Monday, October 31, 2016

Toil and trouble..

As is tradition at this time of year, the BBC have summoned up the spirit of Halloween and featured a clutch of ghostly, ghoulish news articles for those fond of a ritual or two to consume (along with their left over Haribo's!) One particular piece caught my eye, it's about heritage agency "Historic England" asking people to record ritual markings on old (16/17th century) doorways and fireplaces that were put there in order to ward off witches and demons. As the article says, these marks, usually circle designs or particular letters, were supposed to confuse and entrap evil spirits. Clearly our ancestors were an incredibly gullible bunch, either that or the witches and demons of the day were pretty pathetic, you'd never catch a proper 21st century mythical creature being so easily defeated. Of course we don't believe this nonsense anymore in this country and the last witchcraft act was repealed in 1951 (alarmingly recently!) although it was tuned down over the years from it's barbaric heyday in the 16th century. 

What's often forgotten with all this jolly, pointy hatted tomfoolery re-enacted at Halloween is that real Women (usually vulnerable and poor), innocent women, were tortured and often murdered as a result of this religiously inspired insanity, no one knows for sure but it's estimated that at least 500 people were killed in this country alone and in Europe the picture was even worse. Incredibly there are still countries in the world today that execute people for witchcraft or turn a blind eye to vigilante mobs who do the same. These are people so monumentally stupid that they watch the wizard of oz and think it's a documentary! Countries like Saudi-Arabia, Uganda and India seem quite willing to put up with such epic failures of reason and justice; for us it's history, for some it remains reality.

Ghoulish ..

The Islamification of our culture continues... ;)

Scaring the children..

Totally terrified mine...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

(is this the way to) Amarillo

More beer brewing pictures, today we have a fine specimen dry-hopping in the cooling Autumn air. This little number is a brown ale called "Jackie Brown" (for film buffs everywhere) and is a classic English brown ale with added American hops, in the photo you can see around 9 grams of Amarillo hops sitting in the fermenting vessel where they will soak for a couple of days before bottling. These hops were fresh from America (sent via chilled air freight from the West Coast) and from the 2016 harvest and were the most sticky, pungent hops I think I've ever used, wonderful aromas of citrus, apricot and peach fruits, I have big hopes for this brew!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Smirk II

Couldn't resist this one, the latest update on the Schiaparelli lander is here...

Friday smirk

So, here's a couple of topical jokes that you can use down the pub tonight, or while killing time when out this weekend scaring young children in your new evil-clown outfit...

1. My wife asked me to start treating her more like the Women she's seen in classic black and white movies... so I left her tied to the train tracks..

2. I'm confused, is Pete Burns, Dead or Alive?

3. Congratulations to West Ham, the only football club named after the two things ISIS hates.

Disclaimer; these aren't my own inventions, just the ones I've heard this week (and smirked at)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Dry times at the Sind Club

I see in the news today that they're proposing an alcohol ban in Pakistan; the Sindh province banned it on Thursday and many are now calling for a total ban across the whole country. The move is surprising since the Sindh province includes that country's largest city, Karachi (pop. 24,000,000) , which is still around 10% non-Muslim who I'm sure are thrilled at this development. If you ever wondered what many Muslims behave like when in an overwhelming majority then look no further than Pakistan, a secular, open and tolerant society it ain't. Yet another reason to avoid this place like the proverbial plague.. I wonder if they've broken the news to Blowers yet?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Weird story in the news today about a weird cult, the Catholic church. Apparently this organisation has "banned" the scattering of dead people's ashes, they also disallow keeping ashes in ornamental containers and the splitting of ashes between members of a family (they only lifted a Catholic ban on cremation as recently as 1963!). Strict new Vatican guidelines dismiss the practice as "Pantheism", which as we all know is the worship or tolerance of many gods, and as any student of religious studies knows is nothing like Roman Catholic beliefs, with their myriad saints, archangels, spirits and trinitarian god-head.

I'm tempted to criticize this organisation (as I often do) by scoffing at their rather silly medieval belief in zombies rising from their (actual) graves come judgement day, but I reckon the real reason underpinning this dogma is much simpler (and "earthly"). If you read beyond the headline you discover that the guidelines dictate that unless you put the ashes in a church or graveyard then you'll not be a "proper" Christian, and presumably won't go to Heaven, in other words, sprinkle poor old auntie Mildred's ashes on our property (small fee may be applicable) or burn baby, burn! How quaint, I wonder where they stand on cricket stumps?

