Thursday, March 31, 2016

They don't like it up em..

Here's a crazy little story of Christian petulance and bigotry. The school board in Colorado, USA has banned a pamphlet produced by the freedom from religion foundation because it's cover shows a cartoon of a Bible chasing a Woman (the point is that the Bible contains a lot of misogynistic crap, which it does) - The school boards' argument is that the cover is demeaning to Women and the contents of the pamphlet is "hate literature". This position is rather odd since the pamphlet consists almost entirely of Bible quotes and the school board seem quite happy letting the Gideons and other Christian proselytizers prey on school children under their care by distributing and promoting, yes, Bibles!


Like many people I was horrified to hear Donald Trump announce that he thinks Women should be punished for having an abortion. In typically disorganised BS fashion Trump has now retracted this comment and his position is now that only the people who perform the abortion should be punished, i.e. doctors and nurses. (Ironically) How large numbers of Americans think that this man wouldn't be a complete abortion as president is beyond me.

Common sense

Funny how often tradition and popular culture conflicts with reality. Quite a high proportion of the myths told to me as a child by my parents are actually rubbish, for example..
  • Reading in dim light ruins your eyes - nope, might ruin a good book though.
  • Shaved hair grows back faster - nope, hair grows at a steady rate (how would it know?)
  • You should drink 8 glasses of water a day - nope, doesn't take into account other sources.
  • Finger nails grow after you're dead - no they don't, in fact your body shrinks!
  • Cold weather makes you ill - no it doesn't, unless you count frost-bite.
  • Sugar makes kids hyperactive - nope, kids are just like that, try the opposite (worse!)
  • Don't swallow chewing gum - false, wriggly's passes through you like everything else..
  • We only use 10% of our brains - wrong, unless you're Donald Trump of course, then it's less.

RIP Ronnie

Saw this, found this picture, thought it was a great way to reflect on his contribution to our culture.

Lights, CAMERA, action...

I read today that the consumer group, "The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMERA)" has sent a communication to its 177,000 members in order to find out what they think about its purpose and strategy; effectively the leadership of that organisation feel that its original objectives (set 45 years ago) have been achieved, the UK having gone from 135 breweries in the country to 1,500 now and a much wider availability of "real" ale in most places around the country. With the "craft beer" explosion going on now too, the time seem ripe to establish a new purpose and direction for an organisation that (if they're honest) has an image of being populated with pompous bearded beer laggards, Google "Viz comic real-ale twats" for more on that (see example above).

My vote would go to some kind of broader consumer focus on pubs, specifically, how we can stem the alarming rate of closures around the country and also how diversity could be encouraged, perhaps come up with some alternatives to the "brewery tied" scenarios that seem to constrain what you can buy where etc.

Careful what you wish..

Been catching up on a story that hit the wire last week about Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah who was brutally stabbed to death last week; initially it was reported as a possible reprisal attack in response to the Brussels bombings (Mr Shah is a Muslim) but that was swiftly retracted when it became clear that the attacker was also a Muslim. Since then an arrest has been made and it has surfaced that the attack was religiously motivated; apparently, hours before his death, Mr Shah had wished his Christian customers "Happy Easter" on Facebook; this blasphemy was his victimless crime.

Religious people the world over need to open their eyes and learn this important lesson; I don't need to believe in wizards and magic to enjoy Harry Potter! It's all fiction people, get over it and start living life thinking for YOURSELF, without the millstone of ancient mythology and superstition. Far more happiness, peace, wisdom and beauty will come to you this way.

Just a stirrer

In my quest to make the perfect beer I put together a home-made plate stirrer last night. Essentially it's a device for stirring liquids (unattended) and the reason for having one in the brew process is to help get yeast fighting fit and able to do the best job it can at fermenting your beer. What you do is 24 hours before brew day you take some yeast and mix it with some water and malt extract (essentially sugar), then you put somewhere warm and stir it continuously (hence the need for a stir plate) After 24 hours the yeast cells should have multiplied in number and started fully working ready to be dropped into the wort (un-fermented beer) where they will hit the road running and get busy converting all those sugars.

