Saturday, April 22, 2017

Truth march

Crash, bang, wallop what a picture..

After almost 20 years in space, the Cassini space probe begins it's grand finale this month. Fuel reserves are dwindling and so NASA have decided that rather than allowing the craft to potentially crash into one of the moons of Saturn (i.e. random decay) and "contaminate" what could be potentially life harboring environments; a more fitting end to this stunning mission is a controlled dive thru ever diminishing orbits around the master planet itself. Bisecting the cloudy upper atmosphere and the rings until a final, fatal, descent into Saturn itself, gathering and sending data all the while. A truly spectacular end to what has been one of the most productive and illuminating space missions in recent times. The picture above is Cassini's final picture of our home planet, in true Sagan'esc style the pale blue dot is quite simply "us" from a billion miles distance, goosebumps..

Friday, April 21, 2017


Bias is the scourge of Human-kind; whether it's confirmation bias, survivorship bias, the bandwagon effect, ingroup bias or even the gamblers fallacy, bias invariably leads us into making bad decisions. From people who believe they were cured by sugar pills (confirmation bias) through to people who voted for Trump (bandwagon) we are all influenced by bias from some perspective or other. The challenge is to recognise that fact and to be able to step (intellectually) outside of our personal bubbles for a bit so that we can look at a situation objectively, in my experience, far more enlightenment tends to come that way.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

BS detector

I came across this old piece the other day, it's a "Baloney Detection Checklist" written ages ago by none other than Carl Sagan - still perfectly serviceable and very useful in this day and age.

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way-station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are un-testable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle—an electron, say—in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Career choices

I like this little truism. I was having a related conversation with my teenage son recently, we were discussing career choices and what makes the difference between happy/successful people and those that end up in jobs that are just that, i.e. "a job". I found it really enlightening to talk about this subject with him, clearly many kids struggle to grasp the complexities and nuances of the workplace (why wouldn't they!) and how people make a crust; it's unfortunate that they have to pretty much make the most critical decisions that affect their choices at a point when they invariably know so little. I feel like there should be a subject in the curriculum on this, something that covered the choices and the ramifications of those choices, almost like an A-Level selection O-Level. I suppose this is what careers advice is supposed to be about but in my experience that didn't help much for those of us without a crystal clear view of our futures or even what subjects we might enjoy.

What God says..

An excellent J&M today; I always found it amazingly coincidental how the parochial wishes of religious leaders (usually men) are almost always catered for generously by the God or Gods they believe in, and when they're not, can be "interpreted" in somehow.


Makes sense to me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Political politics

So, a general election in June it is then! I suppose this kind of strategic manipulation and exploitation of the weakness of your opponents is what we should expect from politicians these days, but I still feel slightly uncomfortable with the overwhelmingly cynical feel to it all. I'm wondering if this might be another SDP moment, where centre-leaning members of the Labour party and left leaning members of the Liberal Democrats join forces to try to prevent the Tories winning a total landslide, but then again, judging from the lacklustre response to the ongoing Brexit disaster (see above), I can't see the current crop of Labour or Liberal politicians being organised enough to get their act together in time.

Never had it so good

Interesting chart based on research done by; we see how key Human factors have changed over the last 200 years. Child mortality is the most striking chart for me, going from 43 deaths per 100 in 1820 down to 4 deaths in 100 in 2015, the effect of medical science becoming pervasive. All of these charts are moving in the "right" direction for those of us interested in maximising Human well-being; although worryingly democracy is perhaps the shakiest looking chart of all, it's certainly the most spiky, I do hope we're not entering another huge trough like we did in the 1940's.

Modern life

Turkey votes for Christmas

I've been following the news in Turkey with interest lately. They had a referendum on Sunday that was narrowly won by the existing regime, the result gives the incumbent president sweeping new powers and is seen by many as a retrograde step in terms of democracy and secularism in that country. Like many things that happen in Turkey (and elsewhere in that part of the world) these days it is difficult for outsiders to sift fact from fiction, was this a rigged vote? And, much like the recent coup attempt I am left with a niggling feeling that it was somehow staged by the Government in order to fulfil a broader strategy, a longer-term play. 

