Monday, 31 January 2011

Seriously funny

Bertrand Russell once said "people often mistakenly suppose that ‘humorous’ and ‘serious’ are antonyms. They’re not. ‘Humorous’ and ‘solemn’ are antonyms. I’m never more serious than when I’m being humorous."

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Motherly love

Couldn't resist this rdiculously anthropomorphic image!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Discrimination in Afghanistan?

A sign in a shop window read...


Who says UNDERTAKERS have no sense of humour?

Friday, 28 January 2011


Q.  How does it change many dyslexics to take a light bulb?

(A.  Just read the question carefully this time and smile!  The smile is the best answer.)

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Burning the Qu'ran is out

The only way to get the true meaning of the Qu'ran is to read it in Arabic.  So if you burn a copy of the Koran in English, does it count?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Astrologers' predictions fail to impress

The recent furore about Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain being suitably honest and straight-forward about astrology leads me to ask a question.

Why couldn't the astrologers predict the occurrence and get their complaint in before it actually happened?  

That really would have been impressive.

See the article in The Guardian.

 . . . Dara was explaining that all of the planets orbit at different speeds and distances away from the Sun. He said only the earth orbits the Sun in 365 days and returns to its own place, showing that horoscopes are nonsense. He then went on to add "Let's get this straight once and for all, Astrology is rubbish" The other presenter, Brian Cox, then agreed and said "in the interests of balance on the BBC, yes astrology is nonsense."

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Burns night celebrated with a sign

To celebrate Burns night, this is a real road sign from Scotland.  (Photoshop free zone!)

Peiness is not far from Portree on the beautiful Isle of Skye.  If you don't believe me, see this map.

Monday, 24 January 2011

No smoke without mirrors

I often wondered whether this is just silly.

In many walks of life I think it is true to say that

"There is no smoke without mirrors".

Mixed metaphors?  Maybe - but at least thoughtfully mixed! And these metaphors work all over Europe.  I have tested them.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Fusion costs less than peanuts!

To continue yesterday's theme here's a thought.  "Fusion research costs peanuts".  I have often heard people ask why such a promising technology gets so little funding when it looks so promising.  Fusion costs peanuts.


Do you know how much money is spent on peanuts?  A little googling reveals that 30 million tonnes of peanuts are produced worldwide per annum.  Even at wholesale prices, (say $1200 per tonne at today's prices, mixing US and metric units entertainingly!) this amounts to much more than $30 billion per annum.

Compare that with the price of ITER.  At present estimates, the whole project will cost much less than $20 billion, spread over 20 years.

Fusion costs MUCH less than peanuts . . .  or ring-tones . . . or beer . . . or football . . . or church collections . . . or 2 weeks of Olympic sport . . . so where shall I stop?  Fusion might actually save the world.  The others only cost the world.

Food for thought.

(And just in case you think I am a fan of ITER, please don't.  It is the best hope we have, but the way it is planned it could be argued that it stands as a monument to global political nonsense.)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

All the World's Tokamaks

Here is an impressive list of the tokamaks built all over the world during the last 50+ years!

All-the-World's Tokamaks.  Note the careful and meaningful use of the punctuation.!

It took the author a lot of time to collect and present this mass of  information.  It would never have been possible without the support of the global fusion community and it is used by fusion engineers all over the world as a repository of historical technical information.

The machines on this list range from the size of compact disks (yes - CDs, like DVDs and Blu-Ray disks!) to the massive, record breaking, European project, JET.

Of course the standard 'industry joke' in fusion research tells you that "Fusion is 30 years away and it always has been".  That's both funny and true (up to now), but with the global tokamak reactor experiment ITER being constructed at last (at least 20 years too late), I believe it is time to believe that fusion power is possible within our lifetimes.

Those who take that joke seriously should ask themselves a searching question about the funding of technical research.  When was the last big tokamak built?  The answer is that it was about 30 years ago (yes - the magic 30!), and JET is the one machine from that era that is still state-of-the-art, and being upgraded yet again as I write.

[Yes - you read that correctly.  30 years old and state-of the art. ]

My question to them is to ask how they would expect to get progress without the political will to invest in a new machine more than once in a generation.  Only serious investment will bring the only credible 'giga-watt scale' alternative energy scheme to fruition.

I'm sure I will mention this subject again.  The World NEEDS fusion (or else something magical that nobody has yet conceived).  Fusion needs ambitious funding, not the pittance that it gets today.  And by itself, fusion is not enough, but it is a vital part of the future energy portfolio.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Motto for the French Navy?

A l'eau, c'est l'heure!

(Say it out loud to yourself.)

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Medieval beliefs perpetuated

In Holland, the cradle of the Enlightenment, the last execution for witchcraft took place in 1610; in England 1684; America 1692; France 1745; Germany 1775; Poland 1793.  In Italy the Inquisition was still condemning people to death until the end of the eighteenth century and inquisitional torture was not banned by gentle Jesu's Catholic Church until 1816!

But this medieval belief system is still not dead in the 21st century.  Even in 2010, Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman to death for witchcraft.

Islam is such a peaceful religion!

The Baroness Warsi debate rages

I heard 30 minutes of BBC Radio 4's (normally rational) 'Today' programme this morning. During that time, the only respite from religious nonsense (which included the story about the unelected Baroness Warsi, minister without portfolio) was the sports report.