I wanted to make this little device on the cheap so I got an empty plastic box, a fan from an old PC and a strong rare-earth metal magnet from an old hard-drive and wired up the gadget you can see in the video. For ease of use I added a switch and a potentiometer (to adjust the speed of the fan) and then glued the magnet onto the fan casing. When switched on the fan rotates the magnet and all I needed to do was place the jar with the yeast in it on top of the box along with a magnetic bead which then rotates with the magnet attached to the fan (via magnetic attraction). Hey presto a plate stirrer for about a fiver (it normally costs around £75-200 to buy a commercial/professional unit)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Stoned in Buckinghamshire

I do love to discover and read about the bonkers traditions this country has sometimes. 

I noticed this little story on the BBC site today, it's about a boulder (as in large rock) sitting in the middle of the road in a village called Soulbury, Buckinghamshire (see Google Earth picture above). Apparently the road was built around the boulder which has been on this spot for 11,000 years (its not clear how villagers know this?) The problem is, for obvious reasons, a car has recently crashed into the boulder and the driver is suing the council. The council now want to look at removing it (health and safety etc.) and as a result of this proposal, the locals are getting very hot under the collar; threatening to chain themselves to the rock in protest. In a statement to the BBC conservative councillor Mark Shaw said that it was "absolute madness" to even discuss moving the stone, strong words, so, perhaps it would seem petty of me to point out that the reason the rock is venerated is because local legend says that the rock appeared after villagers fought with the "devil" and cut off his foot, clearly a completely sane and reasonable reason for putting up with a dangerous glacial erratic. (bah humbug! :)

Suicide selfies

Slightly incredulous this morning reading about British passenger Ben Innes from Aberdeen posing with EgyptAir hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa. When asked why he did it Innes replied by saying that he wasn't sure but wanted to get a "closer look" (presumably at the bomb?). The most bizarre part of this story is that Innes is a health and safety auditor by trade (he clearly has a very "hands-on" approach to his work!) I can only imagine that it must have been abundantly clear that this terrorist wasn't actually wearing a real explosive belt and from the look on his face this chap he and the photographer almost certainly knew it too. I was also amused that the Egyptian government was quoted as saying that "he isn't a terrorist, he's an idiot", well, I would agree, but I would also suggest that most Islamist terrorists are idiots too, at least this guy committed his crime for some Earthly reason.

Understanding Easter

An old J&M cartoon that explains Easter (not!) 

I've always struggled to rationalise what this story is supposed to mean (probably why I'm not religious) Now, don't get me wrong, I love chocolate and marzipan as much as the next evolved primate, but why cakes with balls on them, eggs and rabbits etc. ? Never mind, why not I suppose, a couple of days off to decorate the spare room and de-clutter the shed is always a bonus.

Out of interest I asked my kids what they thought Easter meant and even after 5+ years of "RS" (religious studies) and church services every week (effectively mandatory at their school) they had no clue either. Probably a big hint that it's time to relegate this stuff out of the mandatory class stream and replace it with something more practical and therefore memorable (like history of religion, Philosophy and/or Ethics) Perhaps if the Easter story actually made some logical sense it might stick better in the minds of the un-invested as things stand it's clearly nonsensical to most people in the UK these days.

Saving cells

One of the biggest ongoing expenses in home brewing is buying fresh yeast; it's usual to pay around £6 for a batch of a specific liquid yeast (the best kind) and when you only make small quantities (I only make a gallon of beer at a time) this is by far the biggest proportion of the total. The other ingredients only add up to around £2 to make a gallon of beer. So, I thought I would try and reuse my yeast and harvest it from the gunk left over after the fermentation is done. It's a fairly simple processes, essentially you add water to the gunk and shake it up, then you transfer the milky liquid into separate jars (Kilner jars are good for this) and put them in the fridge. After a while the various components separate out into layers, at the top there is a brown liquid (dilute beer), then a white layer (yeast) and at the bottom a green-grey sludge (waste); see the picture above.

The idea is to carefully pour the spent beer away and then the yeast into a new empty jar leaving the waste behind in the original jar. If you start with four jars you gradually reduce this down to two then to one adding fresh water each time as the volume reduces. This process effectively washes and separates the yeast and you are left with clean cells which can be used in a new batch of beer. Apparently you can safely do this five or six times before contamination starts to introduce off-flavours; if this works then the overall cost comes down to less than £3 per gallon (around 35p a pint) even when using the most expensive and exotic strains of yeast; I wonder if yeast cells could be considered pets?

