Sunday, September 27, 2009

An open letter

Dear Girlfriend,

Please stop singing "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it" at me.

Fondest regards,
Your boyfriend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In which I indulge my schoolgirl crushes

It surely comes as no surprise to both you regular readers that as a fan of critical thinking, I'm also a fan of critical thinkers.

Critical thinkers have banded together to form the 'skeptic' movement - a rather fun group to belong to as it requires no dogma, rote memorization or effort in general. 'Skeptic' is a useful shorthand within the subculture of those who wish to distance themselves from new-age, wishy-washy nonsense. Seeing as I'm a misanthropic git who generally shies away from anything marred by human interaction, it makes sense that I'd be happy to be a part of the skeptical 'movement' in a delightfully nebulous sense - I chirp away on my blog about irrational nonsense for the few who stop by to read it. It's a good system for all.

That said, every now and again, I find myself reaching out to one of those skeptical luminaries, a character who has inspired me in some way, often by demonstrating how an unwaveringly critical approach to extraordinary claims is much more compelling than blind belief.

The first skeptic to inspire me to prod him via cyberspace was the inimitable Penn Jillette, the more loquacious of the Penn & Teller duo behind 'Bullshit!' a fantastic TV show that challenges cherished, but nevertheless unfounded notions that persist in society, whether it's 9/11 conspiracy theories, organic food misconceptions, or Mother Theresa's reputation.

After a 2 hour binge on Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that stretched well beyond a sensible bedtime, I logged onto Facebook, requested Penn Jillette's friendship, attached a note apologising for pestering him whilst expressing my appreciation of his work, and was generally a great big fanboy.

The next day, (July 18th 2008) I was surprised to see that he had replied:

Even though I've convinced myself that it was a boilerplate message sent to all the adoring fans, I still think it's incredibly classy (particularly considering his boisterous, pottymouth TV persona).

Just last week, I had another exchange between skeptical champion and lackey that's worth noting. Brian Dunning, stalwart host of Skeptoid - the best bite-sized Skeptical podcast there is responded to a silly message I sent him suggesting that in addition to the occasional episodes jeering the begrudgers who write in accusing him of being a shill for pharmaceutical companies, he address some of the equally nutty reviews left for his podcast on iTunes.

Again, I was surprised a short while later to see that he had replied:

Nifty, yes? Of course, it's no private Facebook message, but nothing could beat that, right?

Well... That's where Derek Colanduno comes in - Derek is the host of Skepticality, the grandfather of Skeptical podcasts. He and cohost Swoopy blazed a trail in podcasting, showing to specialist groups how powerful the medium could be by producing a compelling programme that reached thousands with little to no resources.

After I wrote a short post on The Mid-West Humanists Blog, mentioning Skepticality, Derek graced the site with his presence to leave a quick comment. Classy guy, that Derek. It made my day (and in retrospect I feel a little crummy for not replying) to come up on his radar - to be found by someone who inspired me, even if it was just because I was pimping his wares.

The efforts that Derek goes to in fostering the Skeptical community don't end there - after prodding his cohost with a sycophantic Tweet, I got a Tweet from the man himself. And once again, I felt loved.

The point of what I've shared here isn't quite to showcase my gushing appreciation of these guys, nor is it to show off the spoils of some kind of virtual autograph-hunt, it's to marvel at the fact that I am at least six thousand miles away from these guys who act as the mouthpieces for a rather specific sub-culture, but the internet enables this culture to thrive by providing even the physically remote members with the means to engage in two-way conversation. Which is nifty.

I'll stop trying to shoehorn on a poetic ending on now - I'm only blogging because my girlfriend nagged me into doing so. The insolent wench.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prognosis Negative

My brother just got diagnosed with a viral infection - seeking to learn more about how not to catch this affliction from him, I decided to do some research.

Top result - seems like a safe bet, right?

After a quick skim, everything seems in order, let's continue on to the 'therapies linked to this health conidition...:

Herbal Medicine? Aromatherapy? For a viral infection? Oh sweet Jesus, what the hell is going on? Where am I?

Strewth! In my haste to get to the info, I didn't realise that I was on a 'Complementary and Holistic Healthcare' website.

