Thursday, April 30, 2015


Listening to the new Steve Hackett album at the moment; it's called "Wolflight" and features a bunch of guest musicians and a stack of new tracks from the ex-Genesis uber-guitarist. So far I think it's good; lot's of long tracks and guitar wizardry from the maestro altogether a very well put together set of musical landscapes. Some of the tracks have that Trick of the Tail feel to them although this is not a Genesis rip off by any means. My only slight reservation is that some of the lyrics are a bit naff (should of run them by Mike and Tony) but this is a small niggle and more than offset by the stunning picking on show.

Bigoted jewellery

So, apparently the new Apple watch doesn't work if you have a tattoo, clearly Apple doesn't want to have it's beautiful new baby debased by being worn by chavs!

Not really! The real problem is that there's an issue with the sensors on the back of it meaning that the green light used to measure blood flow struggles to detect your heart rate if you have darker coloured skin. Not the end of the world I suppose but let's hope they don't hear about this over in Baltimore, it's bad enough having your own police force discriminating against you because of the colour of your skin, let alone pieces of jewellery!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Last of the Summer wine

Here's a really interesting post about our climate and how difficult vine growers in Sussex find it to compete with the Champagne growers in France. The oceanic source of our warm (relatively) Winters is also the cause of our lack-lustre Springs and Summers. We only reach parity in terms of average daily temperature with Reims around September which of course is very late in the vine's growing cycle and too late if the Summer has been bad, which it often is in the UK.

Fortunately help may be at hand from science; a type of polymer mesh screen called "cosy tex" can be erected around the vines that helps to radiate heat back onto them raising the average temperature by a few degrees which may just be enough to almost match the flowering-ripening cycle of the French grapes.

English wine, particularly sparkling wine has come on leaps and bounds in the last 10 years and there are some excellent producers out there creating wines of real character and interest. With innovation like this we may even see English sparkling wine surpassing the appeal of French Champagne; as long as the growers can keep the quality high and retain a decent price differential then I'm sure people here will naturally gravitate to home grown products.

Putting colour into their cheeks..

Interesting set of old black and white photo's that have been coloured which brings them to life in a slightly surreal way.

Some are more equal than others

As usual Jesus and Mo is bang on the religious zeitgeist. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The tectonic plate of shame

In the spirit of being impartial when it comes to stupidity I came across this little story today that claims a leading Indian right wing (VHP) politician says that the recent Earthquakes in Nepal were bound to happen because the ruling party leaders (not her tribe) eat Beef. Yes, religion in all it's anthropomorphic, partisan wonder strikes again before all the bodies are even cold. So, yes it's not just Christians that say daft things as a consequence of their beliefs although I suspect it's only a matter of time.

What's in a word?

"Islamophobia, a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons." - Christopher Hitchens (1949 - 2011)

Monday, April 27, 2015


As we would all acknowledge, following one particular political philosophy or another involves a complex set of personal decisions which are of course influenced by upbringing, social status, family, wealth and so on; you could say that for every person there exists a unique set of perspectives on how our society should be run. Often these views overlap official parties and often people switch allegiance as their personal circumstances change over time; sometimes whole regions, cities, neighbourhoods and families follow one party all their lives without really questioning it; out of a sense of tradition, indoctrination or loyalty to a community.

Many people take their political views very seriously indeed; they go to the meetings, they get the newsletters and they trudge around the streets come election time whipping up support for their particular brand of politics and they take time to explain and articulate those views to others outside of their party in an attempt to persuade them of their value. You could even say that for some people their politics defines them; it gives them purpose and a sense of belonging in a world that can often seem chaotic and undefined without such kinship around a set of shared ideals.

For this reason I think there should be laws preventing people from belittling or criticising people's political view-points. We should have a society where people can subscribe to a set of political beliefs and be able to feel secure that those beliefs won't be questioned or insulted by people outside of their particular party, they should feel completely free to support whatever policies and actions they wish and not have answer for those policies or have them made fun of or besmirched by ignorant outsiders who simply don't understand them properly, like party members do.

Nah! of course not, I don't believe this should be true any more than Ed Miliband does, so why the hell would he think it should be true for Islam?

