomy should check these out.

Thanks to Michael W. Jones and Marilyn Westfall at The Eloquent Atheist for creating a great magazine, and for showcasing my artwork.

In Strange Company: strangemag.com

I noticed while pursuing that vainest of pastimes, googling myself, that I was quoted on a site called strangemag.com. I hadn't come across this online 'zine before, and it's...umm, weird. Or odd. Unusual. A little different, yes.

It seems to be a mixed bag. The subject matter is credulous; everything from 'giantology' and smoking chimpanzees to UFO's and the pterodactyl 'Thunderbird'. Then it shifts, and often is debunking what it finds, playing the skeptic. I've come rather late to this magazine, as strangemag.com's founder, Mark Chorvinsky, has passed away in recent years. Seems like an interesting guy.

It prompted me to look up the term, "Fortean". I had seen the Fortean Times on magazine racks, and thought it kind of New Age-hokey. It seems there is a bit of a poke-in-the-eye attitude toward scientists, mixed with a different sort of skepticism than you see in Skeptic magazine. A quote from Fortean founder Charles Fort (at right) on Wikipedia: "Now there are so many scientists who believe in dowsing, that the suspicion comes to me that it may be only a myth after all". The Skeptic's Dictionary, always one of my favourite places, has an entry on Charles Fort as well.

The quote from my blog was from my posting about palaeontologist Dong Zhiming educating some Chinese rural folk who believed dinosaur fossils were really medicinal dragon bones. It feels somewhat strange for a person like myself, trying to be rational and understanding the scientific method to be quoted on a site near articles on Bigfoot. But what I've read so far shows these journalists are showing a healthy dose of skepticism and tracking their sources, as wild as the claims are.

It's interesting that skepticism falls along a spectrum rather than a discrete definition. But perhaps that's a scientific simile.