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Comments No More

16 November 2013 Comments off

It’s been a while *ahem* since I’ve posted anything here, but I note with pleasure the traffic stats showing that a significant number of people still read the site, normally having found it via search engine queries. So it stays. :)

However, with the increasing ubiquity of other forms of online discussion and the predictable habit of blog discussions turning into ideological pissing contests, I’ve reluctantly decided to both disable comments to and remove existing comments from this blog. It was a difficult decision, as there were some excellent discussions — both those with my worldview and those who oppose it — and you did contribute to what makes this blog’s content what it is today. (Despite the present cobwebs).

This decision was not made in a vacuum. There has been an increasing trend through what’s left of the traditional “blogosphere” (now hardly recognisable with sites like Google+, Tumblr, etc, becoming so popular and used as such) to disable comments. There are more effective ways to talk and doing so reduces the temptation to turn a given post into a YouTube-style verbal battleground.

If you want to chat, theres always Twitter: @Jumile

 

Categories: misc Tags:

Fixed the images in posts

18 September 2012 Comments off

Finally remembered to check and fix all the images in all posts to date. I think I got them all, but please let me know if I missed any.

Next on the list is fixing the local/relative link references…

Categories: misc Tags:

Site has been moved again

16 September 2011 Comments off

Two years flies by, doesn’t it? I’m fast approaching the two year mark of when I moved this blog to a decent hosting provider in response to experiencing the Slashdot Effect from a picture I shared while hosting on a budget hosting provider. Unfortunately the “new customer” pricing is history, and they’re asking for 4 times the price I paid for a reduced service. Not going to happen.

Rather than shop around for a better deal elsewhere, I’ve decided to move the blog back to WordPress.com. The HurtlingThroughSpace.com domain will point to the new location but – as WordPress.com does not support Feedburner – all subscribers will need to resubscribe. Apologies for this, but it’s not my choice.

In addition, I expect some links and images will be broken throughout the blog. Please bear with me while I track them down and fix. If you find any I’ve missed, please let me know.

Update: It seems that Feedburner does now work with WordPress. You can resubscribe to the Feedburner feed for this site here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/wordpress/riGO

Categories: misc Tags:

George Takei calls out Clint McCance

5 November 2010 Comments off

George Takei has a few words to say to Clint McCance:

I just love the “lady doth protest too much, methinks” suggestion near the end.

Some background on this issue, if you’re unaware:

  • George Takei is best known as Mr Sulu from the original series of Star Trek and is a man who fights for human rights, and he just happens to be gay.
  • Clint McCance was a school-board member, an elected official, at the Midland School District in Arkansas who recently said the following — among other things — on his Facebook profile:

    Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I can’t believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin.

  • The reference to wearing purple and the It Gets Better tune relates to the It Gets Better Project (also see The Trevor Project), designed to show young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people that life won’t always suck as much as it seems to right now, and that with adulthood comes reduction of peer pressure and acceptance of who they are.

McCance has now been forced to resign his position, so he can’t do any more damage while in office. It’s hard enough growing up as it is, so I can barely imagine how much harder it would be growing up gay, especially in a culturally intolerant and heavily religious environment.

People suck, particularly when they cherry-pick from religious myths to justify their bigotry.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal

Categories: misc Tags: , , ,

Mad Max is alive and well…

19 July 2010 Comments off

Flickr CC-BY popculturegeek

I spent yesterday afternoon visiting a friend in Southampton, which was a nice trip away from the Home Counties for a change. The weather was beautiful, and I hadn’t seen this friend in some time.

Anyone who’s travelled the UK motorways on a weekend knows that Sunday evenings tend to be a nightmare, as half the country are returning from day trips to the coast or city, so around 6pm and for a few hours it’s nothing more than a slow-moving queue. There were occasional fast patches, but then it would slow down again. I resigned myself to the long haul, and wasn’t too worried as it was still moving. Much better than the alternative.

As I passed Winchester Services, I noticed an old white Subaru estate zip onto the same carriageway alongside and eventually behind me, and immediately begin trying to weave through traffic in a bid to get ahead. For as far as the eye could see, nobody was travelling over 40mph, yet this guy figured he’d do his best to get ahead of, well, everyone.

