Archive for April, 2014

The Truth

Sunday, April 27th, 2014 | Books

The Truth is the 25th novel in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. It follows the adventures of William de Worde as he accidentally starts the first newspaper, The Ankh-Morpork Times.

Without a doubt, it has been my favourite novel so far. The pioneering spirit of free enterprise, the passion for reporting the news to the public and the almost-tangible smell of Ankh-Morpock that emanates from the pages makes for a powerful, if odorous, combination.

I do wonder as to what the sitcom element comes into play in making the stories enjoyable. In a sitcom, you get to know the characters and that is what makes the situations so funny (not because the situation itself is inherently hilarious on its own). Similarly, it could be that the earlier novels are just as good as the later ones, and if you read them the other way round, you would enjoy the earlier ones more. Or maybe not. Or maybe it is a combination of both.


Everything is Obvious: Why Common Sense is Nonsense

Saturday, April 26th, 2014 | Books

Everything is obvious – once you know the answer. That is the suggestion put forward by Duncan J Watts in his book. Is is not available as an ebook, which is very annoying, so I had to read this one using paper. Like I am living in the nineties…

It was a phenomenal read. Watts first puts forward the case against common sense. Within the first twenty pages I felt like I could never trust myself to make a decision again. Luckily common sense is not the kind of thing that lets logic get in the way, as Watts explains.

He points out that common sense is not that common. If it was, we could all just think about a problem, and come to the same conclusion. But we do not. Common sense is built up from our experiences to explain how to deal with every day situations. That means that each of us has different common sense. Not to mention that many of our common sense rules are contradictory to each other.

This is a problem because when we try and solve a problem, we often use common sense. These are built on our experiences, which are different from other people’s experiences, hence are not directly translatable. One of the most extreme cases of this is that what is the obvious solution to a politician from a rich Western country is not the actual solution that impoverished third world countries actually need.

He then goes on to point out that when you realise you cannot trust your own common sense and go looking at lessons from history, these are useless too. History only plays out once, which as any statistician will tell you, is a pretty poor sample size. The iPod may have been a huge success while MiniDisc floundered, but was it due to Apple having a better strategy than Sony, or where they simply the victims of circumstances? The honest answer is, we will probably never know.

Finally he presents some solutions to the problems put forward. We need to be aware of our biases. We need to do things that we can test and measure scientifically. Sometimes however, this simply is not possible. In those situations, we are basically screwed…

Still, at least we know that now.


Area speech contest

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Public Speaking

Last week I had the pleasure of going to Sheffield for the Toastmasters Area 15 International Speech & Evaluation contest. At said meeting I was elected as next years Area Governor. It remains to be seen whether that counts as winning or not ;). Congratulations to Billal, Jane, Gail and Pauline who proceed on to Division.

Restaurant closures

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 | Thoughts

Since August last year, we have lost 18 restaurants in Leeds. That would not be so bad if it was the rubbish restaurants that had closed. But it never is. Quality has basically nothing to do with the success of a restaurant and marketing has everything to do with it.

Recently we have lost Curry Leaf (my favourite Indian), La Grillade (my favourite French), Cafe Italia (my favourite Italian) as well as many other great kitchens including Saengarun and Norman’s.

Meanwhile so many low quality chain restaurants continue to churn out their mush. It makes me sad.

Casting Light on Evidence

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Foundation, Humanism

For the April meeting of Leeds Skeptics, Dr Paul Marchant presented a talk entitled “Casting Light on Evidence … & Evidence on Light”. The talk looked at how data is used on public policy making, to varying degrees of success.

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Sunday Assembly March

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 | Humanism

I hosted the March event of Sunday Assembly Leeds. The theme was Spring. We had readings from Dermot and Andrew, a talk on laughter from Hugh, Hal is trying his best and Michelle announced the first community action day.

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Monday, April 21st, 2014 | Photos


I tried to capture the rainbow I could see from my balcony, to a certain degree of success.

Louis Theroux’s LA Stories

Sunday, April 20th, 2014 | Distractions, Thoughts

Louis Theroux is my favourite documentary maker. When I read in the BBC Magazine that he had moved to LA and was planning on making some documentaries on his experiences there, I awaited them with much anticipation.

They were not my favourite documentaries he has ever done, but still enjoyable. The dogs one was fairly predictable. It also puts in perspective the destruction of a giraffe in Denmark. One pound in South LA is killing dogs by the dozen on a regular basis. Why are people not up in arms about that? Not to mention all the animals we eat…

End-of-life care helped explain how the United States manages to blow quite so much money on healthcare. Some of the people in there were correct – why not try everything to fight for life if you have the choice? But on a societal level, you do have to wonder whether those resources could be better spent elsewhere. It must be a tough decision for the people who make those kind of budget calls.

The most thought provoking I found was the sex offenders episode. It was pretty clear that nobody thinks these people deserve a second chance. However, if you are going to adopt that kind of attitude, why let them out of prison in the first place? Or put them to death. That is something the US still does of course.

I do not know how this compares to the UK system. I can, for example, get a list of all the sex offenders in my area from a handy site called “UK Paedos Exposed”. However, this seems to be built from user submissions, rather than state-published data. That is a pretty sick website, but not on the same level as the state-run database you can find in the US.

This is available from the UK government, but only if you are a parent or carer and want to check a specific individual. However, The Sun newspaper claim to have plotted every convicted sex offender on a map.

Meanwhile the open access in the US, as Theroux points out, leads to apps like “Offender Locator” that allow you to find them.


Fonze’s birthday

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 | Friends

With Fonze getting another year older earlier this month, we planned a three part celebration.

First, I made him to go flag football training. What more could you ask for on your birthday? Actually, he wanted to come, but it all worked out for everyone 😀 . For lunch, we went to his parents. His mum does a good Sunday lunch.

Finally, we finished up going to Chaophraya for dinner. I had wanted to go to Saengarun but unfortunately it had closed down. The advantage of Chaophraya though is that you can order the birthday cake where they come with the drums and all the staff sing happy birthday. Despite his accusatory and threatening tone, I think that was his favourite part of the day.

The Fifth Elephant

Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Books

Everyone knows that the world sits on the back of four elephants. That are themselves standing on the back of a giant turtle. The elephants themselves are also pretty big. That is just how it is. Obviously it would be nonsense to suggest there was once a fifth elephant. Yet some people actually believe that!

In the 24th novel of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Sam Vimes travels to Überwald to take care of some sensitive negotiations. In the usual way that Sam Vimes deals with things. Obviously a recipe for success.

It was a really good novel. While I generally prefer the goings-on of Ankh-Morpork, it was nice to get out and about a little to explore some more of the Discworld. You can’t beat a good underground dwarf fortress. Well, maybe goblins can. But they are still really cool.