Saturday, 30 April 2011

Creationism in schools (in UK)

Here's a link to a petition opposing the teaching of creationism in schools in the UK.

Creationism is known, and officially acknowledged, to be contrary to scientific fact. We therefore demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises.

They have a target of 5000 signatures.  Might I encourage you to spend a minute on it?

Friday, 29 April 2011

Whining atheists? Whining theists?

I feel like a lazy post today . . . and the ideal opportunity arose.

"Frankly, religions need to grow up and accept that they are going to be treated from now on like any other claims of truth - with the skilled rhetoric of people like Hitchens, and with the direct speaking of scientists like Dawkins."

This is a quote from Steve Zara's blog (click for link) which is well worth a read.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Ubuntu 11.04 out today

Why is this surprising?  Well of course the date of release of the new version of Ubuntu has been known for some time and indeed these releases come around every 6 months.  The fact that 11.04 (so named because it is in the fourth month of year 11) has been launched today is not a surprise at all.

Ubuntu is of course a computer operating system - an alternative to Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac's latest expensive offering may be.  I started playing with Ubuntu about 4 years ago as a result of 'force majeur'.  I had been thinking of trying it out for quite a while, but when my new desktop PC's hard disk failed under warranty and the supplier had gone bankrupt I was not prepared to pay anyone for a new copy of Windows.  So the adventure started!  Ubuntu is totally free but totally worth as much as Windows!

As you might know, Ubuntu is a version of Linux, and Linux is a version of Unix.  Unix users have always maintained (from their 'ivory tower') that 'their' operating system was secure and powerful and free from viruses.  Everyone else has been 'taught' that it is simply non-intuitive and impossible to use.  So is this true?

After a few years I suppose you might expect that any semi-intelligent person could persuade themselves of anything, so my own experience is merely anecdotal.  However, I have one desktop, one laptop and one netbook running Ubuntu.  When I last had to buy a new laptop and considered returning to Windows (or Windoze as Linux users like to say) I made myself a list of things that I would miss about the two operating systems.  Result:

Windows 7 - 1 thing (namely Microsoft Excel).
Ubuntu - 11 things (subject of another blog post perhaps)

As a reasonably knowledgeable PC user and fixer, I suppose that is not surprising either.  However, the interesting thing is that people around me have been easily convinced.  These are people who want to use their PC, not to spend time learning about it and trying out new things.

My mother - well into her 70s - has had a PC for nearly 15 years.  She started off with Windows 3.1 (on a cast-off PC), and had graduated to XP.  She complained about a year ago that her PC was getting terribly slow (4 minutes from switching it on to getting to Google).  I suggested trying Ubuntu instead of Windows, and much to my surprise (even shock) she agreed.  (Result: 1 minute from switching on to reaching Google.)  She hardly ever looks back and has even installed a newer version herself!

But what about the younger generation?

My 16 year old daughter decided to buy a netbook and after only 2 weeks managed to get something nasty via Facebook (I think).  Windows 7 was not easily recoverable.  (I tried!)  Surprisingly she agreed to try Ubuntu.  She hasn't looked back either - and believe me, its not because Dad can do no wrong.

Finally (for the time being) my 13 year old son had a similar problem and I decided to try to convert him too.  We are one week into the experiment, but so far so good!

Windows - watch out!  Linux really is coming!

The question is - how long can I resist downloading the new version of Ubuntu?  I feel strangely reluctant but somewhat tempted.  What I have got is working and I don't like to rock the boat.  But maybe the new version is even better.  We'll see!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Sink holes!

Imagine how you would feel if a hole like this suddenly appeared at the bottom of your garden!



This is called a 'sink hole' and it is one of a few that have appeared in recent years in Guatemala City.  They are typically over 100m deep, probably caused by water  escaping from a drain and eroding away the rock below.



Of course conspiracy theorists posit the idea that these holes are caused by some sort of alien weapon, such as a powerful energy beam from space, but the water theory seems to be more plausible.

I think I might move to another city if I lived there.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

More glory!

The word 'glory' conjures up many different ideas, and yesterday's post was one that I found spectacular.  For me, none of the uses of glory involves deities though.

This is a photo of something called a 'glory hole' in the middle of a reservoir, and I find it somewhat un-nerving.



Apparently this is the second largest hole in a lake, at 22m diameter.  It is the top of a pipe which controls the maximum level of the reservoir behind the Monticello Dam, California.  Effectively it is the top of the overflow pipe like the one on your kitchen sink.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Glory be!

