Archive for May, 2011


Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 | Humanism

Last week, Atheist Society were taking it easy during the exam period, with a screening of the film Saved. It has an important moral message – that we need to book Michael into Mercy House. He didn’t seem to keen on the idea though.

Afterward, we headed down to Stick or Twist, where I enjoyed a free mixed grill after having filled out all the required stamps on my loyalty card 😀 .

Norm fires up the grill

Monday, May 30th, 2011 | Friends, Life

With Viki pretending to be ill to avoid paying for breakfast, like the cheap Mackem she is, and keeping George firmly under her thumb while at it, it fell to Norm to fire up the grill for this month’s post-Wendy fry up. He didn’t disappoint.

Wendy House

Sunday, May 29th, 2011 | Life

We decided to celebrate the rapture not happening in the traditional way – by having a Wendylicious party before heading out for everyone’s favorite night. Good times.

Brave New World

Saturday, May 28th, 2011 | Books, Thoughts

I recently finished reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which, after only a month at the top, has probably already knocked Nineteen Eighty-Four off the top spot of my favourite novels list.

Brave New World presents a dystopian future in which the idea of family has been completely removed. New humans are not born but are grown in bottles in giant hatcheries, before finally being decanted. Everyone is conditioned through gestation and childhood to be a certain class, and to be happy with that class. And if anyone ever is unhappy there is always soma – the happiness drug.

To be honest, though, I didn’t see what was so bad with the this future 😀 .

Throughout the book, I expressed to a few people this thought and they all responded with “wait until you get to the end – then you will see what a horrific vision of the future it is.” Well, I’m there now, and it still looks pretty good lol.

Ultimately, it probably isn’t a world in which we would choose. The characters in the novel have no freedom – they are born into a predefined class from which there is no escape and there happiness is shallow and superficial.

But then, if you were born into that world, you would actually be perfectly happy with it. It sounds horrible to be preconditioned from before birth to be a certain class, but imagine being truly satisfied with their job. I mean, I love my job, really love it, but I wouldn’t choose to do it if I didn’t have to, nor do I feel like I’m an important part of society – there are many other software developers out there that could do my job just as well. But what if I was conditioned to think I genuinely was an important cog? That might genuinely be nicer.

Furthermore, what exactly is superficial happiness? Isn’t that what we tell ourselves when we see someone who just seems too happy because they have money and fame and it’s all the stuff we want but can’t have so we tell ourselves that they aren’t really happy on the inside even though deep down we know that they actually are probably deeply contented 😉 .

And finally, there is soma. Some of the characters in the novel rebuked its use, but then, what is really wrong with it? Imagine we had a drug which could make us feel fantastic so that whenever we wanted to escape reality, we could just take it and all would be well.

Well, we do, and it’s call alcohol. There really isn’t an argument to be made for claiming that having soma in our society would be undesirable because it’s basically the same as alcohol but better, and side-effect free – and ultimately, most of us choose to go out and get wrecked, despite the very significant side effects.

All this is slightly tongue in cheek of course – no democracy, a class system, a religious cult-like worship of solidarity, none of this is desirable. But soma, sexual freedom and a focus on happiness are three things I’m very much down with.

The Zeitgeist Movement

Friday, May 27th, 2011 | Humanism

Last week, we welcomed Dan Dewsnap to Skeptics in the Pub, to talk about the Zeitgeist Movement.

This was a movement launched off the bank of a film called Zeitgeist Addendum which claims that the major world problems are inherent to the capitalist money based system which our society currently runs on. It then goes on to propose a solution to these problems by putting forward the idea of a resource based economy. This is one without money or ownership, where people are provided with access instead and everything would be in abundance.

While the movement seems to suffer from many of the problems of utopian visions do (how do you motivate people to work, what do you do about things we can’t reduce scarcity, how do you stop people ceasing power, how do you coordinate everything), it was certainly interesting to hear about a movement which was expelling the virtues of technology and science and it was great to have a strong debate going at the meeting with people speaking for both sides.

York Brights talk magic

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | Distractions, Life, Thoughts

Last week I headed down to York Brights for their monthly meeting. It was the second time I had been to the city in a month, having visited North Yorkshire Humanists two weeks prior.

The topic of much of this week’s discussion was Derren Brown. Derren has done amazing things for reviving the art of magic, but it always a divided opinion in the skeptics community because although he says it is all magic, he then goes on to pretend a lot of what he is doing is real.

Take the example, when he correctly predicted the lottery numbers. Of course, he didn’t, it was a simple camera trick. But be started the show by saying “this is all magic” and then took you on an hour long journey about the wisdom of crowds, which is of course nonsense. I spoke about this at Skeptics in the Pub in 2009.

One of the group members, Michael, went on to explain just how much of Derren’s material relies on this. Take for example his TV show Trick of Treat, although he claims to use no actors, they almost certainly did, partly because some have been identified as actors but also because you just can’t morally do a lot of that stuff to unsuspecting members of the public.