Soon after, I see him try to get between the car off my left rear and me by straddling the lines for some time, so I tap my brakes to give him lights and see my nose dip, and he goes mental. He instantly forces his way between the car I’m slowly overtaking and me, pulls in front of me (I was perhaps 1.5 lengths from the car in front?) and stands on his brakes. I had to stamp on mine, and it was extremely fortunate that there was nobody close behind me. As I’m shaking my head and have my hands up in a “what the hell are you doing?” way, he sticks his arm out and gives me the finger and forks repeatedly — for minute or more, over and over.

Thinking that was that, a few minutes later after I’d managed to get into the left lane, I notice that he’s being slowed by traffic in the right lane, and I coast alongside him. The carload of people turn to look as I smile, point at the driver and do a cock-sucking motion. If I hadn’t taken my foot off the accelerator as I saw him lose it, he’d have slammed into me. He changed lanes straight into mine, trying to ram me or force me off the road. Utter psycho. I think his friends got him under control, as he zoomed off into the distance after that.

He looked like a white supremacist (or a football fan; it’s hard to tell), so I figured a gay reference would flip his switch. Spot on the money. Boy I know how to wind people up.

Aside from the shock of both of his overreactions, I was calm through the whole thing. But this guy was bouncing off the walls, even before I got involved. We’re all stuck in traffic — why be a dick?

Categories: misc Tags: ,

Reasons to rethink how you use your credit card

11 February 2010 Comments off

Time for a public service announcement… of sorts.

If you’re anything like me, you’re now at the point where you withdraw a small amount of cash to carry around with you until next payday to cover incidentals (lunches, drinks, bread and milk, etc) and do the bulk of your regular purchases either by plastic at the point of sale or online. What’s more, the government and the credit card companies are trying to make this practice the de-facto standard to address things like fraud, money laundering and the universal catch-all for any modern government initiative: terrorism.

The downside to this is that cards are relatively easy to forge and misuse. This problem and its likelihood varies throughout the world with the USA (the last time I checked) being one of the least secure in just requiring a signature and Australia having had mandatory PIN usage for almost 30 years. The UK has only moved from signatures to PIN within the last 5 or so years.

With all that security you may think that your credit card information would require some kind of gadget to read your card while at a cashpoint/ATM (I always check for add-on fascias) or sleight-of-hand to skim it at a restaurant (my card never leaves my sight), but there is a guaranteed exclusion to the PIN entry requirement: online and telephone orders. Such as when you call an order through to your local takeaway delivery place and pay with your card because you don’t happen to have enough cash at home. Most won’t provide a mobile card machine so you have to read the details through to them over the phone: name, card number, expiry date and security code (on the back of the card). Everything a scumbag needs to spend your money.

And that’s exactly how I’ve just been done. Again. And quite likely via the same shop, though I’ve only just deduced that by elimination. I received a letter from my bank today advising that it has put a hold on my Visa debit card (current account with its own Visa card number) due to some unusual transactions. My initial thought was that they’d gone bananas — as a former bank had done some years ago, resulting in every single transaction being flagged as fraudulent (which is why I say former bank) — but when I called them they advised that on Tuesday they detected seven fraudulent transactions totalling £1,300 and blocked them all.

Needless to say I’m quite pleased with their hit rate, particularly as they just got 7/7 hits and I’ve not been inconvenienced in any purchases recently (zero false-positives or -negatives). I wish my email provider’s antispam detection facilities were that good. Of course the bank then tried to upsell me some card protection insurance, which I politely declined after pointing out that now was perhaps not the most ethical time to try to pitch a sale, it being the functional equivalent of a mortuary attendant trying to sell me a burial package while there to bury my dear old aunt.

So I’m going to re-think my approach to giving card details over the phone. My seldom-used credit card has a facility called a “webcard” which allows me to generate a single-use virtual credit card with the maximum transaction value I choose and an expiry date of one month. Although it will mean being at a Windows PC every time I make a phone order, it should do the job nicely. And I won’t be buying any more scumbags the latest flatscreen TV.

 

Update 1: It seems my credit card provider discontinued its “webcard” product as of October 2009 without telling anyone. Unless I can find something else to replace it with, it seems that I’ll no longer be doing business with takeaway delivery places that don’t offer either a mobile card reader or online ordering facility, or indeed with anyone who requests my card details over the phone. I really like their food, too. Oh well.

Update 2: To address a few queries I’ve had so far: I am not going to name the takeaway place. Blogging is a medium that English & Welsh law (insanely) considers actual publishing, like a newspaper or book and therefore subject to its even more insane libel laws, you want me to name the shop without proof? Not going to happen.