I took this startling photo a few years ago, flying over the Yorkshire Wolds.  It is not a halo, as people often describe it, but strictly speaking it is a 'glory'.



Exercise for the reader:  Why is the circle centred on the basket of the balloon not on the centre of the balloon itself?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

An Easter celebration!

OK -  perhaps a slightly naughty picture chosen for Easter Day.  Did I ever mention that Easter is defined as the Sunday after the full moon, after the vernal equinox.  That is why the date can move so much depending how the full moon falls.


Presumably the priest is Roman Catholic?  The bishop seems to be looking on with interest, and no doubt he will be planning the cover-up.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Have you ever noticed . . . condescension?

Whenever the windows in a car get steamed up, a good old friend of mine (with a wry smile) complains about the 'condescension'!  He knows exactly what he is doing and often gets a laugh.  So - does that make the following picture a 'condescension trail'?



Now, forgetting all the conspiracy theories about 'chem trails', I wonder whether you have ever noticed something interesting about the way the trails are not symmetrical.  This photo of the trail from a four-engined aircraft is typical and it illustrates my point.

Did you notice how the condensation trails from the engines on the right wing combine almost immediately, whereas the left wing remains as two distinct trails for some time.  Next time you look up into the sky on a sunny day, you might be able to see it for yourself.  You will need to spot a four-engined plane - but they are not very rare (unless you live in an area with no major trans-continental flight paths overhead).

I have a view about the reason for this.  Do you?  Feel free to comment and start a discussion.

This second photo came to my attention recently too.



Beautiful!  And there is some fantastic physics at work in between the trails, and perhaps some clues about what is going on in the first photo.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Kites galore!

Living where I do, there are quite a lot of Red Kites around.  These impressive birds of prey, with wing spans of 2m, were reintroduced to the area about 10 years ago and they have been very successful.  Some people regard them as scavengers rather than predators.  Apparently they are timid and avoid fighting live prey, and they prefer their food well rotted.

Normally I would be impressed to see more than five of them together.  However, yesterday I couldn't count them as they wheeled and tumbled through the air together very close to my house.  There were at least 25 of them for just 10 or 15 minutes.  This picture gives an impression of the spectacle.



Two buzzards were also taking an interest in the crowd.  I wish I could have taken a look from their vantage point soaring high above the kites.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

James Randi - an accidental blasphemer?

The Amazing Randi, as he is known, is said to have commented on his belief in god(s).

To make sure that my blasphemy is thoroughly expressed, I hereby state my opinion that the notion of a god is a basic superstition, that there is no evidence for the existence of any god(s), that devils, demons, angels and saints are myths, that there is no life after death, heaven nor hell, that the Pope is a dangerous, bigoted, medieval dinosaur, and that the Holy Ghost is a comic-book character worthy of laughter and derision. I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place -- not to mention the "ethnic cleansing" presently being performed by Christians in our world -- and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women.

Do you get the feeling that he is still sitting on the fence?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Stop the bloody wailing!

A news story this week reminded me of the old Greenpeace tee-shirt in a round about sort of way (yes - the spelling sort of way).


Do you think mother humpback whales are more tolerant of 'pop music' than human mothers? If not, they might easily be irritated by the new tunes that apparently sweep across the Pacific Ocean every year, always from West to East.

I could just imagine the cetacean equivalent of "turn that music off" being a request to stop the wailing.

Whale Pop Songs Spread Across the Ocean
is the title of an article in Science magazine last week. 11 years of research into whale songs in the Pacific has shown some of the fastest and most complex cultural evolution in a non-human species.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Wedding story

To celebrate 24 years of married bliss here's an old story about a wedding reception.

The First Epistle of John, shortened to 1 John, contains the 'moving' words, which might be reasonably quoted at weddings:
4:17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.


It is said that (once long ago in the dark ages before text messages and mobile phones) on the day of a wedding, one of the guests could not make it due to a family emergency. Instead, he sent a telegram, just saying "1 John 4 vs 17 to 18", the friendly sounding text above.

However, in transcription it became "John 4 vs 17 to 18" which tells a different story altogether, as it refers to The Gospel according to John:
4:17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
4:18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

A good story - and of course an old one. I'm surprised that the word telegram was not picked up by the speeling chequer.

Little note:
On further inspection of 1 John, we find that this lovely text is taken out of context and is not actually appropriate for weddings because the previous verse says: 
4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 

Aside from that, we should not let it spoil a good story.

