Archive for April, 2012


Monday, April 30th, 2012 | Distractions

Recently, I went indoor karting with work.

I was rubbish at it, almost everyone was faster than me, but it was never the less a lot of fun. It’s definitely the kind of thing I could get into with a bit more practice. I don’t quite have the money to buy my Formula One team yet, but a kart, well that’s a whole different matter…

The Little Paris Kitchen

Sunday, April 29th, 2012 | Distractions, Thoughts

Rachel Khoo is a business genius. If you’ve seen her BBC Two show, The Little Paris Kitchen, you may have heard her claim she opened her own restaurant. You’ll then no doubt notice that what is has actually done is put a table in front of her sofa and put a few chairs round the other side of it, in her living room.

So, she is basically just having people over for dinner. And charging for it!

In a recent episode, she made Beef Wellington, explaining that both the English and the French have their own version of the dish. This strikes me as odd.

The English dish Beef Wellington is named after the Duke of Wellington, the man who led us to victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. We celebrate him for that, hence why we created a dish full of steak in his name.

But the French were on the losing side of the battle. Why have a dish named as such?

Tackling the Immigration Issue

Saturday, April 28th, 2012 | Religion & Politics

Immigration has been a hot topic over the past decade. Many people are concerned about the level of immigrants coming into the UK, while other groups argue that we need immigrants to continue flooding to the UK in order to promote growth and ensure there is still a bit of money left in the pension pot.

Realistically though, there is really just one group of immigrants causing more problems in our society than any other. Addressing this one specific area would bring far more equality and fairness to our society.

That’s why I’m launching my new campaign Deport the Sax-Cobergs.

Royal Family

They come over here, they take our jobs…

They take our women…

And they live in massive council houses funded by the tax payer…

So, I’ll be handing round a petition…

Migrating away from register globals

Friday, April 27th, 2012 | Programming, Tech

If you are luckily enough to work in a Web 2.0 start up, you probably won’t have to deal with too much legacy code. But for the rest of us, we can often find ourselves working with code which can be even decades out of date.

One of the big issues in PHP has been the deprecation of register globals. Of course, this happened quite a long time ago, because the idea of register globals was just plain stupid, but recent versions of PHP (5.3 onwards), will now throw a deprecation error.

So, we need to find a way to turn register globals off.

The end solution is of course to refactor the code so it doesn’t use register globals at all. Anything short of this is going to be a security nightmare, it’s like a ticking time bomb sitting on your server. But until then, there is a way you can emulate it in your PHP code while you work to get rid of it, allowing you to turn the register global settings off.

All you need is something like this in your code.

foreach ($_REQUEST as $key => $val) {
	$$key = $val;

Bad Science in the Developing World

Friday, April 27th, 2012 | Humanism

As part of the Atheist Society‘s Reason Week, I recently attended a talk by Martin Robbins, author of The Guardian’s Lay Science blog, on Bad Science in the Developing World.

In the talk, Martin described an expedition to Africa that he undertook last year to investigate the quackery that the Western World is bringing to the continent. As you can imagine – it’s a lot. With limited education, how are people supposed to know that homoeopathy is nonsense? Of course, they can’t be expected to, so it’s an easy sell.

The real question though, is probably “what is the solution?” As Martin points out, when the competition is local herbalists and shamans, finding an answer is going to be tough.

Chinese Grand Prix

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 | Distractions

It has been a fantastic start to the Formula One season.

With Perez coming in second in his Sauber at Malaysia, Rosberg and his Mercedes qualified on pole and converted it to a win in China. That means that the top two steps of the podium for the first three races – a total of six positions – has been shared by five teams! McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes, Sauber and Ferrari are all looking in great shape this year and the other teams aren’t far behind.

Last year was an enjoyable season but it did often feel like 23 cars following Vettel round a track. This year has already seen some amazingly competitive racing and long may it continue. Ideally, primarily on the races, the BBC are showing in full.

Smoking in pubs

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Hey, remember ten years ago when everyone smoked in pubs and it was rubbish?

I just thought I would remind us all because it’s a good example of a paradigm shift. A decade ago most of us thought that it was acceptable to smoke on confined spaces, now most of us think that it isn’t OK because the evidence shows that passive smoking does genuinely kill people[1].

Actually, it feels, at least to me, like a hole different world now. It’s not just that I’ve changed my opinion, but society itself has now fundamentally shifted its opinion to the point where I simply can’t imagine going back to the dark ages where everything smelt of smoke and your pint was served with a free topping of lung cancer.


Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently, Jack Straw was sued for being complicit in torture.

It’s a difficult issue – one one hand, torture is very bad. On the other hand, if you are able to extract information that could save lives, perhaps sometimes it could be justified? Or at least that is the argument that has been proposed by many people, including Sam Harris. At least that is the argument he made in 2005 when he published “In Defense of Torture” in the Huffington Post, though he qualifies this extensively on his website.

