For a while I’ve been planning a talk about what it’s like to be what Skeptics call “a Woo” and about my journey from there to being one of the folks running Skeptics on the Fringe.
“Woo” is a term I dislike for a bunch of reasons, mainly because labelling people makes it too easy to stop thinking about them as people and stereotype them. No-one should do that to anyone, but we are Skeptics, dammit: we should think, especially when we are complaining that the defining group of this other group is that they don’t think. Irony, much?
I had a couple of hours of driving to do tonight, appropriately enough visiting Ash Pryce founder of Edinburgh Skeptics and then Keir Liddle founder of Skeptics on the Fringe. I used the time to sketch out the structure of the talk and identify the key points I want to make. It’s now sitting as bullet points on my laptop.
I hate bullet-points because PowerPoint doesn’t kill presentations, bulletpoints kill presentations. I prefer slides – if they are used at all – to be images rather than words. The bullet-points will become my speakers notes. I could even use this as an opportunity to learn Prezi.
So I need to get some images together. This glamour-girl from the 1920s in my grandmother. Come to the talk when I eventually give it and you’ll see why she’s there. Somewhere I have a supercute pic of my dad with me slung under his arm when I was about two years old, and if I can find that I want it in the slides, failing that there’s one of him in what looks like a bishop’s mitre. I think I still have my O’level certificate somewhere. And I want to include some book covers, some podcast logos, stuff like that. As it says here, the talk is about a series of small epiphanies.
It’s going to take a chunk of time to put together yet, but I hope it will explain why intelligent and rational people are still attracted to Alternative Medicine, reincarnation and similar things, that it will interest scientists and atheists lucky enough to have been raised that way, that it will reassure skeptical activists that skeptical outreach really is worth it, and explain why Phil Plait was right when he said Don’t be a Dick.
I’ll be keen to do this talk at Skeptics in the Pub and other appropriate events once I’ve finished the slides. Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss dates.
Posted in Beliefs, buddhism, critical thinking, grandma, Humanism, Mind-Body-Spirit, NLP, podcasts, religion, Skepticism, Skeptics
Oracle, Redwood Shores
That’s not just an Oracle campus. That’s THE Oracle campus. I’m not a fan-girl of the database company, but I still squeaked with excitement every morning when we stopped at the lights on our way from our hotel in Redwood to the office.
These are the birth-paces of our modern age, as important as Athens, Rome or Sumeria and, to my geeky mind, as breath-takingly exciting. Yes, if you visit California, then it makes much more sense to hang out in San Francisco than to do a tour of the business parks. But… but… these are the earthly homes of cyberspace. Giants walk here.
Apple moved out of the garage and into Cupertino. Electronic Arts and Oracle are at Redwood Shores. Santa Clara has Intel inside, not to mention the Googleplex and Stanford University.
Stanford would matter if it’s only contribution had been Google and Yahoo. But it helped to give us the very Internet itself: one of the four original internet nodes was at Stanford, back in the day when the internet was ARPANET and years before the Stanford University Network was incorporated as SUN Microsystems.
And then there’s Palo Alto.
It’s hard to over-estimate just how many innovations that shape our daily lives started in Palo Alto as scribbles on an engineer’s blackboard. It’s no surprise that Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center – Xerox PARC – brought us laser printing. It’s more of a surprise to discover that WISIWYG text editors and windows-based interfaces were first thought of here. When Xerox made the decision to focus on hardware, Apple and Microsoft took their ideas about software and ran away with them. And the tech-savvy might be interested to know that object-orientated programming and ethernet also came out of PARC.
So there I was, San Francisco smiling at my inner tourist and Silicon Valley whispering to my inner geek. I’m civilised. I didn’t even try to persuade my colleague that we should do a tour of the local business parks. We went into San Francisco to watch the Giants play baseball, and we ate seafood and drank Californian wine on Fishermans’ Wharf.
Sucks to be me.
