Archive for June, 2007

How to put off cold callers

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Had a telephone call today asking for my ‘help’. Actually I had five in total and they all went something like this…

Caller; Mr.. Time..shak?

Tymchak: Who’s calling?

Caller; My name is Derrick (this from a voice that is clearly from Asia in origin) I’m conducting a survey about..

Tymchak: – Oh I’m sorry, I never participate in any survey’s. Information is far too valuable.

Caller; Oh there is nothing personal in the survey sir, it’s just about windows and stuff like that.

Tymchak: If it’s of no significance why are you calling me – someone is paying you to do this job right?

Caller; Yeees..

Tymchak: So whoever is employing you thinks this information is worth more than they’re paying you, ergo the information is valuable and I’d be stupid to just give it away.

Caller; (click…)

Seeing the wood in the trees.

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

A discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence M. Krauss included this quote from Richard Dawkins about a conversation he had with Tony Benn;

It became very clear in the course of our discussion that he had not the slightest interest in whether Christian beliefs are true or not; his only concern was whether they are moral. He objected to science on the grounds that it gave no moral guidance. When I protested that moral guidance is not what science is about, he came close to asking what, then, was the use of science. A classic example of a syndrome the philosopher Daniel Dennett has called “belief in belief.”

As I read this my ‘ideas challenged‘ indicator leapt into the red ‘explore further‘ zone. Tony Benn had a valid point there but Dawkins seemed to be deriding it. This is not the first time I have encountered shoddy thinking from Dawkins. His argument in this article is hopeless. The analogy of a faulty car is specious. If the faulty car had been Christine out of the Stephen King novel, then the analogy would have been more accurate (and his argument destroyed).

Tony Benn’s point was that science should be the servant of moral guidance. I am in agreement with this in so far as science should be in the service of humanity. If science can improve the physical welfare of humankind then that is ‘good’ because it allows more humans to pursue moral and spiritual development (or whatever you decide is the reason for living). If science can improve the physical welfare of humankind to an unnatural degree, for example, extend human life to 1000 years, is that still desirable?

I would argue yes, as it allows greater moral and spiritual development. However, the ramifications have to be thought through. Will this lead to overcrowding? Will it reduce the physical well being of others? Will population control have to be introduced? Will the other species on the planet suffer? If these outweigh the benefits then the decision must be that such a development would be undesirable.

Another question. Say genetic science coupled with epidemiology became so accurate that it could predict when and how you would die – “congratulations, proud parents, here is your child’s birth certificate.. and death certificate,” what would you do with that knowledge? Is it desirable? Will it improve moral standards? Is all knowledge ‘good’?

A belief in science is just another belief; the question is still, what do you do with that belief?

Mortality alert.

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Coming back from a gig, I was being tailed by a black, broad, squat sports car. As soon as the route opened up into a long, unrestricted country road I put my foot down to achieve the permissible maximum speed. My car is fairly quick, but this beast behind skipped around me as if I was reversing. A youthful driver sat at the wheel.

Don’t worry, this story isn’t heading to some hair raising incident over the brow of a hill… My realisation was this; even if I had the same car as the other driver I probably would not have been able to keep up with him because my reflexes would have been slower than his due to my advancing years. Not that you need to be particularly old for this to happen. Thirty five years on the clock is retirement age for a footballer. That was the mortality alert, a little reminder that death creeps ever closer.

Better make the most of what’s left then.

Freethinkers meeting, June 21st.

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

A couple of new members turned up for the second meeting – Caroline and Paul – which was held on the premises of Outside the box in Leeds (thank you Tina).

First up was the concept of the group itself. It was suggested that the name of the group be changed to something more friendly (Freethinkers sounds too cultish) and Cafe Society was mooted. Perhaps we could use the SatNav concept and call it Satnavers or SatNav for the Mind? What do others think?

This led us to think of a cafe venue and we thought a bookstore that had a coffee lounge attached would be ideal. People could just come and go on a casual basis without feeling there was a formal meeting going on. It might even engage ‘passing trade’. We felt a rolling meeting day was also a good idea, so one month it would be Monday, the next Tuesday etc. I will investigate these suggestions.

