Archive for April, 2013

White Rose 2013 speech contest

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 | Public Speaking

Last month saw White Rose Speakers hold our 2013 international speech and evaluation contest. Actually, we held a speech showcase rather than a contest as I was ineligible to compete due to already having won at Leeds City, so we elected Erik is our club representative to take our club to the area contest.

Meanwhile the evaluation contest was more hotly contested, and I was worried that running out of time hurt my evaluation, but it seems everyone suffered from a little of that and I ended up taking first place. I’m looking forward to learning from these lessons and moving on to the area contest.

Welcome to White Rose Speakers! Chris Worfolk, Evalustion Contest 1st Place White Rose's First Evaluation Contest

The Amber Spyglass

Saturday, April 20th, 2013 | Books

Having recently read the first two books in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife, I moved onto the final part (as is traditional with trilogies – unless you’re Douglas Adams!), The Amber Spyglass.

While I found the previous book a bit hard going in terms of maintaining my interest levels, I had no such problem with this one. Pullman’s description of their voyage to the Land of the Dead kept me riveted, at least as much as I can be to a book. I also found the end heartbreaking and am very glad that Elina is from the same parallel universe that I am (as far as I can tell anyway).

I would say it’s well worth a read, though you do need to read the whole trilogy for it to make any sense. But if you’re a Harry Potter fan, this is worth a read as well.


A lawyer’s perspective on harassment policies

Friday, April 19th, 2013 | Thoughts

Last year there was a lot of talk regarding anti-harassment policies at Skeptics events and conferences. While the subject was hotly debated, nobody really thought to ask a lawyer about what the legal position of it all was.

Well, not quite everyone.

The key points for organisations is that they should have one if they employ staff, to make sure they are legally protecting themselves if there are problems with the people representing their organisations. But for attendees harassing each other, it’s much better not to have a policy, because otherwise you take on a duty of care to enforce it, and thus can be in trouble if you fail (or someone claims you failed).

If you do have one, you shouldn’t publish it in advance and all that it should say is that you expect people to comply with the law (as we already have laws against threatening behaviour, obviously) and if you don’t like people, you can kick them out without justification. This doesn’t sound too friendly, so you might just want to not hav a policy at all.

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that this doesn’t stop you clamping down on harassment. I don’t know anyone who has had a problem tackling it due to the lack of a policy. Indeed, you’ll probably be able to do it better since you can spend your time actually tackling and not merely drafting a policy.

Can you vote to end democracy?

Thursday, April 18th, 2013 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Being the Imperial Western states that we are, we have a habit of going into countries, taking out the dictators (mostly the ones that we originally installed and have been propping up for the past few decades) and forcing democracy on the people.

It has been suggested that this has unfortunately come back to bite us on the ass a few times. Particularly when it comes to Islamic states. After all, what happens if you give democracy to a people and they democratically decide that they want to be enslaved and live under a dictatorship? This might sound like a philosophical thought experiment, but is actually the reality we face – with huge amounts of people brainwashed by the evils of religion, mainly Islam in this case, there is a every chance people might opt for this.

Should we allow it? If we’re ever going to remove democracy from the world and appoint me as the benevolent dictator, we’re going to have to eventually. But on a more serious note, it doesn’t seem right to allow such a thing to happen. Yet, it would seem undemocratic to stop it, if that is what the electorate have chosen.

However, there are possibly some arguments to support an intervention against it.

Firstly, you might be able to argue that it doesn’t make sense logically. It’s the same basic defence to “can god make a rock so big he can’t pick it up” argument – you can’t vote to end democracy because then you wouldn’t have a democracy. Of course you could say well you had one at the time but now it’s gone, but then you could also argue that you never really lived in a democracy if it was contingent on you acting a certain way.

You could argue in a democracy everyone eligible has to be able to have their say. You can argue that if everyone voted for it, then it is the wish of everyone, so it’s fine, but of course not everyone would, but more importantly, the younger generations that were ineligible to vote but would be eligible in the future, should not have that choice taken away from them.

You could also argue that anyone who would vote such a way would be either under duress of mental incapacitation, and therefore ineligible to vote – a state religion that is enforced as strictly as it is in Islamic states would seem to fit both those boxes.

There are some badly put forward points – now I’m hoping my philosopher friends will put forward some coherent and well thought out arguments, as I would be interested to read them.

