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Ok – I am moving my blog from the old woodpigeon01.wordpress.com account, just up the road to a brand new address: sunnyspells.wordpress.com.

Hopefully, when all this is done, you will be automatically redirected to my new web address. If you have subscriptions or you are linked to me via a blog reader, you might want to check that you are still getting my posts and update your settings as appropriate.

Right then. Wish me luck. See you on the other side.

1) I had The Talk with my 11 year old son last night. I think I did well and I got some great questions from him. We talked about lots of stuff: DNA, puberty, the menstrual cycle, conception, contraception, XY chromasomes, how twins come about and teenage pregnancy. It was wide ranging and after a few brief factoids, I let him direct the conversation, to ask any question he wished. The only confusion that happened was when he couldn’t understand how eating a condom each month would help prevent conception. I had to go over that one with him one more time.

2) I have been suffering from a large mouth ulcer that has been lodged in the back of my throat over the past week. It is near the opening to my inner ear, so I have had an earache as well as a bad sore throat. I went to the doctor and I was prescribed antibiotics, which in hindsight was a fairly poor diagnosis. What I had was viral, not bacterial. It’s as useful as throwing a life-belt onto a road to help in a car accident.

3) I went for a medical test yesterday. The results indicate that I need to make some big lifestyle changes regarding diet and exercise. This is no surprise to me, but given my current daily and weekly routines, not to mention my love-affair with high cholesterol food and lack of exercise opportunities during the week, I am not sure where I start. It’s a huge challenge for me. Huge. No, really.

4) On the plus side, I had a meeting with my dermatologist and the result is terrific. Over four years, no recurrence and nothing suspicious looking on my skin. It means I’m now out of the danger zone. Long may it last.

Since I started Cork Skeptics, I have had some feedback that “people were getting concerned about me”, as if that they thought I was going to be the next Jim Corr, or something. Oy vey.

So let me be very clear.

  • I don’t believe that UFO’s (in terms of aliens) exist or have ever visited us. The vast majority of sightings are explicable.
  • I am skeptical of most alternative medicine and alternative medical therapies.
  • I think Astrology is a load of rubbish.
  • I think the anti-vaccine people have very little to support their arguments and that they are putting children and vulnerable adults at risk.
  • Homeopathy is too dilute to have any effect. Save your money.
  • I don’t believe in an afterlife, ghosts, apparitions or spiritualism.
  • I don’t believe that there are great conspiracies “out there”. In fact, most of them stink to high heaven. Incompetence explains far more and we’re not that great at keeping secrets.
  • I don’t believe that prayer or meditation has any external effect whatsoever.
  • I don’t believe people can predict the future (above and beyond the use of mathematical algorithms for forecasting), or that they can read minds or any of the other stuff so-called psychics claim to be able to do.
  • I don’t believe that dowsing works. Look up the “ideomotor effect”.
  • I don’t believe that the climate skeptics / deniers have any way proven their case. The evidence is weighted on the side of man-made global warming, and yes, we should be concerned.
  • Creationism? Don’t get me started. It’s delusional. It would be a complete joke except for the fact that a large section of people in the most powerful country in the world accept it on faith. That’s worrying.

There’s plenty more where that comes from.

What do I believe?

  • I accept that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.
  • I accept that modern medicine has provided us with truly incredible breakthroughs: vaccination, antibiotics, anti-rejection drugs, to name but a few.
  • I believe that human psychology explains a great deal about how we all can be fooled and mislead, and how otherwise intelligent people can be lead down rat-holes.
  • I am not cynical about people. Most people are honest and earnest in our work, our interests and our dreams for the future. I believe that people have been capable of extraordinary achievements and that such events should be celebrated, not derided.
  • I believe we all make mistakes. Mistakes give us an opportunity to learn something new.
  • There are not “two sides of the story” when it comes to established facts. Flat Earth theory is not “an alternative viewpoint”. It’s just plain wrong. Ditto most alt-med, creationism, etc.
  • I think we could all do with a course in critical thinking and a better understanding of logical fallacies.
  • I am willing to be proven wrong.
  • I think we should learn more about probability and statistics. One in a million chances, hell, one in a billion chances will occur, given a big enough population size.
  • I am passionate about education. It should never stop. We always have something to learn.
  • I accept that our knowledge of many things is woefully incomplete. We have a lot more to understand and hopefully, some day we will get there. I would like to see Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s cured in the morning. There is so much we just don’t know, and it’s tragic. I am comforted however, in knowing that there are people out there who have dedicated their careers to solving these terrible problems.

