Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Smirk

Watched the film "United 93" last night; then today I saw this and felt the urge to post it, must be karma or perhaps a revelation? (I suppose there's an outside chance it maybe just coincidence..)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Being sure..

New/Old J&M up today. Based on the classical logical fallacy that is Pascal's wager, everyone thinks they have the right answer of course but experience, philosophy, and science suggests that no "holy texts" have any core truth to them whatsoever apart from the parts that describe basic Human psychology and parochial desires through story and myth. Probably best for humanity to tend toward reason until some compelling (or any shred of) evidence for any big G shows up.

Fake news

Just about sums up most religions for me, you'd think any truly omnipotent being wouldn't need evolved primates to achieve anything, let alone passing on the most important information ever. If right then it would seem "fake-news" didn't start with Facebook and Twitter, it's clearly been a problem for Millennia.

BTW did you hear that Britney has died.. no, neither had she!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Death of a princess

I thought I felt a disturbance in the force..

Goodbye Carrie Fisher, loved by a billion boys.

Monday, December 26, 2016

So long George

Very subdued in my house today, Mrs B is a big George Michael fan. Think we'll be playing mostly GM songs today.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Amusing news stories of 2016 #3

So, if you were presented with this "in-flight" meal would you ask the steward or stewardess for the "chicken" instead? Apparently the real person who got it was so surprised that she had to ask to be handed her phone to take a photo of it for posterity; much sniggering among the female passengers of the Qantas flight that day I suspect. If you're wondering what the heck it is, think aubergine, and not cock-au-vin!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Spot the outlier

I wonder if this is statistically significant?

Amusing news stories of 2016 #2

Back in May Welsh mother Claire Dempster wasn't expecting much to happen when she tweeted a photo of her young child, pointing out the obvious similarity to Gordon Ramsay. But it got re-tweeted so many times that eventually Chef Ramsay saw it and replied to Claire claiming to the world that he did indeed visit that part of Wales around 11 months previously, causing much twitter chuckling.

Clearly the wailing, petulance, spitting out of food and general infantile behaviour continued, the baby cried occasionally too. 

Amusing news stories of 2016 #1

So here's a bird trying to curry favour with staff at a wildlife hospital in South East Wales. Back in June this herring gull fell into a vat of chicken tikka masala whilst trying to scavenge a piece of meat from a food factory bin. He emerged bright orange and smelling wonderful (apparently). Several publications made light of this event and my favourite headline was "new spice gulls tour", but seriously, could Donald Trump have found his perfect mascot?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

East-Coast IPA - 6.5/10

I had a go at brewing an (American) "East Coast" style IPA the other week and it's now ready for drinking, so I cracked open a bottle this evening to see how she's going. Quite impressive to look at, super hazy (it's supposed to be like that) with the colour of orange juice; very low in bitterness but massively fruity on the nose and taste due to the ungodly amount of hops pitched into the beer at different points in it's production. It also had the white fluffy head that's typical of the style and it smelt like a bowl of squashed tangerines (in a good way!). Being the critical sort I don't particularly rate the mouth-feel of the beer, it's a bit "thin"; next time I'm going to up the malt-bill so that the yeast has a bit more sugar to work on; this one came in at around 5% ABV but I think would be much better at around 7-8% (i.e. double IPA levels) and I notice that most of the note-worthy producers of this style seem to aim around that mark.


New J&M up today. Particularly relevant in this day and age when we seem to have a Government that wants to turn the clock back on education, and a blind eye to faith based indoctrination. Much like evolution itself sometimes a mutation survives in the absence of selection pressure, but is not advantageous. Sometimes backward steps are taken before forward travel can be resumed.

Wing and a prayer?

Pakistan's national airline (PIA) seems to be deviating somewhat from the standard procedure of pre-flight checks that you might expect at any modern airport. As well as technical checks (which clearly weren't enough) officials of the airline sacrificed a goat on the runway "for good luck" (not so lucky for the goat!). The hapless animal had it's throat cut and an image of the ritual quickly circulated on social media. I find it amazing that people still have confidence in this airline, whose record recently has not been the best. You would have though that once it comes down to ritual blood letting to ensure the safety of passengers, a transport company may well have hit rock bottom. Where do they go from here? 

