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Ah yes, advertising. The crude oil powering the engines of modern media. It pays the bills of television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, and as such it is a necessary evil. Most of it, of course, is godawful: woefully wide of the mark, superlatively irritating and completely absent of even the slightest smidgen of creativity.

Nevertheless, there are some real gems out there, and I’ve just discovered a blog that brings us the best of them.

Like this, using red paint to emphasise an important message:

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Or this, demonstrating the braking ability of a Mercedes..

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Or this one, from Amnesty International

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This is very powerful stuff.

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Happy Monday everyone,

Here’s a video my twin boys discovered that will help you get into the week. Base Jumping! Bicycles, triple headstands, and reverse jumping, it’s all there…

(If you liked that and you haven’t seen the Wingsuit video go there now. Now! What are you still doing here?)

A somewhat different one this morning. John Cleese discusses creativity and the simple things you can do to maximise your creative potential. It’s a superb talk as you might expect, and well worth watching. Click on the image to view. 

John Cleese

Via The Next Stage.

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.

This is for anyone who has never seen the John West commercials..

.. and the weather is terrible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start it off with a bit of a laugh..

First, a rugby theme..

And now for some Brummie polar bears..

 

This is a mindblowing podcast from NPR’s “This American Life”. It’s about the Credit Crunch, explained so that even a thicko like me can understand it, but done in a way that is, well, mindblowing.

I’ve been like an evangelist over the last few days, telling my real-life friends to listen to it. 

So now I’m telling you.

I rediscovered this gem on YouTube tonight. The original recordings date back from the 1960’s and many years later they were turned into a series of short animations by Brown Bag Films.  This particular one gained an Academy Award nomination in 2001. All the films have recently been uploaded to YouTube in their entirety.

It harks back to a very different time in Ireland. More certainty, fewer questions, perhaps. Whatever the case, the twists the kids put on the stories were delightful. Note the strong Dublin accents! 

Is it me, or does John the Baptist look very like Chris de Burgh?

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.

Oh my.

A big breakthrough was announced last month by researchers in MIT that may dramatically increase the importance of solar cells as a major source of energy. Up to now, there has been no easy way to store solar energy. The immediate availability of sunlight pretty much dictates how much power you have at any time. As soon as the sun goes down your immersion heater starts to cool down and your solar powered car grinds to a halt.

Meanwhile, nature has been busy mocking us. All around, efficient natural solar factories are at work converting the sun’s heat into chemical energy and storing this energy away for use at a later time. These conversion factories are known to the rest of us as leaves.

Taking a leaf (ouch) from nature, the MIT researchers have discovered a chemical mechanism (a catalyst) that can be used to extract oxygen from water at room temperature. Another catalyst is then used to extract hydrogen from water. All you need to trigger the reactions is electricity (from a solar cell for example). Both gases can then be safely stored away for later use. To create usable energy later on, you recombine the two gasses in a device known as a fuel cell.

Cheap, reliable, clean solar energy generated from within your home. Your house as a power station and as a refueling station. No need to wire your house to a power station. According to the scientists, we might see changes happening in as little as 10 years time. It will be interesting to see how it works out. 

Then again, this is Ireland. Now, if you could extract energy from rainclouds you might get somewhere..

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