Friday 1 February 2019

Option paralysis

It is said (although, by whom I do not know) that Einstein favoured a very limited wardrobe and although he had enough clothes for every day, they all had the same appearance.

It is also said that he made this choice to avoid 'option paralysis'.

The concept is entertaining and understandable.  The only problem is that I'm not entirely clear whether Einstein actually said it.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Tariq Ramadan and the Charlie Hebdo problem

What is left to be said about the Charlie Hebdo crisis that unfolded in Paris earlier this month?  Perhaps not much, but it won't stop me.

So a gang of muslim cowards hiding behind their semi-automatic weapons kills twelve innocent people in an office and runs away.  This was somehow excused by the victims' 'crime' of depicting and ridiculing someone elses's non-existent prophet.  Few people recognise that nothing was written about Muhammed until about 200 years after he is supposed to have lived.  This makes his historical existence even less convincing than that for Jesus!

What's more, in what civilised part of the world does non-violent satire excuse a violent response?  

On the day after the shootings, BBC Radio 4 interviewed the 'islamic scholar' from Oxford, Tariq Ramadan.  I have heard him speak live and been amazed (and almost impressed) at how he twists sentences to convey a message that both Muslims and infidels are meant to think is wise and more-to-the-point 'harmless'.  This time takes the biscuit.  OK, he gently condemned the violence in Paris, but within a minute or two he was claiming that we should all feel responsible for what has happened.  Our government's involvement in Iraq - in his mind at least - has something to do with the cowards killing the journalists.

Call me naive if you like, but I thought the shootings were about the magazine being satirical and about the way the 'religion of permanent offence' chooses to try to dictate what free people in free countries are allowed to say about imaginary beings.  It was about islamic intolerance of the principles behind human rights and human dignity

Ramadan went on to claim that we're "all on the same side".

Let me assure you, Professor Ramadan, that I feel no responsibility for what has been done this month, and that I am on the same side as you on absolutely nothing of any consequence at all.  You can't excuse the violence in Paris.  They were islamic thugs behaving inexcusably by any objective standard.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Ten Commandments for a secular life

Bertrand Russell wrote his Liberal Decalogue  or ten commandments for a good life in 1951.

"The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

1/  Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2/  Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3/  Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4/  When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5/  Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6/  Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7/  Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8/  Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9/  Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10/ Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness."

As I see it, these are still up to date and undoubtedly better than any of the versions of the ten commandments in the bible.  Yes, there are at least two radically different versions in the Old Testament, and a subset of them in the New Testament.

** Exodus 20: 2-17 and Deuteronomy 5: 6-21 are the basis of the common versions.  Exodus 34:12-26 replaced the first tablets after Moses smashed them but are very different.  In the New Testament it could be argued that only 5 or 6 commandments get mentioned at all.  (See Matt 19:18-19, Mark 10:19 and Luke 18:20) 

Saturday 3 January 2015

Sharia gets put back in its rightful place!

Unlike the USA, the United Kingdom has no '1st Amendment' to its constitution.  When it comes down to it, it has no constitution either.  People argue with me that a constitution would not help us in any way and that might be a moot point, but the net result is that there is no requirement for the separation of church and state.  Indeed, with the Church of England still performing the function of 'the established church' in England (although not in other parts of the Union) the prospect of such separation is a long way away.

Few would argue that the established church is much of a threat to morality and decency in England.  Its priests have generally behaved much better than their counterparts in the Roman Catholic Church and although it has an unfair and entirely undemocratic influence on the running of the government it is hard to find it as threatening to to justice and decency as Islam.

Last year, the supposed guardian of justice in the legal profession "The Law Society" decided unwisely to publish guidance for the preparation of wills which were compliant with 'sharia law'.  Now wasn't that a strange thing to do?  Sharia has no legal position in UK (thank God!) and those who agree to be bound by it are giving up the legal rights that they have under the real law.  The big problem is that the oppressive and self-elected 'leaders' of Islam have taken time and trouble to 'shelter' their followers from the truth of the legal rights that they do have.  Any guidance from the Law Society seemed to support this abusive relationship between Islamic leaders (all men of course) and the people.

Thanks to the National Secular Society (and others), The Law Society finally saw the error of its ways at the end of last November.  Apparently "the Society had 'reviewed the note in the light of criticism' and they had 'withdrawn the note' and were 'sorry' ."

That gives two causes for delight.  The main one is that it is 'one in the eye' for creeping sharia and a blow for secularism in England.  The other is the rare opportunity to see a hint of contrition from the blood-sucking lawyers.  It is not often that we see that happen!

Read more at this NSS link.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Tolerances and complex problems

One of my favourite quotations gets a regular airing . . .  indeed much more regular than my blog posts have been recently.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

Almost everyone laughs at that.  It sounds both incisive and frivolous at the same time.  I expect most people then dismiss it from their minds and would probably be delighted if they hear it again in a year or two without getting any more wisdom from it.

For me, after enjoying it and regularly using it while reviewing technical designs in a complex engineering environment it has taken on a extra layer of meaning.  It should be the motto of all practical engineers.  What most people don't realise is that the art of engineering is to make things that might be a little bit wrong but to ensure that they are right enough to function correctly.

Engineers call this 'tolerancing'.  Proper choice of tolerances in any design is the art of balancing performance against cost.  If you get the design too right you might not be able to afford to build it, or might not have enough time.

This is well illustrated by the old story about how to tell the difference between a scientist and an engineer. 

Stand them in opposing corners of a room, with an attractive member of the opposite sex naked (and presumably rather tolerant and open-minded) in the middle.  Tell them to approach that person by successively halving the distance between themselves and the object of their desire. Then wait.

The first one to leave the room will be the scientist, who has worked out that, in this way, you will never really get there. The engineer, however, has figured out that you will get close enough - for all practical purposes.