Many commentators in the country (to their credit) expressed shock at this bizarre act and stated the rather obvious, i.e. that they wished PIA would spend less on animal sacrifice and more on proper engineering checks and training. In response the airline offloaded the responsibility for the killing onto "staff", but added to the comment, rather smugly, that "the flight on Sunday landed safely" (I sacrificed a chicken and roasted-alive some King-Edward potatoes on Sunday, maybe it was that?)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


It's 20 years since Carl Sagan died. Where the heck did that time go I ask myself, but as the great man points out, our lives are fleeting and transitional and all we really have to show for our time on this planet is what we have learned and pass on to the next generation. It's a shame more people don't see things this way, I wonder how much more happy and fulfilled we would all be if we did.


In the absence of a violent, totalitarian, political and religious system that indoctrinates people to do horrific things in the name of an invisible (Arabic speaking) man in the sky, I blame video games.

Monday, December 19, 2016

3 steps to heaven

Ex-Arch Bishop of Canterbury, George Carey, demonstrates that cognitive dissonance is alive and well and leading a full and unproductive life in leading Christian "thinkers". His "three step plan" to combat secularism (did anyone other than him think it needs to be "combated"?) consists of the following gems of wisdom...

1. RE (presumably just the Christian bits?) should be mandatory in GCSEs
2. Migrants should be taught that the UK is a "Christian" country
3. The Government should provide training in religious affairs to Judges

His "logic" (an abuse of that word) is as follows,

In his words "A strong religious identity breeds confidence and sensitivity towards others". Does this wally not realise that it's exactly the sense of "blind-confidence" in religious zealotry that gives us ISIS, inquisitions, Boko Haram, the KKK and witch-trials? In what alternate reality does indoctrinating someone they are right about the most important question in the world (with no mechanism of disproof whatsoever) and that everyone else is wrong lead to "sensitivity"? In pretty much every single historical example there has ever been it leads directly to division, hatred, violence and general idiocy.

He also says "We are wholly indifferent to the fate of Christians and Christianity within our own shores", one wonders what Carey has against equality and democracy? The way it should work (and on the whole does) is that we should ALL BE EQUAL under the law, regardless of what we believe or not! The Government and the law should be totally indifferent to the religious beliefs of any group or person, what matters are actions not the subjective opinions or "Sunday-hobbies" of people.

Carey also claims that "It's a dangerous state of affairs when, Christmas cards are considered offensive, or the cross is banned because it is thought divisive" - who thinks Christmas cards are offensive? I bet he couldn't cite one single (non fruit-cake example) and who the hell is it "dangerous" for? His salary perhaps. Britain is not a "Christian country" in any legal or practical sense, it is certainly a country with a Christian heritage (we know because it's shoved down our throats at every given opportunity) but the majority of people in this country are not Christian by any meaningful definition of that word. However, in my experience, those non-Christians are quite capable of being entirely tolerant of their Christian neighbours even though quite often reciprocal politeness is not offered.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Chocolate wine

In scenes reminiscent of the famous Monty Python "peppermint Burgundy" sketch, I had a wine called "chocolate block" last night. Mainly Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes it was unctuous, fruity and "modern" in a somewhat confected sense. Not bad (and not much to do with chocolate) but certainly not a classic or too memorable.

Starting to get into the Christmas mood this week as we had our company "do" on Friday evening, a boozy, disco boat trip along the Thames from Caversham up to Mapledurham lock and back. I splashed out a bit with some decent (free) wine and grub, everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. For added mirth I hired a cartoonist to sketch caricatures of everyone, once I get my scanner working (I use it so infrequently these days the drivers are out of the Arc) I'll post the one of me.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday Smirk

Here are some one-liners overheard recently, useful at office Christmas parties...

- Newtons third law of emotion, for every male action there is an equal and opposite female overreaction.

- Just been diagnosed with Polaroid Schizophrenia, it developed really quickly.

- I got a Schrodinger's advent calendar this year, there's possibly something behind each door..

- What do you call an alien that swears a lot? An extra tourettestrial...

- Joined a reggae band but can only play the triangle, so I just stood there and ting..