We then touched upon the forced nature of our social lives; networking groups and suchlike are really extensions of a working life. What was needed was an unthreatening social group where disparate people could ostensibly meet to have a good conversation but at the same time make new friends if that is what they wished. It was felt that the concept behind the Freethinkers group could lend itself to that end and indeed, could be an incentive for people to actually turn up. If anyone has any more ideas about the group or names for it, please leave a comment.

Moving on we tackled the concept of shame – what was it, why had it arisen, what purpose did it serve? Some interesting ideas developed and we argued that the shame attached to promiscuity for example, originated from the terrible consequences that could befall a poor peasant girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. It was in her interest therefore not have sex with a man unless she was sure he could provide for her if she did become pregnant. The proof of this argument would lie in the introduction of contraception and abortion; the shame of promiscuity should disappear, which it does seem to be doing. We commented upon the powerful influence that nurture has on our psyche for it is possible to commit a ’shameful’ act in private and without the danger of anyone finding out, and still feeling a sense of shame.

We concluded that what is considered shameful is subject to cultural differences and the example of so called honour killings was cited. The perpetrators of these killings have no sense of shame in taking a life. The concept of shame therefore is a control mechanism used by society to either protect the vulnerable or manipulate the weak.

We tried to find a historical justification for honour killings and the best we could come up with was that in such societies, family feuds were common (we guessed) and so it was less damaging to kill one or two transgressors than have whole tribes fighting over an insult. If anyone wishes to enlighten us on this, please feel free to comment.

Organised religion then came under close scrutiny. Unfortunately all the people present agreed with each other and so a defence of the church was missing. To summarise; we believed all religions were essentially the same product with different wrappers and that it is the interference of unenlightened people that have corrupted the original message.

This led to a general discussion about our arrogance with regard to the natural world. It was universally agreed that technology was to blame as it inured us to the exigencies of life – we throw a switch and we have light, we turn on a tap and we have water. Everything is too easy and too cheap and this cheap convenience comes at a huge cost – ultimately a large exploited labour force suffers. This is the modern day slave trade. Because technology has pushed the reality of it further and further into the background does not make it any less real. There was a general feeling of unease that we were constructing a global house of cards and that the slightest upset would bring the whole edifice crashing down and that there was no Plan B.

The talk of modern slaves (the Chinese brickwork slaves recently released was mentioned) prompted us to talk about the original industrialised slave trade. Emotionally this was very confusing, as the recent remembrance events suggested we ought to feel a sense of shame about what had been done by the exploitative empire builders from the past. In some sense it was hard to criticise these people. The slave trade was already thousands of years old before the British became involved. Culturally, there was no shame attached to the practice. The British simply applied their entrepreneurial skills to the business and industrialised it on a huge scale. Perhaps it is only when we see a mass grave, or a cargo ship full of dead bodies that a moral sense of outrage comes into play. This would have been an ideal moment for an advocate of organised religion to contribute to the discussion had we such a person present but alas we had to leave it there as the sun had set and people needed to get home.

I would like to thank the people who attended for making it such a stimulating evening and to Tina for giving up her time.

Creativity course finally comes on stream.

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

SatNav for the curious cartoon strip
Click on thumbnail to see full cartoon.

After years of refining and tweaking, the creative thinking course using humour is now available to the public.

Two directors from IGNITE Development and Learning Ltd took the course and liked it so much they wanted to become involved, hence the reason it is on their website.

To find out more follow this link;
Creativity using humour.

Witness this, my hand.

Monday, June 18th, 2007

An outline of my hand

The image of the outlined hand found in various caves must be the oldest logo in existence.

The act of spraying ochre and spittle over the authors hand cannot be overestimated for it marked the birth of higher consciousness. It seems such a simple act and yet what it symbolised was profoundly significant; we were blasting into unknown space with no plans for a return journey.

The image said “I am here, but not here.” The author was aware that at some time in the future he would not be there to look upon his own artwork – but others, still to come, would. Hence, the authors awareness of his own mortality and the continued existence of the world after his death.

And how similar is the act of writing a blog. You can imagine these modern hairless apes alone in dark rooms with the only light coming from their monitors, tapping away on the keyboard. This act seems the same to me as the cave painter’s. Both are trying to communicate with an imagined audience, both are trying to make sense of the world and both are making a statement about themselves and their mortality.