Friday, March 25, 2016

This is your captain speaking..

The excellent cartoon strip xkcd - A statement on the banality of modern airline travel - good humour invariably has a grain of truth at its core.. (coincidentally my son is travelling at the moment and I used "flightaware" yesterday to track his flight, cool app!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


New J&M cartoon Is Europe is sleep-walking through Islamist attacks against it whilst resigning itself to inaction? Douglas Murray has a good article on the subject here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

More of the same

Another day, another city, more lives ended, more lives ruined, nothing gained, nothing won; the Gods of peace remain silent and the dogs of war rub their hands in anticipation.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The dark-side..

Another home brew related post today.. I did a style of brew yesterday for the first time. I made a stout (with a twist). Usually stout is made from dark roasted/chocolate malts and has hops added only at the beginning of the boil stage in order to impart a bitter flavour to the beer. I decided that I'd go for a American twist to my stout so I added a bunch of Centennial hops to the end of the boil in order to give a hop forward flavour to the beer; the purists may argue that this is no longer a stout but I'd argue it's simply an "American stout", i.e. in a modern American style. As you can see from the photo it's fermenting right now and I finally think I've figured out my volume issues. I can now reliably fill my fermenting vessel to the top, in fact I don't think I could safely get any more in than this, once the yeast gets to work there's a tendency for the beer to try and leap out due to foaming and release of Carbon Dioxide gas; hence the safety tubing in place (which traps any escaping liquid or foam). It will be a couple of weeks before I bottle this up, and then at least 6 weeks conditioning after that. Let's hope it's worth the wait!

Friday, March 18, 2016


New J&M - a point that's been made before (many times) I always define a cult as an organisation where at least one person knows it's all a scam, a religion on the other hand is exactly the same except that person is dead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

German beer in Reading

The nearest big town to where I live is Reading (Berkshire) and it's twinned with the German city of Dusseldorf. Later this summer we'll be doing an exchange visit with a German lad the same age as my son, my boy will be spending a week in Dusseldorf and his German counterpart will be living with us for a week here in England. I must admit we're all feeling slightly apprehensive about it but nothing ventured etc. I'm hoping it will at least help with my lad's German studies although I suspect "Xbox" is the same word the world over. 

In preparation I was doing a bit of research on Dusseldorf (I've never been) and I discovered that they have their own specialty beer there! It's called "Altbier" and although this style is made elsewhere in Germany the city has it's own unique variation of it. I thought it would be fun to have a go at making some for myself, so I knocked up a batch into the fermenter this evening. Altbier is a dark brown beer, more like an ale than a lager. Being top fermented (like ales) rather than bottom fermented (like lagers) it contains some fairly regular malts but is conditioned very cold (3 degrees) giving a smooth texture to the brew (apparently!). I must say it looks and smells great, really malty and caramel-like, and my Thames Valley yeast seems to love it; a very vigorous fermentation started after only a couple of hours (all those chunky bits of yeast you can see are actually moving around!) We shall see how it turns out, although I have a while to wait as it takes over 7 weeks to properly mature; clearly not the height of German efficiency!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Philosophy of brain-power

Brains are all about connections between cells, much like a railway network, the more pathways there are the easier it is to get from A to B. Brains grow connections by being used and according to a recent study it would seem that certain types of thinking could help improve literacy and numeracy in children. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) tested the effect of teaching children philosophy through a randomized controlled trial and found that the kids who attended the courses showed an equivalent of an extra two months of teaching in reading and maths skills even though the material was not intended to improve reading or maths. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger jump, reading up by four months and maths up by three.