- A clown just held the door open for me, it was a nice jester

boom, boom :)

Merry Hitchmas

The last BBC interview that Hitch did before he died (the anniversary of his death was yesterday); brings a lump to the throat. With all that's going on these days from Brexit thru Trump via Sharia councils and safe-spaces, his voice in the marketplace of ideas is sorely missed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


New J&M today; folks love a good conspiracy theory, it beats having to say you haven't got a clue every time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

False choice

Many people often compare Muslim Women wearing the Burka, Hijab or Niqab to Western religious groups such as Catholic nuns, the comparison is a false one (see above) relentless peer/social pressure combined with the threat of death or extreme violence for leaving the faith are not a "choice" for most people, and it is naive to think that the majority of Muslim Women living in Islamic countries have any such thing. As for Muslim Women who live in the West I would wholeheartedly support their right to the same equality and freedom of expression that natives enjoy, regardless of the wishes of their families and "faith" communities. But unfortunately it's not that simple. Like all of us (and probably more than most), Muslim Women tend to belong to tight social groups, they rely on those groups for emotional support, family, religion, friends, work, play, money, food, heat, light and so on. The idea that someone can simply abandon all this because they don't like the uniform is hopelessly simplistic, as is thinking that most Women are exercising some kind of free choice by wearing such garments or that they could seek recourse to the law should they feel they are being coerced into something they don't wish to do. It's the same argument that has been applied to children who were abused by Catholic priests and young girls molested by BBC TV personalities, why didn't they simply report the crimes? Why did it take decades for the crimes to become public? Of course I'm not directly comparing the crimes of pedophile priests with being forced to wear a veil by an overbearing Father, Uncle or Brother, however, the peer-pressure and fear of authority around which complaints go unmade are very similar.

Interestingly there is nothing in the Koran that mandates any such clothing except for the wives of the prophet (and even then it's not entirely clear), as recently as the 70s it was common to see unveiled (native) Women in places such as Iran and Afghanistan, so it would seem a purely recent, man-made (I use that term in it's literal sense) fad, probably spread alongside a more militant form of Islam since the Iranian revolution. Many would simply ban it, a "blanket-ban" you could say, as an act of solidarity with those Women who prefer not to wear it. But, I fear this would simply be two wrongs, which as we were all told when we were kids, do not make a right. I think there are arguably some scenarios in which it should not be allowed for security reasons (airports, courts, banks for example, like bike-helmets) but generally my view is that it should not be the role of Government to dictate what people can or cannot wear. But, on the other hand it certainly is the role of Government to protect the freedoms of all it's citizens Muslim or otherwise; it would seem that we are between a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do and damned if we don't. So what is our best course of action? 

As usual, I think it's simply education, exposure to diversity and most of all a resolute and robust defense of tolerant, secular, liberal values at every opportunity. Although against such irrational and intransigent opposition, I fear the best that oppressed Women can hope for is a gradual softening lasting decades. Unfortunately they'll have to endure this pointless relic, a hang-up from ancient societies founded on much more patriarchal values, for a bit longer yet. The liberal Muslim voices need more time to grow louder and less fearful.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

AA Gill

Going to miss AA Gill.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

All repeats these days..

Incredible how history tends to repeat itself; 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Explaining concepts

Take a look at this amusing clip, it's Prof. Brian Cox trying to explain what a "wave" is to a TV producer who simply refuses to a) listen and b) understand. I experience this problem a lot; people who have never bothered to properly try to understand anything complex demanding explanations for something complex, and then essentially blaming the teacher when they don't understand (of course sometimes it is the teacher). As I'm sure many technical types like me have had that rather ridiculous (lose-lose) conversation thread (usually with marketing and sales types) that goes something like this,

1. (questioner) How does it work
2. (explainer) It works like this...
3. (questioner) But I don't understand, try again
4. (explainer) Well, it's complicated, how about this...
5. (questioner) Nope
6. (explainer) How about this then....
7. (questioner) Nope
8. (explainer) Sorry, I can't explain it to you, try someone else..
9. (questioner, getting angry) But I need to know, why can't you just explain it.
10. go to 1..

