Thursday, November 08, 2007

O the irony!!!

Renault has been accused of having confidential information about McLarens's car. Will the next spying scandal involve someone spying on Renault? ;-)

The president of Renault has commented briefly on Fernando Alonso returning - the comments are cryptic because nothing is certain.

There is some uncertainty about whether the fuel issues in Brazil will be looked at in more detail.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Down to the wire in Brazil

Well, what can I say, but this was the most exciting season I've seen for a long time. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were all in the running for it, separated by only a few points. When Kimi won, he was only one point ahead of Lewis and Fernando!!

Lewis is clearly the most talented driver to come along in a long time - several records in his first Formula 1 season and coming within a hairs' breadth of the championship.

Why didn't he get the drivers' championship? McLaren should have been more careful in Shanghai - Bridgestone advised McLaren to order him to make a pit stop, because they were worried about tyre wear - McLaren refused, thus leading to Lewis beaching in the gravel trap.

No matter, Lewis Hamilton has had a great first season in Formula 1 and I'm sure he'll have many more.

Although Ferrari have won the constructors' championship, BMW Sauber have made it to second place - gradually improving on their previous positions and shaking off the "driving school" nickname.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

DART delays

I like travelling by train, but one mystery still baffles me. How do people end up driving trucks or other vehicles into bridges? Recently, I visited my mother and due to a bridgestrike further up the line, DARTs were reversing direction at the station I was going to leave from. I mean, how difficult is it to figure out if a large vehicle fits under a bridge??

Monday, September 17, 2007

Formula 1 spying scandal

The details of the spying scandal seem to be causing some controversy. Ron Dennis claims to have alerted the FIA, yet Max Mosley disputes this.

As a result, Ferrari will win the constructors' championship, as BMW Sauber doesn't have enough points to catch up with them.

However, no matter how this turns out, after the Belgian Grand Prix, it looks like it could be Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen who becomes World Champion in 2007.

Belated memories

I should have written more than I did in my last entry - after all, the date in question was the sixth anniversary of one of the most devastating events of recent years. A rant about a delayed novel doesn't seem appropriate now.

On the other hand, I couldn't think of writing anything adequate to the task. The consequences of that day still affect the world - no telling when the last echo of a historical event dies out - it could be said any historical event echoes through the history of humanity.

What do I remember of that day?

I was working in my alma mater, had returned from lunch between 1:46pm and 2:03pm. A colleague had a radio on in his office, with the News at One still on - odd, because it usually ended at 1:45pm. He told me the news and I listened in his office, keeping one eye on the door for my boss. There was a sense of unreality - I believed these terrible events had happened, but somehow I felt disconnected from my surroundings. The news continued - we didn't have a TV in the lab, so I didn't see the footage of the attacks until I went home. I remember telling a couple of colleagues in an agitated manner about the attacks - I don't think it sank in - maybe they thought it was a light aircraft I was talking about, maybe they had something already on their minds.

Needless to say, news websites were overloaded.

I got home and Mum had already seen the attacks on TV. That night and for some weeks after RTE 1 radio didn't broadcast repeats of their usual shows late at night - they broadcast programmes from a New York radio station.

There was tremendous confusion in the aftermath of the attacks - there were rumours that as many as eight airliners had been hijacked and reports of a car bomb outside the State Department in Washington DC - these were broadcast by news networks as confused and desperate as any of us for news.

A friend and his wife were on holiday at the time of the attacks - I didn't know for quite a while whether they had been on the hijacked airliners - fortunately they hadn't, though they had been in flight when the attacks occurred. The first they knew of the attacks was when they landed at their destination.

A colleague was at a conference in Italy at the time of the attacks - he said how everyone was desvastated.

On the Friday of that week, a national day of mourning was declared here in Ireland - workplaces closed.

I was like a frightened child - I kept saying to myself "why?". Although I'm well aware of humanities' capacity for barbarism, such as the Holocaust, the massacres in Rwanda, the massacres in the Former Yugoslavia and other atrocities, somehow I still manage to be appalled. Maybe I still have some futile hope that we will learn better, that somehow we will stumble into a better future, that some day we will be better people - that atrocities will be some day a thing of the past, to be remembered and avoided, but never to be repeated.

Maybe this is why I didn't blog that day - I feared that I'd draw too much from the well of melancholy that is the depression I'm being treated for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Exit Music delayed?

I may have imagined it, but the release date for Ian Rankins' latest novel, Exit Music, was the 6th of September, but most of the bookshops in Dublin (and one in Dun Laoighre) didn't have it that day.