Update 3: Just to make things more interesting — the almighty chip-and-PIN system has just been cracked, and can be accomplished by anyone with a stolen card and doesn’t require much technological savvy.

Categories: misc Tags: , , ,

Frozen Britain or Winter Wonderland?

11 January 2010 Comments off

Icicles on the roofWe’ve certainly had some interesting weather here in the UK for the last 3 weeks. The week before Christmas we had a hefty snow dump of the kind I’ve not seen in my almost 9 years living here, and it disappeared enough to be able to resume normal activity just in time for Christmas Day. It required just a few minutes of digging to make two wheel ruts to enable me to be able to park again when I got back from visiting family.

Then last week we got another dump that was easily double that of the earlier one. It was forecast for Tuesday evening, and I made it home just in time to still be able to drive up the spur incline to my house and into my garage. If I’d been 15-20 minute later, I’d either have had to dig my way in or park on the street somewhere and risk the car being battered by one of the two nutters on my street who refuse to acknowledge adverse weather conditions (normally because a couple of people will always go outside to dig him out of his predicament). I had 30cm of snow in my back garden following Tuesday’s snow dump and, although it got as high as 4°C yesterday, it hasn’t really budged. The 30cm of fluffy snow has reduced to 10-15cm of crystalline iciness (a bit like an Icee) with a few centimetres of solid, compacted ice underneath.

If you think I’m being melodramatic, the BBC website has created Special Report: Frozen Britain to cover the event, as it’s such a rare occurrence — particularly in the southern half of the country — and it’s being compared to the previous worst cold-weather event almost 50 years ago. Road grit is running out, gas for heating is running low, snow chains and snow shovels are sold out, and the local shops have empty shelves as the delivery lorries can’t reach them (it’s a hilly area).

The plus side is that my freezer is gradually being emptied of older food that would normally have newer stuff placed on top of it, the cupboards are having a good clean out, I’m saving 50 miles of fuel and up to two hours each weekday, and I’m able to be just as productive from home as I am in the office thanks to stable power and Internet, VPN access and voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony.

And the neighbourhood kids have been loving it. They’ve been sledging like mad for the last week, the valley has resounded with their laughter and fun, and down by the bridleway, someone had built a huge snowman complete with snow sofa and footrests, giving people something (albeit chilly) to sit on and admire. In this age of parents locking their children indoors for fear of bogey men: good for them!

Categories: misc Tags: ,

Now part of The Atheist Blogroll

13 September 2009 Comments off

Following on with the theme of participating in blog aggregators and non-theistic blogging communities, Hurtling Through Space has now been added to The Atheist Blogroll. Those of you viewing the website can see the blogroll in my sidebar — nearly 1,000 blogs (at time of writing), all happily scrolling.

The Atheist Blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Categories: misc Tags:

How to win an argument… at any cost

15 February 2009 Comments off

How often have you encountered a debate in the social arena–particularly around election time — where you see one of the debaters using tactics that seem simply to score points against his or her opponent, but when you examine the point in greater detail you could drive a bus through the argument — but by then the crowd has cheered and sneered, the show is over and it’s too late? Politicians use it every time they take the pulpit, as do captains of industry and even health and medical professionals. It’s manipulative and unethical at best, but it happens every day.

But don’t take my word for it. Read on and find out for yourself…

As a thinking person, you may be well aware of the numerous logical fallacies and cognitive biases that can be used to evaluate an argument, however it might be conveyed. Rather than list them here, I’ll point you to that sometimes dubious ([1] [2] [3]) oracle of knowledge, Wikipedia:

  • List of cognitive biases. Low-level or even unconscious behaviour or error in evaluation. A common example of this is to do, say or believe something just because others do (Bandwagon Effect, aka herding or group mind); the number of people who do or believe is unrelated to whether it is real, true or correct.
  • List of logical fallacies. Higher level errors in reasoning, logic or understanding. A common example of this is the “if you are not for me then you are against me” threat (False Dichotomy, aka False Dilemma or Argument of Excluded Middle); a position somewhere in the middle ground (such as neutrality) is completely ignored or implied to infer aggression.

Even a basic understanding of a handful of these makes for a completely different view of the political world around us.

