Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eminently quotable

I notice on Google today that it's Mark Twain's 176th birthday; coincidentally I'm reading his autobiography at the moment and interesting it is too. Twain is famous for books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn but also his satirical quotes, many poking fun at religion, I don't know if he was an Atheist but one of my favourites is "Faith is believing what you know ain't so", from what I have read so far he was certainly a free thinker.

Here are a few more quotes that caught my eye.

  • A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
  • All generalizations are false, including this one.
  • But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?
  • In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.
  • Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
  • The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.
  • Truth is more of a stranger than fiction.
  • I cannot call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except toward the things which were sacred to other people.
  • The history of our race, and each individual's experience, are sown thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.
  • The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession, what there is of it.
  • Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion--several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbour as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven....The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.
  • Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.
  • So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbour's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code.

Educational bits and bytes

I read with pleasure today that the Government seems to be finally waking up to the realisation that you can't actually operate a modern country inhabited only by people who studied politics, classics or media studies. You need a few people that can create stuff! The skills shortage in this country for talented computer scientists and programmers is chronic. I run my own software business and I'm looking for people all the time, I might realistically see 2 or 3 really good CV's per year and whilst the rest aren't necessarily bad they often need a lot of investment before becoming fully productive and even then, most aren't tuned into what you need to be an "innovator".

Education in information technology these days seems to be limited to something called "ICT" which to me looks confined to learning how to operate computer software (mostly MS Office) that other people create rather than learning to create it for yourself. For those not au fait with all this stuff the closest analogy I can think of is that it's like teaching English by instructing children in reading but not writing. Of course no one would seriously create their own word processing software on a whim just because they need to compose an email, just as it's true that not everyone is a William Shakespeare, but I believe the real challenge for us is not so much an operational one, it's about innovation.

Software is at the heart of most things these days, most of it invisible and unseen, but over the last 20 years it has gradually crept in unnoticed. Everyday items like cars, washing machines, phones, TV's all contains tons of it and more and more we live big parts of our private and working lives in the virtual world of the internet using tools like email, business systems, social networking applications and consuming  music, books, films etc.. If we lose the skills required to author original software then we lose the ability to fully compete in the market for most new products and services because most things have software in them! Sure, we can "outsource" but since software is so fundamental to most things (it's not like a paint-job) then over time we simply become a workforce of managers and accountants shuffling foreign resources around in applications written by Indians and Bulgarians. I have a couple of concerns with this approach, firstly it's no fun! where is the job satisfaction? and secondly what happens when the people who control the means of production decide that they'd prefer to manage themselves or want to take a bigger slice of the action, what leverage will we have?

I think it's a great idea that we teach kids how to write software, not just software of course, we need to teach them to build models, write stories, paint pictures and tinker with engines, this is the essence of innovation, not just in the field of computer science but in every field! Whilst consumption can be very satisfying, I for one certainly don't want to just "consume" and whilst obviously innovation and invention isn't for everyone, unless we allow kids to try it they'll never know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pictures painting words

I like this, it sums up what I think most of us "new atheists" (for want of a better label) feel about why we talk about religion in our society, it's first and foremost a reaction to what we see and what we're fed up with.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Think about the trees

I read with utter dismay today that the Prime Minister is planning to send a King James Bible to every school in the country, complete with a foreword by Michael Gove, the Education Minister. According to Mr Gove the King James Bible was the most important book written in the English language. “It‘s a thing of beauty, and it‘s also an incredibly important historical artefact. It has helped shape and define the English language and is one of the keystones of our shared culture" Gove says.

Firstly the key word here is "was", secondly I do believe that in years gone by this "Bronze age middle eastern culture" was mostly rammed down the throats of people at the point of something lethal or under threat of torture or death, "beauty" in this case most certainly only applies to the syntax. I would be the first to acknowledge that this book is absolutely part of our shared English heritage but no more so than Chaucer, Shakespeare, Locke, Bacon, Bronte, Dickens, Orwell, Pratchett and Adams et al, the list is very large, you could say we are fortunate to have an embarrassment of renowned works to choose from here in England. It seems strange to me that this particular book was chosen above all that could have been selected. I'm surprised because it strikes me that schools these days (or at least the ones I visit) are awash with Bibles, put there by people so obviously eager to exploit the malleability of young children and these books are cherry picked and "interpreted" ruthlessly by those with investments in them. This couldn't possibly be a Tory scam to scrape up a few extra votes from "middle England" could it? Lets hope that Mr Gove proves me wrong by spending a few (more) quid of our money on something of broader relevance to a modern, multicultural and general education, a few text books perhaps.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting the message

