Archive for February, 2015

Auguste Comte and Positivism

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 | Books

Auguste Comte and Positivism is a book by John Stuart Mill and best of all, was available free from the Kindle store. You can also get it from Project Gutenburg. The Kindle edition was not great because I suspect it was in an odd format – I could not select and lookup words for example.

The book itself is a sort of review of Comte’s work. I am sure there is a scholarly term for it.

I found it hard going. Mill writes without breaks for sub-headings. The book is divided into two parts and those are the only distractions from a constant stream of text. The first part looks at Positivism and the second part looks at Comte’s Religion of Humanity.

I found the second part easier to follow, perhaps because I had no background in what positivism was, or that I was just more interested in this part and so found it easier to concentrate.

Comte clearly has some views that are very silly today. Suppression of science and women for example are pretty much the worst things you can belief in. Underlying that seems to be Comte’s severe OCD. He needs to category and systematise everything. I am looking forward to reading more about his work though.

The Irrational Brain suggested reading

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Life

For anyone attending my talk at Atheist Society tonight, here is the suggested reading list I will later be promising to post on my blog:

  • Michael Shermer – The Believing Brain
  • Duncan J. Watts – Everything Is Obvious
  • Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Noreena Hurtz – Eyes Wide Open
  • Nate Silver – The Signal and The Noise

NFL Super Bowl XLIX

Monday, February 16th, 2015 | Sport

Earlier this month saw NFL Super Bowl XLIX take place in Arizona. Normally I would have supported Seattle because they are great organisation, but I was so annoyed that they had knocked out the Green Bay Packers, I was on the side of the Patriots. Of course, now it’s over, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

It was certainly more interesting than last year which finished with a 35 point difference. This one finished with just 4 and when Seattle were driving in the last few minutes, it looks like they would take it. Only a strange decision by the Seahawks to throw, which ended in an interception, saved the Patriots.

That is not to take anything away from the Patriots though. The Belichick Brady team have now won 4 Super Bowl titles making them the most successful coach quarterback combination in NFL history.

Katy Perry’s halftime show was fine.

The crowning glory of the evening was Elina’s Super Bowl cake, featuring a Moomin making a field goal.


Galileo Day 2015

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 | Life

The problem when you don’t just plonk your holidays on top of existing Pagan festivals, is that they are not as nicely spaced out. Three days after the special West Yorkshire Humanists Darwin Day event then, we’re doing our Galileo Day events – organised meals between society members.

I don’t have any photos from ours yet, because it hasn’t happened yet, but here are some from previous years.

leeds-2009 2011-red-hot-2

I’ll report back on how it went. Probably painfully given I have American football training this morning…

The importance of Valentine’s Day

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 | Thoughts

I think Valentine’s Day is important.

At this point, you may well be thinking “I don’t need some stupid excuse to show my partner I love them; I show them all the time. I don’t need posts like this to make me feel bad because I ignored a Hallmark-created fake holiday”. If so, it’s important to remember that I haven’t said that I haven’t said that – that’s just your guilty conscience making excuses for itself.

It it not a holiday invented by Hallmark. Hallmark is 105 years old, and Valentine’s Day is 2,000. There is a whole history of it on Wikipedia. Even the Lutheran’s feast on Valentine’s Day. The Lutherans! These are the only people who hate fun more than the Presbyterians.

But even if it was made up by Hallmark, that’s not important. Obviously somebody made it up anyway.

In Religion For Atheists, Alain de Botton talks about the importance of ritual and ceremony. He talks about religious feasts. It is important to have one night of debauchery every now and then, to keep people in line the rest of the time. It keeps things on a regular, dependable cycle that stops things from getting forgotten.

Take presents for example. I could buy Elina a present any time of year. Sometimes I do. However, mostly I buy her big presents on her birthday, and at Christmas. I could buy her presents randomly at all times. But that would probably be annoying for both of us. The nature of random is that she might get three presents in one week, and then none for years, depending on frequency. That would be rubbish. I would then have to have a system of deciding how to handle the random frequency – humans are not very good random. Do I write a computer programme to do it? How do I balance a finite budget with the frequency and value of items?

Even if you do just randomly buy your partner presents, do you go to the same detail you would during the holiday season, or at a birthday? Do you wrap it? And how about everyone else, do you randomly buy presents for all your family to? I don’t. I buy as specifically ritualised times – birthdays, Christmas, when I am on holiday, etc. Having a ritualised system means that I regularly buy presents for my family without having to spend my entire life designing a complex system to track prepared spontaneity (which as we all know is the best kind of spontaneity).