The chap in the badge on the right is my husband. Don’t worry, he’s fine. He’s researching strokes and dementia; if you stand still long enough near a research MRI scanner you’ll be cajoled into lying still in it while the radiographers calibrate some particular sequence of scanning.
So of course I got hold of the scan and of course I got those nice folks at Zazzle to make it into a badge.
What’s been fascinating is the range of reactions I get when I tell people what it is.
- Colleague – female – late 20s – “Euch – no, sorry, that’s gross”
- Artist – male – mid 20s – “Do you have a larger copy of the image?”
- Career counsellor – female – early 50s – “… how… interesting … “
- Accountant – female – early 30s – “But why can’t you see his teeth?”
- Neuroscientist – male – late 20s – “Where did you get the badge made?”
- Cousin – female – early 70s – “Hmmm. Why did you do that?”
Me, I think it’s cool. And at least I didn’t get it made up into a t-shirt.
The other day someone worked out where I live from a previous post on this blog.
Now I’m reasonably careful online: I’ve written about password security, I know emails are less private than postcards, and I don’t geotag pictures out of an instinctive preference for privacy, and I certainly don’t tweet or blog about going away before I actually go. So you may think it’s odd that I blog in my own name, but I’ve a professional interest in Web 2.0 and I need to type the type as well as talk the talk.
When we went away a couple of weeks ago, I dropped a very late email in to the folks who deliver our veg to cancel the box for the week. Unfortunately the email addy I used was a benwarsop one, and I am a customer of theirs in my married name.
Or so you’d like to think.
You see, my email sig includes a link to this blog and the top post that week showed some flowers on my kitchen windowsill. I thought no harm of it: central Scotland is full of kitchens with views like mine.
I see sunflowers, you see the house opposite
But Ms Holmes was smarter than that. She knew which day I have my veg delivered from the email and it was easy enough to check the route for someone whose first name was “Ben”. It was probably a list of 1, but even if it had been more, it was only a matter of comparing the relevant Google Street View(s) with the pic on my blog, and bingo! No veg left to rot for a week, and a happy but rather unnerved Ben.
So if you want excellent organic veg delivered by tech savvy folks, go to GrowWild and say I sent you. They know both my names now.
And if you don’t want to be tracked down, find somewhere to live that Google Street View hasn’t got to yet. It’s good advice. Property values in places like that will soar.
Telegraph: Monster burger containing 4,800 calories unveiled in US - click to read story
I’ve been catching up with podcasts recently, and was fascinated by For Good Reason‘s recent interview about supernormal stimuli with Dierdre Barrett. She explains much about our problems as animals living in an artificial world: why we over-eat, why socialising online or by texting is more compelling than hanging out with our friends, why everything is louder and faster these days.
Essentially, Barrett researches the way that animals (including us) respond better to artificial over-stimulus than we do to natural levels of stimuli. We want saltier, sweeter, fattier food, bigger breasts, poutier lips, louder and more driving bass beats, faster cuts in our movies and more exciting roller coasters. We want everything up to 11. Hell, we want everything up to, 12, 13, 130 … faster, deeper, harder, MORE!
Two examples of animal responses to supernormal stimuli she cites are birds who ignore their own eggs in favour of bluer ones with bigger, blacker polkadots (how sweet, how stupid) and butterflies who boff card-board cut-outs and ignore the real lady butterfly flapping her wings enticingly nearby. How stupid. How ridiculous. How much does this explain about the porn industry?
Barrett’s soothing mantra is that we are people with brains and free-will, and are therefore able to overcome our response to the supernormal. I was disappointed that Grothe didn’t challenge her on this. I like the way he inhabits the role of devil’s advocate to draw out his interviewees, but he ducked this one. There appears to be increasing evidence that free will is either an illusion or operates at trivial levels at best, which is something that Grothe is well aware of. (A search for ‘free will’ in his previous podcasts at Point of Inquiry yields 117 hits). It is of course much easier for everyone if we act as if we have free will. If we don’t, then all sorts of things about society will unravel. But that is another blog post for another day.