Given enough time and data, anyone with a passing understanding can judge whether a position is likely to be true or false — often when you don’t have a specialist understanding of the topic itself. A good thing, too, as the sheer number of decisions we’re asked to make on a variety of topics in our lives: purchasing decisions, local and national politics, child raising, etc.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of people don’t bother to check their facts or even the truth of the arguments that are presented to them. This makes this kind of arguing very successful against the general public, and the reporters from whom many of us rely on for bite-sized summaries (you could think of it as outsourcing your thinking in favour of cutting to the chase), as most aren’t properly schooled in debating, critical thinking or evaluation. I wasn’t. Even after a few years of university I’d never heard the term cognitive bias or been told about logical fallacies, critical thinking and how to apply them. And it’s something that shocked and angered me, so I’ve set to resolve the gaping hole in my knowledge and understanding of how the world works–you’re seeing that process here in posts like this.

So when I read Dr Steven Novella’s How Not To Argue article on Skepticblog — which is based on Arthur Schopenhaur’s original list — I recognised a useful approach to the problem. If people aren’t learning about logical fallacies and cognitive biases, why not have a check-list of what to watch for? That is, a list of dirty tricks you’re likely to see used in a debate, news report or on a political pulpit which will then encourage you to look deeper into the topic. Great idea!

So here is a list of ways that you will see an argument manipulated to the unethical (or ignorant) arguer’s advantage:

38 Ways To Win An Argument

  1. Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it.
  2. Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his argument.
  3. Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to some particular thing.
  4. Hide your conclusion from your opponent until the end.
  5. Use your opponent’s beliefs against him.
  6. Confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.
  7. State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions.
  8. Make your opponent angry.
  9. Use your opponent’s answers to your question to reach different or even opposite conclusions.
  10. If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant you any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises.
  11. If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion.
  12. If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favourable to your proposition.
  13. To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him an opposite, counter-proposition as well.
  14. Try to bluff your opponent.
  15. If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment.
  16. When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions or lack of action.
  17. If your opponent presses you with a counter-proof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction.
  18. If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him to carry it to its conclusion.
  19. Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his argument, and you have nothing to say, try to make the argument less specific.
  20. If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion.
  21. When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial and you see the falsehood, you can refute it by setting forth its superficial character.
  22. If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question.
  23. Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating their statements.
  24. State a false syllogism.
  25. If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary.
  26. A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against himself.
  27. Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal.
  28. When the audience consists of individuals (or a person) who is not an expert on a subject, you make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience.
  29. If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion–that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had a bearing on the matter in dispute.
  30. Make an appeal to authority rather than reason.
  31. If you know that you have no reply to the arguments that your opponent advances, you by a fine stroke of irony declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.
  32. A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or of throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.
  33. You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.
  34. When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, or evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without intending to do so.
  35. Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect or the rigor of his arguments, work on his motive.
  36. You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast.
  37. Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position.
  38. Become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand.

The full article with detailed explanation of each point can be found here or from Steven’s original source — please give it a read.

Next time you see someone trying to convince someone else (probably you) of something, check if one or both parties have tried to sneak in one of the above tricks into the argument. Then you know what to do… call shenanigans!

Categories: misc Tags:

Buy 5 books for $30 to help those hit by the Victorian bushfires

10 February 2009 Comments off

Victorian BushfiresAs anyone who reads world news will know by now, the state of Victoria in Australia has been hit by the worst bushfires in the country’s history (surpassing the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983), and they rank among the worst in the world. They have been exacerbated by record high temperatures and strong winds, and the impact has been devastating. Of a state with 5,000,000 people (~25% of the country’s population), around 200 people have been killed and thousands made homeless as they’ve watched their houses go up in flames.

A Victorian-based company has made an offer — valid until Friday, 13th February — to help assist those affected by the fires. They list the offer as a “5 for the price of 1” sale of PDF books, but as 100% of the proceeds are being donated to the Australian Red Cross, they are effectively giving away the books and providing you with the opportunity to donate US$29.95 to help those in need.

You can take advantage of the offer or donate directly but, whichever option you choose, every penny will be directly helping those affected by the bushfires:

The Australian Red Cross desperately need money not goods, as goods are expensive to move and the money can be used to buy local goods which will additionally help the area.

It’s at times like these that humanity can put aside differences of politics and belief as we realise that we are all in this together, and that just a modest amount from a lot of people can make an avalanche of difference.

Please give as your means allow.

Categories: misc Tags: ,