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Friday, December 28, 2007

My Predictions for 2008

It's that time of year when all kinds of bat-shit insane people psychics, prophets and soothsayers come out of the woodwork making all sorts of psychic predictions about the coming year. Some of them come true. Most of them don't.

Making general and vague predictions is easy. In the interests of proving that no psychic powers are necessary to make a list of predictions with a relatively high hit-rate, I will employ my modest intellect, general knowledge and Wikipedia to produce twenty two predictions for the year 2008 CE (as per the Gregorian Calendar).

A year from now, I'll come back to these predictions and we'll make a tally of how many I got right. We can then compare my score to that of a psychic (or more than one) and see how I perform relative to them. I don't have a particular psychic in mind, so if you'd like to suggest some, please leave a comment.

When it comes to the nasty ones I hope I'll be wrong, but I don't expect to be.

1. The winner of the United States presidential election will be a tall, good-looking man. Or will at least be the tallest and/or best-looking of the available candidates. He will be a Church-going Christian.
2. Scientists will make startling new discoveries about Dark Matter and/or Dark Energy that will threaten to overturn our understanding of the cosmos.
3. The South-East coastal regions of the United States will be lashed by several severe storms during the summer.
4. Many people will be left homeless and some will be killed in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and parts of Mozambique in the first quarter of the year as a result of floods.
5. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people will die in natural disasters (such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or tsunami) in the Pacific regions and parts of the Middle-East.
6. Danie Krugel will not acknowledge our challenge.
7. Astronomers will discover many new exoplanets and identify several new places where life might exist.
8. I will complete my 29th trip around the sun.
9. The petrol price will increase substantially after the oil price increases.
10.The petrol price will increase substantially after the oil price decreases.
11. The petrol price will increase substantially after the Rand/Dollar exchange rate improves.
12. The petrol price will increase substantially after the exchange rate worsens.
13. A prominent South African government official will be accused of fraud or misappropriation of funds, but those accusations will disappear and never result in formal charges.
14. A formerly obscure website will suddenly become very popular, prompting "experts" to claim that it will drastically change the way we communicate or do business.
15. It will not substantially affect the way we communicate or do business.
16. The South African Reserve Bank will increase the prime lending rate.
17. It will be revealed that Iran was never attempting to produce nuclear weapons. This will not prevent President Bush from claiming that Iran is a major threat.
18. A number of people will be trampled to death by a crowd in Saudi Arabia in the last weeks of the year.
19. Israel will engage in violent encounters with its neighbours. There will be casualties on both sides, but Israel will report that they have fewer than the other side.
20. The flying car will not be released to the consumer market.
21. A woman in either North Africa or the Middle East will be treated to unfathomable cruelty after breaking an oppressive and misogynistic law. She will then be pardoned after significant international pressure is exerted on her government. The law will not be changed.
22. The world as we know it will not end.

There you have it. Stay away from those bad places, or be careful if you can't avoid them. Have a safe and pleasant 2008!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gareth Cliff Gets Away With Blasphemy

Not really.

The BCCSA has ruled that Cliff's statements were neither blasphemous nor offensive enough to justify censure if you actually paid attention to what he said.

Even if his statements were blasphemous or offensive, does he not still have the right to say them? Doesn't the same law that protects the Christians' and Muslims' right to attend their religious services and preach their religious doctrine in public also protect Cliff's right to spout Atheistic rhetoric on the radio?

Letter to Danie Krugel

I have just sent Danie Krugel the following email:

Greetings Danie

My name is Owen Swart, and I represent an organisation called the USS Dauntless. We are a Star Trek fan club based in Johannesburg, but we have members and affiliates in a number of countries around the world.

The USS Dauntless is interested in pursuing social and scientific goals that will bring society closer to the utopian ideal as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry and depicted in the Star Trek television series and feature films. It's therefore very exciting to us whenever a new technology is developed that may help us with our mission.

As you may be aware, in Star Trek the characters employ an array of futuristic technologies in their mission of discovery and exploration. One of those technologies is a portable scanning device called a Tricorder.

The Tricorder has a variety of scanning capabilities, suitable for any number of possible applications. One of the applications it has is to track and locate specific individuals over long distances by searching for their DNA.

Based on our analysis of media reports, that is precisely what your machine seems to be capable of. As a result, we are very excited at the prospect of being able to employ such a device in real life.

We would like to offer our free assistance to you in the form of a controlled, double-blind test to see if the machine works as described.

We propose that we provide you with DNA samples of a number of volunteers. After using your machine to accurately determine the locations of the individual volunteers to within a reasonable margin of error (that we can agree upon beforehand), we will know how accurate the machine is.

We ask for no remuneration for this test. It is enough for us to be involved in the process of creating such a wonderful new technology, the repercussions of which are, no doubt, as apparent to you as they are to us.

We eagerly anticipate your response.

Yours in Trek.

Captain Owen Swart
Commanding Officer
USS Dauntless NCC-74214

I also sent off some press releases. We'll see if he responds.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Megawatt Park in the dark : Mail & Guardian Online

Megawatt Park in the dark : Mail & Guardian Online

LOL! Excellent.

Atheism in Star Trek

I received this article on the STARFLEET News Service feed this morning.

Although I agree with the general idea of what the author is trying to say, I feel it necessary to clarify his description of Star Trek as "atheist".

First of all, I don't know if Gene Roddenberry (The Great Bird of the Galaxy himself) was actually an atheist. I'm not aware of any statement he made either confirming or denying this. Although I don't think it's unlikely. He was a communist, of sorts, and therefore of a considerably secular bent. Atheism, secularism and communism are often found together.

That being said, it should also be noted that although The Great Bird did invent Star Trek, and retained considerable creative control over the first two seasons of the Original Series, the first six feature films and the first few seasons of The Next Generation, he was actually involved in creating less than half the sum total of all Star Trek. And even then, he wasn't responsible for every creative decision made under his command. Roddenberry was, by all accounts, a team player who took a lot of input from the experts he surrounded himself with.

Taking all of that into account, it's probably quite a fair comment to suggest that overall, Star Trek has a pretty atheistic (or at least non-theistic) message. Despite several references in the Original Series to the "real God" or the "one God", presumably put in place in order to appease the conservative Christians of the day, most of the characters are atheists or agnostics.

In every case when we encounter a god or gods in Star Trek, the being in question turns out to be just another life-form, or in some cases a sophisticated computer. One episode, Who Watches the Watchers, even deals with Captain Picard becoming the object of a newly formed religion amongst a community of primitive aliens.

Some of the characters in Star Trek are religious despite the knowledge that the objects of their adoration are not divine.

Most notably are the highly religious Bajorans whose gods, The Prophets, turn out to be a community of non-linear, non-corporeal aliens living inside a nearby wormhole. Despite this discovery, the Bajorans continue to practice their religion, praying to and worshipping these life-forms who are only peripherally aware of their existence.

Commander Chakotay, a Native American descendent, practices his religious rituals in full knowledge of the science behind his trance-like states and hallucinations. This doesn't seem to stop him.

I don't think it's fair, however, to claim that Captain Kirk killed God. This statement is obviously referring to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In this film, a crazed Vulcan hijacks the Enterprise and takes its crew on a trip to the centre of the galaxy, where he believes is the place that creation began. Although the rest of the crew and passengers appear convinced, and even Kirk goes along with the whole thing, it's never clearly stated that the place is Eden, and the being encountered there is God.

Rather, I feel that the conversation between Kirk and the "God" entity confirms that the being in question is yet another alien life-form, who only pretends to be God. We've seen at least one other character like this in Star Trek: the alien Ardra posed as an evil deity in the TNG episode Devil's Due. Also the manifestation in which the being presents itself (as a large, glowing, translucent head) is also shown in another episode, also close to the "centre of the galaxy". Although it's never stated explicitly, I think it's quite obvious that the "God" Kirk killed was a rogue Cytherian who contacted Sybok by means of a mind-altering probe.

The Star Trek universe is thick with god-like beings (Q, Douwds, Metrons, Organians, Olympians, Prophets, Pah Wraiths, Sporocystians and so on), none of whom are actually the God of Earth's monotheistic faiths.