So bottom line? I am fully behind that apparently humdrum, but often surprising and beautiful thing we call reality. If people are getting concerned about that, well, I’m not sure what else I can say.

2010 will go down as one of the most disastrous years since statehood for our country. Many will be thankful it is gone. Strangely enough, 2010 turned out to be a surprisingly good year for me. Borrowing an idea from my friend Linda, here are some of my highlights:

The trip to the Nordlingen and Steinheim craters.

My son running in a blizzard in Derry.

Twitter.

My Astronomy entry on WordPress that got thousands of views each day.

C’s surgeries and the pain and worry that followed.

TAM London 2.

Setting up Cork Skeptics in the Castle.

B and E’s wedding.

Hochgrat, Lake Constance and Ulm.

My two podcasts for the 365 Days of Astronomy.

The Saltee Islands.

42.

Sherkin Island and getting electrocuted on Cape Clear.

Climbing Slievenamon with my twins.

The drive back from Germany to Cork.

New responsibilities in Toastmasters.

My trip to Austin, Texas and the chaotic trip home.

Kites on Mount Leinster.

The boiler breaking down.

Climbing the Galtees in the snow.

Blogging for Blackrock Castle.

Helping to set up a new Toastmasters Club.

Moving apartments.

The Dead Zoo.

My daughter’s big day.

Doing the rounds with my better presentation speech.

I am thankful most of all for my wonderful kids, my girlfriend, my family, and all my friends. 2010 had a lot of ups and downs but looking back, the experiences were ones to cherish. Roll on 2011.

via europa.eu

via europa.eu

 

 1989. What a year.

Tiananmen Square. The Salman Rushdie affair. Exxon Valdez. Poll Tax in the UK. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Solidarity winning the Polish elections. The flight of people into the West from Hungary. The freeing of the Guildford Four. The end of the Berlin Wall. The Velvet Revolution. The fall of Ceaucescu.

In one mere year the world had changed utterly. 

It was like that in my life too. In 1989 I turned 21. I was in my last year in college, I got my driving license and I travelled to the USA for the first time, on a wonderful four-month work visa in Ohio. A year later and I had a major career decision made – one that influences what I do to this day. I would be in Belfast, doing some real work, gaining new friends, traveling to far flung places and looking upon life with a very different set of beliefs compared to the preceeding decades. 

What is truly odd is how recent it still feels to me. As if it were just yesterday. In a sense, I feel that little enough has changed about me since then. The things that enthused me then still occupy my mind now. I’m pretty sure that if I was blogging back then that I would be writing about much the same things as I write about now. If I were to write down my personal interests and fascinations, many of them would date back precisely to this period in my life. It’s as if a flowering took place then, and I have spent most of the rest of my life building upon its foundations. 

Of course I have changed in many ways. I know lots more. I understand myself better. I have much greater responsibilities. I know what love, loss and fatherhood means. I have had my setbacks, and I have learned to take them on the chin. There are a few more grey hairs, blotches and scars, but these are the inevitable external factors associated with the passing years. Deep down, I am essentially the same man who emerged from adolescence those twenty years ago. 

It’s scary. I strongly believe that  life is all about personal development and growth, and yet it’s stunning to observe how little my thinking has moved on since I first moved into adulthood. I’d like to feel that during the next 20 years (should I be lucky enough to experience them) that I can develop  myself in surprising and different ways. As I am learning however, this may be quite a formidable challenge.

So, what are your must read blogs? There are a few blogs on the Internet that I particularly enjoy reading*. Among them are the following sites:-

Bad Astronomy. Phil Plait takes on the loonies while keeping us up to date on the latest in the astronomy field in a high-octane, informative way.

Strange Maps. A collection of weird and wonderful maps from across the interwebs.

Word Spy. The latest additions to the English Language.

Unreasonable Faith / Friendly Atheist. For the heathen in me. Daniel Florien and Hemant Mehta share their thoughts on life without God.

Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds has oodles of ideas about jazzing up your presentations.

