Raising money for the Liverpool Women’s Hospital with the Ignite Flag Challenge!

As you may know, our daughter Rosalind was born 10 weeks early on March 11th 2015. Everyone at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital did an absolutely fantastic job and she is now safely home. The least I can do is try and raise some money for the hospital, so to donate to my “Ignite Liverpool Flag Challenge” please follow the link below!

Ignite Liverpool Flag Challenge

Update: thanks to everyone who has donated so far. As some have already noted, 20 falgs would be a bit too easy so it’s been upped to 80, so I’ve got to identify one flag every 3.75 seconds!

Allow me to explain: I’m a passionate amateur vexillologist. I run a campaign to find a new flag for Liverpool, I’ve given a talk about the flags of the former Soviet Union to the Flag Institute, and I’ve done several talks on flags for Ignite Liverpool. So, for my next Ignite “talk” I will be given 5 minutes to identify 2080 flags of the world, and I’m being sponsored for each one I get right! If you want proof that I’ve completed the challenge there will be a live stream of the event, a YouTube video, or of course if you are in Liverpool you could turn up to Leaf on July 15th 2015 and watch it live!

You will be able to donate at any time before, during, or after the event, so please visit the Just Giving page and donate what you can! Thanks!

I think Rosalind will thank you for it! :)

happy rosalind

A drinking game for skeptics!

The other night a group of us went out in Liverpool to celebrate my immenent 30th birthday. I had a great time and I’d like to thank everyone who turned up! Andrew Johnston, the Merseyside Skeptics Society board member we affectionately refer to as “AJ” (pronounced “Adj”), came up with a skeptic-based drinking game that was great fun to play, so I thought I’d share the rules to it here so you can play it with skeptics where you are. I’ve tweaked the rules a little, simply because AJ’s rules were quite specific to myself, so here we go:

It’s a varient of the “name game”, where each person in turn has to say a name where the first letter of the first name starts with the first letter of the last name that the person before said. You have to think while you drink, and if you can’t think of a name you can pass but you have to drink. If someone says a name where the first and last name start with the same letter, the order changes. In our skeptics version, the names you can say are skeptics, scientists and anti-skeptics. Here’s the twist: if someone says a name and one of the players has been blocked by that person on Twitter, then everyone has to drink! So, here’s an example:

  • James Randi
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Dan Dennett (change order)
  • Dana Ullman (everyone drinks!)

We were getting a bit desperate at one point, allowing “Heinrich Himmler” as an anti-skeptic! Still, I had fun with this game, so why not give a go? Enjoy!


Wisdom of Chopra is looking for a designer!

wisdom of chopraIt’s been just over a month since I launched wisdomofchopra.com and my word has it been nuts! About six weeks ago I was told that I was going to be made redundant from my previous web development job, and for some reason I thought to myself “right then, I’ll make a website this weekend!”. Naturally, I went on Twitter looking for inspiration, and came across a tweet suggesting that the words of one Deepak Chopra were indistinguishable from a selection of profound words randomly thrown together (I think it was the New Humanist account, but I’m not sure). Having had experience with making rather crude random sentence generators I thought I could fairly easily make a website which took the words of Chopra and stuck them together. After just two nights of hard graft, wisdomofchopra.com was born.

I really wasn’t expecting much from it, but I am still amazed by the response it has generated. In that initial weekend, it got over 20,000 hits! It has been fairly extensively and positively blogged about (including by PZ Myers, so he’s not all bad! ;) ) and even ended up being used on the SGU podcast! I extended the site, adding a quiz to see if people could tell the difference between real Deepak Chopra quotes and those generated by the website. I think my proudest moment in this whole episode was trying the quiz out on an Indian ex-colleague who has actually read some of Chopra’s books, he only managed three out of seven before angrily giving up! As I write this, there have so far been 28,578 responses to the quiz, of which 19,131 have been correct. That means that just 66.92% of the responses have been correct. If any statisticians are reading this, could you tell me if that is significant or not?