It could be argued that Star Trek just never examines that god, or that Star Trek maintains he doesn't exist. Either way, I don't think there is enough concrete evidence in Star Trek canon to be able to make a conclusive call in either direction.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Some disturbing trends

I am a monkey. Sort of. As such, I have a brain specially evolved for pattern recognition.

My monkey-brain, like yours, is so good at seeing patterns that we often see patterns where none exist. This is a malfunction that leads to all sorts of difficulties, like belief in the supernatural. But it seems to help us more often than it harms us, so it's probably not too bad a deal.

Lately my monkey brain has been picking up some things that appear to be patterns. When I project those patterns to their logical conclusions, they worry me.

This will be the first in a sort of series of posts in which I examine these patterns, point out where I detected them, and discuss why they concern me.

The first such trend is particularly topical at the moment. It's probably too early to consider it a pattern at all, but if the next event turns out the way I predict it will, I will start to worry.

I first detected it a few weeks ago, when Deon Maas, a columnist for a local newspaper, was fired after writing a somewhat objective article about Satanism.

From what I understand, the sequence of events was as follows:
  1. A young goth got into a fight with her neighbors.
  2. The neighbours, apparently not familiar with goth culture, tipped off the police about suspicious activity in her flat.
  3. The police performed a search of the premises, found illicit substances and arrested the girl. The police also found a lot of goth paraphernalia (black clothes, candles, defaced Bibles and so on) in her home, indicating that she is probably a practising Satanist.
  4. The police are now investigating her, not only for possession of illegal substances, but also for "Satanism" as if Satanism itself is a crime.
  5. Maas wrote a column in defense of the girl, trying to make the point that Satanists are as entitled to practice their religion as anyone else is, provided they don't commit a crime in doing so (he got some fact wrong, claiming that Satanists are devil worshippers, as opposed to Atheists, but this was an ancillary point in his article)
  6. The newspaper, after having printed his column, received a plague of protests from their readership. They decided to let Maas go in favour of not losing their readership.

Now, this is a pretty complicated issue, with various sub-issues clustered together.

Firstly, why would the police charge this girl with "Satanism"? I have only Maas' word on this fact, but since he was fired rather than issuing a retraction, I take it he's pretty certain of his facts in this case. I'll provisionally assume that he got that part right. The SAPS has, supposedly, one of the most sophisticated and experienced occult units in the world. Surely they would know that real Satanists are almost always good, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who wouldn't hurt a fly.

It's only teenagers who practice the church's idea of what Satanism is in order to rebel against their religious upbringings that actually do illegal things... nasty things. This isn't real Satanism. Surely the SAPS would know that? If they did know that, then it seems unlikely that the story is accurate. Or somehow it is a crime to practice Satanism - a clear violation of her constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Assuming the story is accurate, and practising Satanism is a crime, that worries me big time. It means that the laws of the land are incompatible and contradictory. The enforcement of any given law would then rest on the personal ideology of the police officers, lawyers and judges involved in the case. That troubles me.

The next issue is that of personal responsibility. Maas wrote the article, but presumably it would have had to be approved by one of the newspaper's editors before being printed. Maas himself should have taken personal responsibility for the content of the article until he submitted it to the editor. The decision would have rested on the editor's shoulders whether or not to actually print it, not so? Therefore, if there was a negative response from the readership, it should have been the editor, not Maas, whose head should have rolled. But I digress.

I understand that a newspaper is a business, and they are entitled to take any steps within the law in order to ensure they they continue to make a profit. But why would their first step be to fire the guy? Should they not have stepped up and defended his journalistic integrity? Should they not have attempted to set the record straight, educated their audience and explained the fact that Maas has the right to say what he thinks, especially within the context of an editorial?

Another issue is the readers who complained to begin with. Of course they have the right to complain about something they find offensive, but does no-one see value in doing a little research before signing a petition? Are these people so blind to their own actions that they honestly can't see the inherent hypocrisy of their actions?

Those readers, almost exclusively Christians, no doubt, go to church every week and read out of the same book that issues directive after directive, ordering them to spill the blood of infidels, convert the heathens at the end of a sword, and slay those who will not believe. Satanists are worse than Christians how exactly?

It boils down to this: those Christians are so sensitive about their religious convictions that they will stop at nothing, ruin as many lives as necessary, to make sure that nobody offends their delicate sensibilities.

This pattern has repeated itself again this week. Gareth Cliff, 5fm presenter, made a flippant comment about Mohammed the Bear on his show which prompted a complaint from a listener. He then retorted to the listener, being dismissive of her religious faith and now faces possible censure by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

I don't pretend to defend Gareth Cliff. I don't like his show, I don't like his style of presentation, and I don't agree with the way he handled the situation. But, I recognise his right to say whatever he wants as long as it doesn't harm anyone. How did what he said harm anybody? Has he gone and ruined Islam for everyone now? Has his petty little tirade injured anyone in any tangible way? No.

Before I'm accused of being hypocritical, I also support the listener's right to complain about his statements. 5fm is owned by SABC, our state broadcaster. If Cliff, as a representative of our state, makes comments that someone finds offensive then of course they should complain. Whether anyone should take that complaint seriously or not is another matter altogether, and that is what I am waiting to see.

If the BCC decides that Cliff should indeed be censured for his statements, then it is clear that they are not in favour of our constitutional right to freedom of speech. What he said was silly, childish and rude, but it was not hate speech. It didn't incite anyone to violence, and it didn't cause anyone any lasting damage.

Maas is a victim, and I predict that Cliff will be a victim of our society's obsession with political correctness, and pandering to the religious as if religion is the only aspect of our culture that is beyond reproach and hard-hitting public discourse.

The pattern here that concerns me is that the religious, who should be gradually losing their stranglehold over our society after the fall of the Dutch Reformed Church's theocratic rule under Apartheid, seem to be gaining momentum. Somehow our allegedly secular state is trying harder and harder to pander to the religious instead of defending the rights of those legitimately entitled to them.

I can foresee a hypothetical situation in which I might be put in this position. I might do something to offend a religious person, and that person would be able to visit unjust retribution upon me, and be allowed to do so because they are religious and I am not. The constitution is supposed to protect us all equally, not to favour certain people over others as a result of their particular ideological beliefs.

This is why I am worried about this trend: the religious people are being treated as higher-class citizens. As soon as that sort of thing happens, oppression follows.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gareth Cliff faces BCC tribunal for blasphemy « moonflake

I'm not a Gareth Cliff fan, but this whole thing is ridiculous.

Gareth Cliff faces BCC tribunal for blasphemy « moonflake

Quote for the day: "Because if the religious deserve any kind of respect, it’s the same respect you would give to the clinically insane." - Moonflake

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bridge to SciOps: Report!

There’s a new sceptical kid on the South African block, and it’s me! ...and some other guys.

As my regular readers will no doubt be aware, I am something of a Star Trek fanatic, to the extent that I have founded my own Star Trek fan club (now defunct) and currently serve as a chapter president of another Star Trek fan club, The USS Dauntless, as well as a member of the board of directors of its parent organisation, STARFLEET International (SFI).

Although I’ve self-identified as a Trekkie far longer than I have done as a sceptic, for me the two are linked.

Although I always enjoyed Star Trek, I became a serious Trekkie around the time I discovered the Internet: about ten years ago. I was captivated by the sheer depth of it. The more I learned, the more I found there was to learn. So I delved into it, poring over books, trawling the bowels of the web, and I have emerged, as a butterfly from a cocoon, one of the most knowledgeable Trekkies I know. And I know many.

As part of my exploration of Star Trek, I developed a fondness for science. Again, this wasn’t new. As a little boy I was captivated by books on space exploration, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed Star Trek so much. I remember watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos over and over again, trying to absorb it all, but not really possessing the necessary understanding to parse it.

After being subjected to the sheer irrelevance of the high-school science curriculum, I lost interest in all things scientific. But that didn’t last long. Thanks to Star Trek I regained by interest in how the world worked.