Was it a 'slow news day' or are we spiraling into irrationality? Either way I went off to work feeling stressed!

And now the debate rages over the Baroness's rant about those poor victimised Muslims who live in UK.  See for an example.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


This is a good word for someone starting on a new blog!  It means "the fear of other people's opinions" or "the fear of getting into arguments with people".  I suppose I should be old enough to have recovered from that!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Philosophy in the real world

The wise and grandfatherly philosopher, Daniel C Dennett, joked about a philosopher saying "We know it is possible in practice.  We are just trying to work out whether it is possible in principle".

He also said "Philosophy is what you do when you don't know what the right questions are yet".

You should watch Dennett's Youtube videos in the series called "Big Thinkers".

Early in part two, I am sure you will find yourself surprised and delighted and wanting to try it out on someone else.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Platitude of the Day

BBC Radio 4 programmes are typically full of intelligent discussion and in the UK it is a great source of news in the morning. One regular feature and exception to this rule appears in the "Today" programme.  Every morning at 07:50 "Thought for the Day" gives a religious apologist the opportunity to preach the modern interpretation of their 'bronze age myths' to the nation.

During 2010 a campaign to introduce a few secular speakers to this event was strongly resisted by the BBC, presumably in order to avoid causing offence to a small minority of religious people who seem to believe that they have a right not to be offended. What a tragedy that the general public are thus 'protected' from modern wisdom from highly accessible thinkers and communicators such as A C Grayling of Birkbeck College, University of London.

However, the freedom of the internet has enabled an amusing and clever independent parody of 'Thought for the Day' to arise. 'Platitude of the Day' can be found at

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Schumann resonances and anti-matter

The Schumann resonances (SR) are a set of spectrum peaks in the extremely low frequency (ELF) portion of the Earth's electromagnetic field spectrum. Schumann resonances are global electromagnetic resonances, excited by lightning discharges in the cavity formed by the Earth's surface and the ionosphere.

The fundamental frequency is about 7.8 Hz, but there are other approx. harmonics.

More recently, discrete Schumann resonance excitations have been linked to transient luminous events – sprites, elves, jets, and other upper-atmospheric lightning.

NASA has also recently reported some surprising findings about thunderstorms, using observations from "Fermi", a satellite designed for gamma ray astronomy.  This anti-matter seems to be linked to 'Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes" which are known to be associated with lightning.

Read all about it at NASA's site.

Yes - that was the link I referred to a few minutes ago.

A first!

A first for me!  I managed to subscribe a new link to  It is the one about the thunderstorms producing anti-matter.

Intelligent Falling

Among the concepts espoused by the Creationists, one of the most popular is that of 'Intelligent Design' to counter the 'Theory of Evolution'. And of course as they say, "it is only a theory".

Richard Dawkins, the well known evolutionary biologist and gentlemanly atheist, has parodied Intelligent Design by introducing the concept of 'Intelligent Falling' as an alternative to the 'Theory of Gravity'.

After all, it is only a theory!

Meanwhile, the hypothesis of God has not even reached the status of 'theory'.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Darwin explaining his loss of faith

This rather moving extract comes from a letter that Charles Darwin wrote to his wife.  I find that it resonates with my own views.

Dearest Emma

Last night you said I was at war with God. But truly it is nothing so dramatic as a war. Just a silent struggle with myself, extended over and thousand afternoons.

The loss of religious faith is a slow and fragile process like the raising of continents. What can I say to you except that the process is complete.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

An open mind

Surely all skeptics recognise the value of having an 'open mind'.

However beware of the warning of James Oberg, who spoke of the danger of "having a mind so open that your brains fall out".

Groucho Marx also noticed "Now there's a man with an open mind - you can feel the breeze from here!"

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Hallucinations or Hauntings?

The 1894 'International Census of Waking Hallucinations' and repeated surveys since that time have shown that between 10 and 25% of ordinary functioning people have experienced, at least once in their lifetimes, a vivid hallucination - hearing a voice or seeing a form when there is no one there.  More rarely people sense a haunting aroma, or hear music or receive a revelation that arrives independent of the senses.  In some cases these become transforming personal events or profound religious experiences.  Hallucinations may be a neglected low door in the wall to the scientific understanding of the sacred.

My source is Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World", 1996,  p 104.  This book could be described as one of the 'sacred texts of skepticism'.  Read it!  It may be out of print but can be obtained easily enough second hand.

Just last weekend I personally heard a sincere testimony about haunting experiences.  My guest told me that she and her mother both sensed things that others are not aware of and described events in their former home (which is now abandoned boarded up).  I asked a few questions but, out of politeness on a first meeting, I avoided anything that might sound very skeptical.  I'm hoping that another chance will arise to discuss it further.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A new venture

Hardly a day goes by without something surprising, new and interesting coming to my attention.  This venture is to share some of those things in the hope that they might brighten the day of some others. 

My views tend to be unashamedly pro-science and somewhat anti-religious.   Lately I have realised that I sympathise strongly with the skeptical movement (and have even come to terms with the US English spelling that is commonly used). 

Starting on 11/1/11, here goes with a new adventure in whimsical skepticism with an emphasis on science and secularism!