You could argue of course that that is part of the show though. When we watch fiction or magic, we suspend our disbelief for the purposes of entertainment (deep down, we all know there probably isn’t a man traveling around space and time in a vehicle disguised as a blue police box but it’s fun to pretend for those 45 minutes), and maybe it’s just part of that.

Eurovision 2011

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 | Distractions

Many of us feared that when Terry Wogan stood down from presenting the British coverage of Eurovision, that it was all over. But, having sat down with Norm and Elina for a bit of a Eurovision shin dig last week, I’m fully behind Graham Norton as a worth successor.

It proved to be a hugely entertaining evening, with us gathering more points by the first few results than we managed in the whole competition last year. That said, I’m no longer friends with Elina after Finland failed to give us any points.

The competition is of course ridiculous – the phone lines open before the songs have even been performed. Is it just me that thinks it would be nice if we at least pretended it was about the music, rather than people just tactically voting for their neighbors? Not to mention that the best song, ultimate didn’t win.

Special mention goes to Estonia, for the campest performance I have ever seen:

Her dress is also adorable. Second special mention goes to Georgia for actually being good:

But ultimately, there was only just one song that deserved to win. Despite Graham Norton’s mocking, Moldova’s So Lucky was clearly the entry of the competition:

Martini. Whiskey on the rocks. Life on the top, my party never stops. So lucky! I think Elina is starting to get sick of those lyrics being sung into her ears…

Btw, does anyone know where I can get her some unicycle lessons?

Questival returns

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 | Humanism

If you’re looking for something to do the first weekend of August, then the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist & Secular Student Society’s Questival is an excellent event to attend.

The annual weekend camping trip allows non-religious students from across the UK to come together for a weekend of fun, drinking, the outdoors and if it is anything like previous years – starting little fires in the middle of wooded, but very soggy, areas at 2am in the morning. Not that that ever happened of course ;).

Their speaker this year is stand up mathematician Matt Parker, who brings together two great passions – maths and stage performance. Now if only they could be combined into musical theatre… Having seen Matt at Uncaged Monkeys, as well as having him booked for Enquiry 2011, he is a fun and entertaining speaker, not to be missed.

The event was first run by the Atheist Society in 2008, but due to unfortunate circumstances, we ended up having to cancel the actual camping part of it and so it was more of a dinner party in the end. It was only in 2009 that we finally made it out into the wild green yonder for what proved to be an exciting weekend of partying including walking half way up Ingleborough – by accident!

We had always designed summer camping to be a national event, inviting fellow non-believers from across the country in both 2008 and 2009, so we were more than pleased when, now up and running, the AHS co-opted the event in 2010, alongside Camp Quest, to truly turn it into a national event.

Links have been removed from this post due to third-party content being removed:


Sony DSC-W350 first impressions

Monday, May 23rd, 2011 | Photos, Reviews, Tech

Although I really love my Canon EOS 450D, one thing I have noticed recently is that I’m not taking as many photos as I would like to because it’s particularly convenient to take my camera clubbing or to gigs where they search your bags using ambiguous policies.

To counter this I decided to get my self a cheap camera which could serve such a purpose. I finally settled on the Sony DSC-W350 which for under £100 gets you 14 megapixels (two more than my 450D as it happens) and easy point and click operation in something that will easy fit into my pocket.

Size was really my primary concern when making the decision and the W350 holds up well. It’s about the same size as a credit card so if you’re thinking “wow, it’s only slightly better than a paperclip” I should point out that that is a very big paperclip lol.

It comes in at a depth of 17mm, just slightly shy of being twice that of my iPhone 4 at 9.3mm. That seems a little bulky in comparison but it is perhaps an unfair test to compare it to the world’s thinnest smartphone, and it manages to come in thinner than most of the competition I looked at with most of the slim cameras in it’s price range coming in at around 23mm.

Picture quality is mediocre. It is significantly better than my iPhone 4 but having shot with nothing but a DSLR for two and a half years now, my quality expectations have come to rest somewhat high. Just viewing the photos on my 23″ monitor you can see the photos aren’t quite perfect but then for a compact under a £100, you would have to be very demanding to expect them to be – if I need print publication-quality photos, I’ll take my real camera.

What I do like is that the wide-angle lens produces usually warm images in comparison to my DSLR and as the camera’s main use will be taking shots of my friends while we’re out, this actually makes for more than adequate results for what I need it to do.


Sunday, May 22nd, 2011 | Food, Friends, Reviews

Work having shat all over my Friday night plans where I was supposed to be delivering a session of the Answers course at Atheist Society and then spending some time with Elina, I eventually made it home around 9pm, still in need of grabbing some dinner.

So, having rescheduled Elina to tomorrow, myself and George headed out to grab some much needed food. While I had heard some mixed reviews since the last time I went, they consistently delivered again with some amazing food. My Weeping Tiger actually tasted more of beef than tiger, but then I’ve never actually had tiger, so maybe it tastes the same.