To take it to the next level, I really need a web designer to take a look at wisdomofchopra.com. Could you take the website and make it look really good? Although I’m quite good at programming (I got another web dev job pretty much straight away in case you are wondering) my design skills are rather lacking. I can’t offer that much in the way of pay (well, maybe something), but you’ll certainly be credited on the site and it will look good on your CV. So, if you are a web designer at any level, please get in touch!

Presenting the Dana Ullman Button!

Strangely for a skeptic blog, I’ve yet to write anything about one Dana Ullman. In case you haven’t come across him before, Dana is a homeopath whose misleading, catty and disingenuous remarks in defence of his profession on Twitter and various blogs are legendary. Such exchanges inspired Kimball Atwood over at Science Based Medicine to coin the Dulll-Man law:

In any discussion involving science or medicine, being Dana Ullman loses you the argument immediately…and gets you laughed out of the room.

Now you may think that’s a tad unfair, but believe me if you get into a conversation with Dana Ullman his contempt for both science and general discussion etiquette will either make you laugh or fly into a blind rage. I do miss my Twitter exchanges with the D’Ullman, but sadly he’s blocked me!

Anyway, as an extension to the Dull-Man law (and a test of my programming skills) I’ve come up with a little toy which you can use to automatically react to any piece of writing by Dana Ullman. Here is what I recommend. Open up his Twitter page, and every time you read a tweet, make sure you’ve got your sound turned up and click on the button below:

If you want to put this button on your site, you should (touch wood) be able to copy the HTML code below and paste it into your site:


CERN Comic Sans Rage Comic

The hunt for the elusive Higgs boson at CERN was slightly overshadowed by the fact that the presentation shown last week contained the infamous Comic Sans font. Twitter exploded in a cacophony of rage and bile, so I’ve made a little Rage comic (yes, I am obsessed with them) to parody the ridiculousness nature of the situation. Enjoy!

Comic Sans Rage

Inductivism versus empiricism in a Rage comic

Tomorrow, I’ll be in Hackney talking about the scientific method. A key development in the scientific method occurred during the 20th century when Karl Popper worked to show the benefits of empirical falsification over classical inductivism. I’ve tried to sum up the difference between the two positions in a Rage comic. And why not?

Inductivism versus  empiricism

If you like it, please vote for it!.

An unexpected guest at the Merseyside Skeptics Society: Jesus!

Last Thursday, John Walliss from Liverpool Hope University gave a very interesting talk on “end of the world” cults (although I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong word for them). However, the guest of honour was in fact not John, but none other than Jesus Christ himself! In a superb and blatantly obvious piece of pareidolia, the face of our Lord and Saviour appeared in the hair of MSS member Jo Fairburn! Check it out:

jesus on jo

Look on the left, who is that in Jo's hair?

Four Lions on Channel 4 tonight

Four lionsThis evening (Sunday September 4th) Four Lions, the début film from director Chris Morris, gets it first UK screening on Channel 4. The film, which tells the story of four bumbling Jihadists from Sheffield, caused controversy when it was first released in cinemas, and the Daily Mail thinks the screening will cause outrage because it’s so close to the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11th 2001.

So, what’s the film like? In my considered opinion, it’s excellent. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but the film presents us with five would-be terrorists who span a very wide character spectrum. The leader is Omar, a sharp, quick-witted yet flawed man who speaks fluent Urdu, who sees terrorism as an answer to the evils of Western capitalism. He persuades his brother Waj, who rivals Father Dougal for child-like stupidity, to join his cause, as well as the naive and shy Faisal, who specialises in training explosive crows to fly into buildings. They are backed up by the white convert Assam al-Britani (who everyone calls Barry), an angry hot-head and founder of the Islamic Republic of Tinsley. Later they are joined by the enthusiastic student Hassan, who’s more concerned with getting back on his media studies teacher than righting the wrongs of the world.

The first half of the film is a straight up comedy, with some great one-liners and comedy situations. However, the whole tone of the piece changes at the half way point. From then on, it is challenging for the viewer, who is fed comedy and thought-provoking tragedy in equal measure. No element of terrorism and counter-terrorism is left untouched by Morris, including the police, politicians and the intelligence services.

