Archive for May, 2010

Fun facts (that aren’t even true)

Monday, May 31st, 2010 | Distractions, Science

Memes are incredible things. One good example I have noticed, is that there are quite a lot of fun facts that survive – despite not even being true, simply because they make a good story. Here are a few of my favourites…

You can see the Great Wall of China from space
Think about it. The United Kingdom is a dot from space, maybe a small blog at best. The city of Leeds is indistinguishable. It’s streets, rivers, buildings, Tesco Extras, all not even a speck. And you think you can see a wall four metres across? Didn’t think so 😀 .

The Americans spent millions developing a zero gravity pen. The Russians used a pencil.
This one is sort of true, but the Americans started out using pencils too. They just found they broke a lot and it’s irritating sharpening a pencil in zero gravity because the shavings go everywhere. It wasn’t like they just didn’t think to use a pencil.

If you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out, but if you heat it up slowly it will just slowly cook alive and won’t notice
Again, this is probably one of those that first makes sense but when you think about it is probably quite unlikely. To prove the point someone did it and found the opposite happens – if you heat the pot up slowly the frog soon jumps out when it gets too hot whereas if you throw it in a pan of boiling water it gets really badly scalded and dies.

On a hot day, it’s better to wearing white
This just isn’t true. This probably originates from the stereotypical image of Saudis wearing all white but many people in the Middle East wear black and are just fine. Actually there is no real evidence that light coloured clothes are any cooler in the warm weather than wearing all black.

Own brand painkillers are just as good as Nurofen
This might surprise the sceptics who read my blog, suprisingly. Actually research shows that Nurofen can often be more effective than own brand painkillers. Not because it is actually any better (they are exactly the same as own brand) but because a lot of people aren’t as sceptical as us and associate the fact that Nurofen has adverts on the telly box with medical efficacy. It is of course nothing more than a placebo effect but a measurable once none the less. Pat yourself on the back if you find the own brand ones just as effective because you know it’s the exact same ingredients – you’re one of us smart people.

In Australia, toilets swirl the other way round
It’s widely believed that when you flush a toilet in the Southern hemisphere it will swirl counter clockwise. But it doesn’t. The fact is the Coriolis effect simply isn’t strong enough to overpower other influences such as the way the drains are laid out, the way the jets are set up to go or even a draft in the bathroom.

Toffee tastes better when manufactured in high altitudes
I’ve tasted Lowland Toffee and it’s just as good.

Coca Cola made Santa Claus red
Smart people know that Santa Claus wasn’t always red. He used to dress in all kind of colours, often, green, until the Coca Cola Company re-branded him in red to fit with their advertising. Even smarter people know that actually, while the Coca Cola Company did go a long way to popularising Santa’s red outfit, the iconic modern image of Santa should really be credited to the American cartoonist Thomas Nast if anyone should receive the honour.

The death penalty still exists in the UK, but only for treason
This is something I hear from time to time although more people are becoming aware of it’s falsity. We actually did still have the death penalty in the UK until 1997 (not that it was ever used any more) but one of the first things New Labour did when coming to power was to see it out of law.

Calling the Brain Trust

Monday, May 31st, 2010 | Tech

Ok, here is the situation. I have a website which has two virtual hostnames pointed at it – and They both point to the exact same location in the file system and serve the same content. However I need one of them to invoke a http authentication and the other not to.

The obvious solutions I see are…

Set up a rule in the .htaccess so it only requires a valid user when accessing the sub domain. This is the simplest solution but I don’t think such a rule exists.

Dynamically serve different .htaccess files based on the host being accessed. This ticks neither box of being simple or actually something you can actually make the computer do. But maybe it is if you start layering your .htaccess files.

Invoke the http authentication from the PHP script itself, detecting the server name and serving if appropriate. This is doable and straight forward to implement but requires quite a bit of coding.

Also maybe I can do the original solution, but only inside the vhosts.conf file? I haven’t really looked into that so that’s just speculation. Question is, which is the easiest solution to implement?

Pleasant surprises

Saturday, May 29th, 2010 | Life, Thoughts

In a sea of everything going wrong at the moment, I got some very pleasant news on Thursday morning when I found out my car passed it’s MOT! I was expecting it to fail to be honest because of the right up it got on it’s last service but apparently everything is in working order enough for it to be road legal so let the good times roll.

Norman Ralph to speak at Enquiry

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 | Foundation

With Enquiry 2010 only two weeks away we’re pleased to announce Norman Ralph has been added to the speaker line-up for the conference.

Founding president of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist & Secular Student Societies, Norman “The No Man” Ralph guided the AHS through it’s first year of operation and continues to play a part on a national scale, regularly speaking at conferences and local groups.

Tickets are still available, £49 standard and £29 student for the weekend. See the Enquiry Conference website for full details.

