Monday, October 30, 2006

It is a monumentous day indeed

Today I celebrate the first anniversary of the day the Most Amazing Person in the Universe agreed to become the Most Amazing Girlfriend in the Universe.

A year later I still can’t believe my luck: not only did she agree to be my girlfriend, but she has continued to hold that title. And what’s more, yesterday we “announced” to my family that we’re in the process of planning our wedding!

What the hell happened?

A little over a year ago I was single, miserable and on a road to nowhere in particular. Now I’m almost engaged, deliriously happy, and have a set of real goals… some of which have already been accomplished! And what was the catalyst that changed all of that? Hide.

Thank you for being with me. You’ve saved my life by making it worth living. I owe you so much, but all I have to offer is to spend the rest of my life trying to make yours as easy as possible. I love you.

Friday, October 27, 2006

From Randi's SWIFT newsletter

He pasted it from somewhere else... it's pretty cool:

Top Ten indications that you’re over-obsessed with religion:

#10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

#9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that humans were created from dirt.

#8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

#7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the male first-born babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" – including women, children, and trees.

#6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods consorting with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

#5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of the Earth (4.55 billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is about a couple of generations old.

#4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering, and yet you consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

#3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor “speaking in tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" your choice of religions to be the correct one.

#2 – You define .01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers, and consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% failure was simply the will of God.

#1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but you still call yourself a Christian.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I hate natural stuff

That’s right, I hate “natural” stuff. Anything that’s “natural” I want no truck with.

Natural stuff is stupid and totally gay.

If you’re trying to give me something containing “all natural ingredients” I will throw it at your head. And then I will shout at you.

When I go shopping, I stay the hell away from anything containing anything natural. I head straight for the “non-natural” isle, which contains a great deal of non-existence.

That’s right, non-existence!

That’s because anything and everything that exists is part of nature, and is therefore natural. Whether it’s soy-beans or polypropylene, it’s all natural. I spit on natural things! Spit!

Give me a tall, cool glass of absolute non-existence please!

And don’t get clever handing me a glass of air. Air is natural! And if you think you’re going to be even cleverer and hand me a glass that all the air has been sucked out of, that won’t do either! A vacuum is part of nature too!

Where do you have to go to get good service around here? Sheesh!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Diwali (aka Deepavali)

“festival of lights” in the Hindu faith.

It celebrates several important events in their mythology, but the “lights” part comes from celebrating the “inner light” which is a pivotal part of the Hindu faith.

Our Hindu neighbours had a Diwali party on Saturday night, setting off cracker after cracker, scaring the bejeesus out of out poor dogs.

I see no reason why it should be celebrated with fireworks. Sure, there are pretty lights and all, but the loud bangs are not part of the celebration, and they are the part that is problematic. In the 21st century there is absolutely no excuse for setting off explosives in a high-density residential area that is populated not only by many non-Hindu humans, but also by several species of domestic animals, some of which have far more sensitive hearing than we have.

If you want to celebrate light, get some lights. You can get some nifty ones too… strings of colour-changing lights like the ones Christians use to decorate trees at Christmas. Get laser pointers and all sorts of cool little light-emitting toys and baubles that don’t make a sound… they can be bought at just about any toy shop for far less than the cost of a box of fireworks. And they are legal and are not antisocial.

I’m not just bashing Hindus here. The same goes everyone who likes to set off explosives at Guy Fawkes Day and New Years Eve.

We haven’t been a British colony for decades now. Why the hell are we still celebrating Guy Fawkes Day? And New Years’ Eve… not a year goes by without the news telling us of far too many injuries and even deaths resulting from shitfaced macho-men trying to use deadly weapons “safely”.

It clearly isn’t enough to ban these things. There needs to be far more police enforcement of it. And it’s not exactly difficult, either: just drive around residential areas on those nights and look for flares… follow the flare and slap on the cuffs.

It’s not rocket-science!

Thursday, October 19, 2006


After reading a recent post on Scott Adams’ blog on the subject, I’ve spent some time thinking about affirmations (the practice of regularly writing down or chanting a mantra or phrase relating to a seemingly distant goal).

Of course the woo-woo fringe like to think that by repeatedly expressing your goal, you’re sending positive “energy” out into the universe that will summon a magical winged leprechaun who will come and shake a stick at you, making your wildest dreams come true. Or something.