I've never studied Philosophy formally, it wasn't an option in the schools I attended, but as an adult I've taken a keen interest and have read widely on the subject. I can easily imagine that encouraging children to reason, formulate and ask questions using constructive conversation and argument would help them whatever their background or interests were. Confidence is key, if kids are confident they are unafraid to express themselves, they will interact more, ask more questions and consequently learn faster. In addition to this, developing skills around connecting ideas and using logic cannot be anything but beneficial. I fear that for too long Philosophy has been hijacked by religious education, I suspect that even now, most people think it has something vaguely to do with RE teaching (they are often "bundled" together); nothing could be further from the truth. In my view Philosophy (or at least the processes involved in developing philosophical ideas) should be seen as a tool that can help give our thinking power a work-out; mental exercise that helps us develop learning skills and life skills (particularly spotting logical fallacies) that are invaluable, whatever field we end up in.


Love this..

Friday, March 11, 2016

Atheists don't have no songs..

Wonderful stuff from Steve Martin. It's true that atheists don't have any carols, gospel choirs or canticles, but as he says in one of the verses, we've got rock and roll and have Sundays off! I'm quite happy with that arrangement :)

PS: If you've ever heard any "Christian rock" you'll know how converts to atheism are made ...

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Mysterious ways

J&M nails it once more. I do wonder sometimes how our religious brothers and sisters rationalize the fact that the vast majority of what they believe is open to such a wide interpretation; you'd think that if what they believed was true then their deity (being able to do anything) would have been able to be just a little more precise when communicating what is supposedly the most important message we're ever going to get. I also love the way they convince themselves that the more opaque and unlikely something is or that the harder you have to work to believe it, somehow this makes it more "true"...  mysterious ways indeed.

Thought for the day

The numbers are in for last month...

-Number of people hacked to death for criticizing evolution: 0
-Number of scientific theories that require laws to protect them from criticism: 0
-Number of gay people thrown off roof tops because of a sentence in the Principia: 0
-Number of babies whose genitalia have been mutilated in experiments: 0
-Number of people shot for drawing cartoons of Charles Darwin: 0
-Number of atheists detonating themselves in crowded markets over interpretations of Harry Potter: 0


Criminal ignorance

Following quickly in the heals of the wannabe Daniel in Africa we switch to America where religiously inspired idiocy takes a slightly different but equally lethal form. The Schaibles, a Pentecostal family from Pennsylvania have unbelievably allowed a second of their children to die from pneumonia by not seeking medical treatment when needed. Their first child died in 2009 at which point the court placed a 10 year probation order on them insisting that they seek medical care for any children in their care. The couple clearly ignored this order, and unsurprisingly 8 month old Brandon, died last year. The pair now face custodial sentences.

I wonder how many more innocent children need to die or be abused before we face up to this problem, when someone claims that medicine violates their religious beliefs and says to police ..

“We believe in divine healing, the Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil’s power”

Then we need to admit that they are at best delusional but most probably mentally ill; such people need religion aversion therapy, not more kids. Maybe these idiots should be introduced to the lion-man preacher, chalk one up for natural selection.

Faith in cats

Whilst visiting the Kruger National park with his disciples Christian "prophet" Alec Ndiwane (emboldened by the holy spirit) decided it would be a good idea to demonstrate how God has given man dominion over the beasts of the land by charging out of the tour car toward a group of lions. Unfortunately the good prophet should have had more faith in nature and less in his man-made baloney. The lions promptly charged right back at him, at which point he lost his nerve and did a rapid 180 back towards the car (clearly there are limits to his faith) the ranger fired off a couple of warning shots which seemed to do the trick but not before one of the pride took a nice bite out of the "flank" of the preacher for which a quick visit to the local hospital was required. There are many morals to this story, firstly, it doesn't matter which one of the thousands of man-made Gods you profess to believe in, don't mess with lions, they don't give a stuff about Yahweh, they only see lunch. Secondly, the stories in the Bible aren't literally true, they're just stories, reused and re-factored by many cultures over many centuries to entertain, control and inform people about the primitive societies they lived in; these days we can stay in the land-rover or on our sofas and let Steve Backshall do all the risky stuff in HD!

Monday, March 07, 2016


Tried some fresh off the production-line beer tonight, it's a clone of one of my favourite commercial beers, London Pride, made by Fullers of Chiswick (my birth-town) For this one I used a special "London" yeast and followed the exact recipe from a book of English bitter recipes. The result was amazing, I honestly couldn't tell the difference (I've drunk my fair share of "Pride" over the years, especially as a student in London) a real eye-opener. When you get all the numbers right, use the right grains and the right yeast and treat your water to get the right balance of salts & pH then it's perfectly possible to brew up an exact replica of your favourite beer, even the clarity and colour was spot on (see above for my version and below for the real thing). 