Monday, 18 April 2011

What's the harm?

Have a look at http://www.whatstheharm.net/ which tells you exactly what it says in its name.

It won't give you proof and won't give you evidence, but when someone says to you one day "but what's the harm in it?" this is a great source of information.  There is a nice introduction video from Penn Jillette, the loud half of Penn and Teller.

Unfortunately what you find on that site is not always cheerful reading.  In the section about homeopathy for example there are many stories of people with treatable conditions who decided to try alternative medicine and died unnecessarily.

There is a name for 'alternative medicine' that is proven to work by the way.  That name is "medicine"!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible

The Skeptic's Annotated Bible is a web site which arms the inexpert atheist with questions that can be used whenever a Christian quotes a bible verse at you.  Have you noticed how they tend to do that as if somehow it proves anything?

Companion sites address the Koran (albeit - fortunately - in the 'unreliable' English translation) and the Book of Mormon.

Its well worth a bookmark in your browser.

(corrected the link 09:30 GMT)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Anti-religious - moi?

Just for a change I am feeling a little anti-religious.  Today I'll just use a few quotations from people much more eloquent than me.

"Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy."  Carl Sagan

"Comparing theology to science is a bit unfair.  Its like asking theologians to bring knives to a gun fight".  Anthony Pinn.
(Pinn's name was a link to a nice Youtube video - I loved the comment 3:00 minutes into the video about RD's tee shirt which declares We Are All Africans and the comment "That's easy for you to say!  You were born in Kenya".  Watch it for context!)

"Science has contributed a lot in the last hundred years and theology has contributed precisely zero".  Richard Dawkins in the same discussion.

And finally, "Philosophy is questions that may never be answered.  Religion is answers that my never be questioned."  Anon

Friday, 15 April 2011

Woman, know thy place!

Here is an absolute MUST READ!  This is another great Washington Post 'On Faith' blog post by Paula Kirby.  (Click on it for a link - please!   That link actually takes you to the Richard Dawkins site but you get the full text there.)

It is something that I think everyone should read about equality.  Many seem to think that the last paragraph is the best (see below), but the rest of the article is similarly erudite, incisive and hard-hitting.

Religion is one lie after another: the lie of original sin, the lie of eternal life, the lie of hell, the lie of answered prayer, the lie that life can have no meaning without religion, the lie that religion is the source of morality, the lie of creationism, the lie of a spy-in-the-sky who hears your every word and reads your every thought. And to this list we must add the lie that it views men and women as . . .


It continues in a similar way and there is a lot more of it.  You really DO have to go to the original to read it!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Moral Landscape

I remember the disappointment a few years ago - well . . . quite a few years ago - when one of my fellow physics students asked one of the 'why questions' in a lecture.  The lecturer's answer made me realise for the first time that scientists in general assert that the 'why questions' are answered by philosophers and I felt a bit cheated.  I wondered whether I had chosen to read the wrong subject.  Fortunately at last a few scientists are very publicly telling us that science can and should try to break down these barriers - to take the non-overlapping magisteria by the lapels and make them overlap!


Sam Harris is definitely one of these people, being a neuroscientist, 'New Atheist' and author.  Seeing him live on stage for the first time with Richard Dawkins in Oxford on 12th April was a greater pleasure than I expected.  I found that I liked his presentation style better than his writing, but that will not stop me reading him further.  The event was very much focused on Harris's new book 'The Moral Landscape', with Dawkins generally taking a secondary role of intelligent questioner.

Some people dislike this format where the 'stars' on stage agree with each other too much.  I've heard the term 'love-in' used.  These people tend to want to hear controversy.  For me though, it is much better to hear two intelligent people developing ideas and concentrating on the areas that they want people to understand better.  Better to hear something new instead of the few standard questions that we hear frequently.  Christians have these 'love-ins' every Sunday (assuming that they do actually go to church).  They sit and listen to the preacher in an orderly and quiet admiration of the wise words from the pulpit (even if secretively dissenting over a coffee after the service).  And yet this is exactly what some of them object to in a secular event where we in the audience are said to be worshiping.

Why have I not described the great words that were uttered last night, when I can hardly deny that I was there to see two of my intellectual heroes?  The answer is that I am not a news reporter, and I don't trust myself to do it justice.  Besides that, dear reader, you would find your life enriched by listening to it yourself. The mp3 file is now available on the Pod Delusion web site.  Click for a link.