So while none of this was epiphanic, it deepened my awareness of the issues. And if you don’t subscribe to Point of Inquiry or For Good Reason, and you like that kind of thing, then let me recommend them.
I usually steer clear of bloggy memes because they are a lazy way to pick a subject, but I am distracted at the moment (houses to sell, motorways to drive on, MSc assignments to think through, you know how it is) so I’m grateful for May’s nomination for the Happy 101 Sweet Friends meme.
Besides which, as anyone who reads me regularly knows, I believe those of us who live in the West should be be grateful for the unfair hand of fate that’s given us food and security and shut the bleep up about ‘artistic differences’ or whatever it might be.
The instructions are: List 10 things that make your day & then give this award to 10 bloggers.
- The chance to bang on about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is always guaranteed to cheer me up, and it’s great to have an excuse to listen to Nina Simone who puts it so much better:
There – you feel better for that, don’t you?
- Having no plans turns a day into a gift. That old proddy work-ethic means I rarely plan frivolity, so it’s only when a plan falls through that I kick back and have some fun.
- A cup of tea in the morning. There is nothing, but nothing, like the first cup of tea of the day. It’s not so much that it makes my day, as the lack of a cup of tea undermines it.
- Sunshine. I open the curtains hopefully every morning and look for blue. And yet I move further north to greyer skies year after year.
- Evesdroppings. My current favourite was an elderly lady telling her middle aged children that she had been in Blackpool when their father bought her engagement ring: ‘ a cheap one’ she reassured them kindly. A Yorkshire-women wouldn’t want a fecklessly expensive one, now would she.
- My cat. What can I say? I’m a woman of a certain age. My husband says the cat’s needy, but I choose to think of him as affectionate. Besides which, he spends hours jumping on his own shadow which always cheers me up. Hard to tell which of us is the simpler-minded, really.
- The chance to do good Visio. Or any other kind of systems diagram. I like analysis diagramming and haven’t done enough of it lately.
- A clean kitchen. I even like cleaning the kitchen so long as there’s a good comedy podcast in the background.
- Not over-eating. Stopping smoking was a cinch in comparison. I’m chewing over Kate Moss’s mantra that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. (Chewing over, geddit?)
- Being married to my honey. Soon to be a daily delight.
And now… 10 bloggers whose blogs give me pleasure
- Paddy K – acerbic, atheist and Irish, living in Sweden. I wish I could nail a subject with Paddy’s pointed venom.
- Colm – also atheist and also Irish. Colm’s post frequently make me wish I’d written them myself.
- Jon Pashley – far too sporadic a blogger, Jon posts with energy and excitement in ways that leave me thoughtful or spark my interest
- SoRB – doesn’t blog, but his comments are trenchant, provocative, thought-provoking and thought through. I should start a FaceBook Group for people who want him to blog.
- Dr Z – gives us windows into two worlds impossible for outsiders to imagine let alone experience: he’s a doctor and he’s a female to male transsexual. He’s also an engaging writer.
- Eyoki – a blogger who reflects on the artistic and cultural experiences that come his way, occasionally through the lens of his transsexuality.
- Charlotte Otter – I have a huge bloggy-pash on Charlotte whether she’s writing about her family, her native South Africa or her progress as an author. She just writes so damn well. Not fair.
- Hairy Farmer Family – the Hairy Wifey bakes cakes to diet for, swears up a storm and makes me laugh. She also champions her son’s battles with the the NHS, and I find her blog a fascinating counterpoint to Dr Z’s.
- Sol – who’s already been nominated – is intelligent, clever and lovely, and her son is a genuinely adorable boysy boy. And she doesn’t blog about him enough.
- May – who nominated me – May more regularly than any other writer tosses out a turn of phrase which leaves me frothing with envy. I can be clever and funny, but never quite that clever or quite that funny dammit. Life is being shitty to May and I know of no-one more deserving of an even break than May and her lovely husband H.