The problem is not that someone doesn't understand something, being ignorant is not a crime. The problem is the questioner refusing to accept (at least some) responsibility for understanding, it's a classic misalignment of expectations.

Nobel prize winner and all round maths genius Richard Feynman described the problem really well to another TV producer whilst trying to explain magnetism to him. Feynman illustrated why, in order to pose technical/complex questions (which maybe simple to say) with any expectation of clarification, a certain amount of investment is often required to gain context and foundational understanding, and that it's this investment that enables one to understand the answer.

Understanding things takes effort and work, which is why many people prefer simpler (untrue/incomplete/inaccurate) answers (cue Brexit and Trump)

Friday smirk (ish)

I can think of lots of other similarities too, for example, there's always people who want to tell you that their favourite browser is much better than the one you're using, but in reality they all suffer from the same kinds of limitations, just different ones in different combinations, none are truly unique or obviously superior. 

But, the system more or less works because most people use browsers (and religions) to consume content created by other people and aren't even aware of the differences (or the alternatives) until they start to push the boundaries and challenge the assumptions, and most people just don't do that. With Browsers it's when you need to make an advance or innovate that you really start to appreciate how the lack of vision, knowledge and insight in the past places a serious drag on progress into the future, I suspect its the same with religions too.

Feathering the nest

A wonderful discovery from Myanmar (Burma); what looks like a feather duster is in fact the tail of a dinosaur trapped in amber, and yes those are in fact feathers. The 100 million year old specimen is in fantastic condition and confirms a number of working hypothesis about how dinosaurs eventually evolved into birds. The tail would have been made up of around 25 vertebrae, which are articulated (i.e. they move independently) like a lizard or snake. In birds the tail bones are fused so that the much larger tail feathers can move as a single unit. So, it's clear that this tail is not a structure that any bird would have and the feathers are primitive, probably for keeping the little creature warm rather than flying or gliding. 

It's an interesting feature of evolution by natural selection that quite often a characteristic appears and evolves (like feathers) and it's use changes over time, i.e. what started in dinosaurs as modified skin cells, then became a warming coat that eventually ended up as flight feathers, all done by tiny, imperceptible increments over many millions of years and generations.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Mikkeller recipe

My latest brew-creation; a hoppy pale ale that's busting with flavour. I based this one on one of Danish brewing wizard Mikkeller's beer recipes called "Stateside" which involved pilsner malt and lots of flaked oats (to give it a very rich mouth-feel) and a ton of tropical, fruity American and Australian hops. It came out really well, fab. colour, crystal clear and perfect carbonation. Highly drinkable and not too bitter; a little deceptive at around 6% (you can't taste it) but hey ho, it's that time of year...

Friday smirk (early)

Good point..

Stunning Saturn

Stunning images of Saturn's northern pole from the Cassini spacecraft. After almost 20 years travelling through the void of space, little Cassini is hurtling around the planet Saturn taking wonderful images of it's moon, rings and atmosphere in high resolution. For a finale (in 9 months time) Cassini will swing out and plunge into the planet itself, burning up like a comet in the process, space exploration rocks!

NB: each of the sides of the hexagonal shape seen in these images is the size of the Earth!

Freedom (not!)

Humanist weddings have been legal in Scotland now for many years, in fact they are the third most popular style of wedding there. Scotland is one of only six countries in the world that recognise such marriage ceremonies but in the religion soaked upper echelons of English politics the old gits in charge have said "non" to this every time it's come up. Of course none have ever given a decent (fair) reason why not, it's just another example of religious prejudice (with a smile) in action in this country today. People can have a humanist event when they marry (people can have whatever kind of after-party they like) but only in Scotland is the legal part able to be included. In the rest of the UK people have to go separately to a registrar etc. (unlike a Church wedding) which is silly and inconvenient; if anyone has a good reason why this kind of ceremony is not permitted then I'd love to know what it is; for the life of me I can't think what it could be other than "religious leaders don't like the idea", so much for freedom of conscience.. what's good for the goose etc..

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Seasons gripes

New J&M for the season up today; has the war on Christmas started yet?


Another truism from xkcd - I wish I had heeded this important statistic on many past occasions too. Whilst on this topic (happiness) I read a tweet today from someone who said,

"I used  to be a lot happier before I took an interest in politics"..