In order to really appreciate the depth of the Star Trek experience, it required that I get to know an awful lot of science… beyond the silly experiments in high-school and onto the really interesting stuff: relativity, quantum physics, evolution, sociology, linguistics and any number of other disciplines were brought into the fray.

The more I got to know Star Trek the more enamoured I became by science. I inevitably discovered the sceptical movement and the value of critical thinking: a discovery that has inspired me even more than my initial discovery of Star Trek.

But I’m still a Trekkie, and now a sceptic. It took me a while, but I’ve finally figured out how to combine the two. Two weeks ago I announced on the USS Dauntless mailing list that I was forming a new team: Special Scientific Operations (SciOps). The SciOps team’s mission is:

To perform investigations, publicise results, promote critical thinking and generally support and advance the scientific imperative within its community and the on the Internet.
Some of you will be aware that there are already some sceptical organisations in South Africa. The South African Sceptics and Sceptics South Africa are both excellent groups, but their respective missions appear to be more along the lines of creating a sceptics’ community and publicising the sceptics’ perspective to the general public. Both are valuable and necessary.

But I think there’s a need for a group that will get its hands dirty and actually perform scientific investigations into claims of the paranormal, rather than sitting around talking about investigations performed by others. SciOps will be that group.

Since STARFLEET is based on the fictional Starfleet (the scientific and exploratory service of the United Federation of Planets, as depicted in Star Trek, of course) it stands to reason that we should be actively involved in the advancement of science and its companion, scepticism. And what makes it even more exciting is that it can be done in the name of Star Trek, furthering the SFI mission of pursuing “Gene’s Dream ”.

I’m looking forward to being more than just an armchair scientist and vocal sceptic, and actually getting involved in the real thing. Furthermore, I invite you all to join us in our mission!

LifeWave part III: Things get strange

As I mentioned in my previous post on my battle against LifeWave, I have submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa. There was some correspondence back and forth in order to establish exactly what the details of my complaint were, but it has now been scheduled for investigation. That means we should hear a result in the next few weeks. These things take time.

In the mean-time, however, I have been receiving some correspondence from a Gordon Compson, who identifies himself as an "Independent LifeWave Consultant". I haven't responded to him privately since the only place he could have found me was through this blog. I decided that even though he was clearly too cowardly to leave a public comment on my blog itself, I would respond to his messages here, for all of you to see.

The first email I received was as follows:
Sure there are skeptics... I was too until I tried them, maybe you should too!
That scam site has been running since we started..it's amazing what the drug companies will do to shoot us down & keep people from trying us.
We're getting lots of the Asian market now because that understand the technology more than the US. I'm in NY and have Malaysian down line using the patches because I helped one girl sleep better by sending her some samples! Video Search Results - Lifewave - AOL Video
Send me your address & I'll send you some info that will set your mind free if they work or not.
Gordon Compson Independent Lifewave consultant ... www.Lifewave.com/energyguy
*Sigh*

Okay, let's do it one line at a time:

Sure there are skeptics... I was too until I tried them, maybe you should too!
Gordon, I have absolutely no reason to believe that you have experienced any positive effects from using the Nanopatch. Even if you had furnished me with the details of your anecdote, it would still be an anecdote. Anecdote does not equal evidence.

That scam site has been running since we started..it's amazing what the drug companies will do to shoot us down & keep people from trying us.

What scam site? lifewave.com? YouTube? My blog? Note the thinly veiled conspiracy theory he sneaked in there.


If the drug companies really thought you posed any threat to them, they would have bought LifeWave out, or reverse-engineered your devices and released their own versions. The drug companies aren't interested in you, Gordon. Nor should they be.


Dealing with your kind of idiocy shouldn't be the responsibility of the real scientists who have important work to do, but rather the sceptics and consumer protection organisations - like me, JREF, the ASASA and USS Dauntless SciOps.


We're getting lots of the Asian market now because that understand the technology more than the US. I'm in NY and have Malaysian down line using the patches because I helped one girl sleep better by sending her some samples!
It's fascinating that you are selling your scam products in Asia. Of course I have no way of verifying that, and you haven't provided any proof of it. Also, you will notice that I live in neither Asia nor the United States. So your Appeal to Authority (the logical fallacy you have committed here) falls a little flat.

Also, it doesn't matter how many people buy it. Billions of people buy cigarettes every day. Does that mean they're good for you? What matters is data. Give us the data, and we might believe you.

Here's something interesting. You used the term "down line" and call yourself an "Independent consultant". That sounds like MLM terminology to me. So you are using a scam to perpetuate another? Nothing new: scam products often can't cut it in the open market, so they must rely on the viral marketing techniques employed by pyramid schemes.

Who is the little girl you helped? What is her name? Where are the clinical results of the study you performed? Where are the results of all the other little girls you have similarly helped using the same technique? More to the point, what about all the other people who have not been helped in any way by using your product? What is the success/failure rate?
Send me your address & I'll send you some info that will set your mind free if they work or not.
I'll not send you my address, Gordon. That doesn't seem to have prevented you from sending me emails though. This website provides a perfectly good forum for this discussion. If you really can "set my mind free", you can do it here.

Gordon sent me two more emails that were even less coherent than the one above, providing lists of links to more anecdotal accounts, marketing videos clearly produced by LifeWave themselves and some people claiming to be reformed sceptics. I may reproduce them here at some point, but I trust I've made my point: I am unconvinced and unimpressed.

You'll need to do better than that, Gordon.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Golden Compass: Narnia for Atheists

Sounds like this fantasy film (the first of a trilogy) is aimed squarely at competing with the Narnia series.

Having been written by an atheist/agnostic, Phillip Pullman, and allegedly carrying an anti-Christian message it is causing quite a stir in the religious community. This is to be expected.

My Irony-O-Meter nearly popped a sprocket when I saw this.

[Bishop Rubin] Phillip said he was saddened because the film was aimed at children, saying this was cowardly.
As opposed to what exactly? Teaching children from birth that if they don't follow the difficult and even impossible laws laid down by an invisible man in the sky, they will suffer indescribable torment for infinite time. That seems much better.

The Golden Compass is a fantasy movie. I can't imagine it carrying an atheistic message any stronger than the pro-Christian message carried by C.S. Lewis' Narnia series... which wasn't very strong.

Even though I would love to see more children's entertainment with an agnostic or atheist bent, I don't expect the Golden Compass to be as controversial as I would like. I don't expect it will do any more damage to the theists' systematic indoctrination of the young and feeble-minded than Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings have done.

On the plus side, my interest in seeing this movie has risen from 0 to 1.3 on a scale of 10.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

LOLCreashun



Thanks to Whatveresque and PZ by proxy

Monday, November 26, 2007

Jesus Christ gets an evil twin in fantasy film

Something tells me this movie is going to be awesome.

Jesus Christ gets an evil twin in fantasy film : Mail & Guardian Online

A Sceptic's Survival Guide to the Holidays

Thanks to sceptical "rogue" Evan Bernstein, we have a handy survival guide for those family events we're going to be encountering soon:

The Rogues Gallery » Family And The Holiday Season

Telecommuting, again

Yes, I know, I've blogged about this before. More than once. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this is not only a good idea, but something we should collectively be pushing for.

Today's reason for telecommuting is global warming. Yes, global warming.

We all agree that in order to do our part to curb global warming, we need to reduce the amount of energy we spend. So let's look at the energy consumption involved in the average office-worker's day.

When it comes to your average work-day, there are two aspects that determine your energy consumption. The first is the electricity employed in the execution of your job.

This electricity is used by the tools you employ in your job: computer and telephone. Whether you're using a computer and telephone at an office or at home makes no difference: the same amount of electricity is being consumed. There are also other devices in an office environment that use electricity that are shared amongst all the employees: air-conditioning, kettles (for coffee), fridges (for storing milk), photocopiers, fax machines, PABXs, communication servers, lighting and so on. Let's look at each of those individually.