Was there a shortage of copies of the book or were deliveries just delayed? Can anybody answer this?

Maybe I should get Inspector Rebus (retired) onto the case, assuming that he can be persuaded away from the mean wynds of Aul' Reeky, even in his retirement...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Garda Turban ruling

A member of the Garda Reserve has been told he cannot wear his turban while at work. This has led to controversy.

Kevin Myers was interviewed on radio, claiming that adapting the uniform so Sikhs could wear a turban was an example of "multiculturalism" which had "failed" in the UK. He didn't elaborate on what he meant, but took it as read that people understood what he said. (Isn't it amazing how many people assume that once the dread word "multiculturalism" is used against their opponents, that they've won, no matter how vague they have been?)

Others claimed that the turban shouldn't be allowed on the grounds that it would somehow be a violation of secularism - this argument claims that this religious item of wear is a violation of separation of church and state. However, this is just one interpretation of secularism.

If secularism is that the state stays as neutral as possible in matters of religion, then it should treat all members of the Garda Reserve (or candidates for same) equally. To ask a Sikh man to give up wearing a turban is to ask him to either not practice his faith or to not work for the Garda Reserve. It is an act of indirect discrimination - rather than having a direct ban on someone of a given religion, it bans a practice - wearing a turban - that is essential to being a practicing Sikh man. This is against my understanding of secularism.

Fintan O'Toole recently wrote a column, saying that we should have a more secular society (I agree) but that he leans towards not allowing a turban as part of a uniform (this is one place where I disagree).

The turban doesn't prevent someone from carrying out their job, doesn't conceal the identity of the person in question (unlike the bizarre comparison some have made with the Burqua). Therefore, in the name of a more equal society, we must accept the turban, otherwise we exclude some people who are qualified for the job.

Discrimination must not be part of society, especially government institutions.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Is this dingbat day?

After posting about Sam Harris, I read on Pharyngula that Fred Phelps is going to picket funerals of those killed in the recent bridge disaster.

I know there's just under 4 and a half hours left of today, but I'm wondering how many dingbats I'll encounter in that time...

Sam Harris isn't making friends, fortunately

I once browsed Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith, in Waterstones' of Dawson Street. I wasn't impressed, seeing as he he advocated "conversational intolerance", which seemed to be just challenging religious claims at every opportunity. (Granted, I find challenging most views in conversation difficult, being rather introverted, but this approach seems to be just counterproductive - a good way to get a reputation as argumentative.)

One of the other things I noticed was a particular hostility to Islam in his book - "atheism for neocons" was what occurred to me.

Apparently, I missed his apologia of "limited" use of torture in the book, which he has also advocated in an article, In Defence of Torture in which he invokes the ticking time bomb scenario to justify torture. The scenario was used by some French to justify the use of torture in Algeria - it frequently featured in 24 as a plot device, but in the most recent series was cut back. Bob Cochran, co-creator of the show, admits that the ticking timebomb scenario occurs rarely if at all in real life, though it occurs regularly in the show.

In the article, he says "While many people have objected, on emotional grounds, to my defense of torture, no one has pointed out a flaw in my argument". Curiously, this comes a few paragraphs after some very emotive examples of atrocities clearly chosen to manipulate the reader into supporting his view. Apparently the victims of torture are just "collateral damage".

Rafi Aamer analyses the flaws in Harris' arguments in quite some detail - it's well worth reading.

Apart from being a neocon apologist for torture, Sam Harris has defended pseudoscience.

I agree that Harris is a dingbat, but worse, an advocate of torture.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Update on last blogging...

Seems I'm not the only atheist who has problems with Dawkins.

I'm an atheist but...

... am I the only atheist who finds Richard Dawkins embarrasing at times? Simon Hattenstone famously wrote "The strange thing about reading his latest book, A Devil's Chaplain, is that I agree with virtually everything he says, but find myself wanting to smack him for his intolerance."

I'm in a different situation - I find myself disagreeing with Dawkins when he rants about religion - yes, rants - I find that someone who can write so intelligently about evolution suddenly seems to take a nose-dive in the intelligence stakes when writing about religion. He notoriously compared religious education to child abuse - Dawkins cited the example of a woman who was molested by her priest, but who was more traumatised by the idea of a friend, a Protestant, who died young ending up in Hell. It sounds like this woman was brought up in an atmosphere very different to the one I was brought up in. When I started school - in the 1970s - religious education was very different from this - I remember one song that was popular with the pupils - "Love's like a telephone". None of this hellfilre and damnation, but Dawkins doesn't distinguish between moderate religious beliefs and those of fanatics.