What does seem clear is that Erdogan has Islamist leanings, he has done much over the last 10 years to roll-back the secularist advances made in Turkey over a century ago, critics and journalists have been thrown in jail and religion has taken a much bigger role in Government and he now has complete control over the judiciary and pretty much every other wing of state that has, until now, avoided his grasp.

So, is this the end of democracy in Turkey? Has it's Prime Minister now made the final transition from Politician to Sultan? I suppose you could argue that at least the border between Europe and the rest is clearer now, but with Turkey still within NATO and seemingly with it's hand on the Syrian immigration tap I fear that we'll be grappling with these thorny questions for many years to come.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Bank Holidays

Sums up bank holiday Monday for a lot of people (PS. "watching any old crap on TV" also includes posting silly cartoons on your blog... ;)

Getting older

Some things get decidedly more boring the older one gets.

Easter sacrifices

My only major concession to the Easter food-fest this year was a slice of my Mothers' delicious simnel cake, I'm a total sucker for marzipan. This is because I'm still cutting back on calories and even with a full roast lamb dinner (with wine) yesterday, albeit with smaller portions for me, I only managed around 1250 for the day (with exercise subtracted) which was satisfyingly budgeted for in the master spreadsheet. Pleasingly (and unusually)  I've managed to resist all chocolate completely so far this holiday, even though the house seems to be absolutely full of the stuff! Only another month or so to go and I can start to relax a bit, well, for a few years at least.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Snicker Saturday

You may think this is amusing or blasphemous depending on your level of indoctrination, but don't laugh or scowl too much, real people actually pay for this stuff in Florida..

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Death by indoctrination

More religious intolerance on display this time of an Islamic bent and as is typical, a whole lot more lethal than the Tesco "Good Friday ad" scuffle today. In Pakistan a student was lynched (and killed) by a his fellow students; he was accused of "blasphemy" (a victimless crime) In reality the hapless young man was simply killed by a mob of moronic thugs who are so insecure in their supposed allegiance to the "religion of peace" that they feel it necessary to beat those with different thoughts to their own to death. The irony that this took place at a supposed "University" (i.e. a place of learning and free-thought) is overwhelming. Yet another reason never to visit that country or prop it up it in any way until the Government there start to properly crack-down on this kind of barbarism. 

Sticks and stones?

I see that there's a storm brewing over an ad made by Tesco for beer and cider that ruffled a few religious feathers. As is usual with religious "offence taking", no one can actually explain why this particular phrase is bad. Some say that "Good Friday" is a corruption of "God's Friday" (still don't see what's bad?) some say that it's a "Holy day" and therefore referring to it in this way is "crass". This objection is presumably coming from the same set of people that whinged about Cadbury not advertising the word "Easter" on their chocolate egg signs (I wish these Christians would make their flippin minds up!) What most Christian commentators seem to miss here is that "Easter" only means something religious to less than half the population, and whilst I would never condone the persecution of any minority this advertisement is clearly not that, and is simply referring to the LABEL that we (all) give to an official bank holiday in the UK, nothing more.

For me this is just another reason to abandon "official" religious holidays altogether. If we were a properly secular country (as suggested by the make-up of our population) then we'd just have public holidays for the sake of taking time off work and spending time with friends and family, any public declaration of the names of said holidays, in any context, wouldn't offend anyone. If people want to celebrate their particular flavour of mythology on particular days of the year, then that's perfectly fine by me; just don't burden the rest of us with your silly pedantry.

Customer service

:) Passengers on a United flight this morning (at least some Americans still have a sense of humour!)

HBD Hitch

13th April 1949 - 15th December 2011

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

IT Support

Went skiing last week in France with a couple of other families; had an interesting debate with one of the Women on the trip one evening about IT support. Her position on the thorny issue of making phones, computers and the like do the things that she wanted them to do was basically that "her brain" wasn't "suited" to IT (i.e. non-scientific) and so she always looked to someone else to help her fix issues rather than invest time learning the basics herself. 