Starry starry night

Went out the other night for a bite to eat and to have a business meeting with a colleague, so since we were on expenses I went upscale a bit and booked a local one Michelin starred pub called the Royal Oak. Owned by Michael Parkinson (off the telly) and his son, this pub turned gastro-venue owes much of it's hefty price tags to this simple fact. Whilst the food was OK, IMO it wasn't really worth the "London money" being charged (£26 ish for a main course) and their policy of forcing customers to pay extra for vegetables you'd normally expect to see on the plate (like red cabbage with duck) seemed to rub even extra salt into the somewhat over-salty crab ravioli. 

My biggest beef though wasn't the £35 steak (potatoes £4.50 extra) so much as the wine list. Along with many other Michelin starred places these days, they feel it's perfectly fine to apply mark-up's of around 4-6 times onto bottles of decidedly average wine (even more for the "trophy wines"). I must admit I was a little surprised to find that this eatery doesn't publish their wine list on-line (most do these days) and now I think I understand why. If I'd have seen it in advance I think I'd have chosen a different place to go. I really object to paying £45 for a sub-£10 bottle of wine served in clunky pub-stemware. I'm quite happy to pay a reasonable margin for any service I receive (the service was good), I do understand how businesses work! But, this wine price-fixing among upmarket restaurants these days is just exploiting people's ignorance and/or blatant profiteering, star or no star, I shan't be visiting again in a hurry.

God gene

New J&M up today; Interesting idea. Much as I usually try to steer clear of articles in mainstream media that start with the phrase "scientists say", the cartoon refers to a recent study done at the University of Helsinki (ranked around 100th in the world) involving religious people and autistic people. The idea is that autistic people have a specific condition that makes them tend to view the world as entirely "physical", i.e. they struggle to comprehend the feelings or mental states of other people. Whereas religious believers often have the opposite problem, i.e. often conflating mental and physical entities, for example, believing that inanimate objects like rocks, rivers and mountains have spirits (as per many animistic belief systems) or that hurricanes are sent to punish gay people etc. The objective of the study was to see if there were any real correlation between these groups and their alignment to either physical or mental beliefs, apparently there is. 

I do wonder if there is such a thing as a "god belief gene", it would explain a lot; it would certainly help explain why (regardless of culture or environment) there always seems to be a reasonably consistent % of the population that simply doesn't believe whatever the pervasive cult or religion says.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fake shake?

Funny tweet from a seemingly serious "Islamic Scholar"; when my wife saw this on the Twitter feed she said "what kind of car is that, and where can I get one!?" - I've always wondered why they don't allow Women to drive in places like Saudi Arabia.. I'm not an Islamic scholar of course but being an inquisitive sort I wonder why this problem doesn't also afflict Women passengers?

Reminds of the one about two nuns riding bicycles in the back streets of London. One says "I've never come this way before.", the other replies "me neither. It must be the cobblestones!"

Monday, October 24, 2016

Never a truer word..

Excellent cartoon from J&M; this kind of thing would simply be amusing if we didn't have real countries and Governments in this world like those in Saudi, Iran and Pakistan (among others) who seem to think that this kind of religiously inspired intellectual intolerance is perfectly OK because their God is clearly the "right" one and everyone else's view on this matter is wrong (as you do). There are many examples of people caught up in overtly biased legal processes in these theocratic hell-holes, take the case of "Asia Bibi" for example, a Christian Woman sitting on death-row in Pakistan, her crime? simply being a Christian. The crime of "believing the wrong thing" is alive and well in these places, usually with particular torments reserved for those who simply don't believe any of it, in fact in places like Saudi, Atheists are considered by some in their Government to be "terrorists", a level of state-promoted psychosis that's quite extraordinary to see in the 21st century.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

100 People

This popped up on one of my feeds today; thought it was mildly interesting, some of these statistics (if true) surprised me, particularly how many people have a phone these days.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Everything that's wrong