California cruising

I had a cracking Californian wine over the weekend from a famous producer called "Ridge". It was their Cabernet Sauvignon Estate wine which is made from roughly 80% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and a mixture of a couple of other varieties Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, a classic Bordeaux blend. It was a real treat, lovely acidic balance, overflowing with cassis and plum fruit with an earthy core that just kept giving flavour long after it disappeared down my neck! Drunk over two nights it was noticeably different but still great on Sunday when a thread of mocha (coffee) appeared alongside the still prominent blackcurrant fruit, so moreish. Not a cheap wine at roughly £30 but drinking very well right now with tons of ageing potential, I expect it will be even better in 5-10 years time.

This wine has a bigger brother called "Monte Bello" named after the Santa Cruz mountain the grapes grow on; it's roughly the same blend of grapes but has much more attention lavished on it and the grapes are sourced from superior plots. The downside is that it's 5X the price of the regular estate wine and although I suspect it's not 5X as good, from the quality of it's poorer cousin I would speculate it's pretty special; ho hum, one day!

Trust in me...

Fox news in America ran this slimy piece the other day in which Catholic priest Jonathan Morris said that Atheists are "hard to trust" because they don't believe in "eternal consequences" for their actions; the implication was that an Atheist could not be President (I think he'll find that there have been many Atheist Presidents already!).

In other words he's saying that the main reason religious people behave themselves is because they fear hell-fire or some such "after-death" punishment. Unfortunately we all know that can't be true because millions of religious people don't actually behave themselves at all; being a Catholic in the era of Catholic child abuse scandals you would have thought he would have known that all too well?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Think you're a star?

Truly inspiring; 25 years of pictures from the Hubble space telescope are being celebrated at the moment with some stunning old and new images taken from a vantage point roughly 500km above the Earth. Here we have the remains of a star that has run out of fuel and exploded (a supernova) this image shows the expanding matter that was once a throbbing ball of thermonuclear homeliness just like our own Sun but is now an interstellar splat 6 light years wide, which, if you were to blast across it from edge to edge in a Concord would take you about 3 million years! Of course heat-death is a fate that awaits us all eventually, like a cosmic Bruce Forsyth after billions of years of burning bright, every star comes to the end of it's time in the spotlight; some go out with a (big) bang like this one, some (like our own Sun) just expand, shrink and then fade.

Hubble has been a fantastic achievement; it' wasn't supposed to last this long but after a couple of maintenance visits from the space shuttle in the 90s it's life is now expected to stretch until 2030. We don't need to wait that long however to see the next generation of space telescopes; the James Webb telescope (due to be launched in 2018) will see a 100X improvement in performance over Hubble, I can't wait to see the results!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tower Hamletistan

If you want to know what it would be like to be governed by a religion soaked slime pit of Islamic cronyism, intimidation and corruption you need look no further than the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The recent Mayoral election there has just been declared null and void because the Mayor, and his supporters, have been found guilty of widespread corruption, vote rigging, slander and intimidation.

Many years ago I did a project at the old town hall in Tower Hamlets for the then Labour council. I managed an IT development project to build a housing allocation system. It was a mixed team some of their people and some of our people (i.e. the company I worked for at the time) It was an eye-opening experience for lot's of reasons and when we finished (after 2 years) I decided that whenever practically possible I'd avoid working for the public sector.

I found the place to be a vipers nest of cliquey, back stabbing jobs-worth's who would smile to your face and rip you to shreds behind your back (of course, there were some nice, normal people there too; but they tended not to stay long). It was a nightmarish landscape of political correctness gone mad; devoid of anyone who had any actual decision making ability or desire, every conversation had to be weighed and measured, every word carefully chosen, normal human interaction, particularly humour was strictly off the table.

I remember that at one point the project manager on the Council team left to have a baby and her managers were so incapable of simply hiring a replacement that they ended up giving the job to three separate (junior) people who rotated the post on a two week basis. Obviously all that happened was each fortnight when the PM changed the new one spent their whole two week tenure undoing all the decisions of the previous incumbent, and around it went, this lasted for months. Of course any suggestion or hint of lateness was immediately blamed (although not to your face) on the out-group (i.e. my team and I), it was hell. I've been fortunate enough to work in many countries all over the world from America to South Africa through Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Holland as well as the Middle-East and I can categorically say that the place with the most weird, backward, divisive, unhelpful working practices and people was the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. In the end, we delivered the project on-time and under-budget which at the time was the first IT project ever in the history of that council to have that status, I think our little team instinctively created some kind of Dunkirk-spirit force-field that kept us going through the madness, well, that and after-work alcohol abuse.