Air-conditioning is an absolute requirement in an office environment. When you have a number of large mammals generating heat and exhaling carbon-dioxide in a confined space, it would get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly. The fewer large mammals contained in that space, the less each air-con unit must work in order to maintain a fixed temperature. So fewer people in the office = less power used by air-con. If you're working at home, you're probably one of very few large mammals occupying the space, so no air-con is necessary, even in the middle of summer.

Kettles are a requirement in an office. If you're a coffee-drinker, you'll have a kettle at home as well. Whether you boil it at the office to make your coffee, or at home makes no difference.

You probably have a fridge at home already. It's probably already operational 24/7. They'll need one at the office to be running all the time as well. Once again it's even money.

If you're alone at home, you don't need to photocopy documents. In fact you shouldn't be photocopying any documents at the office either, but stick-in-the-mud Amish types will insist on it. If you're not there to hand someone a document, the obvious choice is to email it to them. Photocopiers will go silent most of the time, saving paper and power.

Fax machines should be done away with too. If you can scan and email a document, there's no need to fax it. Why buy an extra machine to do the same job? If you're not using paper documents, which you shouldn't be doing anyway if you're working from home, the fax machine will see less action too.

PABXs and communication servers will still be necessary. If your IT department is savvy, they will know how to divert your calls to your cellphone, reducing the number of calls to be made when clients try to reach you. The communication servers that are probably already there will simply be working more on managing remote connections than local ones. Power-wise it's still even money.

If you have less people in an office, you need less lights on. People working from home during the day will tend to leave the lights off and work with sunlight. Since you shouldn't be using paper anyway, and your computer screen is backlit, there should be no need for any artificial lighting. Telecommuting wins again.

So in summary, working from home uses slightly less power (and paper) than working in an office. Most factors are even, but telecommuting wins when it comes to air-con and lighting: two major power wasters.

The second aspect of your power consumption is driving to and from the office.

This is a no-brainer: less driving = less environmental damage. If you can arrange your work week so that you need only go into the office twice a week, that's a 60% reduction on carbon emissions. Even if you only work form home one day a week, that's a 20% reduction! Also, if you consider that driving in peak traffic uses more fuel than off-peak (because your engine is running for longer periods, even if you're covering the same distance) you can reduce your impact even further by scheduling your office-visits for the middle of the day instead of early morning or late afternoon.

I'm serious guys, talk to your bosses. If the company you work for is reasonably tech-savvy, odds are they already have the infrastructure in place to allow you to work from home at least one day a week. You owe it to your personal budget, the company's budget and the environment!

Telecommute for the children!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Health Director General is an Idiot Too

Business Day - News Worth Knowing

Even though he sounds like as much of an idiot as Manto, defending "traditional medicine" using every woo-woo logical fallacy in the book, it's encouraging that the project to assess and regulate all such preparations is still underway.

It will probably take years, but at least they're working on it. I volunteer to assist in testing... I'll handle the homeopathic remedies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LifeWave II: The Saga Continues

Well, I'm glad to report that I was proven wrong... to some extent.

Last week I predicted that I would not recieve a reponse from Primedia's marketing department relating to my complaint about their airing advertisments for LifeWave Nanopatches.

I was wrong. It took them a week, but I finally heard back from them. Here is their response:

Dear Owen.

We appreciate the time you have taken to write to us.

Please note that Talk Radio 702 is a credible News and Information
station. We deem any communication conveyed by our advertisers to our listeners
as credible, above board and legitimate. I do however understand that some of
your concerns may be valid it is however ultimately up to the Advertising
Standards Authority to manage this process. I’m sure that you will appreciate
that we are a commercial radio station and although from time to time it has
come to our attention that advertisers may promote products or offerings that
may not deliver on what they promise it is not our responsibility to decide.

Please direct your concerns and complaints to the Advertising Standards
Authority on 011 781 2006 or visit their website on www.asasa.org.za

Kind regards,

Andrew Cooper
Direct Sales Manager
Primedia Broadcasting

In other words, Primedia like to think of themselves as a reputable media corporation, but don't feel that it's their responsibility to enforce that, rather relying on an external agent to inform them when they have stepped over the line.

It should be noted that the AASA is not a government sponsored organisation.
They are set up and sustained by the media industry themselves as a self-regulatory system. An honourable goal to be sure, but it seems now to result in that same industry abdecating all responsibility and passing the buck to the AASA.

"Oh what a fool I have been to go searching for courage in the lair of cowards"
- Admiral Alidar Jarok

But that's fine. At least I now know were we stand, and I'll follow it up with the AASA as I had planned. They have a pretty good track record of responding, so I'll let you know what they have to say.

Monday, November 19, 2007

IOL: War on crime causes traffic snarl-ups

IOL: War on crime causes traffic snarl-ups

This is a blatant lie. I was stuck in this very traffic jam this morning, for over an hour. When I got to the road-block, there was no randomised searching for illegal firearms. Nothing of the sort!

They had their license-plate scanning rig set up, along with their mobile fine-payment caravan and two paddywagons off to one side to transport offenders to jail. Along the road was parked a line of expensive cars, all empty (presumably waiting to be towed to the impound lot).

They were looking for traffic-fine offenders!

Although it is outrageously stupid to do something like this in peak traffic on a weekday, it is within the jurisdiction of the Metro police to conduct such road-blocks. So why would they lie about the purpose of the road-block?

Something doesn't smell right here.

Columnist fired for sticking up for Satanism

I'm still too angry about this to write an intelligible post on the subject, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it.

As seems to be the case so often nowadays, go to Moonflake for the story.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bones found near Van Rooyen’s house « moonflake

Bones found near Van Rooyen’s house « moonflake

Moonflake is teh win.

Was Danie Krugel right?

Well this is interesting.

It seems that bone fragments have been unearthed less than a kilometer from Gert van Rooyen's former residence in Pretoria.

They're still being tested to see of they are human, and, if so, if they belong to any of his missing victims.

Danie Krugel, after using his magic quantum machine, predicted that the girls' bodies were buried within a few Kilometers of van Rooyen's former home. Before anyone gets all excited about this being a vindication of Danie's magic box, let's put this into context.

Firstly, do any amount of digging in an urban area that has been occupied for several decades, and it would be surprising not to find any bone fragments. People eat animals, the bones of which sometimes end up being buried (by pet dogs, for instance). People's pets die, and are frequently buried in the back yard. Your average back yard probably contains several bones that, upon first glance, could be thought to resemble human.

So the chances of these particular bones turning out to be human are probably pretty slim. The contractors digging the swimming pool most likely wouldn't have given the fragments a second thought if they weren't aware of Danie Krugel's predictions (thanks to that pillar of journalistic integrity: Carte Blanche). But, we'll only know for sure once they've been tested.

If the bones turn out to be human I suppose there's a good chance they might belong to at least one of his victims. Human bones are generally not strewn about willy-nilly. If that turns out to be the case, however, it still doesn't mean that Krugel's machine works.

Why not? Simple logic.

As an experienced policeman, Krugel would, no doubt, be aware that murderers of this sort tend to dispose of the bodies near their homes. Any regular viewer of CSI would be aware of this tendency. His making that prediction says nothing about his magic box, and rather merely demonstrates that Krugel himself is an adequately skilled detective.

If Krugel's box had predicted the location of the bones to within a few metres (say, less than twenty) that would certainly lend support to his claims. But he didn't. He predicted a radius of several Kilometers. That's not a hit.

Danie: even if you turned out to be right this time, and manage to impress the credulous producers and viewers of Carte Blanche, you'll need to do better than that in order to really prove the efficacy of your little contraption.

Have you found little Maddie yet? Nope.

Have you even tried to look for little Londiwe yet? I have no idea, but I'm guessing no.

Do better.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ridicule as a persuasive tool

Bobby makes a really good point here.

Anyone who joins a rattlesnake cult is not going to be swayed by a rational argument - they’ve already abandoned logic.

Ridicule is an important tool.

I often cringe when I hear sceptics being overtly dismissive and insulting of the credulous. I do it too, and although it feels good sometimes, there's always a nagging pang of guilt back there somewhere.