It is enough to say that Sam Harris made a strong case for the idea that there are objective rights and wrongs that can be determined by science.  He used many interesting examples to demonstrate that a measure of 'well-being' was one option to determine right from wrong and good from evil. 

He also pointed out a favorite concept of mine when trying to explain why religion can't be the sole source of any wisdom or morality.  All the scriptures were written by people with less access to knowledge than anyone in the room last night.  Indeed nobody in the room could ever have met anyone with as little understanding of the world as the authors of these sacred texts.  In moral terms they were no wiser than the average Afghan warlord of today.  (Maybe this is why they made such a mess of transcribing the 'inspired word of god'.)

My mind strayed (as I'm afraid it often does) to some of those movies where the action hero (perhaps James Bond?) arrives in a third world country and is helicoptered in to negotiate with the savage king or tribal chief.  To his surprise, he finds that they speak the Queen's English and were educated at Eton and Oxbridge.  I guess that doesn't happen much in real life and Harris's analogy is safe.

In conclusion - I found Sam Harris to be a fine speaker who got his point across very well.  Some of the questions from the audience were a little less comprehensible - but of course it was Oxford.  Before beating myself up about failing to understand them fully, I remind myself that there are two types of question:  those that seek knowledge, and those that seek to show how much knowledge the questioner wishes to demonstrate.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Unlucky 13? Not really.

The famous accident on Apollo 13 happened on April 13th 1970, surely providing evidence that 13 is an unlucky number?

Of course not!

I always thought that 1 is a much more unlucky number on the basis of all the evidence from the Apollo programme. All the astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire, whereas they all survived Apollo 13 adventure.

**************

And yes - of course I plan to write about the interesting event in the Sheldonian in Oxford tonight, with Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins on stage together.  But the post about Apollo 13 really HAD to go out on 13th and I can't write two posts in one day . . . or can I? 

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Storm by Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin at his outrageous best! You can find the original at this link.

Monday, 11 April 2011

1954!

April 11th 1954 has been described as "the most boring day of the 20th century".  Apparently absolutely nothing happened!  I wouldn't know.  I hadn't been born.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Internet hunting

The concept of being able to aim and fire a weapon remotely, controlling it from your computer at home, might be attractive to some people.  To me it seems barbaric and slightly pathetic.  This idea. probably originating in Texas, became known as 'internet hunting'. 

Although probably a hoax, the practice has actually been banned in about forty US states.  Critics say that the industry was never viable and ridicule the way that laws can be made too easily.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The power of prayer!

Only in MT.Vernon, Texas?

I came across this entertaining little story - and at this time of year who knows how true it might be.  I wonder what the verdict was!

Drummond's Bar began construction on an expansion of their building to increase their business. In response, the local Baptist Church started a campaign with petitions and prayers to block the bar from expanding. Work progressed right up until the week before the grand reopening when lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground! 

After it was burned to the ground by the lightning strike, the church folks were rather smug in their outlook, bragging about "the power of prayer", until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church ... "was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means." 

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise. The judge read through the plaintiff's complaint and the defendant's reply, and at the opening hearing he commented, "I don't know how I'm going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that now does not."

Friday, 8 April 2011

Bursting the bubble

Just a wonderful picture!  I'm feeling a bit like this at the moment too - missing the company of a couple of dear friends - but taking solice in the splendour of the physics and photography.

All credit to Richard Heeks, from Exeter, UK, for such artistry in science - and patience.  Isn't it amazing how the bubble turns into filaments like that? Follow this link to find some other photos in the series.

The part of the bubble on the left doesn't yet know that the other side has gone.  This is a great analogy for the travel of light through the universe.  When we see a distant object we have to remember that it might not be there any longer. 

I love to use analogies to explain science to the general public and make them realise how much they do know already.  I believe that the most brilliant scientists of 200 years ago would have given an arm and a leg to know as much as the most unscientific person today. 

And yet these treasures of knowledge are dismissed all too easily by those who just consume technology with no understanding.  The beauty of the bursting bubble is lost on most people. 

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Is humanity an adult species?

Steve Zara is a prolific blogger and regular contributor to the Richard Dawkins.net forums, and yesterday he blogged about how atheists might change strategy to win arguments with theologians.  Its a good read and can be found at Steve's Posterous.  That got me thinking, particularly about whether humanity could be considered to be an adult race now.

"We talk about how science and materialism reveal to us our true freedoms and our true responsibilities - we may be an orphan species, with no heavenly parent, but we are also an adult species, able to live free of the need for commandments and punishment."