It would seem from recent reports that things haven't gotten any better at LBTH, in fact it looks like they're worse, now we have the spectre of Islamism entering the fray too. Apparently supporters of the criminal Mayor went around telling voters that they weren't "proper Muslims" unless they voted for him, you can clearly see how "old-school" religious intimidation plies it's trade and how if religion is allowed to enter the public square it quickly establishes itself as a reason to divide people and create unhealthy levers that corrupt and discriminate. Hopefully the long suffering residents of LBTH can find a suitable candidate to be their Mayor; unfortunately though, I fear that when you live in a vipers nest all there is to choose from are snakes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Old dog, new trick

It would seem that ex-US President Jimmy Carter has finally realised that clinging onto ancient scripture and religious dogma based upon it (i.e. having a fundamentalist attitude) leads to moral stagnation and inevitable injustice. After a lifelong membership of the Southern Baptist Convention he has finally severed all ties with that particular Christian sect.

The reason he gives is that he can no longer tolerate the inequality desired and sometimes imposed on Women by that organisation based on cherry-picked verses of the Bible that are clearly man-made and no longer relevant to modern gender ethics; they are, he concludes, unfair. After 60 years in any organisation I think it's a very brave and honest thing to do; to admit that you were wrong and to publicly reject such a lengthy and emotional investment for an ethical principal is an inspirational act, one that many would benefit from considering in their own lives, religious or otherwise.

Hopefully President Carter can make that one extra little incremental leap of logic and not just reject the particular sect he was involved with for 60 years, but the whole notion that a faith based (i.e. against the evidence) approach has any useful place in determining our ethics or the kinds of societies we wish to live in.


Code style is a religious topic around here (actually, no, it evokes way more passionate opinions and emotion in programmers than religion) - some people need to get a life.

(from the excellent

Computer love

I read today that a judge in New York has extended a right to some Chimpanzees at a university research lab that is normally reserved exclusively for Human Beings, the right of habeas corpus, i.e. they cannot be owned and caged (imprisoned) without justification. This is an interesting development, some might say inevitable, Chimps are our closest genetic cousins and let's face it we generally treat them like property. This ruling perhaps suggests a movement in the zeitgeist that might start seeing a shift in our moral attitudes toward other concious creatures. This kind of thing is long overdue in my opinion, I believe it's more a matter of taking responsibility for our actions and seeking to maximise the well-being of sentient creatures, why wouldn't we?

I do wonder what we'll do when robots become indistinguishable from people; will we treat them well or will we regress to the mentality of 18th century slave owners? To be honest though, I don't think this will happen too soon, perhaps not in my life time. Artificial intelligence is notoriously tricky but technology is improving quickly. In a recent development at a UK university they re-created part of a bee's brain in a computer using neural network software, it's sufficiently complex and functional to be able to fly a drone along a corridor and not hit the sides, impressive!. On a similar theme, take a look at the picture above which shows a recent installation at a Japanese department store, a talking humanoid robot that gives instructions to customers in different languages. Not exactly "I Robot" I grant you, but if a mere department store can afford such a device you can image the possibilities given enough cash and some time, although, I bet UKIP would have something to say about it.

Of course not everyone deals with human-machine relations in a rational way, here's a story about a chap in America (where else) who got so frustrated with his personal computer that he took it outside into his yard and pumped 8 shots into it, completely destroying the device. I guess we've all felt like that sometimes, after all, it's what makes us Human.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Gods hate

Religious people would prefer that we stop asking questions about gay marriage, jihad, abortion, women's rights, faith schools, bishops in the House of Lords, evolution, sharia law, assisted dying, stoning to death, inquisitions, witch hunts, Noah's ark and stem cell research...

as we all know, God hates FAQs!

If we worshipped a food..

It would be bacon of course..

A bunch of sceptics in Las Vegas (that singularity of all things fake) has come up with a campaign to parody religion (and themselves) it seems like a tiny island of sense in an otherwise sea of make-believe and false hopes but not everyone seems to get the joke however. The group claims that Wells Fargo Bank is discriminating against atheists by refusing to notarize documents for them; I guess you could say their plans have been h-ambushed?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Oxfam spirits

Amazingly here's multi-millionaire Pat Robertson, ex US presidential candidate (1988) talking about demons attaching themselves to objects such as jewellery and clothes. Apparently it does no harm to mumble a quick prayer over your second hand purchases, you know, just in case...

