Archive for August, 2016

Mamas & Papas Parents To Be evening

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 | Family & Parenting

mamas-and-papas

In July, We bought a pram from Mamas amp; Papas. Now it seems we’re in some kind of cult, like when you buy an Apple product and then get invited down for a personal setup. They invited us down to their Parents To Be evening to see what it was like. Their claim of “impartial advice” seemed a bit dubious for a chain that sells baby products.

We almost missed it. Having booked for the Leeds store, it was only when I printed out the invite as we were about to set off that I noticed their “Leeds” store was in fact their Birstall store, not their LS1-based store in Leeds Trinity.

It was actually very good. They had talks on baby and child first aid, sleep and car seats. Nobody else seemed too bothered about the free refreshments, so I worked my way through three pastries, three muffins and a cupcake.

Having so many sales people on hand was also a bonus. We have sometimes struggled to find someone to speak to on our prior visits so getting one-to-one attention was great. I had them help me try on practically every baby carrier they stocked.

We also received a goody bag and a £10 discount on the car seat we bought. We actually bought a Cybex car seat but it would seem to come Mamas & Papas branded if you buy it from their store.

car-seat

Overall, this event was well worth attending. They were true to their word in offering advice and talks, and if you are planning on buying anything you can cash in on the discount too.

SAL July 2016

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016 | Humanism, Music, Video

The July event of Sunday Assembly Leeds was on the theme of Yorkshire (it being Yorkshire Day the following day). Our speaker for the month, Mary from City of Sanctuary, spoke about the efforts to make Leeds a more inclusive and more welcoming place. The cake selection was also excellent, having had much left overs from the Humanist picnic the day before.

The Assembly Line performed as usual, just as a three piece this month. This left me as the only guitarist, but it could have sounded a bit worse.

The Housemartins – Happy Hour

Kaiser Chiefs – I Predict A Riot

The Wind in the Willows

Monday, August 29th, 2016 | Books

I read The Wind in the Willows many times as a child. It is a lovely story so while looking for a low cognitive load and pleasant read, it seemed like an excellent choice. It was. It is such a fun story and moves at a pace that it is difficult to get bored. There was none of the usual awkward drag I find plagues most novels at least once. This is despite, or possibly in part because, I knew what was coming next.

the-wind-in-the-willows

Immigration levels compared with Olympic medals

Sunday, August 28th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Sport

Nothing to see here. Correlation does not imply causation.

immigrants-to-medals
Number of immigrants (millions), number of Rio 2016 Olympic medals at 1/4 scale

In fairness, if you line the countries up in population size, they come out in a pretty similar way. But it doesn’t fit quite as well as these figures do.

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Sunday, August 28th, 2016 | Distractions

tony-robbins-i-am-not-your-guru

Joe Berlinger is a film maker known for his documentary series Paradise Lost. He also made Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, a film that I really enjoyed, once I understood just how the studio had butchered it after it left Berlinger’s hands. His latest film is a documentary about motivational speaker Tony Robbins’s Date With Destiny events.

It is interesting to see inside the event. But that is where the interest stops. A review in Variety earlier this year pretty much hits the nail on the heat. It is a completely uncritical look at the whole show, with no interesting journalistic merit to be found.

For example, there is no mention that I noticed of the price tag. It is around $5,000 for the basic package and goes up from there. There is plenty of footage of Robbins transforming people’s lives though, at least for the few minutes they were on camera. Still, I am sure Penn & Teller are completely wrong about these type of events being complete bullshit that never sticks. Especially at that price.

Far from Robbins graciously granting access to a documentary crew for the first time, it seems to be that he simply allowed them to make an infomercial for him.

To be fair to Berlinger, he doesn’t pretend that it is anything other than that. He decided to make the film after being invited to a Date With Destiny event and said in an interview that this was more of a “concert film”.

If you want to watch it, it’s on Netflix.