Suffice to say, I don’t think that is the case.

However I have read several studies on the effectiveness of affirmations. I don’t know how good those studies were, or how much confirmation bias had to do with the results, but I can see the logic behind why something like this might work.

Adams subscribes to the theory that affirmations allow the user to focus his or her attention, thus making them more able to recognise opportunities… some kind of self-hypnosis. I suspect that may be a contributing factor, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it.

I think it’s more a self-programming technique. The sheer repetition of it is enough to ensure that whatever your goal is, it’s going to be on your mind, even if it’s at the back of your mind, for most of the time. The more you think about it, the more time you have to consider your options and to figure out ways of achieving that goal.

Once you’ve figured out what you need to do to achieve the goal, you’re half-way there. It’s easy to recognise the opportunities when you know exactly what you’re looking for.

I also think that the sort of people who would commit themselves to constant repetition of an important goal over any length of time are the sort of people who are likely to be goal-oriented people… the sort of people who get things done anyway.

So, I’m going to give it a shot. I have chosen an important, but seemingly distant goal, and I’m going to type out a simple and direct phrase on my cellphone every hour, on the hour, during the day, every day, for the next six months. It’s not an impossible goal, just a difficult one that I don’t know how I’ll be able to accomplish just yet.

If after six months I haven’t managed to at least take some significant steps towards achieving that goal (assuming I’m able to keep up the typing for that long), I think I’ll be able to safely say that affirmations are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The dumbest thing I’ve ever heard

One of my favourite comedians is Lewis Black. In one of his shows he mentions that the dumbest thing he’s every heard was some strange girl at the International House of Pancakes telling her friend “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.”

Yeah, that’s what I said. I have a story like that as well.

One evening I was at a casual dinner party at a friend’s house. One of the other guests was a young fellow who took endless pleasure in bragging about how hard he could “party”. You know the sort.

During the course of the evening he let rip with this little nugget:
“I won’t give money to the Salvation Army. I saw this documentary about how they are sending troops to Ivory Coast to support the rebels in the civil war.”

I’ll give you a moment to roll that around in your head for a bit.

Ready? Okay.

In the interests of promoting reader interaction, I invite you all to tell us the story of the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard.

And… go!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The brain burden

Is it the responsibility of the skilled or knowledgeable to assist the ignorant?

I’m an intelligent person, skilled an experienced in many things. If someone I know comes asks me to do something that they lack the skill, experience, and frankly intelligence, to do themselves, am I obliged to do it for them?

Let me be more specific.

I’ve built a few websites in my day, some better than others, some easier than others. Someone recently approached me to ask that I, as a favour, help them create one. Being a generous sort of person, I agreed… I provided them with all the information they needed to build one themselves.

It’s not rocket-science to make the sort of website they wanted… in fact it’s exceptionally easy, and amounts to little more than filling in a few online forms: less than an hour’s work for someone who has never done it before.

For some reason, that wasn’t enough for them. They seemed to think that they needed more help from me. And when I wasn’t available to do it (the fact that I had no desire to do it is frankly irrelevant) they got very snotty and rude about it. Remember, this was a favour, not a paid job.

These people aren’t close friends of mine, by any measure. Although it’s likely that if I needed their assistance with something, they would help, it’s highly unlikely that I would never need their help with anything… there’s simply nothing they can do that I can’t do myself.

Plus I’ve done a great many favours for them already… the favour balance-sheet is heavily weighted in my direction. They already owe me big time. What right do they have to get snotty with me now?

It’s as if they feel that as someone with the brains to do it, I owe it to them to do this. My inner communist agrees to some extent: “From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his need.” I’m all for reciprocal altruism, but where exactly is the reciprocity if they have nothing I need or want? Should I continue doing them these favours on the off-chance that someday they may acquire something that might satisfy a need of mine? How long should I wait, and how much work should I put into it?

I’ve always been a sucker, running to the aid of anyone who needed my help. I used to take pleasure and satisfaction from it. But I’ve recently realized that by doing that I may not necessarily be helping people… just delaying their personal growth and development by acting as a crutch for them.

I now feel that it’s far more valuable to provide people with the information they need to be able to learn how to do it themselves. “Give a man a fish…”

In this case it’s especially valuable, since they needed a simple website that could be regularly updated. Is it not more logical to be able to update it yourself, rather than have to run to someone else to do it for you every time?