I know a lot of people with this same attitude toward technology and I think it's problematic. I tried to illustrate things from the perspective of the person that typically gets lumbered with the job of "fixing" things for people like her (in her case her Son). The analogy I used seemed to work well; I offered her the example of a boy/son/husband who announces to his Mother/Wife that his brain wasn't suited to "cooking" and so when he needed to eat his Mother/Wife would just need to stop what she was doing and cook for him. You could equally substitute hoovering, cleaning or washing for cooking, but you get the drift, my feeling is that people need to step outside of their comfort zone every now and again.

It's strange that people single out technology for special treatment in this way. What we do with technology is complex and different people use things like phones and computers for different things and therefore it's impractical to expect any individual to know "everything" about all the various apps, devices or faults that may arise. Skill and competence requires investment, people wouldn't expect to intuitively speak a foreign language so why should they expect to intuitively use a complex machine like a computer?

In the end I suggested that she get herself enrolled on an introductory course (there are loads around) that covered the basics of using computing devices (iPhone in her case) and take things from there; those not willing to make any investment in learning can sometimes appear very exploitative to those of us who have paid their dues and put the hours in.


J&M tries to explain Easter eggs this week... and yep, about as successful as the rest of us..

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Next time someone tells you that there's not a Scientific consensus on things like evolution or global warming and therefore can safely be ignored, please remind them that before the data was in, there didn't used to be a consensus on smoking being unhealthy either (see above). But, since 99.99% of scientists TODAY are in agreement that such things are real then that should be good enough for politicians to ACT urgently to prevent the pollution of young minds or our environment.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Diabetic heresy

First it was the war on Christmas and now we have those nasty Secularists trying to remove the word "Easter" from chocolate eggs in order to gain world supremacy for their blasphemous ideology. What the hell chocolate eggs have to do with a (possibly mythical) wandering 1st century Jewish shamen is a complete mystery to us all but hey ho, perhaps type 2 diabetes wasn't a big issue back then?

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Putting the clocks forward in Neolithic times must have been a right pain..

Created sick

J&M pointing out one of the more weird and nonsensical parts of Christianity, or indeed any of the Abrahamic traditions. Why would a God create humans "sick" only to command them to be well? 

Luckily there is no evidence that any of it is true, never has been, and the influence of religion in most developed countries is diminishing over time. This relaxing of a (fixed) Theological and objective-morality stranglehold enables societies to develop a more humane system based on values like reason, fairness, reciprocity, equality and empathy. More importantly it enables us to change our morality over time to better suit the conditions and situations we find ourselves in as a result of progress, all in all a much better and more satisfactory state of affairs for everyone.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017



Hey, flat earthers, if the world really was flat then a Lunar eclipse would look like this, right?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Advanced irony, a lesson from the masters

Here's a joke; Saudi Arabia launched a "Girls' Council" this month and unfortunately had a rather conspicuous slip-up; they held a photo-shoot that neglected to include any, you know, actual "girls".. 

Apparently the Women involved in this charade initiative were all in another room somewhere, linked via video conference, so that's nice.

Didn't like the ending much..

A modern interpretation of a well known story with a depressing ending... (directors cut)

Dem bones..


Daily Male

Daughters of parents who read this trash, don't just complain on Twitter, rip it up and burn it (then persuade them never to buy it again !)


Revelation and miracles finally explained...


Lot's of believers in the so called "religion of peace" in Pakistan are demanding the murder of atheist blogger Ayaz Nizami. I'm not talking here about the froth spewing hate preachers that seem to litter the clergy in that land but normal everyday people on Twitter (the so called moderate majority) using the hashtag #HangAyazNizami and even authority figures in the Government. His crime is simply that of creating an online group for atheists and posting anti-religious comments on it. He's not alone, several atheist and secular bloggers are being held in prison in that country for nothing more than publicly expressing their thoughts.

Pakistan seems to be attempting to establish itself as some kind of leader in this medieval practice of hounding and murdering anyone who dissents from one particular interpretation of one single theocratic position. It's an old trick and one that we've seen many times in history. It's a favourite ploy of failed states, illegitimate governments and hypocritical theocracies, it's used to distract attention away from the facts that their economy is broken, government riddles with corruption and impoverished people desperate for change and modernisation.