Rational, intelligent people aren't going to be persuaded by sarcasm. Being sarcastic, although an almost reflex reaction, is often not a good idea. But the way Bobby puts it here makes sense. It's not valid to assume that everyone who subscribes to woo-woo is necessarily intelligent or rational. In fact, the opposite is probably true more often than not.


When dealing with those who aren't swayed by logic or reason, the only way to reach them is through manipulation. It sounds terrible, I know, but I think it's true. To extend Randi's burning building analogy, if the person you're trying to rescue won't be persuaded to move, sometimes you have to pick them up like a sack of potatoes, throw them over your shoulder, and carry them out yourself - Bruce Willis style. Ridicule seems to be the psychological equivalent of that.

Not so?



LifeWave goodbye

So the other day I was driving to work and almost crashed into the car in front of me because I was overcome by a sudden rage. LifeWave, who I had heard about on James Randi's Swift newsletter, had purchased some advertising time on Radio 702 to peddle their Nanopatches: devices supposed to use nano-quantum-kungfu-whatever to give you psychic superpowers or something. Take a look at their website and see for yourself.

I try to avoid listening to the radio because it's littered with all kinds of crap. But Hide's been trying to get me to listen, so as to keep up-to-date on everyday happenings of the sort that most people care about (as opposed to the ones that I care about). So every now and then I turn it on for a few minutes until my Crap-o-meter hits the red and I have to put on a George Carlin CD or something to calm me down.

Having become somewhat desensitised to the usual nonsense that our ignorant and talentless radio presenters spew, I was surprised to hear 702 stoop to this new low.

So I wrote a little email to their marketing department.

To whom it may concern.

I was surprised and disappointed yesterday morning when, on my daily
commute, I heard a radio advertisement on 702 for the "LifeWave
Nanopatch".

As an advertising division of a media corporate, you are all, no
doubt, very busy. I therefore assume that your team lacks the capacity
to examine the credibility of every advertiser who wishes to purchase
air-time on 702.

I also assume that the credibility of your advertisers is of
importance to you, as they are a reflection on the credibility of 702
and Primedia as a whole.

I therefore take it upon myself to inform you that this particular
product, and company, has been exposed as a scam. The "science" behind
the nanopatch devices has been well debunked
(http://www.worldwidescam.info/lwresearch2.htm) and LifeWave must go a
long way to prove their gadgets' efficacy.

Their advertisement makes a string of medical claims despite the fact
that their devices are not medical in nature. The fact that their
website includes a disclaimer stating that they make "no medical
claims" loses its credibility when that disclaimer is followed by a
list of four separate medical claims!

Although I cannot say whether or not the nanopatch actually works (as
I have not tested it myself), LifeWave have not met the necessary
burden of proof to demonstrate their product's efficacy, and therefore
have no right selling it to a misinformed public.

Of course the choice is yours as to what action to take from here, but
I would be very pleased if this advertisement were to be pulled from
the air with immediate effect until such time as LifeWave can produce
evidence supporting their claims.

In the words of Carl Sagan "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary
evidence." In this case the claims are certainly extraordinary, but
the evidence is not even ordinary, it is practically nonexistent.

Thank you for your consideration.

Owen Swart

That was two days ago now. As I should have predicted, there has been no response from Primedia yet. And I don't expect one.

I haven't heard the advert again, but then I don't listen to the radio very much. If anyone hears it, please let me know. If I get no response from Primedia, my next stop will be the Advertising Standards Authority.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Comments

In order to satisfy the hordes of you who have been wishing - hoping against hope - that you could leave a comment on my endlessly entertaining, or infuriatingly idiotic blog posts but haven't had the time or inclination to sign up for a Google account, your wish has come true.

I have once again enabled anonymous comments!

[Waits for the cheers and thunderous applause to subside]

Just because I've decided to allow anonymous comments again doesn't mean I encourage it. If you're going to leave a comment, please identify yourself. I don't mind if you want to leave something critical or even abusive, so long as I can track you down see who left the comment. My identity is no secret, so I ask the same courtesy of you.

If it gets abused again I, of course, reserve the right to delete comments that go too far, or deactivate anonymous comments again. But if we all play nice, that never has to happen. Kay?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mbeki still an AIDS Dissident « moonflake

I haven't had the time to verify the claims made in this yet, but I think it's fairly safe to take Moonflake's word on it.

If it is true, then holy crap! What is the use of fighting for human rights if our own president denies the humanitarian crisis on his doorstep?

I've tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, assuming that Mbeki was merely misquoted, and avoiding the temptation to become embroiled in a PR battle with the media. But if this story checks out, then I have misjudged him.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Stupid South Africa

Okay, I’ve had a few hours to sit and digest the impact of the survey conducted by Sceptic South Africa. As upsetting as it is, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the results. Knowing that HIV infection rates are higher here than just about everywhere else is testament to the fact that South Africans, as a whole, are indeed colossally stupid.

I must qualify here that SSA’s survey was the first of its kind to be run in South Africa (as far as I can tell… please let me know if there have been any before). Being the first, and so far only, the results should be treated with a fair degree of scepticism. I haven’t inspected the protocol for the survey, so I can’t speak to its accuracy or lack of bias.

However, based on George Claasen’s writings he seems a competent sceptic, and I think it’s pretty safe to assume that he would be perfectly capable of designing and executing a reasonably impartial study with as diverse a sample group as is practical. And also to report the results honestly.

Even assuming a fair degree of possible error, the results are clear: South Africans have a tendency to believe whatever supernatural mumbo-jumbo they’re fed. This is, I suppose, not all that different to all humans, regardless of nationality. All other statistics of this nature that I’ve seen (particularly in the US) show a similar leaning.

Hide raised the obvious question this morning: why does it bother me?

This is why.

Considering that SSA’s survey was at least partially conducted via telephone, it is ironic, but not amusingly so, that so many respondents admitted to believing in a young Earth (less than 10,000 years old). Our knowledge of the fact that the speed of light is constant is one of the many scientific advances that have led to the development of technologies like the cellular telephone. That same knowledge has assisted us in determining the actual (estimated) age of the universe (around 13.7 billion years). These idiots are happy to rely on science for their everyday convenience, but deny its results when they conflict with dearly held ideological beliefs.

The reason why these sorts of ridiculous mistakes are made is not just sheer stubbornness, although that is probably a factor. I think a far larger factor is ignorance, specifically, scientific illiteracy.

Your average South African doesn’t know how a cellphone works. They’re happy to carry one everywhere they go, but probably don’t give a moment’s thought to the mechanisms behind this revolutionary technology. In fact, even if I were to attempt to explain the concept of a cellular communications network to an average South African, they wouldn’t have a clue what I was saying, because they wouldn’t have access to the scientific vocabulary necessary to parse the information.

In fact, I would be surprised if the average South African was even aware that the speed of light is known to be constant. Or for that matter, even of the fact that light travels at all!

Even those who have received high-school educations have largely obtained their matric certificate without ever having had the concepts of evolution properly explained to them (until now).

But why does it matter? What difference does it make to Joe Smith’s life if he plods through his daily existence unaware of the fundamental concepts of science? Why would Jane Jones care that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared?

If you had asked that question a century ago, or even a couple of decades ago, the answer would probably have been that it would, indeed, not have mattered very much. Despite the fact that they would have missed out on all the awesome beauty and sheer elegance of the natural world, their daily lives would probably not have been all that different.

But times have changed. In the 21st century it has become nigh impossible to navigate daily life without a basic knowledge of science.

An easy example is that of vaccines. Medical science has offered us a variety of medicines designed to defend against some of the most dangerous organisms known to attack humans with regularity. In some cases, proper use of vaccines has resulted in the complete elimination of these organisms, as was the case with Smallpox.

Despite these successes, there is a growing and vociferous movement of scientifically illiterate people who have cottoned onto the viral meme that Mercury contained in certain vaccines can cause autism in children. This sort of thing plays directly into the human cognitive tendency to believe scary claims, no matter how implausible they may be, because it’s generally safer to have a false positive than a false negative.