Amen, brother, Amen!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


On this date in 1484, Pope Innocent VIII's notorious "Witches Bull" (Bull Summis desiderantes) was issued, officially commencing the witch hunts. Historians estimate that victims put to death as a result ranged from 600,000 to more than 9 million, over the 250 years of the witch hunts.

"[m]any persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother's womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals; these wretches furthermore afflict and torment men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, with terrible and piteous pains and sore diseases, both internal and external; they hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving, ...they blasphemously renounce that Faith which is theirs by the Sacrament of Baptism, and at the instigation of the Enemy of Mankind they do not shrink from committing and perpetrating the foulest abominations and filthiest excesses to the deadly peril of their own souls, (...) the abominations and enormities in question remain unpunished not without open danger to the souls of many and peril of eternal damnation."

My own rule is never to trust anyone who says they know what's going to happen in the future but have no evidence to support it. This is particularly relevant for us in the light of Brexit and the US election result but I reserve a special distrust for those who claim to know what's going to happen to us after we die, like Mr Innocent here, never works out well.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Orwell called it..

Great article by Ian Hislop in the New Statesman today talking about our "post-truth" politics today and how many of the attributes of it concur with what George Orwell wrote about back in the 40's. Anyone who has (tried) to listen to a speech by Trump will recognise the mad syntax, repetition and total contradiction as a pretty good example of "double-think". Hislop also goes on to ponder on the phenomenon of "taking offence", exemplified currently by theocrats and the progressive left, today. Many use the term "racist" and "Islamophobic" to shut down debate and to silence people who disagree with them, back in 1944 Orwell pointed out the exact same problem,

"It will be seen that, as used, the word “Fascism” is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee [a Tory group], the 1941 Committee [a left-liberal group], Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else."

Apparently there is to be a new statue dedicated to Orwell to be placed outside the HQ of the BBC; one of his most famous quotes will be up on the wall behind his likeness, something that all freedom loving people should be supportive of and something that the BBC should especially heed, the artists impression of what it will look like can be seen in the picture below.

Wise words indeed.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Post-Truth Paul

Having blogged about Paul Nuttall, the new leader of UKIP, I learn that the "facts" I quoted about him, i.e. that he was a history PHD and ex-footballer were in fact false. Apparently he never finished his History PHD and Tranmere Rovers have denied that he ever played for them, all innocent errors on his LinkedIn profile and by press officers apparently. Oh well, at least he's keeping up the traditions of his party, i.e. telling a few fibs worked wonders for the Brexit flock.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Smirk

For those people who are a bit hard up this year (i.e. most of us)...

Look away when you uncover a number though, you may strain your eyes....

Emotional politics

The fact that emotions and faith are important to human well-being is not doubted, the violence and injustice precipitated when they are used to run our societies is also a matter of historical record. The challenge for rational, skeptical, secular people is that they are trying to use evidence to persuade people who don't value evidence; a new approach is required, but it's really hard to see what that might be.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Mr spin-dry..

We had our annual sales conference in London today, one of the speakers we splashed out on was Alistair Campbell, he was excellent. He gave a talk about current affairs, his perspective on the big issues of the day such as Brexit and Trump etc. I had a brief chat with him in our little "green-room" and he struck me as a regular kind of bloke, dry humour, no pretensions, straight talking (I realise many have a different view of him) Having said that though, he left me feeling quite depressed about our current political and cultural outlook, his assessment of the current Government and particularly of the state of play in the USA and the "post-truth" era were very much in accordance with how I see things. He said that he hadn't figured out any solutions to anything in particular yet, but (like most rational people) can simply see looming problems. His overriding fear is that things will get much worse before there is some kind of back-lash against the pervasive modus-operandi of the lying and appeals to emotion of people like Trump and Boris, and that there will need to be a catastrophic failure (somewhere, somehow) before people are galvanised into action. Not your regular bullshit-bingo sales-conference talk, interesting informed opinion and insight (plus a few behind the scenes anecdotes from the Blair years) I might even buy one of his books!

We're off...

Rare photo of Britain leaving the EU...