The map in the picture above shows the countries that have blasphemy laws still in place (2014), many of those countries have draconian laws that unbelievably demand things like death for apostates, gay people, blasphemers and many other minorities who are deemed to step out of line, or are simply non-conformist to the prevailing religious dogmas. Many of these countries still hide corruption, injustice and inequality behind a veil of religious offence, relabelling religious and political criticism as "hate speech" or "religious intolerance" whilst at the same time overtly breaking many of the so called pillars of the faith systems they claim to protect.

The alarming picture that this map paints however is that tomorrow the UK prime minister will trigger Article 50 which starts the process of this country leaving the EU. This map is a pretty close approximation of the countries with which we will supposedly "do business" and plug commercial gaps created by abandoning our secular European partners of the last half century. I can only fantasise about what it is exactly that we'll be selling them, Spanish donkeys, heretic's forks and thumb-screws perhaps?

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Great" ideas

Another great cartoon from @ModernToss 

This reminds me of an alarmingly high proportion of the marketing people I've ever met. For me, a common attribute in that game seems to be a propensity for stating the bleeding obvious. A talent for generating brain-farts that seemingly rest on a foundation of never actually having had an original idea. Unless of course, you count all those "ideas" so excruciatingly and obviously lacking in practicality, that in most of us would wither and die even before reaching the prefrontal cortex. 

("there's no such thing as a stupid idea" - said by no engineer ever)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Smirk

J&M hitting the nail on the head as usual. 

It's probably a Human universal that all of us feel that the greatest thing about doing things we don't like (like exercise or work) or temporarily giving things up (like food or drink) is when it stops.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

False equivalences

There's a lot of meme's flying around at the moment (after the horrific attack in London yesterday). 

From the Right we have statements about travel bans, curtailments of freedom and general downers on Muslims. From the Left we have relativist statements, comparing the attack to the IRA bomb in the City in 1993 as well as various lame attempts to divert attention from ethnic and religious elements of this crime under the usual cover of "it's only a few bad apples". Both positions are inadequate of course. The Right is daft if it thinks a travel ban would have made a difference, the murderer came from Kent! The Left is wrong about the IRA, the IRA did not represent an ideology that wished to fundamentally change our "secular-liberal" way of life as Islamism does. This country is no more permeable to theocracy than it is to terrorism; our ancestors have been there, done that, got the tee-shirt, doesn't work, move along.

The Right need to get used to the fact that the world is on a path to 10 billion Human beings; people that are different from us are going to get a whole lot closer a whole lot quicker in the decades to come. Especially as the planet heats up and the crops start failing. We have much bigger fish to fry than petty parochial squabbles about the shape of bananas and whose invisible friend is bigger. It's blindingly obvious that we are much stronger acting together than when divided; this is true about Europe as it is about the rest of the world. There will come a time when we will need their natural resources and them our technology know-how, we had better start laying the foundations for that cooperation before it's too late. 

The Left need to get over this childish notion they seem to have that all ideas are equal; they are not. Taken literally, Islam is a harmful and ridiculous set of beliefs, just as Christianity and Judaism are and some "cultures" just suck. If you are pro-gender equality then you are by definition anti-Sharia law (as practiced in Islamabad or Solihull, regardless) If you support free-speech then you are by definition anti-blasphemy (see picture above) and so on. When people criticize religion and in particular Islam they are not automatically racist or "Islamophobic". Not speaking out about the oppression of Women and minorities in Islamic countries (or any country) IS however bigoted, it's tantamount to saying we demand equality and freedom for ourselves but the same Human rights don't matter for those "others".

Thinking of the herd.

Seems hard to believe doesn't it, that some people in this day and age are so ignorant that they would rather let their children die of entirely preventable diseases than accept the fact that vaccines work; some people prefer conspiracy theory to reason. 

I hear Australia has recently passed a law that prevents parents obtaining child care benefits for un-vaccinated children (except in cases of medical exemption) At first glance this may seem harsh, but if you think about the havoc a child infected with Measles has in a crowded emergency room or doctors surgery and the number of innocent (unrelated) lives that could be affected in serious ways, then it seems more like a reasonable incentive. Many will say that you cannot legislate for things like this; i.e. that governments shouldn't be able to tell people what to do. This is certainly one way of looking at things. However, I prefer to think about it in terms such as, it's the duty of my Government to protect me (and my kids) Preventing the collapse of herd immunity to these killer diseases sure sounds more like a protective than oppressive measure to me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An age for everything..