Bang & Olufsen A8 headphones review

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 | Reviews

I needed a new set of in-ear headphones for when I go running. I had recently bought some reasonably priced Sony ones, but they just don’t stay in your ears, so in the end I opted for the Bang & Olufsen A8s as one of the guys in my team has them and says they’re pretty good.

In their defence, they do stay in your ears better than any other pair of headphones I have had. Their piston that moves up and down and swivel loop “thing” means that you can anchor it quite well to you ears.

However, this does mean they’re quite tiresome to put on because every time you do you have to swivel the back out, push them in and then close it again to form a tight fit – useless for in the office when I need to take them off to have a conversation with someone every five or ten minutes.

The sound quality is disappointing too. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that for how good you would expect them to be at that price – they’re rubbish. They’re not much better than your run of the mill headphones and arguably the Apple ear pods I got with my iPhone produce a better sound. Definitely not worth the money.


Direct debit fraud

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 | Thoughts

Did you know what with someone’s name, bank account number and sort code, you can set up a direct debit in their name and clean out their account?

Maybe you did. Maybe you had heard about it but thought it was just an urban legend. Maybe you didn’t. The issue came up in 2008 when someone used Jeremy Clarkson’s bank details to set up a fraudulent direct debit, after be made his bank details publicly available to prove that you couldn’t commit direct debit fraud simply with a few numbers. Of course, you actually can.

Ideally of course your bank details wouldn’t be in the public domain, but for some individuals and organisations, charities like ours for example, it’s fairly unavoidable that they end up getting out there.

This results in rather a lot of direct debit fraud.

The Gym, PureGym, Sky and Elephant are just some of the companies that seem apparently happy to let people pay for their services by using a charity’s name and bank details.

Is to too much to ask for banks to ensure the direct debits are legitimate? At HSBC, you have the option of placing care messages on your account. So you can be notified of all direct debits set up – it’s nice to get a letter to tell you there has been direct debit fraud on your account, but that they let it go through anyway – really reassures you that they know what they’re doing.

Worse still, however, is that we have now blocked all direct debits now need to be confirmed with one of the trustees – yet when I checked the mail the other day I found no less than five new direct debits that had been set up without our authorisation. Ridiculous.

Suicide in young men

Monday, April 15th, 2013 | Foundation, Religion & Politics

April is unfortunately suicide month. It’s the month when more people kill themselves than any other. It’s generally believed this is because the lighter days and better weather provide people will the motivation to to do it – ironically, what keeps people alive in the depths of depression is that they’re too depressed to kill themselves.

It’s timely then that the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) recently published a report claiming that suicide is now the biggest killer of young men – causing more depths than road accidents, murders and HIV combined.

Full coverage can be found in Metro.

This report echoes the issues already raised in our Men’s Issues awareness campaign. 75% of suicides are male, partly due to the stigma that surrounds men getting help for mental health issues – only 17% of men in need of help will seek it, compared to 29% of women.

Everyone loves porn

Sunday, April 14th, 2013 | Religion & Politics

Everyone loves porn. That’s a well known fact. Indeed, even in countries were porn is banned (Islamic countries, obviously), porn sites are still some of the most popular sites on the internet according to the Huffington Post, reporting on findings by Alexa.

No wonder sites have been launched to cater for such a niche.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised religious states are trying to act against it.

This is all part of religion’s attempt to control the basic desires of human beings, and therefore keep them down. It’s the most sick and twisted part of religion, worse than the killing, the wars, the torture of non-believers and abuse of children that all in themselves are at least on the level of the kind of thing you would call a war crime.

Luckily, as these results show, it doesn’t work. Because as good as god might be, porn is better.

Malaysian grand prix

Saturday, April 13th, 2013 | Distractions

Last weekends Malaysian grand prix turned out to be a bit of a sour one.

There was simply outright anger between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, as Mark thought he deserved to have the race win, while Lewis Hamilton felt similarly guilty about taking third place ahead of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg one suspects entirely due to team orders.

As I mentioned in my post about the Australian GP, being a Button fan is only ever going to end in disappointment, as he retired only a few laps before the end of the race, with Di Resta well below him and Max Chilton spent most the race in last place – only Hamilton was flying the flag for Britain, and that was in dubious circumstances too.

Meanwhile, over in my adoptive nation, Kimi Raikkonen only managed 7th. Let’s hope for better results in China.

Alan Turing: The Building of a Brain

Friday, April 12th, 2013 | Foundation, Humanism

For the March meeting of Leeds Skeptics, Professor Barry Cooper from the University of Leeds presented a talk entitled “Alan Turing: The Building of a Brain”.

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