So are we adult enough I wonder?

My mind goes first to Kubrick's classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (the movie and Arthur C Clarke's book which I read six times as a teenager, understanding a little more each time).  If my understanding of it is correct, at the end the symbolism suggests that humanity is rather like a celestial infant, just embarking on out first exploration of the universe.

Christians of course are all exhorted to think as children think.  The message of the new testament seems clear on that.  One might be tempted to say that there is little harm in it.  (More on that tomorrow.)

Then my mind moves onto the ways that our nations go to war over arguments that could sometimes be described as petty and adolescent.  The same applies in family arguments.  My darling (bright and intelligent)  teenage daughter has just gone off 'in a strop' over something trivial - yet again, my fault as usual.  But her behaviour is little different from that of many mature human adults.

Trying to think of examples of true 'adulthood' is a little harder.  Politicians? No  Business people?  No.  Bankers?  No.  Priests?  Almost (sometimes).  Philosophers?  Maybe yes, although I am thinking of free-thinking philosophers such as Grayling,  Dennett and Russell rather than those who are less accessible to the general public.

The best hope for an adult outlook in our species almost certainly comes from the skeptical atheistic community.  We are still in the minority compared with the religious but I think there are tell-tale signs that humanity is growing up at last.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

100 today!

No - not 100 years!  (I'm only half that age.)

The previous entry was my 100th post to the blog, and the number of readers is gradually increasing.  To anyone who has stuck with my ramblings so far - a big THANK YOU.  I hope you will mention Something Surprising to a few friends tomorrow and share the joy of the entertaining things that I come across every day.

The Good Book - Daily Mash

A colleague kindly mentioned to me today that A C Grayling's The Good Book got a rather different type of review today in a highly reputable (?) online journal called "The Daily Mash".  He says it is the only 'newspaper' he ever reads these days.  Certainly it has a different take on most topics and seems entertaining - if slightly obscure.  In this case it describes Grayling's 'atheist bible' as an impossible fairy tale (according to Christians).  Ha ha!  I guess the Christians would recognise one when they see it.

To give you a flavour of the parody in that august journal, on the topic of people being good without god, I quote:

Monsignor Stephen Malley, a leading Catholic theologian, added: "So this person just woke up one day and miraculously decided to do something for someone else?

"I'm sorry Professor Grayling, you may convince some people with this voodoo hocus pocus, but I will stick with the empirical logic of transubstantiation, thank you very much indeed."


Being ex-Church of England myself I can only refer the Monsignor to the 39 Articles of Religion which make it perfectly clear that (in England at least) (and since Henry VIII at least) the wine does not change to the blood, nor the bread to the body.  Transubstantiation is not substantiated!

At least the dear old 'C of E' originally got one thing right, even if in recent decades it has become more popish than the Roman Catholic Church by forgetting its real doctrines.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Like sleeping furiously!

A C Grayling was talking to to Decca Aitkenhead about his new 'secular bible' called The Good Book, in an interview reported in The Guardian.  He says that he has been compiling the book since he was a young man.

When asked whether he thought there was any truth in the assertion that the new atheist movement has offended potential sympathisers by being too outspoken or militant he is said to have answered like this.

"Well, firstly, I think the charges of militancy and fundamentalism of course come from our opponents, the theists. My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we're doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don't like it," he laughs. "So we speak frankly and bluntly, and the respect agenda is now gone, they can no longer float behind the diaphanous veil – 'Ooh, I have faith so you mustn't offend me'. So they don't like the blunt talking. But we're not burning them at the stake. They've got to remember that when it was the other way around it was a much more serious matter.


"And besides, really," he adds with a withering little laugh, "how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don't collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It's like sleeping furiously. It's just wrong."

This article brightened up my Monday morning.  I suppose now I have to add yet another book to my pile of important things to read.  The list never gets any shorter.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The origin of human rights?

I have often wondered where the concept of human rights emerged from and how it has become so widely accepted in the western world.  This is not to say that I in any way disagree with the concept.  It is just not totally obvious to me where the idea came from.  It does seem clear though that the concept is not from Christianity or Islam, both of which singularly failed to reject many forms of discrimination.

Does the evolutionary trait of altruism stretch this far?  It seems to be altruism taken to the extreme.