I kind of agree with this, except I'm not sure it's our culture that's "wrong" so much as the effect of new (unresolved) challenges emerging in some of the elements that feed and shape it, especially education. It's worth noting that contrary to the assertions of many people with agenda's to impose, we live in an age of record prosperity, health and mobility. And despite there still being wars, skirmishes and the odd psychopathic ideology, we are also (on average) less likely to die a violent death than at any time in Human history. The odd blip like Trump should be expected; the trick will be teaching future generations mastery of critical and skeptical thinking, i.e. equipping them with the most reliable tools we know of in order to expose the hucksters and con-men before they screw things up for everyone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's good to talk

Interesting story in the computer press today about a software advance at Microsoft. A team from the Artificial Intelligence and Research department announced that the latest iteration of their speech recognition software had achieved an error rate of 5.9%, i.e. in a segment of normal human speech (i.e. conversation) it interpreted 94% of the words correctly, this is pretty similar (if not superior) to the rates you would expect a professional transcriber to achieve. This achievement, along with some other advances in NLP (natural language processing) and machine learning, opens the door to potentially having a proper spoken dialogue with computers rather than having to "type" stuff all the time. Removing the barrier of the keyboard and operating systems of modern computers opens them up to communities and uses that have proved difficult to satisfy, for example handicapped and elderly people. The race is now properly "on" to achieve fully integrated, voice controlled systems that do real and useful things in the real world. 

I recently got my hands on the new Amazon Echo device which admittedly has a limited set of topics currently, but has speech recognition and natural language processing capabilities that are excellent for the price point IMO; and it gets better as it learns the nuances of accents and FAQ's etc. You can simply ask it things like "how do you spell xxx" or "what's x divided by y" and you instantly get the right answer (a boon for my kids doing English and Maths homework!) I'm also finding it useful to capture shopping list and "to-do" items whilst juggling pots and pans around the kitchen (as the thought strikes!); I also rate highly it's music playing abilities, combined with a service like Spotify pretty much any track from any era and any artist is available just by asking for it. My next experiment is to link it up to some home automation devices, see if I can control some of the more frequently used devices and lights around the house. It's a brave new world, if I were 18 years old again and wondering what field to get into at this point in history, I think AI would be it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Divide and... collapse..

So it looks like the answer was "fire" then... the fact that these UKIP clowns were instrumental in spectacularly deceiving the public to achieve the most stupid and divisive political decision in modern history simply rubs salt into the wound.

Col Mustard in the library with the lead pipe

Nice cartoon from XKCD - makes you think; I wonder how many of the attributes, both physical, phenotypical and behavioural we've missed or gotten wrong through only having an (incomplete) fossil record to go on. I wonder if those gaps could be plugged by DNA, i.e. if spider DNA codes for proteins that make silk then we can guess that spiders make webs without ever seeing one, same for venom.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Best, best

For ages now I've struggled to make a really convincing English "best bitter", despite being probably the easiest (on paper) beer to make with the simplest ingredients, getting it right on the day was proving elusive. This evening I cracked open a new batch of a Fullers London Pride clone which I must say has turned out fabulously. I've made this beer before and it turned out pretty good (I thought it was wonderful at the time) but compared to this one it had its flaws. This time around the colour is spot on, clarity excellent and the taste really authentic (tried side-by-side with a bottle of the original), good balance between malts and hops with a nice bitter finish (made with Challenger, Northdown and Target hops) and around 4% ABV it's a really nice, session-able brew! Once my friends discover this one I don't think it'll hang around.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Obama for president

Is it just me or does anyone else think Michelle Obama should take the place of Hilary Clinton and become the next US president? Eloquent, rational, passionate, intelligent, principled, untouched by scandal what more could you want? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


As if on cue J&M posts a cartoon about hyper-sensitivity on the subject of mocking religion.

Cut Louis some slack!

Good article on the NSS website today. It discusses the recent castigation by the media and British Gymnastics (the governing body of his sport) of gymnast Louis Smith (I posted on the topic on Tuesday). The release of the video clip by the Sun newspaper was also followed swiftly by Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadan Foundation who said "our faith is not to be mocked", or what we ask, is this a threat? There's nothing special about Islam that means it should not be mocked, some might suggest it would be good to mock it more; and blasphemy was abolished in English law back in 2008 (alarmingly recently!) as the article suggests, are we seeing a reversion to a situation in the UK where criticising certain things is simply taboo?