I've tried to do "English Bitter" a few times now and the results have been mixed, most have been just OK and one was awful so nothing to shout about. I consciously put a more effort into this one to get everything right and it paid off; I've started making detailed notes on every brew day I do now, all the temperatures, gravities, pH, volumes etc. are faithfully recorded so that the process is repeatable (if the result is good!). I'll definitely be making this one again soon.

Did you get my email?

I see that Ray Tomlinson (inventor of email) has died; Tomlinson worked on the ARPANET system which was the (private) precursor to the modern internet and he wrote an email system for it; an idea which caught on in ways and at a scale I suspect he never dreamt of. His contribution was pretty substantial when you think about it; the email concept changed the way people communicate for ever, particularly in business (when was the last time you send a fax?) There have been many attempts to supersede email, IM chat, Facebook, Twitter etc., all have found their niche but email it still there, a mainstay of company life.

In an industry that changes so fast it must have been very satisfying to have your idea last for 45 years and show no signs of going anywhere even now. Then again what the internet giveth the internet taketh away, I was remarking only the other day that what email did to save trees undid through cardboard packaging, in fact now I understand why they called it "Amazon", you need a forest that size to make all their oversized boxes!

Meme evolution

Languages, cultures, traditions, religions and other man-made ideas can be plotted over time as a branching tree, almost exactly like the evolutionary history of life. Hence the term "meme", an analogy where the gene is replaced by an idea that morphs, changes and spreads over time; it's a good analogy that works well even though not all ideas are subject to Darwinian selection pressures (like an idea enforced by powerful people) and ideas can merge in ways species can't. This is especially true of the Abrahamic religions where (because they are very recent inventions relative to geological time) their lineages can much more clearly be seen, Islam was largely plagiarised from Christianity which in turn sprung from Judaism; very much like English is a mash up of French and Germanic languages and French sprung from Latin etc. When it comes to memes you obviously need concious beings to create, develop and most importantly "host" them. If you think about this and extrapolate it to it's logical conclusion, there must have been a time on Earth when "ideas" didn't exist at all. These days we have at least a few billion conscious brains available to host memes of all kinds; it's surprising that the good ones are so scarce.

Friday, March 04, 2016

The atheist pig..

Stumbled across this little gem today. The Atheist pig cartoon strip and blog; some funny gags and interesting content (if atheism is your thing).

There's gonna be fireworks!

I think this poor guy has his chemistry a little muddled; he only seems to have a sketchy grasp of the compounds he's mixing with inevitable results, the moral of the story is don't try this at home kids! However thanks to the miracle of YouTube I challenge anyone to watch this without smiling, laughing or indeed snorting their morning tea through their nostrils in a rather undignified manner, unbecoming of a grown-up serious person, oh well at least it's Friday!

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

US election banter

Probably the most effective way of dealing with the more ignorant right-wing loons in the current US presidential election race (i.e. with humour)  A nice line which I intend to reuse in a number of scenarios..

Getting in touch with your feminine side..

New J&M up today; just like the song lyric says...

And we pray to our Lord
Who we know is American

He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middle-men

And he shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name

He supports us in war
He presides over football games

And the right will prevail
All our troubles shall be resolved

We have faith above all
Unless there's money or sex involved

Missing Glen Frey already..

Atheist bashing

That bastion of religious wing-nuttery Saudi Arabia is at it again, this time an Atheist who dared express his views on social media has been arrested, fined £4,000 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes. Whenever religion is tightly bound to politics there's trouble for ordinary people; as you can see from the photograph above the brutal "sharia" laws that suppress dissent and freedom of speech in that country don't apply to the ruling elite. We need only look at the behaviour of rich Saudi's in London or New York to see that, but for somewhere that designates atheists as "terrorists" it is strikingly obvious that they don't apply these same "laws" for atheist arms dealers, oil brokers or even secular (some would argue atheistic) US presidents.