However in this case exactly the opposite is true. Not only do vaccines not contain any harmful Mercury compounds, but failing to vaccinate Junior could result in the illness and death of not only your child, but his peers as well. These people do not possess the necessary vocabulary to parse the medical literature, and are led entirely by specious claims and anecdotal evidence (which is not evidence at all) into believing this dangerous lie. By remaining scientifically illiterate, these parents are putting their children’s lives at risk, and setting themselves up for personal tragedy.

Then there’s the other example. The big one. Climate Change. Although there is much research that still needs to be done in this area regarding the exact causes and potential impact of Climate Change, it is undoubtedly a global issue. This is something we all need to be talking and thinking about, and figuring out what to do about it.

Without the necessary tools, average South Africans will waste their time on useless endeavours that have no impact on Carbon emissions whatsoever. And worse, could actually contribute to the problem by supporting environmentally harmful practices, like “organic” farming or using ethanol for fuel, because they simply lack the understanding to weigh their options effectively.

Only by possessing the necessary understanding, can we hope to engage in a meaningful and valuable discourse on this real and potentially dangerous anomaly. Our failure to do so thus far is probably what has resulted in this situation.

It may already be too late. For all we know, we may already have passed the point of no return, and our general stupidity may have set in motion a sequence of events that will lead to the collapse of our civilisation, or even our extinction, in the near future. That sounds alarmist, I know, and it is unlikely. But there is a non-zero probability that it is correct.

Of course there any many more examples I could cite, most notably the HIV issue, but I will save that for another post. I feel I have made my point sufficiently already.

It is an absolute imperative that we South Africans, and indeed all humans, become educated in the basic principles of science, to the point where we are able to make informed decisions on these and other important issues, as well as influence government policy in the right direction.

It is an absolute travesty that this is not already the case. A travesty we may yet pay for with our lives.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Christmas? Really?

It’s getting to that part of the year when folks start making a fuss about the “Festive Season”. We use that term almost euphemistically to refer to Christmas so as not to offend the Hanukkah-celebrating Jews, Yule-celebrating Pagans and any other religious types who may have ‘circumstantially’ engineered some major holy day to occur around the time of the Winter Solstice*.


What about those of us who have no religious festivals to celebrate? I’m a non-believer, and therefore have none.


I was raised a Christian, so my family still practice the Christian tradition of celebrating Christmas. Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone in my family would self-identify as Christian anymore, but the celebration continues every year nonetheless.


Over the last couple of years I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable about participating in it. It seems almost hypocritical to reject a religion at its core and then continue to benefit from its traditions.


There is, of course, the fact that the whole festival of Christmas is merely an imperialistic re-purposing of an existing Pagan festival (Yule, as I mentioned before) celebrating the Winter Solstice**. Many of the traditional symbols of Christmas have absolutely nothing to do with the Christian incarnation myth: pine trees aren’t very common in Israel, nor are holly, mistletoe or fat men in red suits. With the exception of Father Christmas, these were all symbols of the Yule celebration that were co-opted by the early church in order to make the conversion of the European Pagans that much easier.


And don’t get me started on the Santa Claus idea (or as I like to call him: “GodLite”).


The only identifiable symbol belonging to Christian mythology that is associated with Christmas is the nativity scene. Thanks to political correctness we are seeing that less and less often. Also, much of it was lifted from earlier myths… such as the births of Horace, Dionysus and Mithras.


Knowing all of this, it still feels wrong to wish someone “Merry Christmas”. Must I resort to “Have a Cool Yule”? Maybe we should start celebrating Kwanzaa, Festivus or Friday instead.


Is it enough to enjoy the celebration, and use the tradition as an excuse to do the family thing? Since Christmas is a lie to begin with, is it okay to imperialistically re-purpose it once again as we see fit?


I don't have an answer here, folks... I'm counting on you geniuses to tell me what to think here (you don't often get that chance, now do you?)


*I say ‘Winter Solstice’ because most of said religions originate in the Northern Hemisphere, so from the point of view of the funny-hat-wearing folks who invented said Holy Days, that’s exactly what it is. Taking note of that fact may help to explain a lot of the seemingly ridiculous rituals associated with those Holy Days. Down here on the bottom-half of Earth it is, of course, the Summer Solstice, so most of those rituals make no sense whatsoever.

**Take a closer look at the biblical myths, you’ll see how it couldn’t possibly have occurred at that time of year.


88% of South Africans are stupid

I would go into a tirade about it, but this just makes me too sad.

Good job, Prometheus.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The ancestors totally saved us!

Well it turns out that the time (and presumably money) spent by the Dobsonville Roodepoort Leratong and Johannesburg Taxi Association and Faraday Taxi Association on having the Bree Taxi Rank in central Joburg cleansed of evil spirits was well worth it.

The two associations were so fed up at the violent rivalry between their own members that they hired had a team of sangomas (they like to call themelves "traditional healers", but I prefer the term "witchdoctors", or better yet "charletans").

So, instead of addressing their members and adjusting their business processes to ensure that these people refrained from murdering each other in the spirit of wild-west competition, these two corporate entities decided to appeal to the magical powers of the ancestors to settle it all. But I digress.

After the cleasing ceremony on the 25th of October, the taxi rank has remained entirely free of violence! Wow! The ancestors totally did it! Their magic fixed the problem.

That was until Sunday night when in two separate incidents, three men were gunned down in what is believed to be taxi-related violence. Looks like those sangomas have their work cut out for them. Blessing one taxi tank doesn't seem to have done the trick. They'll have to bless them all, as well as every road, intersection and parking lot where taxis are likely to travel.

Good luck to them!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No condoms for you!

As if the HIV situation in South Africa isn't bad enough, what with our Minster of Health promoting her personal ideology as a cure for AIDS. For the second time in as many months, a massively public retraction of condoms has been implemented by none other than Her Dumbassness.

Even though she allegedly stated that she didn't want these recalls to influence the public, I can just imagine her doing her little Happy Dance in her office at the news that real effective prevention strategies have suffered yet another blow.

The conspiracy theorist in me tends to think that this was somehow deliberately orchestrated so as to convince the public that condom use is not an effective strategy to prevent HIV infection, a stance that Manto has tended toward in the past. At the very least I think this demonstrates gross incompetence on the Health Department's behalf that these condoms were not sufficiently tested before being released.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that these defects were found and the recalls executed. But I believe that if the Department of Health were as dedicated to combating this plague as they claim to be, those condoms would never have been issued to begin with.

Manto has shown time and again that she cannot be trusted, and that she does not have the welfare of the South African public at heart. Even when she does something that appears to be heading in the right direction, she has earned nothing but derision and ridicule. These ineffective and half-hearted attempts at appearing concerned do not detract from the fact that she is presiding over a genocide. She must be removed from office with a minimum of haste, and must be held accountable for her crimes against humanity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I know, I've ranted about this before...

... but why the hell aren't we telecommuting?

The technology not only exists, but it is pervasive and even somewhat affordable. For a lot of people, possibly even the majority of people working in the corporate world, there is simply no need for them to be physically present in an office for eight hours a day, five days a week.

I realise there are exceptions. Some people really do need to be physically present most of the time. It makes sense for those people to commute. Is it true for everyone? Nope. Most people only need to be physically present for four or five hours a week (based on my own, completely thumb-sucked estimate... but I'm willing to bet I'm not far off).

I also concede that although the technology exists with which to have remote meetings through conference-calls and video-conferences, these are often awkward to administer and are usually an unfavourable alternative to a face-to-face meeting. But I also believe that this is a temporary situation, and as the technology matures it will eventually become the preferred option.

Exceptions aside, there are a great many people who spend a large percentage of their working hours in front of a PC and on the telephone. Is there any reason why such a person should have to spend hours in traffic (not only wasting time, but spewing exhaust fumes) when they have, in all probability, a PC (possibly even a laptop) and a telephone at home?

These people should be working at home most of the time, and only have to report to the office as needed, say for team-meetings or other such administravia that would be too difficult or expensive to orchestrate electronically. But even that should sort of thing should be phased out and replaced with cheaper and easier alternatives... it's just business sense!