Boing Boing. Cory Doctorow presents clippings and odd news stories from around the Internet. It is indeed a crazy world.

Techdirt: Mike Masnick does a regular deep dive into the Intellectual Property wars. There are a lot of people out there that don’t really “get” the Internet.

Erk. I feel naked having shared all this stuff with you, now that I have revealed myself to you as a quirky, pedantic, godless, astro-geek! Which blogs should I consider adding to my “must read” list? 

* Friends’ blogs not included here. Trust me, your writings are much cherished by me!

I guess for a lot of people it’s been a rather strange run up to Christmas. Things are a lot more subdued this year and judging by the intensity of the last minute rush to the shops and the noticeable lack of outdoor lighting this year, it’s as if people put off thinking about it until the last possible moment.

I am no exception. Last year, I managed to get all my Christmas cards written in plenty of time, but this year the postal deadlines came and went without me putting pen to paper, and I feel more than a little embarrassed about it. Even so, all the presents have been bought and I’m looking forward to a day of relaxation tomorrow, followed by a walk up the mountains the following day.

I have nothing else to say but to thank you all for sharing a little bit of my life, my interests and my half-baked thoughts over the past year. I wish you all the very best over the holiday season.

I would like to impart to you all the wisdom I have gained in the past four decades..

Ready?

Ok, well, er.

Hmm.

There must be something there.

Tell you what. I’ll get back to you.

I’m not sure about you, but my blog account is stuffed with a ton of half-finished draft postings that have yet to see the light of day. Among them are the following: 

1) A thought that if business people are looking towards technology for the answers to their business problems, then they are looking in the wrong place. Technology has already provided most of the big benefits. It’s all about strategy and process now.

2) Googlehoaxing: an idea, born out of a Bigfoot story some weeks back, that people might start making serious money by staging a hoax (no matter how pathetic), publishing it on the Internet and benefitting from the AdWords revenue.

3) A poem, written after waking up at an ungodly hour and looking at an unflattering image of me in the mirror. I haven’t given up yet, but it’s painfully slow.

4) Some thoughts about the practical management of risk on projects. Project management is all about managing risk, and yet the mechanisms in place for doing it are often woefully inadequate. I have some thoughts on this.

5) Mass-customisation and prison: is tailor designing a sentence for your personality, background and genetic make-up the future of criminology?

6) A somewhat conflicted article on the importance of consumer trust to Google. I’m not sure if this one will be published any time soon.

That’s a sample. There are plenty more.

Am I alone in having all these limboed postings floating around? Do you have any postings that have somehow got lost in the Drafts section your Blog?

Over the past few years, I have developed a habit of skepticism, which perhaps could be described as the careful use of critical thinking in the face of extraordinary, supernatural or highly unusual claims. So, if I hear someone talking about healing crystals or angels or UFO’s or homeopathic cures or divine miracles, my immediate reaction nowadays is disbelief.

Skepticism is not something that comes naturally to me. I have a relatively trusting nature, so for me, skepticism is hard work. I’d love to believe – I really would – it’s just that alarm bells go off in my head which can sometimes make for awkward situations in otherwise polite company. 

So, when I hear about people using the phrase “at first I was skeptical, but..” in the context of “witnessing” something such as a UFO or a miracle cure or some other such nonsense, it’s become clear to me that these people doesn’t know the first thing about proper skepticism. Most people simply don’t realise the extent to which they can be manipulated or deceived by false arguments, hidden prejudices, partial evidence and statistical anomalies.

My journey into skepticism has been a long, but highly rewarding journey. In my teens, I read Martin Gardner’s “Fads and Fallacies“, which presented the other side of Homeopathy, Biorythms, UFO claims and Scientology. Much later on, I read Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” and his “baloney detector kit”. Around the same time, I came across James Randi’s website with his million dollar challenge. I developed a keen interest in identifying logical fallacies and exposing urban legends using Snopes.com. More recently, I have become a keen subscriber to Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid and the superb “Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” podcasts.

In the light of a media culture that seems to thrive on feeding mistaken notions rather than challenging them; in the light of a world where sophisticated marketing techniques are employed by all manner of cults and fringe groups; and in the light of multi-million industries peddling all manner of snake-oil cures, maybe it’s not too late to bolster our skeptical abilities. 

I would recommend the above books, websites and podcasts if you are interested in learning more.

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