I was reminded of these musings while listening to this weekend's episode of the excellent Pod Delusion (episode 78) where Nick Boorer touched on the topic.  I get the impression that he is not a fan of Italian society, but setting that aside he told an interesting story, paraphrased below.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human rights recently judged that the compulsory presence of crucifixes in Italian classrooms does not consistitute a violation of Article 2 of the First Protocol to the Eurpoean Convention on human rights.  How did they decide this?

They confirmed the judgements of the Italian Supreme Administrative Court.  It said that he modern principle of secularism and the importance that that principle was granted in Italy and in Europe was entirely predicated upon, and a direct product of Christianity and Europe's inherently Christian heritage.  The values the enlightenment espoused, liberty and freedom of every person, the declaration of the rights of man and ultimately the modern secular state are all based on the Christian concept of the world.

That might be legally true but I find it hard to accept that it is literally true.  As I always say - "In the EU there is no smoke without mirrors".

Abrahamic religions require the utter submission of one's moral conscience to one ultimate authority and explicitly reject tolerance and in fact demand discrimination

One mystery remains.  Which of the items on the Pod Delusion was the April Fool joke?  I'm pretty sure it was not this one though, as the topic was covered by the Religion Law Blog on March 21st.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

When was the flood?

In the calendar developed by Archbishop James Ussher (who calculated that the world was created in 4004 BC), Noah's flood happened in 2348 BCE.

By comparison, there are Bristlecone Pine trees alive today that are dated to be 500 years older than this.

Of course there are many ancient stories of 'the flood' from different cultures.  Some are almost certainly older than the Old Testament version. Which one should we believe in if we don't accept that the bible is the literal word of god?

But more importantly where did all the water come from and where is it now?  And how did the koalas and kangaroos get back from Australia to get on the ark?  Or maybe they weren't there in Australia originally, but why did the amazing rafts of floating vegetation take the koalas and kangaroos only to Australia after the flood and not leave their kind anywhere else along the way there.

How can anyone really believe in this as a rational literal story? The fact that some people do believe it only strengthens my disbelief.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Friday, 1 April 2011

TICKETS: Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris – Oxford, Tues 12 April

Wow - tickets for this event were released this morning and as feared the BHA's server seemed to (shall we say) struggle a little with the demand.  After 30+ minutes of frustration I was disappointed not to have managed to buy any tickets even though I had had them half-bought three times.  The message was that they had sold out.  Result = spoilt morning!

Fortunately the sales server seems to have confused itself and later 'realised' that it actually hadn't sold the tickets that were in people's shopping baskets because it hadn't let them pay for said tickets. 

I just managed to buy some after all.  The day is saved.  It all goes to show how popular the New Atheists are. 

I must remember to take a cushion to sit on.  As far as I remember, the Sheldonian has some of the most uncomfortable seating in the entire world!

RINSE2 - homeopathic project management

A new project management rationale, based on a revision of the age-old technique of 'Homeopathic Project Management' (HPM), is being pioneered by the UK Government. A two-week training course* will have to be undertaken by anyone running projects for the government. The course will introduce them to the complex new terminology associated with this powerful technique. Replacing the current 'standard' PRINCE2 it is being presented under the pseudonym RINSE2.

Although government organisations have spent many years prevaricating over this idea, you have to admire the simplicity of HPM. In essence the idea is to dilute the resources allocated to the project, followed by thoroughly shaking up the organisation.** The principal technical terms 'dilution' and 'succussion' are new to project managers, but it is claimed by proponents of the technique that the more often they are carried out, the greater the efficaciousness.

Taken to the extreme, there is nobody left in the organisation who knows anything useful, but this helps senior management to drive the project to completion with significant cost savings. Furthermore, if applied correctly there is nobody left to assess effectively whether the completed project has any outstanding deficiencies. This has been found to be a great advantage.

The well-known outspoken author and critic of the analogous homeopathic medicine, Simon Singh, has been notably silent on this topic and this is seen as encouraging news by those who back the initiative.

RINSE2 represents the way that future government efficiency improvements are expected to be delivered and in carefully selected trials it has been found to be at least as effective as the better-known homeopathy. ***.

Press release date: 1st April 2011

© Something Surprising Blog


Notes for editors:
* Training to be provided by 'experts' carefully selected over a series of well planned, lavish business lunches.
** Beating everyone with a leather bound book has been shown to increase the effectiveness further, but only at the cost of legal fees in employment tribunals.
*** Homeopathy has been shown to be no better than placebo but in spite of this it is foreseen that RINSE2 will live up to similar expectations.

++ The previously favoured 'PRINCE2' is now consigned to the same fate as the National Health Service.