These people are obviously not intelligent enough to recognize that what I’ve already done for them (giving them the means rather than the product) is better, as demonstrated by their ingratitude. Why should I have to put up with their short-sightedness and ignorance?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Modern man: the ignoble savage

(Disclaimer: The following is a statement of opinion, based on nothing more than my own pompous assumptions. Take it as seriously as you like.)

Fact: Human nature involves inherent violent tendencies. Just try and deny it… go on, I’ll wait.

You can’t. You could try. But you’d be lying.

Our ancestors evolved into killing machines: vicious hunters that were able and willing to use their precocious hunting talents either on food or their enemies as they waged the war for survival.

The best hunters and warriors were more likely to survive. And it wasn’t enough to only have hunters and warriors that were good at their arts, they had to enjoy these pursuits as well… what use is a good marksman who doesn’t like throwing a pointed stick? Thus we reach the 21st century with a population descended from bloody-minded brutes.

Knowing that, it’s no surprise whatsoever that war and violent crime are as prevalent in modern society as they are… we have a penchant for it written into our genetic code. It’s part of who we are. Denying that is, well, denial.

With that said, I don’t think there’s any excuse for anyone to want to be involved in war or violent crime. We may be bloody-minded brutes, but we’re bloody-minded brutes with brains! With a minimum of effort, we can easily outthink our violent tendencies.

Indeed, we have created within many of our civilisations a variety of means through which to express these urges in positive and socially acceptable ways. Of those means, I believe that the absolute best is sport.

“What?” I hear you say.
”I thought 01 hated sport!” I hear you carry on.

But it’s true. Sport is an ideal expression of our violent natures for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it involves a lot of things like running around, jumping, kicking, punching and hitting things with sticks. These are all activities our Palaeolithic ancestors associated with killing things… doing them for fun tricks the primitive parts of our brains into thinking that we really are killing things. The exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, which help us calm down and feel lovely afterwards… thus relieving tension.

Secondly, there’s the competitive aspect. Within the context of competitive sport, defeating your opponent equates to killing him, on a subconscious level. And it’s not just in sports like boxing or martial arts. Even in sports where you’re not doing direct harm to your opponent, your brain is able to convince its very clever self that you are, indeed, killing him. All competitive sport is therefore simulated warfare.

But sport isn’t for everyone. This could be for a number of reasons. Some people have a physical disability that makes taking part in sport difficult or impossible. Others have an odd genetic mutation that makes them not enjoy all the running around and hitting of things with sticks. That’s where I fit in.

I was diagnosed with asthma as a young child (I was hospitalised with it for the first time when I was five). Although I tried some sports early in primary school, I wasn’t able to exert myself too much, so I wasn’t able to participate as fully as the other kids. So I lost interest and I became something of a mental athlete.

And that’s the key: mental athletics. A mental athlete can find it just as fulfilling to demolish an opponent in a game of monopoly as a boxer does to deliver that knockout punch. It’s just a different expression of the same built-in urge.

I’m all for the sport development programs that our government squanders our tax money on… it’s good to teach under-privileged youngsters peaceful and constructive ways of expressing their innate violence. Rather clobber other guys on the rugby field than in gang wars.

However I think it should be equally important to teach them mental athletics, and by that I don’t mean just sending them to school. Studying doesn’t really help you express the competitive urge (unless you’re competing with other students in terms of results, which seems to be discouraged in schools nowadays).

They need to be taught competitive intellectual pursuits. Chess is a good start. Chess sets are cheap and the game is easy to learn: ideal for low-income areas. You don’t even need to be literate or numerate to be able to play it. For families who have more substantial financial means, things like collectible card games, computer games and gaming consoles should be included in their education.

Gaming isn’t just a distraction, it’s an essential requirement. Despite paranoid theories propagted by the media, I firmly believe that if you encourage a child (preferably an older child) to play Quake or Counter-Strike, he’ll be less likely to go out and actually shoot anyone…. he can do all his killing in virtual reality (with simulated blood and gore rendered in exquisite detail) without ever harming another person.

Of course there are other issues at stake: are you really doing an obese child a favour by telling him to sit on his fat ass playing video-games instead of running around outside? Perhaps not. But that’s someone else’s battle.