I personally think the argument is far more clear-cut, however.

Firstly, the evidence just isn’t there that torture works. I would like to say simply that “torture doesn’t work” but that is perhaps an unjustifiable claim. It’s very hard to do controlled trials of torture (thankfully) but there is evidence on both sides to suggest the efficacy of torture. Ultimately, it probably does yield information, that information is almost certainly unreliable, but if you are able to verify what is true and what isn’t, you can then argue there is some advantage to torture. Then again, you can argue there isn’t. We can’t conclusively say either way.

More importantly, however, even from a utilitarian perspective, which is similar to the position put forward by Harris in The Moral Landscape, torture is not justifiable.

The reason is, in order to allow torture in a utilitarian world, we all have to live in a world where people are tortured. So yes, the needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the one, and extracting information by force to save more lives could seem like a good idea at first. But what you’re actually doing is making everyone suffer because then everyone has to live in a world where we torture people.

This isn’t a nice world to live in. I really, really don’t like the idea that the government could wrongly suspect me of something and try to torture information out of me. But even if I knew it was never going to happen to me, someone has to actually do the torture as well, and someone was to authorise the torture. That’s a horrible job in itself. I don’t want torture to be any part of my world, no matter what side I’m on.

From that perspective then, the lives we would save from torture (which as we’ve already discussed, there is no conclusive evidence we would save anyway) are outweighed by the needs of the over six billion people on this planet who should have the right to live in a torture-free world.

World Series of Dating

Monday, April 23rd, 2012 | Distractions

Recently, BBC Three began showing World Series of Dating. It’s a trash TV as it sounds – there are four booths each with a different girl in it, and male constants come on and attempt to date them for as long as possible – if the girl gets bored she will hit the buzzer in the middle of the table and that constant will be out.

Despite it’s lack of any intellectual value however, I’ve found myself strangely addicted. Perhaps because it got me through a long night of illness when there was nothing else on at 5am in the morning and I now associate warm memories with it, but it’s actually intriguing for some reason.

However, I think I’ve figured out the reason why. There is a fine line between “doesn’t take itself too seriously” trash TV and incredibly clever parody, and I now suspect that the show lies slightly past said line.

I could have accepted the fact that one of the girls on the show is called Bambi – it’s a silly name but the reality of our modern society is that it is entirely plausible that someone would call their child that. And if someone did, they would almost certainly wear too much fake tan and end up being on a show like World Series of Dating, so that doesn’t strike me as contrived.

However, given the constant references to this being the British version of the show, something didn’t really fit there. It didn’t seem like a show that would be popular with the American market and a quick Google search confirmed that the show is an entirely original creation here in Britain.

That means that Rob Riggle never presented the US version of WSOD, nor did Bentley Kalu ever referee it. Indeed, Poppy Weathers isn’t even a real person, she is played by Thaila Zucchi, an actor who I’ve never heard of because her acting consisted of an appearance on Big Brother 8 as fake house mate, a show which I stopped watching after it ran out of original ideas (ie, I didn’t watch the second series onwards).

Having these fake back stories and fictional hosts, takes it over the line from comedic trash television to clever parody – and that’s why it’s OK for me to enjoy it 😉 . We can safely take the high ground pointing out to those who claim it’s intellectually defunct that “they simply don’t get it.”

Sunday trading laws

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

If there is one thing we need to be embarrassed about as a nation, it’s Sunday trading laws (you know, if you ignore complicity in torture, public transport, lack of a constitution, etc). Some of us need to be able to buy baking ingredients at 3am on a Sunday. I say as a nation, but I don’t wish to tarnish Scotland’s good name with this as they have long since abolished such nonsense.

I for one am very excited about the start of the Olympics, as it means these restrictions will be temporarily suspended to allow businesses to cash in on the hype as much as possible.

How this really works I’m not sure. I could understand if the limits were just being relaxed in London around the Olympic Village, but they’re not, they’re being relaxed everywhere. Why? What is the point of allowing B&Q to open until 10pm on a Sunday in Newcastle, during the Olympics? But as I said, I’m not complaining. It’s incredibly irritating having my Sunday shopping limited to 11am-5pm.

The question is though – once we do this for the duration of the Olympics and see that we can indeed buy a loaf of bread and a mango from Asda at 7pm on a Sunday without god smiting us, what is the argument for bringing such restrictions back into place?

Of course you can argue that we should have one day a week where shops are closed so people spend time with their families (which is of course strictly forbidden at all other times; god help you if you wanted to have family time on a Wednesday) but if this is the case, how does this fit into letting shops open for the first six hours? The answer is, it doesn’t, nor so it fit with the idea that only large stores are restricted from opening on a Sunday while smaller shops, offices, call centres, pubs, restaurants and many, many other business types do open because whether we like it or not we’re now living in a 24/7 society (and I do like it).

Sunday trading laws need to go the way of fox hunting and smoking in pubs – an archaic practice that is detrimental and unjustifiable in modern society.