You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘events’ category.

TAM London

I’m going! Or at least I think I am…

TAM (“The Amazing Meeting”) is the brainchild of James Randi, a magician who has spent his life debunking psychics, UFOlogists, quacks and all sort of random frauds and charlatans. He is one of the main drivers of the modern skeptics movement, and an all round good guy.

I first came across him, wow, years ago, when the world was still in black and white and when a row of houses cost thruppence haypenny. Well, about 1995 to be more exact . Randi is pretty outspoken when it comes to people who make money by pretending that they have real psychic powers. Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne are some of his more high profile targets. He has even put up a prize of 1 million dollars to anyone who can prove a supernatural occurrence (ESP, clairvoyance, dowsing etc, etc) in a controlled scientific test. Needless to say, the prize has never been claimed.

TAM is THE event for skeptics and to date it has only been held in the US. No more. In October it comes to London. Attending it will be Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh, Adam Savage and Phil Plait, the author of the Bad Astronomy blog. It’s fantastic!

Access to the website yesterday was a bit of a joke. First of all, the order told me that the fee was 175 pounds, but shipping and handling would be 999.99 pounds. Oops. Then when that issue was fixed it wouldn’t allow me to enter my order because I live outside the UK. My sister’s address in the UK was promptly used and eventually my order went through. I still haven’t seen a confirmation coming through as yet though. Nevertheless the demand was extreme. The whole event sold out in an hour or so, much to the amazement of the organisers and to the intense disappointment of those who failed to get a ticket in time.

I’m lucky I persevered, I think.

Advertisements

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin, the co-discoverer of one of the greatest scientific explanations in history: why life is so complex, so wondrous and so diverse. Why life can survive against all manner of odds, and why some forms of life die off, never to be heard of again.

Darwin’s theory, properly called the theory of Evolution through Natural Selection, has not remained constant since it’s publication 150 years ago. Advances in our understanding of heredity, of genetics and of sexual selection have acted to improve our understanding of the ways in which living organisms adjust to the vagaries of nature and each other. The theory is being constantly refined and improved, but one thing is absolutely certain: The supporting evidence continues to flow in. For biologists, geologists, biochemists and a whole class of scientists, it acts like a map, allowing them to better understand what is going on, providing great clues as to the underlying reasons for particular phenomena, and governing the course of research worldwide.

To some, the theory may seem harsh, hopeless and random. It is too far an intellectual leap, directly challenging the core of their beliefs. This is a huge pity, because it’s explanatory power reveals so much about our origins and the diversity in nature that we see every day. It is no more a moral codebook than the theory of gravity. It provides us with an understanding of the world as it is, not how we would like it to be. When we strive to make the world a better place for all of us, surely we are enrichened by this knowledge rather than denying it outright?

So today I celebrate Darwin Day, remembering not just Darwin, but also Wallace and all the scientists who came after him. Thank you for all the efforts you have made.

via OpenCongress.org

via OpenCongress.org

 

Some time ago, our CEO, a well known and incredibly successful and charismatic man, addressed his employees via a video link to talk about how the company was doing overall. He talked about the future, and the successes of the past. I was struck by a common theme throughout his talk. He declared, on a number of occasions what we were not involved in, what we not prepared to do, what wasn’t of interest to us as a company, what wasn’t yet a mature market.

Not, no, never, can’t, shouldn’t, won’t.

That is strategy:  the realisation that you can’t do everything, that you have limited resources and limited time, and that you are much better off doing some things very well rather than doing everything poorly.  

So, when I was listening to President Obama’s inspirational inauguration speech yesterday I was struck by the level of expectation heaped upon his shoulders, and what he expects his government will be able to achieve in the next 4 plus years. I couldn’t help wonder about the depths of the problems facing him. Iraq. Afghanistan. Al Qaeda. Global Warming. Financial Meltdown. Liquidity. Unemployment. Homelessness. Inadequate healthcare. A crumbling infrastructure. An educational deficit. Peak Oil. The restoration of international law and America’s moral standing in the world.

Where do you start? 

However he does it, he will need to pick his battles wisely, because he and his administration will not be able to do it all. He can’t do everything. Maybe all we can expect, at least in the short term, is that he is judicious in sowing the seeds of change.

My shame is that I don’t get sufficiently outraged by pictures such as this.

Or this.

gaza-children-3

I am ashamed that my typical reaction is that that it’s all very complicated really, that the other side have their reasons, and that the aggressors were probably forced into it.

I see democratic countries – free countries – countries that could and should be providing leadership by example, lowering themselves to the tactics of their enemies, and I shrug my shoulders. I am ashamed that over time I have become morally neutral about such things.

But I look at the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and even though I know it’s more complicated than this, and even though I appreciate that the other side are far from blameless, and even though I recognise the anger and frustration on the other side, and that there is a strategic logic in play, I can’t help feeling that the bombardment is nevertheless utterly wrong.

When a government bombs mainly innocent civilians, when they show scant regard for the lives of small children and when they don’t give the inhabitants of Gaza the opportunity to flee the fighting, when we see phosphorous devices being used in urban areas, then lets call a spade a spade, we’re witnessing war crimes.

To all those men and women who are prepared to stand up on the side of human rights, I salute you.

It’s now just over 4 years since the tsunami hit South Asia.

These two videos convey to me the horror of the event. They were both taken in Banda Aceh in Indonesia at the very moment the huge wave forced itself upon the city, causing unimaginable devastation and a legacy of suffering that will last a long, long time.

obama-speech

I have the happy fortune to be in California at the moment to witness a piece of history. The excitement all day was palpable. I was consulting my iPhone all evening as the results started to flow through. Then, sooner than expected, it was all over. Obama had crossed the line of 270 electoral votes and quickly had over 300 votes in the bag. All over bar the shouting, as they say in Ireland.

This is a terrific day for so many Americans. I was in a bar at the time and the whole place went silent when Obama stood up to deliver his victory speech. There were tears in peoples’ eyes. The king is dead*, long live the king.

* Well, metaphorically, and even then not until January… All the fun has been taken out of the modern day political leadership changes, don’t you think? No tumbrils, guillotines, or even chopping blocks these days. Such utter killjoys..

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 48 other followers

Categories

June 2019
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Twitter Updates

Cork Skeptics

Be Honest in the Census

365 Days of Astronomy

Advertisements