"The very public castigation of the British gymnast is illustrative of the troubling return of blasphemy. As the former Strictly Come Dancing winner has discovered – and to his immense cost – Britain's burgeoning 'culture of offence' is ensuring that any action deemed likely to offend religious sensibilities, but particularly Muslim sensibilities, is strictly taboo."

Here in the UK we have a long tradition of free-speech and dissent, this includes the mockery of authority and of deeply and widely held beliefs, like politics and religion. The price we pay for living in a free and tolerant society is running the risk of being mocked and/or offended from time to time, if any organisation is so insecure that it cannot deal with this in a grown up (non-violent) way then it gives us little reason to tolerate it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American politics

Private eye on target as usual..

Shaggy logic

Forget religious education, just re-run old videos of Scooby-do! (only kidding, clearly "wacky races" would also be essential, for balance...)

Sticks and stones..

Gymnast Louis Smith is in trouble at the moment for appearing to "mock" Islam in a recently leaked video showing a him and a friend making fools of themselves in public. If you watch the video clip (it's only a few seconds long) you can see that this is obviously two young lads with too much booze on-board coming across something that looks like a prayer mat in a hotel reception and pretending to pray to Mecca on it until a "grown-up" member of the hotel staff comes out and tells them off. It's the kind of thing I can easily imagine doing at that age (and worse). Is it wrong, not really. Is it antisocial behaviour, yep. Does it mock a religion, possibly, but so what. Personally I don't see any issue with someone mocking a particular religion, in the same way that I don't have a problem with someone mocking a political party, a particular hobby or a particular sport, these are all inert things that, whilst they certainly have followers and apologists, don't actually have feelings. Would the Rugby Football Union discipline a male player for dressing up in a tutu and pretending to be a gymnast, or going to a fancy dress party as a salacious nun? I don't see the difference, do we have freedom of speech or not? and what's so special about Islam? (rhetorical question, we all know what's special...)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Mr Men

Saw this today, made me smile, Mr Men do Yorkshire..

Scary politics

So, we've now had the second US presidential debate.. I say "debate", it wasn't, more like a schoolyard squabble. Not much in the way of actual tangible "content" or "policy", the two candidates seemed to simply throw insults at each other, in a very un-presidential manner. It's hard to imagine how we've got to this point, it seems inconceivable that someone like Trump is even qualified to hold a company directorship, let alone run for president, the most surprising part being that there's a sizeable corpus of people willing to actually vote for him? US society seems more divided than it's ever been, between the have's and the have-not's between black and white, between believers and non-believers, between the coasts and the heartland even between Men and Women! I sense a real feeling of embarrassment and a visceral fear among "liberal" Americans, particularly those that have passports and have travelled the world a bit. You only need look at the various videos being released by famous movie stars at the moment to pick up that vibe, take a look at what Robert de Niro has to say about Trump, there's a lot of talk on both sides about punching people in the face, he certainly doesn't hold his...

At one point during the "show", Trump threatened to imprison Clinton once he was "in power", he sounded indistinguishable from Saddam, Assad or Kim Jong-un to me, with the one exception that those dictators had/have a certain air of competence about them.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Friday smirk

Just brilliant...


The guy in the picture is 30 year old Dutch citizen Klaas Haytema; he was arrested recently in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) for "insulting" the Buddhist religion. Apparently he unplugged an amplifier in a building next to the hotel he was staying in because the loud broadcast was preventing him sleeping; he didn't realise that the building was some kind of religious venue and what was being broadcast was some kind of sermon. Clearly the religious predilection for "taking offence" is alive and well in the far East as it is in the rest of the world, it seems that the more hard-line and unreasonable the religion then the more "offence" that is taken, over the slightest thing. Perhaps the home office should construct a table of "petulance points" that helps travellers assess the level of immaturity and downright unreasonableness of the dominant religion in countries around the world, then we could all simply avoid the more stupid ones, leaving them to rot in their safe little cocoons of delusion.

Difficult to generalise of course as there are thousands of religions that vary from country to country but just from the volume and volatility of stories I read about them, here's my starter for 10...