Horrible Software Design

I've just spotted an interesting entry at Good Math, Bad Math about some truly horrible software design.

Beware of wishful headlines

The news about the iPhone Nano is just a rumour after all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another one bites the dust...

The much-ballyhooed Orbo device from Steorn failed to work at the demonstration at the Kinetica Museum. Orac has blogged on the attempts at explanation by Steorns' CEO.

The device was first mentioned in a full-page advertisement in The Economist in August 2006. Various media outlets mentioned it - such claims usually get mentioned every few years. However, there is a long history of such machines, and none of them has stood up to a test.

Over the past decade or two, the term "perpetual motion" has been replaced by "over unity device", but the story remains the same.

Some, such as Paul Story, have blogged in support of Steorn. Paul Story himself says he bases his belief on how much of a risk the company is taking on being wrong. This was incredibly naive of him - many people have taken huge risks and lost much - think of tulip mania. Mr. Story also is a member of the Steorn Private Development Club, and though he claims that he has an open mind, he lets his excitement slip with comments on how the technology will change humanity. Unfortunately, it looks like Paul Story has invested emotionally as well as financially and this may skew his views.

Professor Eric Ash is quoted on as saying that "I believe that Mr McCarthy is truly convinced of the validity of his invention. It is, in my view, a case of prolonged self deception." - in other words, McCarthy was honest, but fooled himself. Paul Story still believes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This sickens me

A death threat was made against Kathy Sierra. Some sick fool thought it was funny - in fact it's so serious she's cancelled an appearance at a conference due to safety concerns, suspended her blog and there's a police investigation.

Can anyone with a functioning brain explain how a death threat is funny? (Those who came up with the threat naturally don't fit into the category.)

Kathy goes into disturbing details of the threat - the language and the image that came with the threat is truly nauseating.

Scobelizer is protesting by not blogging for a week.

How did things get so bad that a woman is fear for her own safety?

Techmeme has more discussions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Science Fiction geekiness ahead!!

Orac has an interesting list of SF works and I thought I'd add my few cents. (Hey, we use Euros now!) Ones I've read are in boldface:

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Classic fantasy by Tolkien, a skilled linguist.

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov. An influential classic from the 1940s.

Dune, Frank Herbert An unusual book - mixture of epic science-fiction, some not entirely convincing ecology and carboard cutout villains make it something of a curates' egg.

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

Neuromancer, William Gibson. Influential cyberpunk classic, though there are places where the writing shows some clunkiness.

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke Strange books about Clarkes' favourite theme - stagnation or progress (in the form of spacetravel). More fantasy than science fiction, given an odd treatment of evolution.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick Philip K. Dicks' classic work on "What is a human?". Admittedly weak in some aspects - the background seems a little odd given the history of a partial nuclear exchange and the rareness of animals - surely such scarcity of animals would be a sign of a deeply damaged and possibly inhospitable ecosystem?

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley Arthurian legend retold in terms of the decline of Celtic paganism and the triumph of Christianity. An odd book, given that her sympathy seems to be with Morgana and some of the things that Morgana did, but maybe she's trying to be ambivalent at the same time.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury My first Bradbury novel and probably my last - the sickly feyness repels me and I'm not sure how the group of rebels at the end memorising books are supposed to achieve anything. The luddism seems misplaced - while Bradbury is condemning dumbing down, it's a product of human culture, not machines.

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe. Orac and I are going to have to disagree on this - it's a science-fantasy classic, IMHO.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr..

The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov. This is a bit stronger in characterisation of Elijah Bailey than many of the protagonists of his works.

Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras

Cities in Flight, James Blish

The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett Pratchetts fans aren't going to like this: I found this book leaden and plodding. His sense of humous just doesn't mesh with mine.

Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester Odd book that has a quasi-Freudian explanation of the killers' motives. Somewhat dated.

Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany.

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson.

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

Gateway, Frederik Pohl

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. My type of humour!!!

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Little, Big, John Crowley

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick Classic alternate history novel.

Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon

The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith

On the Beach, Nevil Shute

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke First encounter with an artifact.

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien Classic tragic fantasy

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester Classic revenge fiction.

Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks.

Timescape, Gregory Benford

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer - I remember starting this book, but quickly lost interest, so I can't claim I've read the whole thing.