Caster Semenya, and hyperandrogenism

Saturday, August 27th, 2016 | Sport

Caster_Semenya_2010_Memorial_Van_Damme

Caster Semenya is a South African athlete who recently won gold in the women’s 800m at the Rio 2016 Olympics. That should not be controversial, but it is, because she has hyperandrogenism.

Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition where you have an excess of testosterone in your body. Because testosterone helps you train harder and recover faster, it is on the banned substance list in athletics. If you get caught taking it, you will be banned from competing (unless you are Russian, of course).

Caster Semenya hasn’t been taking it: she just has incredibly high levels of it in her body. But other athletes claim it is unfair: they say no matter how hard they train, they can never compete with someone who has so much testosterone.

My view, is that that is tough luck.

Caster Semenya isn’t cheating. She is just naturally bigger, stronger and faster than other athletes. That is just how sport is. It has never been a meritocracy. You can train as hard as you want, you are never going to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. When we take the top athletes in the entire world, of course they are both hard working and physically gifted.

I have been running for 25 years and I still can’t get my 5k time to within a few minutes of Mo Farah’s 10k time. No amount of training is going to make me faster than he is. However, for consideration, I have laid out the possible paths we could take.

Let Caster Semenya compete

This is the obvious one, and the one I favour, as outlined above.

Not let Caster Semenya complete

So now we’re banning anyone with hyperandrogenism competing because we’re confused about their gender? That’s obviously discriminatory.

Make Caster Semenya take medication

You know, like we did with Alan Turing to try and cure his homosexuality. We could give her pills to reduce her testosterone levels to a “reasonable” level.

This sounds like Kurt Vonnegut’s distopian short story Harrison Bergeron in which ballet dancers must wear weights, newsreaders must have stutters and smart people must be dumbed down. We will be giving Usain Bolt a drag parachute and removing large segments of basketball players legs so that I can compete in the NBA?

Do away with gendered sport

Instead of diving everyone into men and women, we could just allow everyone to compete in the same competition. Do away with discrimination and give everyone an equal opportunity.

Make Caster Semenya compete with the men

Which would be totally unfair, because she is a woman.

Have a new “we’re not sure” category

As well as having a men’s race and a women’s race, we could introduce a new intersex category that would allow the IAAF to parade around anyone who doesn’t exactly fit into their nice gender boxes.

Conclusion

Personally, I find all other possible routes out of this situation either ridiculous, or offensive, or in some cases both. Caster Semenya is a wonderful athlete and should be allowed to compete.

Expecting Better

Friday, August 26th, 2016 | Books, Family & Parenting

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know is a book on pregnancy by economist Emily Oster. Oster is known for applying her economics to other fields having given a TED talk on re-thinking AIDs in Africa. During the pregnancy of her first child she got sick of uncited recommendations and decided to look at what the evidence really said.

Take alcohol for example. I wrote about alcohol and pregnancy last month. Oster’s review of the available evidence and theory behind alcohol use during pregnancy is that having up to one drink per day is fine after the first three months. Coffee gets the green light too.

There is no evidence that bed rest is beneficial for pregnant women. In fact it is quite the opposite: laying around for weeks or even months on end is likely to have a negative impact on the mother’s health. Aromatherapy provides no benefit either, but not everything is out the door: having a doula at the birth produces much better health outcomes.

With each topic, each stage of the pregnancy and each taboo, Oster reviews the available evidence and produces a short summary at the end of each chapter explaining what is safe and what is not. This is by far the most important book on pregnancy I have read.

expecting-better

Unelectable: A History of Jeremy Corbyn at the Polls

Thursday, August 25th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

jeremy-corbyn

You won’t hear any protests from me when you call Jeremy Corbyn unelectable. What a joke the man is. He can’t afford a nice suit, and didn’t even have the decency to look flustered when asked to publish his tax return. What kind of politician is that?

That said, being skeptics, we like all that evidence and stuff. So I thought I would see if there is any evidence as to whether Jeremy is electable or not.