We appear to have made such progress in the time since the first cave paintings appeared but in reality we have changed very little.

The television programme called House.

Friday, June 15th, 2007

House is a ‘what done it’ television programme starring Hugh Laurie, about highly qualified doctors in America trying to figure out what mysterious disease a patient has. In a recent episode a Romany gypsy fell ill.

He was rushed to hospital where he had his own private room and a barrage of tests were done on him, without any apparent wait, using state-of-the-art equipment. Several doctors concerned themselves with this patient. A couple even went to his house to try and find a biochemical cause for his ailment (a wasted exercise as the boy had given them a false address).

According to the programme Romany gypsies do not interact with outsiders and the boy’s immediate family all moved into the private room in an attempt to protect him from Nazi minded doctors who might want to experiment on him. The boy’s father knew how to stand up for himself being an itinerant scrap metal dealer.

So they were poor then, and they didn’t have anything to do with Western customs including, presumably, health insurance.

At the end of the programme, a toothpick was found to be the cause of his complaint and it was duly removed. The final scene was of the boy waving gratefully to one of the doctors – who was loitering on a staircase with, presumably, nothing better to do – as he and his family troop out the door.

And presumably, the scene with the administrator running after them waving the one hundred thousand dollar unpaid invoice was left on the cutting room floor. Or is America a great place to fall ill these days?

Who’s reality is it anyway?

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Communication is such a tricky thing. What we intend to communicate and what we believe has been communicated can be interpreted differently by the receiver of the information depending on their world view.

I had a post which was extremely divisive in this respect; you were either in one camp or the other. I thought I had communicated a neutral, mater of fact account of what happened (this view was confirmed by opinions expressed from readers who fell in my camp). But readers from the other camp reported a completely different interpretation of the story – a negative one. Their world view had overlaid a kind of filter over the story so that they saw a different picture. I was surprised by this result but what surprised me even more was that all the people I spoke to from the other camp all used the same filter to interpret the story. Their world view was remarkably consistent with everyone else’s from their camp.

The corollary of this is that the same story can have different consequences depending on the world views of the receivers. And if you are clever enough, you can tailor your story to appeal more to one world view than another thereby manipulating the owners of that view. This seems obvious enough – just ask any public relations or marketing practitioner – but what it confirms is that we are not rational beings. We like to think we are but it is just an illusion.

The frightening thing is that the world’s destiny is being decided by totally irrational leaders.

How to stop spam (or at least some of it).

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Here is a little tip which, if everyone put into practice, could reduce the amount of spam filling the inboxes of most web-site owners.

Here’s what to do; go onto your contact page and view the source code of that page. If you can see your email address in the html code then you are exposing yourself to spam. This is because automated robots trawl the internet looking for any email addresses they can find. Once found, they add the address to a list which is then sold to spammers. The trick is to disguise your email address so that the robots cannot find it.

There are free programs available on the internet which can scramble your html address into code which looks like gobbledegook to a robot but when viewed by a browser still looks like and behaves like a regular email address.

It’s such a simple thing to do but I have seen many professionally produced sites that don’t do it, which makes the spammers very happy.

Of course, if you are already on a spammers list, doing this won’t stop your current junk but it might prevent you from being added to new lists.

The hypocrites in Television.

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

During a football match on television the other night, someone ran onto the pitch and disrupted the game. I only knew this because the commentator mentioned it. Television now has a policy of never showing the streaker or whoever the perpetrator is because it has learnt that by doing so, it simply encourages others to copy the stunt and claim their fifteen seconds of fame.

How interesting I thought, Television is aware of the power of itself and so mitigates the antics of these people by refusing to air them to its viewers. Someone, somewhere doesn’t want their enjoyment of a sporting event spoilt by an easily influenced, emotionally insecure individual who, in the past, saw a similar individual on television run onto the pitch in a similar fashion. This powerful person thus puts a stop to it all by coming to a simple conclusion.

Clearly, therefore, a large sporting event is far more important than the lives of several students in a college somewhere, otherwise Television would have applied the same reasoning to the video footage supplied by an easily influenced, emotionally insecure shooter in America, before it decided to broadcasted it to the world.