This right here? Dangerous. Credulous people want real advice on how to deal with their health concerns, and instead they're getting directed towards sugar pills and magic needles.

'Viruses do not respond to antibiotics' - the page informs me. Seems like Western Medicine has been defeated! Score one for the healing crystals!

Of course, it should read that 'viruses do not respond to most antibiotics' - my brother was prescribed Amoxicillin, which "is used to treat many different types of infections caused by bacteria" according to, which apparently includes the one he was diagnosed with this morning.

Perhaps I'm being a little dramatic - they do have a rather helpful "I-wash-my-hands-of-this-business" style disclaimer:

The Healing Web Ltd accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to the information on this site. In no way are any of the materials presented within this site meant to be a substitute for professional care or attention by a qualified medical practitioner, nor should they be construed as such. You are encouraged to consult with your own Doctor to discuss any course of treatment presented or suggested.

Out of interest, I thought I'd check out the same part of provides free, accurate and independent advice on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines & natural products.

Data sources include Micromedex™ [Updated 22 July 2009], Cerner Multum™ [Updated 16 August 2009], Wolters Kluwer™ [Updated 31 August 2009] and others. To view our editorial policy, content sources and attributions please click here.

'Accurate'? 'Data sources'? 'Editorial policy'? 'Content sources and attributions'? A little bit more reassuring than soothing green graphics and pretty buzzwords.

Curse you, evil search-engine-optimised shillers of wishy-washy nonsense!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A holy day of obligation

Shortly after midnight today, a sudden compulsion gripped me to venture up into the attic to indulge my nostalgia. After two trips that amounted to about fifteen minutes of groping around in the dark, the light of my phone fell upon an old friend:

My Sega Dreamcast.

On the tenth anniversary of its North American debut, I found myself eagerly hooking it up to my HDTV, worrying that the LCD TV would be unkind to its SCARTy output. It's possible that the white wonder was suffering from a dose of stagefright as when I powered it up I was greeted by the familiar chimes but a black screen. Drat.

One cathode-ray-tubed TV later and everything was working fine!

Here are a few things that struck me:

Size: This is one small console, at least by today's standards - [190mm x 195mm x 78mm]

Despite being one of the smallest consoles to sit under my television, it's undoubtedly the loudest. The Xbox 360 gets a lot of flak for its industrial-strength fan, but between the GD drive and fan, the Dreamcast creaks, whirrs and clanks like a troupe of badly oiled breakdancing robots.

Graphics: Held up amazingly well - my graphical snobbery could have been lowered by owning a Wii, but the graphics were generally crisp and clear, and none of the games I played seemed as though they were impaired by lack of graphical horsepower.

Controller: Design quirks aside (the painful cramps the analogue triggers caused were seared into memory) but the two controllers I found held up incredibly well over time, delightfully free of the flaccid-analogue-stick problem that blights my elderly N64 controllers.

Games: The worst part of the whole endeavour - not because I had a single bad game for the Dreamcast, but because of the condition they were in. I found a spine with about 35 game-discs (8 of which belonged to Shenmue 1 & 2 alone!), reminding me that the jewel cases that came with PAL Dreamcast games were junk, and rarely lasted a week, let alone a decade. Last time I dug out my N64, I was excited by each unearthed cartridge, knowing it was almost guaranteed to work. I began to lament finding my classic Dreamcast games, as I knew the chances of them working were slim.

Neither of my Headhunter discs worked.
Sonic Adventure(!) didn't work.
Crazy Taxi(!!) Didn't work.
San Francisco Rush 2049(!!!) booted, but the game wouldn't load...
Jet Set Radio (!!!) didn't work... At all.
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing and its sequel both worked, but with heavy audio glitches.
Power Stone 1 & 2 both worked, making the entire exercise worthwhile.

The good news is that Sega totally dropped the ball on copy-protecting the Dreamcast, meaning that the only thing needed to pirate games is the internet and a CD-Burner (I'll get cracking on that over my days off.)

Sad facts of a misspent youth: About three years ago, my younger brother set the Dreamcast up in his room. The first thing I did when I booted up the console was review my memory cards to see how much respect he had for the literally hundreds of hours I had poured into the dozens of games.

I found a blank screen.

