Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review - Dis Information

In Dis Information, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki dispels many of the myths that are held as common knowledge. Has Hollywood taught you that bodies explode in a vacuum, that bodies get thrown back by a bullet's impact, or that the Titanic ran into an iceberg because its captain was trying to break a record? Then you've been misled, and Dr Karl can set you straight. Have you ever wondered why cats purr or whether you really shouldn't drink alcohol while you're on antibiotics? Dr Karl not only knows the answers to those questions but will share them with you, along with the answers to quite a few other questions you've never thought to ask, and the real facts behind myths you've never thought to question.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Gorilla Walking on Two Legs

A video of my great-grandad's cousin on my mother's side walking around on two legs.

Isn't he awesome?

Showing off, as usual, of course.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review - Living Dolls

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism is a fascinating read revealing that, despite the many advances feminism has helped women achieve, there still exists, lurking behind the facade of female sexual empowerment, the very real presence of sexism.

Natasha Walter makes the case that some women may be unknowingly stepping women's equality back a pace or two by overly buying into the narrow stereotypes being presented to them by men and, sadly, by other women as well.

I very much enjoyed the book. Full of personal anecdotes and interviews with various women in all situations, the book doesn't take the holier-than-thou attitude I'm always afraid of encountering whenever I read on the subject of feminism. Instead, Natasha shows that society is, whether consciously or not, pressuring women and men both to conform to some sort of impossible and more dangerously, a restricting ideal, rather than being free to be or do whatever they can be.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review - When God Speaks for Himself

When God Speaks for Himself, by Mark Tier and George Forrai, is a compilation of passages from the bible that contradict one another, or don't make sense, or are plain disgusting and immoral, and yet are the word and commands of God. The idea behind the book is a good one. Many adherents of Christianity haven't read the bible at all, and those who have have often read only portions or been read portions of the bible by their reverend or priest or pastor. Often, too often, these chosen passages from the bible are the nice ones, the ones that fit into the 'God is just a really nice, laid back guy' idea that most people start off with. Obviously any god they follow, being decent people themselves, would also have to worthy of their admiration. So this book aims to remind people of all the horrific, crazy and, dare I say, evil, parts of the bible that show God for what he really is, someone who makes any human dictator or mass murderer look like a kid messing around at playtime.

Unfortunately, there were several things that made the book slightly harder to read. One was the way the text has been formatted. The fonts and sizes used to differentiate the side-notes or addenda as well as quotes and excerpts from the bible from the main text are confusing. Often, I would lose track of when I was supposed to be reading a passage from the bible and when I was back reading what the authors had to say.

Which brings me to one of the other problems I had. The terms of phrase and wording used by the authors are fairly colloquial and everything written is thick with the authors' opinions. There is nothing wrong with this on the whole, obviously, I have purchased their book and therefore it is their opinion I want to read, but there are occasions in the book where it feels like the authors are stretching to interpret several bible quotes in a negative fashion. This, combined with the fact that in those cases, little extra context, whether historical or current theological opinion or any other basis for more objectively and concretely showing that said passages mean what the authors are telling us they mean, impacts on how objective I perceived the authors as being, and therefore how trustworthy the rest of the information was. The book ended up coming across in parts as more of an opinion piece rather than the reference material I had hoped it would be.

And this is a shame, because the vast majority of the information is obviously correct and those passages in the bible do exist and they are as vile or wacky as the authors are pointing out (after all, you can check the passages are in the bible yourself).

At the end of the book, I found myself hoping that the authors would create a second edition of the book, improving on the formatting and various other small issues, so that the book could be the absolute reference to shocking bible quotes that it deserves to be.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ben Goldacre on the Placebo Effect

I've been reading a few books by Richard Wiseman and Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, among other people. Among other things, when you read books about science written by scientists, as well as being far more interesting than any news article about the same topic could be, you also hear about the placebo effect time and time again.

Well, here's a short stand up comedy sketch by Dr. Ben Goldacre explaining exactly how weird the placebo effect really is:


Sunday, January 16, 2011

News in Review

I've lately been able to spend a fair bit of time reading, which has made me feel pretty good. Among other things, I've finally finished Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, by Natasha Walter and 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute, by Richard Wiseman. I enjoyed both books and will be very soon posting up my thoughts on them.

In the meantime, I thought I'd muse a bit on some of the events of the past few months.

  • I imagine the Catholic church considers Wikileaks a miracle sent directly from God, for completely stealing the media's attention away from them. Hopefully, this won't mean people will forget what they've done.
  • Speaking of Wikileaks, I don't understand how anyone could have anything against them. After all, Wikileaks is no different in concept than any other newspaper or news source, save that it allows for the release of far more important stories than the latest celebrity non-event. Whatever negatives effects Wikileaks could have, or be capable of, seem no different to me, than those that a newspaper would be capable of; namely publishing a story without properly considering the consequences.
  • Wikileaks itself got pushed out of the news, at least in Australia, by the the more immediate news of disastrous floods happening in Queensland, Australia. Justin Bieber sends his prayers; which would be understood as a kind gesture, except that unlike every other celebrity doing the same, he does not mention or suggest donating to the flood relief fund, or indeed doing anything constructive at all.
  • The Pope, probably upset that he hasn't been in the news for a while, tries to convince people that they should give their children proper christian names from the bible, in order to combat the moral decay that he sees in society. Note that this is the pope who, before he was pope, thought that the church in the 17th century was right to have threatened to execute Galileo if he did not recant his scientific conclusions that the earth moved around the sun and not vice versa.[1]
And that's everything off the top of my head.



Monday, January 10, 2011

Hello Again and Happy New Year

It's been a while since I posted here, for various reasons, some of which still hold at the moment. The first is having a lot less free time with access to a computer (a necessary tool for both keeping up to date with the news and blogging, as you can imagine)*. The second however, and probably more important reason, was that blogging about strange or infuriating or just discouraging things that appear in the news becomes draining after a while. Or at least, it does to me. By paying special attention to these stories, they begin to become almost all you see, and believe me, there is no lack of such stories, to the point where the world can seem a far more bleak place than it is**.

For this, and for the fact that this made me take an extended break without warning, I apologise***.

I have been prompted (repeatedly) to start blogging again by readers, you know who you are. So here I am.

In an effort to avoid the mistakes I made last time, and work in with the new restrictions on time I have now, several things will change, though probably without being particularly obvious.

The first is that I won't be able to blog nearly as often as I did before, so I'll be aiming for at least once or twice a week.

The second is that I will consciously not just post about doom and gloom stories, but will also post about the stories that make me feel as warm and fuzzy on the inside as I am on the outside.

So with this in mind, thanks for reading and let's get started.

Happy New Year everyone.


* And computers are already hard to get to in the jungle.
** And it's not exactly the friendliest of places at the best of time.

*** I apologise for the fact that I blogged predominantly about these stories, to the point of not being able to blog anymore, rather than apologising for the fact that the world has such events in the first place; something which I have no control over, no matter what you may have heard.
(Though I'd be flattered, really).