The backward-thinking and change-phobic people who I have to share this planet with frustrate me no end. Even if shown in simple logical steps that the old way of doing things is now no longer the best way, they will still cling the the old ways, invoking silly non-sequiturs like "Email is not the best means of communication" and "you need to be able to share knowledge and experience with your coworkers." as if those problems hadn't already been solved by the technology years ago.

In the old days change always had to take a generation or two. Old farts, educated in a particular way of thinking would resist change as long as they were in power. Only once the next generation, educated in the newer way of thinking came to power, following the retirement or death of the former regime, could change be instituted.

Unfortunately we don't have time for that anymore. Change happens too fast now, and those blockheads who are incapable of rolling with it cost the rest of us time, money and, in the grand scheme of things, our very climate!

What frustrates me even more are those idiots who are in a position in which they have the authority to institute telecommuting policies in their own organisations, recognise the potential benefits such policies would bring, and STILL do nothing about it. I don't understand people like that.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Rugby Cult

I am not a sports fan. I have nothing against sports in general, in fact I think it's a good idea. But I have absolutely no interest in any kind of sport.

What annoys me is this culture of rugby fanaticism in this country. Meeting after meeting is littered with one sports metaphor after another, most of which are lost on me. Although it's irritating, I can usually put up with it, but every now and then (around the time of the Rugby World Cup Final) it reaches a ridiculous fever pitch, and I feel like climbing out of my skin!

The Final is tomorrow night, apparently. So today, just about every male with an IQ <120 is walking around in a green and yellow shirt, chest billowing with pseudo-patriotic pride.

I think that's what irritates me the most about all of this. These are the same idiots who enjoy almost nothing more than to stand around the braai, with a Castle Lager in one hand, a cigarette in the other and spouting endless diatribes about how shitty this country is: crime this, BEE that. And they're right.

Things in South Africa aren't all puppies and rainbows. We've got some difficult stuff going on here. While I can appreciate the welcome diversion of some mass entertainment, I don't understand how an ordinary, more-or-less reasonable person can switch so wildly from being so anti-patriotic to being violently patriotic at the drop of an oddly-shaped ball. And then back again before the hangover has worn off!

So to anyone who I may not have told this to personally yet: No, I will not be watching the game tomorrow night. I would rather stick glass in my eye. You are welcome to watch and enjoy it to your heart's content, but don't expect me to. I am not being unpatriotic by not watching the rugby. "Supporting" the Springboks (or Proteas, or whatever the hell they're called now) does not equal patriotism. I don't know any of those guys personally, and I have no interest in the game itself... what possible reason would I have to subject myself to that? None at all. And 'none at all' is exactly how much time I will waste on that moronic game.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Chore Buster - Automatically organize your chores for free

Chore Buster - Automatically organize your chores for free

Some time ago I designed a system based on this same principle to manage chores at home. If only I had thought about providing a website and offering the service to others, I might have made two million dollars!

*sigh*

Church and state?

After reading this article by Cassiem Khan, the country director for Islamic Relief Worldwide -- South Africa in the Mail and Guardian, I am almost at a loss for words. Almost.

In case you don't feel like reading through the original article, I'll summarize in the language of my personal bias:

Khan appears to be upset that Christian faith-based organisations receive more government funding than Islamic faith-based organisations. He feels that he's being discriminated against.

Firstly: duh. The majority of our government and parastatal officials are either Christians themselves, or at least harbour a pro-Christian bias. Their ideology (made up by nomads, sitting in tents in a desert many centuries ago) teaches them that non-Christians are not to be trusted, and are infidels. You, Mr Khan (like me) are not a Christian, and are therefore not to be trusted.

Although your organisation claims to "...promote[s] sustainable economic and social development by working with local communities - regardless of race, religion or gender", I sincerely doubt that your members truly subscribe to that whole-heartedly. The problem is that your mission is at odds with some of the basic tenets of the Muslim faith, namely that the Prophet commanded his followers to murder all infidels (non-Muslims).

Murdering and helping the infidel poor are mutually incompatible.

So, one is forced to ask the question: are you really an Islamic faith-based organisation, as you claim to be? If that is the case, then your mission is most certainly not to help the poorest poor (unless they happen to be Muslim) and you should not receive any government funding. Or, are you really a humanist organisation, with an honourable mission masquerading as a faith-based agency in order to swindle funding out of gullible governments such as ours?

I hope, Mr Khan, that it is the latter. I can more easily support the Robin Hood approach than the alternative.

Secondly: what is our government doing giving our tax money to faith-based organisations to begin with? By handing over funding to religious organisations, the government is essentially endorsing their practice. Regrettably, I don't know whether or not our country's constitution supports the separation of church and state the way the constitution of the United States does. I would expect that it should, but I could be wrong. (I would appreciate it if anyone could point me in the right direction to find that out)

Regardless of whether or not that separation is legislated, it's just a good idea for precisely this reason. You invariably end up in a situation where certain religious groups will be more likely to receive funding simply because they happen to share their ideology with a majority of whichever individuals happen to be in power. Minority faiths will tend to be marginalised, and groups like Islamic Relief, no matter how much good work they may actually be doing, will tend to be denied funding solely on the basis that they pray to the wrong invisible sky-daddy.

The only reliable way to avoid this sort of situation altogether is to simply deny funding to all faith-based initiatives, and instead put all funding through secular organisations. This will encourage the charitably-minded folks to align themselves with those secular organisations, with which there should be no substantial ideological clashes. Those folks who are adamant that charitable works must be done in the name of the sky-daddy of their choice, can continue to operate their faith-based organisations with funding received from the ample pockets of any individuals or corporates who feel so inclined.

Separation of church and state is a fundamental aspect of a democratic system of government. The quicker we can get that bedded down, the better it will be for all of us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Danie Krugel... where are you?

Those who may not have followed the exploits of this charletan freelance investigator may not be aware that Danie Krugel has built himself a magic box quantum machine capable of tracking DNA over large distances.

(I love the strikeout effect thingy, don't you? I learned that from Phil Plait.)

Krugel made a big name for himself with his highly publicised attempt at tracking down the bodies of several girls who have been missing since the 80's. He has yet to find them, but you shouldn't let that discourage you... it doesn't seem to have discouraged him at all.

For a concise history of his exploits, visit Moonflake, or for a summary of it all see Skeptiko.

With this guy's brilliant invention, there should no longer be any excuse for any missing children. He should be able to track down any missing child in minutes, right? Or at least give the local cops a good idea where to look, and move onto the next case. Right?

Even if he declined to share his technology with anyone (which appears to be the case) it shouldn't take him more than a couple of weeks to sort through the backlog of missing children files on the SAPS books. By now he should be able to accept fresh cases with regularity, and knock a couple out before lunch. Right?

So imagine my surprise when I read about little Londiwe Nzimande who has been missing for almost two weeks. Why has Danie Krugel not been alerted to the case and pointed his quantum machine at a DNA sample of hers to see where she is?

Where are you, Danie Krugel? Londiwe's family are desparate. Why won't you help them?

Manto could speak out, she just doesn't want to

Allow me to translate the statements made by our beloved Minister of Health at a press conference today.

"When the time comes this minister will speak out,"

Translation: I am so important that I have to speak of myself in the third person. And I don't want to say anything.

"I will not be pushed into a corner to say things just because it is for public
consumption. I have a legal opinion and I will stick to it."

Translation: Just because you, the public who were responsible for electing my party into power, want an explanation around the allegations against me doesn't mean you're going to get one.

"At an appropriate time that will be determined by me - because it is issues
about myself - at that particular time I will make a determination."

Translation: I don't want to say anything now. I could, but I don't want to.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Journos, I say to you now: knock off all that beaming!

As a Trekkie, there is one thing that sticks in my throat every time I 'come out' as such to someone new: the inevitable jokes.

Joke: Something about Klingons and Uranus. Har har har.

My response: You know what? In my >10 years of being a serious Star Trek enthusiast, it's never occurred to me that saying "Klingons and Uranus" in the same sentence sounds like your saying something disgustingly biological. How fortunate that I have you, idiot dear stranger, to enlighten me to that fact. How silly of me not to notice. And how inconsiderate that every other idiot stranger I've met has never pointed that out to me. You must be some sort of moron linguistic savant.