Four Lions

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 | Distractions, Reviews

I went to see the new Chris Morris film, Four Lions, on Tuesday. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a “comedy” sort of about Islamic terrorists trying to blow themselves up in London. I say comedy because it isn’t really a comedy, it’s more of a serious drama that happens to be really funny. It’s slapstick humour but set on a backdrop of something as serious as The Hamburg Cell.

It was brilliant.

A lot of people said it was really toned down before it was allowed to be released. However I didn’t feel it was particularly toned down at all (which should make the director’s cut really interesting!). That isn’t to be confused with controversial however – the film certainly was not an attack on Islam, it presented a balanced view.

It was very Chris Morris with some amazing throw away lines and easily misable humour that will no doubt provide many more laughs the second time round (think along the lines of “so much for reported crime – but crime we know nothing about is going up as well”). Well worth going to see.

Simon Munnery to speak at Enquiry 2010

Sunday, May 16th, 2010 | Foundation

We are pleased to announce the addition of Simon Munnery to the already exciting line up of speakers for the Enquiry 2010 Conference!

Simon, also known by his stagenames of Alan Parker: Urban Warrior and The League Against Tedium, has previously worked alongside Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Steve Coogan and his material often wanders onto the topic of atheism and religion.

Indeed I first saw Simon during a show he did with Stewart Lee in York a few months ago and was so impressed that I asked him to speak there and then.

More speakers are still to be announced for Enquiry 2010, so if you haven’t picked up your ticket yet head over to the Enquiry 2010 Conference website and sign up – tickets are available from £49 standard and £29 student!

General election

Sunday, May 16th, 2010 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I have to say, the general election was rubbish.

I had to queue for 40 minutes to vote. I actually really regret that now, as much as you should participate in democracy, no metric when you think about it would actually have been worth a whole 40 minutes of my precious time given that Hilary Benn was always going to win the seat for Labour once again.

But yes, that footage of everyone queuing outside Trinity Church in Leeds, that was me. Well, that footage wasn’t me, I did it earlier in the day, but much like everyone else I went at first (around 6pm) and saw how long the queue was so I thought I would come back two hours later when the queue had died down only to find it had gotten even longer.

The error in my logic was thinking that most people didn’t live in the city centre and so would be voting at around 6pm as they got the bus home from work, passing through town of course. It was only later I realised how silly this was – obviously if they were bussing it home to somewhere else, they would be in a different constituency.

In my defense though, having looked at the queue I believe most people would have thought the same thing – it was full of shabby looking poor lower-working class people so my instant reaction was that they obviously couldn’t afford to live in the city centre and must just be voting here and then going back to whichever slum they live in. I still think this is probably the case and just the Leeds Central constituency stretches father than I realise.

And then after all that, I stay up all night to watch the election and we don’t even get a real result.

I think the biggest argument for our current electoral system is that if we switched to proportional representation, most election nights would be such a massive anti-climax. I stayed up until about 5:30 because all the interesting results – the Leeds ones for me obviously, Brighton Pier, Barking, Buckingham and Oxford West took absolutely ages to declare.

Indeed the only one I managed to catch while in some state of consciousness was when Oxford West was announced, only to find out that very disappointing Dr Evan Harris had lost his seat. And thus was the death of science and evidence based policy in the House of Commons.

What a massive disappointment all round really.

Going back to basics

Sunday, May 16th, 2010 | Thoughts

Back when I originally moved over from Nerd Federation to my own personal blog, one of the major reasons I quoted from getting a “fresh start” with the move to WordPress and a new policy of direct, to the point blogs, was that I just didn’t write much on Nerd Federation anymore because I had got myself into a pattern where I felt I needed to write a lot, and so didn’t, and so never blogged.

Of late I feel I have fallen into this trap once again. I’ve simply been too busy of late to write long, photographed blog posts and so I just haven’t been blogging. But there is a lot going on I would like to talk about and share and so it seems an appropriate time to try and start fresh with new, shorter blog posts – which also has the advantage that anyone reading my blog doesn’t have endlessly long posts to slog their way through.

I really have been busy recently – the last time I can remember having an evening at home relaxing, rather than working, was somewhere near the start of April. Still, everyone thinks they are busy, indeed every year I seem to look back and think “I thought I was so busy a year ago – but it’s nothing compared to now.” Makes me wonder how we will all feel next year when if the model holds, we’ll be even busier than we are now lol.

May at Humanist Community

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 | Events, Humanism, Life

Last Sunday saw the May meeting of the Humanist Community of Leeds. It was well attended and all those who spoke to me gave positive feedback – indeed a record number of people stayed on for Sunday lunch and we had to have the restaurant expand the area we are normally in!

Answers returns for 2010

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 | Events, Foundation

Last Friday saw the the Answers course start once again at the University of Leeds, hosted by Leeds Atheist Society. Answers is a course for those who have decided they are atheists but are not really sure where to go from there – how do you express your beliefs and make sense of your thoughts? Luckily, Answers has answers!