Thursday, October 06, 2016


I see in the news today that Diane Abbott has been appointed by Jeremy Corbyn as the new shadow Home Secretary. I was surprised to see Ms Abbott promoted to such an important job, I've always disliked her approach to politics and also her media attention grabbing sensationalist style. Her opinions on topics such as race and religion are very different from mine although I sense it's probably difficult to gauge what she really thinks, a more fake smile would be difficult to find (even in the house of commons). Being surprised I did a bit of research on her and discovered that she had a relationship (which by all accounts sounds weird) with Corbyn back in the 70s just after the break-up of his marriage; then the penny dropped.

Smoke = fire?

There are lots of reasons lately to think that the UKIP party is a joke, or perhaps more accurately a nightmare; but it seems that the UKIP party has let it's veil slip, even further than it's recent leadership farce, at the European parliament today. Apparently there was a punch up between a couple of UKIP MEP's that ended in leadership contender Steven Woolfe passing out because of a knock to the head. Fortunately it looks like he's recovering in hospital now but even so is this really how we'd like our representatives to behave?

The photo above is of Mike Hookem another UKIP MEP who is accused of being the antagonist in this fracas, and who is currently on the run from French police. You can see him here dressed as an overweight paratrooper wearing a union jack tee-shirt, representing his country in the Strasbourg parliament - fills you with pride to be British doesn't it..

***UPDATE**** Apparently the UKIP MEP has had a brain scan.. they couldn't find anything (boom, boom)

The arithmetic of God

I recently saw a tee-shirt saying the following,


Clearly a pro-theistic position which is fine, but like most pro-theistic positions it hadn't been thought through properly. A little rearrangement of this equation gives the following results, which oddly seem to bear fruit for the opposition.

TRUTH = LIFE - GOD or alternatively GOD = LIFE - TRUTH

Someone should have paid more attention in maths.

Good day for secularism

Pro-choice protesters scored a major victory in Poland yesterday. Support for a proposed new law that would have seen abortion practically outlawed in that country has more or less collapsed as a result of nationwide protests by ordinary people. Poland already has draconian abortion laws harking back to the bad old days of back-street butchery, most Women needing this treatment (and that have the cash) seek it across the border in Germany. This further tightening of the law would have seen abortion becoming illegal even in situations of rape and incest, clearly a highly unpopular step. 

This result not only shows the power of mass (peaceful) protest, it's a useful blow to the political influence of the Catholic church. Poland is one of the most Catholic dominated countries in the world with over 85% of the population claiming allegiance to that particular flavour of Christianity. This result would suggest that the tide may be turning. Perhaps Poland is becoming slightly less Catholic as it's people move in wider European circles, if true this (for once) would represent a cultural trend that seems to be moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Is cherry-picking natural?

I was listening to a debate on the radio the other day between a Christian arguing against same-sex marriage and another person pointing out the irrationality of that position. The religious person kept repeating the same phrase at the end of every exchange, "it's not natural" she kept saying. I suspect this person thinks that homosexuality doesn't exist in nature and/or that the only purpose of sex is procreation. Clearly, it's difficult for someone to be so wrong along so many dimensions at the same time and remain sincere, it became clear that the Christian had no rational arguments for her position at all, none, listeners were left concluding that either this person was a bigot and/or homophobic or that she blindly believed every literal word of her holy book and expected everyone else to follow suit (by law!).

It's always amused me how religious literalists choose to cherry pick what they literally believe from their holy books, books that claim homosexuality isn't natural (it exits all over nature) and yet talking snakes and flying horses are just dandy; and they claim not to see any problem with this...

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Highs and lows

So, here's a chart of average carbon dioxide measurements in September this year from a mountain top in Hawaii, as we can see the level (measured in parts per million) never falls below 400. This is the first time this has ever happened, normally levels are lower at this time of year. For reference the average level of carbon dioxide prior to the industrial revolution (which we can measure in ice cores) was around 280 ppm a massive increase like this is unprecedented and no one knows for sure what will happen, it's likely that we will surpass the Paris target of 2 degrees average temperature rise before 2100, however the chances that the effect will be zero is about that, i.e. zero.

Monday, October 03, 2016


Looks like someone didn't think this religion malarkey through properly?

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Hair of the dog

Really pleased with how this beer turned out. I made it in the Summer and it's been maturing since then. I cracked open a bottle this evening and it tastes rather good! The beer was made like a dark beer with a little roasted malt but hopped like a pale ale or IPA, the result is a black IPA; unusual but perfect for a rainy Saturday in the kitchen making supper.