The fact that in none of the >700 episodes or ten feature films of this monumentally successful entertainment franchise that has inspired not only hope in the minds of countless fans, but also the creation of some of the most life-changing technologies you take for granted, not a single Klingon came anywhere close to the planet Uranus (unless he was flying past it to get somewhere interesting) seems to elude you entirely.

But that joke... that was funny.

Joke: "Beam me up, Scotty". Har har har.

My response: How clever of you to reference the most commonly misquoted phrase from the Star Trek franchise and repeat it as if it's supposed to be in some way amusing. Just because I don't see the humour in it doesn't mean that none exists. You must have a crass vastly more sophisticated sense of humour than I do, and the humour of it, while obvious to you, would fail to amuse a seven-year-old flies completely over my head.

The fact that in not a single episode or feature film of the entire Star Trek canon did any character at any time utter the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" seems entirely irrelevant. The sheer idiocy originality of your stupid clever joke outweighs the inaccuracy of it.

That joke... that was funny too.

I don't understand what makes humans think that by blurting out the first ridiculous thing that springs to mind, that automatically makes them clever, funny or original. The first few dozen times I encountered these I chuckled politely and moved along swiftly. But it becomes more and more difficult to endure... each troglodytic attempt another missile assailing my sensibilities... until some day I'll snap, set my phaser to "Cellphone Radiation" and give them all cancer.

See? It's not that hard to come up with an original Star Trek joke. They may not all be funny, but at least they're original!

Uh... where was I?

Oh, right.

What brought this on is the current onslaught of articles reporting the casting of the new Star Trek XI feature produced by J.J. Abrams. The last couple of months have seen much speculation in the entertainment and geek media around who would be cast to play the familiar original characters in Abrams reboot of the franchise. There is a stark contrast between the geek media articles on the subject and the mainstream entertainment stories. The mainstream ones are easy to spot... guess why. That's right, they all conform to the following two templates:

"[So-and-so] beams up to Star Trek XI."

or

"Beam me up, [So-and-so]."

Hundreds upon fracking hundreds of them! Don't believe me? Here's a sample of the ones just from the last week: here and here and here and here and here and here... you get the picture.

If these morons don't knock it off, I'm going to go mugato on their backsides! (See? Again, not very funny, but original, no?)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Quote for the day

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing” – Dale Carnegie

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I am teh win

This morning I used a quote in a management meeting:

"Always two there are, a master and an apprentice."
- Master Yoda

I can has moar internets?

I live in perpetual frustration at the state of telecoms affairs in this little backwater of ours.

We have a world-class GSM infrastructure with world-class connectivity and world-class bandwidth, but we have the most bizarre pricing system imaginable. R80 (+- $11) per month for 100MB. Sure, I can upgrade my data bundle, and the prices do improve as it increases, but not by much.

So what are my alternatives?
  1. I can use my GSM connection for mobile use only, and then do all my other surfing and downloading at work. Sure, that works to an extent, but it’s just a matter of time before the company I work for notices that I’m downloading over a gigabyte per week in MP3s (podcasts, not pirated music). That’s what I’m doing now, and it’s no good.
  2. Upgrade my GSM data bundle to a substantial amount, and use my cellphone as my home Internet connection to the extent that I would really like to. Costs a fortune.
  3. Get some other broadband at home. There’s a large continuum of packages available, wireless or fixed-line… but they’re all either prohibitively expensive or essentially useless (I cite iBurst’s 40MB per month package as example… who could possibly get by on 40MB per month? WinXP’s automated updates alone are usually more than that!)

I dunno… way I see it, it’s Hobson’s choice. I’ll have to sell my soul (or give up some other luxury, like food) to afford the bandwidth I’ve come to require. No fair.

I feel like becoming one of those pathetic street-corner beggars. I'll go stand at the 14th Avenue on-ramp to the N1 with a card-board sign saying "Will work for bandwidth!"


Monday, October 01, 2007

Podcast review – Skeptoid

There are two broad categories of podcasts: commercial podcasts made by corporations or other people in the interests of advertising or furthering their brand, and non-commercial podcasts made by clubs, societies or interested individuals designed to promote a particular point of view. The podcasts I’ve reviewed so far fall into the former category, so it’s time to look at the latter. Which brings me to my current favourite podcast: Skeptoid.

Brian Dunning (“from Skeptoid.com”) has really impressed me, not only with his podcast in general, but in his outright refusal to accept any money for the creation of his podcast… neither in sponsorships or private donations. I especially enjoy this, as it lends considerable credibility to his opinions.

The podcast itself is excellent. It’s short (seldom longer than 15 minutes) and is released more-or-less weekly. Dunning doesn’t spend a lot of resources on sprucing up the presentation of it (with the exception of the occasional appropriate mood-music), and relies instead on the strength of his well-written and well-researched content to carry it… to great effect!

Of all the podcasts I listen to, this is the only one I feel compelled to keep and listen to repeatedly. Although I don’t necessarily agree with all of Dunning’s arguments, I do find Skeptoid to be a valuable resource of information on a variety of topics of interest to the sceptic, and the highlight of my podcast playlist.

RSS Feed: (right-click on the link below and select “Copy Shortcut”, then paste it into your podcatcher or feed reader):

Skeptoid

Friday, September 28, 2007

How to always be right

I came across this in a post on Dr Steven Novella's blog about the nonexistent connection between Thimerosal in the MMR vaccine and autism:

Everyone likes being right, and sometimes this desire clouds our judgment. I have learned, therefore, how to cheat, which is to say how to always be right. All you have to do is say that your position is based upon the existing data, but is contingent upon the results of future studies. In other words, the “right” position is to change your final answer to accommodate new evidence as it comes in. Therefore the only “wrong” answer is to stick to your original position despite new evidence that contradicts it.


I suppose I'd better review his podcast soon as well. Good stuff.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Podcast Review – The Onion Radio News

The Onion, America’s Finest News Source, offers this daily podcast as a supplement to the online newspaper and the Onion News Network video news segments.

As we would expect from this venerable institution of news-gathering, the Radio News is a stellar example of hard-hitting and relevant journalism, essential to those wishing to stay in the know.

Veteran reporter, Doyle Redland, brings an air of authority to recent stories such as “Plenty Of Soda Still Available Across Nation”, “Scientists Dissect Coworker To Learn More About Scientists” and “Hamster Thrown From Remote-Control Monster Truck”.

Being written and presented for brevity, the Onion Radio News is one of the few podcasts suitable for dialup access. It’s usually less than a minute long, under a megabyte in size and unbelievably accurate.

RSS Feed: (right-click on the link below and select “Copy Shortcut”, then paste it into your podcatcher or feed reader):

The Onion Radio News

Friday, September 14, 2007

Podcast Review – Scientific American

Strictly speaking, Scientific American offers three separate podcasts:
  1. 60 Second Science: the daily science podcast;
  2. Science Talk: the weekly science podcast;
  3. 60 Second Psych: the weekly psychology podcast.

I’ve only recently discovered 60 Second Psych, so I’m not really able to comment on it yet, but if the other two are anything to go by, it should be pretty good.

60 Second Science is one of two daily podcasts I subscribe to. As the name suggests, it’s a short program that usually deals with the most interesting science headline of the day. It’s a brief and light-hearted examination of the subject, long enough to give you a basic understanding of the subject, but short enough to make you want to read more. It’s professionally produced and well written. A brief ray of scientific sunshine.

Science Talk is equally well produced and written. The usual host, Scientific American editor Steve Mersky, is a talented host. The show is roughly 20 minutes long, and tends to have a theme from week to week. Mersky explores some relevant science headlines and interviews well-selected guests. The subject matter appears to be as varied as the content of the magazine itself. Although tending towards a somewhat liberal bias, the SciAm podcasts are generally well-reasoned and thoroughly enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a podcast to get you started, these are some good ones.

RSS Feeds (right-click on the link below and select “Copy Shortcut”, then paste it into your podcatcher or feed reader):

  1. 60 Second Science
  2. Science Talk
  3. 60 Second Psych