Why is it that the credulous people parasites like Pat exploit never ever stop to think of the most obvious explanation for their supernatural anecdotes and myths, i.e. the people who claim these kinds of things to be true were either mistaken, lying or mentally ill?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Christmas presents

To celebrate the release of the 2nd teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens; I found this picture which, let's face it after the global nuclear holocaust will become reality, i.e. the children of the survivors will start thinking about the legend of Vader as more true than the legend of Yahweh, it's just the nature of evolved primates, we love a good morality tale and frankly light-sabres are much cooler than burning bushes.

If you haven't seen it yet the new trailer can be viewed here..

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Factual Horoscopes

Razor sharp observation of reality from the legendary XKCD (as usual)

The art of persuasion

It's always interesting to look at other people's sales strategies, especially when they involve selling things to you! Often the articulation of a sales strategy exposes the inherent weaknesses of an idea or product, Human nature is to avoid talking about your weakest features and to steer potential customers toward the best bits (and keep them there!), so what's not being talked about is often a good signpost to the very things that a consumer should be examining!

On wikihow there's a 3 part series of "how to" advice points for Christians wishing to persuade atheists (i.e. friends and family) to become Christians too; it's not a bad piece, quite civil and reasonable in many ways but it's still enlightening for the very reason above, i.e. it betrays the key points of weakness in their own thinking and the areas they wish (perhaps subliminally) to avoid; let's take a look at what's being suggested along with my own observations from the perspective of the Atheist.

Part 1 - Approaching the Subject

1.1 Put yourself in your friends shoes - Perfectly sensible sales move; understand the value of your proposition to the client. Unfortunately it goes off the rails where the author suggests that most Atheists are concerned with being good people rather than souls and not to "judge" them for this. As a logical argument this boils down to the pernicious belief that it doesn't matter how evil you are so long as you believe in God you'll be OK. To Atheists (and all empathetic primates) this is not a plus point for Christianity, it's a horrendous thought, one that encourages evil people to do absolutely anything they like so long as they come to Jesus on death-row - is this honestly what moral Christians believe?

1.2 Choose a convenient place and time - Again, a sensible suggestion, no one wants to talk about such deep topics at places of work or in the middle of something unrelated; the advice is also not to "debate" but rather have a "dialogue". Clearly there is underlying fear here; fear about being perceived as entrapping someone or making them embarrassed. This is good advice, but it's also clear that debate is to be avoided because proper debate involves appeals to facts and evidence and not appeals to emotion and feelings; this is barren ground for Christians; the evidence of reality outside of their own hopes and desires works entirely against their position. It usually forces them to retreat to a "God of the gaps" stance from which it's difficult to build credibility with someone who values evidence based arguments.

1.3 Have a genuine arms-length conversation - The fear of serious fact-based debate is highlighted even more here as the recommendation is to listen more than you talk. The advice is don't preach or shock. What this translates to in my ears is "your logic is weak, your facts non-existent, stick to building empathy with the person, make them think you care about them and hook them that way" This is a tactic often employed by good sales people, it's very powerful. The invocation of emotion and (faux) friendship in order to overcome objections is a tried and tested way of avoiding awkward conversations about inconvenient facts and building advocacy; when things get sticky buy them a "free lunch" or treat them to an England rugby match ticket, it's an approach that's as old as the hills.

1.4 Don't try to convert your friend or to present ultimate ideas - Again, we have advice steering potential proselytisers away from "facts", facts are clearly "silver bullets" as far as theism is concerned. Far better to stick to the fluffy stuff, desires, hopes, aspirations and excitement. Unfortunately what most Theists fail to understand is that Atheists are usually Atheists because they have thought seriously about these questions and they value and use facts and evidence to reach conclusions about things; avoiding them simply reinforces the perception that Christianity is a con job.

Part 2 - Talking About Your Faith

2.1 Tell your friend what your Christianity means to you - The main theme here is to avoid talking about things like eternal punishment (Hell) and quite right too; a more ridiculous and immoral idea has yet to be thought up. The advice is also indicative of the fact that most Christians don't seem to believe the (apparently) core stuff in their Bible; creation, heaven, hell, gender inequality, slavery, stoning gays etc. etc. an inconvenient truth that places another nail in the credibility and "truth" of these ideas as far as rational people are concerned.