It was all gone - not that I'd actively miss it or anything - I've gotten by for eight years without needing that save data, but it would have been nice to be able to step back into those virtual shoes and have access to my unlocked cars in San Francisco Rush, or review my collection of toys in Shenmue, or compete against my teenaged former-self in Crazy Taxi for the high score.

I slightly begrudge the fact that I'm missing out on a snapshot of the past because of my brother's lack of gamer-etiquette - I mean, countless hours wandering around a virtual Yokosuka looking for sailors, and what do I have to show for it? [Answers in the comments, please]

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

'Lazy premise'

I've learnt over the past three months or so that long hours at a job that claims most of your energy isn't exactly conducive to an active writing mentality, and I'm beginning to miss having the cognitive resources to piece together blog entries in my subconscious.

One of the most dramatic occurrences of this phenomenon was briefly catalogued in this blog post, when I got hit with something akin to divine inspiration, which featured the two greatest ripostes I'll ever attach my name to. But enough about how great I was! Let's snap back to the present day, and the drivel that I've been serving up to my ever-dwindling reader-base, both on this blog, and the pages of [crude] magazine.

Back in June, [crude] magazine (a magazine that always seems to set the contributing deadline on or around the day that I go visit my ladyfriend) ran an article I knocked together (and subsequently posted here) that drew rather lazy parallels between the seemingly increasing-number of heroin junkies on Limerick streets and the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Hoo-hoooh! Sounds hilarious, no? Well, I dragged 600+ words out of that one lazy premise!

The article could have done with a bit more attention to smooth out the rough edges, but what it really needed was a proper headline to tie it together - something that set the tone properly with a wink and a nudge so there was no ambiguity about what's going on. In the end, the title was total arse.

As I got into my car the other night after the first quiet day at work in weeks, something popped into my head. It was like the title of a film, but not quite. I flipped it over in my head a few times, puzzled. Why had this come into my mind? And then it clicked into focus.

My subconscious had finally gotten off its ass and finished the article, over two months after it had been published.

I should have called it "Dawn of the Deadbeats".

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Via Stephen Spillane: Videos from the No Side

Stephen Spillane is a man with a general interest in European affairs, whereas I tend to tune in when it's time to decide something, which is why I find myself paying more attention to his blog in times as this, with the Lisbon Treaty: Part Deux looming.

He posted some videos on his blog today [original post here] that dovetail nicely with my earlier posting, and I was excited by the prospect at going a step lazier than my last video-dump post by taking somebody else's video-dump.

The general theme is: "It doesn't matter that arguments are flaccid, we can scare the shit out of people by lying to them about Lisbon and achieve our goals that way!"

As much as I'm aware of what a rich parody of democracy the government's affinity for mulligans represents, I see no harm in a do-over given the ubiquity of mis-information around Lisbon.

The problem with democracy

Watching this video of a 'protest' outside a Town Hall meeting in California makes me feel awfully sorry for Barack Obama, if not for the United States as a whole.

Reflecting on the collection of public, histrionic outbursts that this filmmaker has put online, it's easy to lose track of the fact that there are legitimate points to be made against Obama's proposed reform, but the sheer volume of people who have been convinced that some great evil is about to befall their nation is a mite worrying.

Much like the Irish reaction to the Lisbon Treaty, there's a great deal of false information bullshit motivating these people's vociferous denunciation of healthcare reform - many of it propagated by Fox News and the right-wing media (and indeed, some of those interviewed invoke Sean Hannity, Glen Beck & Michael Savage - the latter of whom gained notoriety for being banned from entering the United Kingdom in May this year for fostering extremism).

Some curious bits from the video:

  • The quote: "God will take care of healthcare - God will take care… - The Children of Israel walked in the desert for 40 years and their sandals were not even worn out"
  • The multiple 'trust Jesus' signs
  • General conspiracy theory nuttery:
"They're claiming that abortion is not in the bill… But it is"
"This is a just a smokescreen"
  • The dude holding up the book at 1.27 calls the book in his hands "The USS Constitution"
  • "[Obama's] church was based on racism"

And the scorecard:

Hitler references: 5
Socialism references: 5 (often used in the same sentence as Hitler, oddly enough)
Communism references: 3
Fascism references: 1
Outbursts of "Theeey toook awwrrr jawbz!": Sadly, 0