Year Election Result
1982 Islington North Labour Party candidate selection[1] Jeremy wins with 54% vote share
1983 General election[2] Jeremy wins with 40% vote share
1987 General election Jeremy wins with 50% vote share
1992 General election Jeremy wins with 57% vote share
1997 General election Jeremy wins with 69% vote share
2001 General election Jeremy wins with 62% vote share
2005 General election Jeremy wins with 51% vote share
2010 General election Jeremy wins with 55% vote share
2015 General election Jeremy wins with 60% vote share
2015 Labour Party leadership election[3] Jeremy wins with 60% vote share, in the first round of alternative voting

It probably comes down to personal opinion as to whether you think Jeremy Corbyn is electable or not. After all, it is all in the interpretation of the data. It’s just that, so far, he has won every single election he has ever contested in his entire political career, which started well before I was born.

Rio 2016 Olympics: a review

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Sport

rio-2016

I have really enjoyed the Rio 2016 Olympics. London 2012 was pretty good: a spent a lot of time watching that too, but no where near as much as I spent watching Rio. My love of sport has grown over the past four years. This time I was watching it from 9am to midnight most days. I am exhausted from sitting around watching sport.

It helps that Team GB has completely nailed it. Without home advantage I assumed we would be unable to hold on to third place in the medals table. The predictions said we would match last time. But as things progressed, people asked question. Could we beat China? The answer was yes. We finished in second, our best performance for over one hundred years. The only time we have ever done better than third was when we came first at the 1908 London Olympics. We have never matched that away from home before.

Brazil did a good job overall, in my opinion. Their opening ceremony was okay, but if we have learned anything from Bejing and London, you probably do need to spend an obscene amount of money to make it mind-blowing. Despite the odd technical glitch, Rio did a wonderful job though. Compare this to #SochiProblems at the Winter Olympics two years ago, or the absolute disaster that was India’s attempt at hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Things were not perfect, but isn’t it better to give a developing country a chance and accept it isn’t going to be London?

Brazil’s support for the Paralympics has clearly fallen short of the mark, and I will not defend them on that count.

In some ways, the Olympics has also been depressing. I remember spending an afternoon watching dressage. I lay on my sofa, wishing I had the motivation to get up and sort my life out and get things done. But all I could do was lie there and watch more dressage, a sport I have very little interest in.

But for the most part it was just sport, amazing sport, and the Union Jack being hoisted up a flag pole again, and again, and again.

Swn y Don review

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Reviews, Travel

swn-y-don

During our recent trip to Anglesey we stayed in a villa named Swn y Don in Cemaes Bay. It was a big place with a living room, dining area, large conservatory, two kitchens and five bedrooms.

conservatory

The coastal path runs right next to the garden so you get people walking right past. Not that they were interested in us, but it did mean we had to observe the rules about wearing swimwear while in the hot tub.

It made for a very nice view though.

view-from-garden

Beyond that there was a rocky cliff down to the water, so no access to the beach. You could walk down into the village if you wanted one.

Hot tub

The hot tub was really good. It was ready when we arrived and continued to work throughout our stay. The water was a little grimy by the end of the week, but we found the chlorination tablets to clean it up.

There was also a BBQ on the patio which was large and allowed us to cook for everyone. Both of these were advantages over Ullapool where we had to take our own BBQ and hot tub!

Connectivity

This was probably the biggest annoyance about the place. They had broadband, but we had to restart the router and modem several times a day to get it working. This would not have been so bad if I could get any photo data, but there was no signal anywhere on the property.

Kitchen

The kitchen was narrow and made for a bottleneck when someone was in there. However there were two fridges, a freezer and a wine cooler, meaning we had plenty of space for food and drink. The cooker was amazing! Five gas burners, including an extra large one, plus a separate grill and two ovens that became hot really quickly.

cooker

Cooking was sometimes a challenge because the kitchen was missing a lot of the tools I have at home. It had an electric whisk, but no soup pot or cake tin, and all the knifes were pretty blunt. All the doors had keys in them, which was really useful as we could all take different ones when we split up.

Summary

It is a beautiful house and a lovely location. I would definitely stay here again, especially if North Anglesey ever get some proper broadband and phone signal.