Sadly for the Daily Mail, the film isn’t nearly as controversial as they would like it to be. It does not make light of terrorism, it puts it in a very human context. The film has nothing specifically to do with 9/11, anyone who goes on the Mail website and complains about this clearly hasn’t seen it.

I think that the perspective on terrorism that Four Lions offers parallels with the huge amount of good that Morris’ Brass Eye paedophile special acheived. Back in 2001, the right wing tabloid press was awash with scare stories about paedophiles, whipping certain members of the population into a mad hysteria. Even innocent doctors weren’t immune from the baying mob, there was even a case of a paediatrician having “PAEDO” daubed on her house. Then the “Paedogeddon” Brass Eye special thundered onto our TV screens and changed all that. It made everyone take a step back, and the paedophile hysteria disappeared pretty much overnight.

One thing Four Lions does not do is glorify terrorism. Who knows, perhaps a would-be terrorist will see this film and be convinced that they are on the wrong path? Anyway, you can judge for yourselves at 9pm, Channel 4 tonight.

A trip to the brand new Museum of Liverpool

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to get an invite to an evening reception at the brand new Museum of Liverpool. Not being a native Liverpudlian, I found it very informative to learn about the history of the city, and overall I was very much impressed. Highlights include a scale model of what the original catholic cathedral was meant to be like, the views from either end, and numerous exhibits on the art, culture, history and sports of the city of Liverpool. I can highly recommend a visit! Here are a few pictures.

Model of Everton

4 models of West Everton through the ages. I've only taken this picture because you can see our flat in it! :)

Union Flag

Obviously I couldn't resist taking this picture! A Union Flag dating from the first World War.

View from the the north window

A splendid view from the north window4 models of Wet Everton through the ages. I've only taken this picture because you can see our flat in it! :)View from the south window

View of the north window

View of the north window

Boxing weight

The sports section has an area dedicated to local boxers. you can weight yourself, I just about creep into the heavyweight category!

Painting of Liverpool

A huge parnoramic painting of Liverpool, found on the top floor

Back from Lisbon, Portugal. Bible hidden!

I’ve just got back from a trip to Lisbon, capital city of Portugal. Despite their economic problems and a ridiculously strong Euro (which is almost on par with sterling) I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, with many notable highlights.

Day one was spent largely at Lisbon Zoo. I’m not sure what they put in the feed there, but the animals were certainly more active than most zoos! I came face to face with a gurning chimp, the dolphin show was excellent, and one of the tigers walked right up for a perfect photo opportunity. I was also heartened to see human evolution represented very well, the primate house contained a great mural showing the relationships between us and the rest of the apes.

Lisbon Zoo TigerThe rest of trip was spent on the usual tourist jaunts, including some spectacular views from the caste, Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. Food wise, we got a great lunch deal at the Michelin-starred restaurant Tavares, complete with it’s stunning gilded dining room. We had a curry at a Goan place, and the authentic Portuguese fare was very good too. Egg custard tarts for breakfast accompanied by freshly squeezed orange juice and a proper black coffee is certainly something I could’ve gotten used to!

I was slightly surprised by the lack of woo in Lisbon. I couldn’t see any homeopathy in the pharmacies, and the closest I came to a dodgy advert was a flier advising meditation. However, I’m sure that homeopathy must be available in Portugal, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen a Lisbon element of the 10:23 campaign. Overall, Lisbon seemed pretty rational. In fact, I remember seeing a discussion on gynaecological problems on a morning chat show where Candida albicans (a yeast I used to study) got a mention. I’d love to see that on This Morning!

Of course, I couldn’t resist leaving the hotel without taking up the challenge of hiding the Bible. In case you are not aware, the idea is that some people don’t want Bibles in their hotel rooms. Taking it away with you is stealing, writing on it is vandalism, but one option available is hiding it. I placed it underneath the cushion of the chair, safely out of sight!

Hide the bible 1Hide the bible 2

Hide the bible 3Hide the bible 4
All in all, I thought Lisbon was a fantastic place, I had a great time, the people were friendly, and the climate lovely too. They also had a massive flag, which of course made my trip!big flag