Apparently these are the ages (in Human life) when people tend to excel at things (not sure according to who though). Personally I'm still looking forward to the Nobel prize winning discovery peak, one of these days I really should start looking for something..

I wonder when peak dislike of "TV light entertainment" is?

Love is a four letter word..

Something to ponder for all those Christian apologists whose argument is nothing more than "science can't explain love".. (as if their explanation that it emanates from a 2000 year old Jewish zombie is in someway compelling)

Third normal form..

Here's something for the software geeks. This is what happens when software developers attempt to reduce the universe to 3NF - or what we used to call "disappearing up your own ying-yang"...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Not the sharpest knives in the draw...

There seems to be a rush of celebrities (mainly US sports people) who claim that they believe the Earth is flat. The latest member of this delusional family is ex LA Lakers basketball player Shaquille O'Neal who said on a recent podcast that he was sympathetic to the idea that the Earth may not be a sphere after all, apparently it's all a big conspiracy (of course it is...) There are quite a few "famous" people now who are making these claims, you would have thought that after Sputnik was launched in the 50's that any flat-earthers would have given up the ghost but apparently not!

Interestingly Humans knew that the Earth wasn't flat much further back in time that the swinging sixties. The ancient Greeks had already figured this out long before planets, orbits or even space were even vague concepts, some 3000+ years ago. It's embarrassing to think that there are people alive today who are so educationally stunted that they are unable to evaluate the ample evidence themselves and reach the blindingly obvious conclusion that we live on a globe (unsupported by turtles, just in case you were wondering).

Chance of death...

Something cheerful for you on a rainy Tuesday evening... Basically, overweight base-jumping mountaineers who smoke are screwed, but then they probably knew that anyway.. What alarmed me most was that the probability of dying in any given year doubles every eight years, better make the most of it (only get one folks!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Brexit Metaphors

TBH it's hard to think of a roadrunner episode that isn't a metaphor for Brexit...

Best comic strip since The Far Side..

This would explain a few things...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blasphemy, LOL

So I see that Pakistan is trying to use Facebook machinery to implement it's own Islamofascist and medieval freedom of speech/thought laws. Facebook has agreed to send a team to Pakistan (according to the Pakistani interior ministry) to look into "blasphemous content" (written by Pakistanis) What this team will actually do is not clear, but in my view any capitulation on freedom of speech/thought and privacy protocols by any social media platform would be tantamount to aiding and abetting a repressive regime. Facebook needs to tread carefully here; if they are seen to be colluding with "the man" (from whatever country) it will mark the beginning of the end for that kind of system in my view. Better to be blocked or banned in Pakistan than to capitulate to Islamic fascism and have the "blood" of countless liberal bloggers and activists on your hands.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Summary of the Trump budget..

  • NASA granted $350 to fund upcoming manned mission to Mars
  • Greatly expands State Department’s available office space
  • Allocates $1 billion for across-the-board revitalization of nation’s under-performing prisons
  • Defense budget raised to achieve long-standing goal of removing ballistic missiles from endangered weaponry list
  • Sea level increased by 4 percent
  • Unconscionable amount slashed from costume budget for Cincinnati Ballet’s spring production of Petrushka
  • Larger Department of Veterans Affairs budget to accommodate upcoming spike in cases of PTSD
  • Pretty much in line with everyday Americans’ demand for more guns and fewer books, paintings, parks, doctors, schools, corruption investigations, scientists, and animals


For all those people who've done startup companies and had those awkward moments during interviews with people coming from large corporations, who just expect stuff like health insurance and pension schemes to simply "be there"... 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Factual truth..

What happens when the "truth" isn't factual? One of the eternal questions for religious people in their ongoing attempts to rationalise their inherently irrational systems of belief.

On the other hand, any system based on a rational view of the world (i.e. fact based), is much more easily able to change its view of what is true when new evidence comes in. This's why things like Science actually works and why secular (vs. theocratic) societies tend to be much more successful and nicer places to live.