I'm liking this story on the BBC today accusing the Mail on Sunday of hacking people's mobile phone messaging systems. I have a personal axe to grind regarding the corrupt nepotism that passes for journalism at that particular news paper group. As we have seen with the Dowler case it's shocking that ordinary people as well as film stars can suffer extreme levels of distress and expense purely to further line the pockets of newspaper companies. My only concern is that Hugh Grant probably isn't the best material witness in the world, after all the revelations about his "colourful" lifestyle choices I suspect that a lot of people will view his testimony with some scepticism.

Hopefully our gutter "free" press will now consume itself in a feeding frenzy of disclosure about what they really get up to, I'm not holding my breath though.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One for geeks

Here's a little something for the geeks in the audience, anyone that's had to serve penance for unspeakable abominations committed in another life by developing software to run in lots of different browsers will know what I'm on about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

On the lash (well it is Friday!)

A couple of stories caught my attention today some of our Muslim cousins have been causing a stir again over some cartoons published in a French magazine. The cartoon (see below) apparently shows Mohammed saying "100 lashes if you don’t die laughing" although how you can tell its actually him is a mystery to me, its a cartoon after all not a caricature. Predictably the usual "you aren't allowed to criticise religion" brigade have been ranting about the inappropriateness of the drawing but also predictably have been less vocal about the retaliatory fire bombing of the offices of the publication. If you ever wondered why certain religions spread more widely than others then look no further, it's got nothing to do with the veracity of the mythology of course, but everything to do with the last man standing.

In the interests of balance, I also read that the Islamic government in Iran are planning to give actual lashes to two football players because one of them pinched the other's butt in a goal celebration which happened to be caught on national TV (see below). In Iran this apparently is a crime against chastity, clearly they completely missed the crime of impeding the goal keeper perpetrated by the blue number 5, a much more serious crime around these parts.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Coldplay leaves me a bit chilly..

I bought the latest Coldplay CD (Mylo Xyloto) the other day, no doubt it will sell a gazillion copies and to be honest it's not bad but what's my overriding feeling after a dozen or so listens?


The songs seem to follow a consistent pattern,

1. quiet intro
2. twiddly bit sound effect (mandolin, digital sample etc.)
3. verse featuring religious reference (probably adds gravitas for some, sounds lame to me)
4. re-peat, re-peat, re-peat a catchy word
5. la la la wo wo wo (full orchestra sing-along bit)
6. goto 3, 3 times
7. fade

Don't get me wrong it's a good pop music and I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it, but maybe a little experimentation might lead to something a little more compelling, a collaboration with Metallica perhaps?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Confusion among clergy

Here's one of those caption competition games that you see at the end of quiz shows, in this example the caption is, "Catholic clergy remain confused about proper condom usage" - well, I thought it was funny...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Birds eye view

Now here's a cool video, its about a paraglider hitting two vultures in flight over the Himalayas (watch closely at around 0.32)  Paragliding is a sport which I used to do lots BCE (before children era), it's great when everything goes OK (which is most of the time) but I think an incident like this would certainly put me off for a bit!

Thank goodness for reserve parachutes!

(No vultures or pilots were harmed during the making of this film, only shaken up a significantly!)

Them's fighting words

On October the 18th 2011 at a Republican Presidential debate in Las Vegas, USA Newt Gingrich let his kimono slip open ever so slightly for everyone to see the ugly reality lurking beneath. He directly attacked the integrity and honesty 50 or 60 million Americans simply because they don't believe in ancient myths, here's what he said,

“Does faith matter? Absolutely,” Gingrich said. “How can you have judgment if you have no faith? How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?” He continued, “the notion that you are endowed by your creator sets a certain boundary of what we mean by America.”

Gingrich also said that Americans should value religion first, above morality and knowledge; I can't think of a more vile and totalitarian philosophy. Being kind about it, this is delusional nonsense, being rational though, this is pure evil and coming from a man with less than ideal moral attributes. For example he has been married 3 times, is a serial womaniser and has had documented affairs whilst his wife at the time lay seriously ill. He has the dubious honour of being the only speaker of the House who has been disciplined for ethics violations and unsurprisingly makes a living by scamming people into handing over money for "fake" entrepreneur awards. (see video below)

It sounds to me like American secularists have a fight on their hands.