2.2 Establish a common language - Essentially the advice here is to use "secular" rather than "theological" language, good advice! Theological language sounds like babble to most people; no coherent argument can be had using "theological language", arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a needle with someone who values facts, evidence and logic would be utterly non-overlapping.

2.3 Don't try to debate the specifics of the Bible - those pesky facts again; the advice here is essentially "avoid talking about dinosaurs", the reason is obvious, i.e. they don't fit into the narrative being sold.

2.4 Try to understand the perspective of your friend - The best advice in the whole piece, it suggests that no assumptions should be made about why someone is an Atheist; quite right. I've never met an Atheist yet who is "angry at God", making assumptions like this about people is simply bad manners.

2.5 Let your friend try to convert you - Again, good general advice for meaningful human relations, i.e. be open minded! Unfortunately the advice then goes on to reinforce the dogma that no matter what argument or evidence is presented by the Atheist the religious person should not change their mind - not much point in talking about it then is there?

Part 3 - Keeping the Dialogue open

3.1 Walk the walk - Fair enough, it says don't be a hypocrite, unfortunately most people are, so maybe it would be better to explore the idea that Human beings come with certain built in universal behaviours; we are all evolved from the same primate ancestors after all.

3.2 Invite your friend to come with you to church - Most Atheists I know quite like a good sing-song and a BBQ.

3.3 Be patient - OK; but I would advise also being realistic; best not to have too much invested in the idea that you might convert someone to your way of thinking. It's unlikely that you will, and this isn't because Atheists are closed minded. Most Atheists were once believers or at least educated in the ways of believers, such is the monopoly and visibility of religion in our world. Atheism isn't a belief, it's the lack of one and is usually arrived at by careful examination of the reasons offered for that belief. The Atheist simply finds the reasons lacking; they don't cut the mustard. Don't expect what you're going to say to be much of a surprise to the Atheist it's almost certain they will have considered your points before. Actually it's probably better to expect to be surprised by the weight of evidence against your position; in my experience most Christians end up on the defensive (many often "offended") after such interactions.

3.4 Be persistent - Good advice; know when to quit and don't let a difference of opinion regarding things that cannot be known ruin a perfectly serviceable friendship in the here and now; this is certainly my philosophy in these matters.

3.5 If you want to pray for your friend, do it in private - More good advice, most Atheists I know don't actually take offence at this kind of thing as they don't believe it makes any difference (other than in the mind of the person doing the praying); some (more strident) Atheists might see overt displays of religiosity aimed at them as unwelcome possibly even rude, depends on the person.

So, all in all not a terrible set of advice; but I don't feel this really prepares the Theist well for the usual outcome of such debates.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Three blokes walk into a bar...

American politics, great value for money, i.e. funny, scary and life changing all at the same time.

Chairman Bill's gun boat?

I saw this little story in a local rag today, it made me smile (in a very un-PC) kind of way. Apparently some mischievous boat owner moored up on the Thames at Caversham, Berkshire has fitted a guided missile to the top of his boat!

I know the rivalry between Caversham and Reading goes back a long way but isn't this taking it a bit far? Or maybe this is some kind of ISIS take-over bid; first they'll hit Waitrose with an Exocet and then it'll be the public decapitation of swans who refuse conversion to a duckish sect of Islam (even more quackery than usual). Then I saw this photo of a scary figure also on the boat, and instantly realised who the authorities must be dealing with.

Everything clicked into place, the "damp barge in the arse end of the Thames" and the sinister red eye.

It's Chairman Bill!

Right wing lefty

Two days late (that's feckless Atheists for you) but Christopher Hitchens would have been 66 on the 13th April - he's a much missed voice and advocate of reason against the forces of superstition, fascism and theocracy.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


Well I suppose that's the Easter holiday over with; a beautiful Spring day and back to the office after a couple of days off. Didn't do much except yesterday when we all went on a day trip to Salisbury and had a good look around the magnificent Cathedral. Among other things we took in one of the oldest working clocks in Europe; the best remaining original copy of Magna Carta and various other historical, religious and artistic relics dating back some 800 years; all very interesting and not somewhere I'd visited for over 35 years! I used to go to school near there and remember vividly one summer day in 1977 a couple of mates and I bunked off on the train and spent the entire afternoon in a ramshackle (long since demolished) cinema watching Clint Eastwood movies, we thought we were so grown up.