Returning to Valentine’s Day. I am sure that you, like me, regularly choose to show your love to your partner in a variety of surprising and novel ways. Super, and I hope that continues for a long time.

However, we know that a) it becomes more difficult the longer a relationship goes on. If you are a friend of mine, that means that if you are married (you probably aren’t) you have probably been married less than 5 years. That means you are in the easiest part of your marriage, because that is when the romance is strongest. About the five year mark is when divorces peak.


I don’t know why this is, but there are a couple of reasons that seem to spring to mind. Firstly, in Rip It Up! Richard Wiseman talks about passion in relationships which is strongest at the start of a relationship and then goes into terminal decline for the rest of the time. If you haven’t built a strong and lasting relationship by the time it wears off, you’re fucked.

Secondly, it could be that after five years there is a good chance you have had children, which is a very stressful experience and can often break couples apart.

My point is that if you are in the early days of a relationship (and by early days I mean the first five years) that passion that drives you to show your partner you love them might not be there at a later date. There is no point denying this to ourselves, despite how bleak it may seem, that is what the studies show. Or it may well be that you are so busy raising children that you simply don’t have time to think about that stuff, because you are too busy trying to work out how exactly Chris Junior could even physically get his head through a gate like that, let alone how you are going to get him out. And how do his hands get that sticky? He hasn’t had any jam!

Hopefully, of course, you manage to keep the passion alive. However, Valentine’s Day provides a safety net. It provides a ritual that makes sure that you don’t forget to have a least one day of affection each year.

I, like you no doubt, hope to have many more a year. I hope to show my affection every day. However, not everyone does. And in a historical context, which is of course where Valentine’s Day evolved, romantic love taking the lead is a somewhat modern concept.

I don’t go out on Valentine’s Day because all the restaurants are full. Much better to take Elina out to restaurants on weekdays when it is easy to get a table. Tonight, we’ll be staying at home, I’ll be cooking, and we’ll be spending time together. Because it’s Valentine’s Day. Surely that can only be a positive thing?

The Super-Rich and Us

Friday, February 13th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I recently watched the BBC documentary, The Super-Rich and Us.

I am getting more left wing as I get older, and I think I am now of the opinion that we should take a cap, saying £10 million, and anyone worth more than that should be lined up and shot.

Well, maybe not that. At least without legislation that allows us to take take control of their wealth. However, if someone did murder a tax-avoiding billionaire, I am not sure I would be able to judge their actions as immoral.

The Super-Rich and Us

It is also worth watching the TED talk by Nick Hanauer on why plutocrats such as him need to be stoped.

Darwin Day 2015

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 | Life


Happy Darwin Day!

The Judd Hotel

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 | Reviews

While in London, we stayed at the Judd Hotel. It was a mixed bag.

On the good side:

  • It was nicely furnished
  • The staff were friendly
  • Good location, just round the corner from King’s Cross
  • It included a cooked breakfast

On the bad side:

  • It was freezing cold – the doors and windows did not fit properly which let the cold and the noise in
  • The bathroom was so tiny I could barely fit in it
  • The wifi might have been free, but it sucked. I couldn’t access my emails or connect to my VPN and trying to download anything was lost cause.

Judd Hotel

ICE Totally Gaming

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 | Travel

Earlier this month we visited ICE Totally Gaming to get to know potential customers and suppliers. It was my first trip to the ExCeL centre which is predictably huge.

Many of the stalls were very impressive. One had a slot machine connected up to a Oculus Rift headset and when you won you got taken on a roller coaster ride.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of men in suits and women in far less clothing. I was very proud of the good twenty minutes we spent discussing sexism and objectification of women.Then we had a good stare.

London was as horrible as ever. It took me an hour and a half in a taxi to get there the first morning.

Book of Mormon

Monday, February 9th, 2015 | Reviews

I recently went to see Book of Mormon, the musical by creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

It was pretty good. Not amazing, but pretty good. I was a little disappointed that it was not about Joseph Smith, though Elina points out that it would have been difficult to do it about that for a wider public audience.

If anything, I think I was a little disappointed by the audience. The best jokes were often missed while the rather racist bits such as mispronouncing an African girl’s name, were lapped up.

Some of the songs were pretty catchy at least. The theatre was also pretty good; you were able to get a drink at the bar with reasonable speed.

Book of Mormon