Thursday, February 22, 2007

Brainwashing

I was rather appalled in a supermarket over the weekend to witness what appeared to be a vulnerable young man being brainwashed.

He didn't seem like the brightest crayon in the pencil case, and he was being given tasks by a Muslim cleric. The tasks were worded vaguely, which meant that the young man would try to complete them, and then get confused, whereupon the cleric and his sidekick would swoop in to provide guidance and reassurance, the words backed up with physical reassurance (hand on arm, etc.). The aim seemed to be to get to the point where the young man felt completely powerless, and needed to be told exactly what to do by the cleric.

It was disgusting to watch. Not to mention frightening.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Intelligent Design

I've been visiting a couple of ID-related sites recently, largely looking for ammunition, should I ever need it. Knowing the kind of argument I am likely to encounter will mean that I can have my (infinitely more convincing and logical) counter-arguments primed and ready.

Now, I don't expect to meet many ID proponents in the UK, and the ones who are around tend to know to keep their mouths shut, thankfully, else face the mockery of Al and Sandra (who are sometimes mispronounces as "all" and "sundry", the latter being what Italians do to tomatoes).

Indeed, I was highly amused to happen upon this UK site in my virtual perambulations.

One of the things that comes up time and time again in discussions of ID is this classic:

"It's worth bearing in mind that the theory of evolution is only a theory!"

To my mind, this statement betrays a profound ignorance of the scientific method. So much so, that if someone were to say this in an argument, I would probably end the conversation, because I would know right away that any further effort would be a waste of time.

On a related note, Lovely Husband™ was a bit mortified a few months ago when we were out for dinner with one of his then colleagues and I took someone to task about astrology. She described having gone for a reading, and how incredibly accurate it was, and how detailed and specific. And she said that astrology is a science. I couldn't stop myself. I immediately said, "No it isn't." I would have gone on to explain why, but I was getting "cool it, big man" vibes from Lovely Husband™, so I had to stop there.

But how can anyone think that there is anything scientific about astrology? If the location of celestial bodies at the time of your birth have any bearing on your personality, then why is it that astronomical discoveries made over the last few centuries have not invalidated the original methods of calculating astrological charts? As any astronomer will tell you, the ecliptic now passes through 13 signs of the zodiac. So why don't we have Ophiuchus in the Daily Mirror's Star Signs page?

And if what is important is the system by which astrological charts are created, rather than how they match up with the position of celestial bodies, why is it called astrology at all? The system was created on the basis that the stars could be used to foretell the future. Some astrologers, such as Russell Grant, aruge that the system works even if it doesn't match up to where there stars are now. That's absurd. That's like saying that if you put one brick on top of another brick, and then take the first brick away, the second brick will stay where it is.

The other things that really gets me about astrology is how it is never wrong. If your personality matches the stereotype for your sun sign, then stop right there. If it doesn't match, then you can start looking at various combinations of where your moon, your Venus, your Mars, etc., etc., in every possible combination so that it will always be possible to get a match.

I was delighted to read, in Derren Brown's book, the entire text of a personality profile that he used in one of his TV shows. He did some hokey thing about drawing around your hand and writing your date of birth inside it, and then used this information to create detailed personality charts. Most of the participants (in three countries - he did this a few times) were amazed at how accurate their profile was. It was only when he got them to swap with other participants that they realised that everyone - even those who swore it was really detailed, containing very specific, personal stuff that only they could know about - everyone had been given exactly the same reading.

Dropping Like Flies

Is it my imagination, or is this little realm of the blogsphere becoming increasingly quiet? I notice that the number of comments is way down on several of the blogs I read, that a few people on my blogroll are no longer blogging, and that those who are still at it are at it less frequently than they once were.

I have to confess, that I too do it less than I did. When I first started, I followed up almost every comment. It became a bit too much, though, both to read and comment on everyone else's blogs, and to follow up comments on my own wibblings. Looks like I was part of a general malaise.

I did shut my virtual gob for a while, but opened it up again, and took a slightly different approach. That's when I started commenting less on other blogs, and mostly not following up comments on my own.

This time around, there is little chance that I'll give up on the whole thing. I realised that I like to write on this forum for my own benefit more than anything else. Even if no-one reads it, it's still useful as a diary, and a place to vent my frustrations or whatever else. So, as the chatter slowly ceases, I'll be wittering away to myself in a corner like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I want to not believe!

I am quite the sceptic when it comes to most claims relating to paranormal activities or extrasensory powers. Part of what motivates me as a magician is a desire to fake these things because I know of no way to make them happen for real. I know - indeed am friends with - people who do reiki, reflexology, homeopathy. I also know - not surprisingly given my own history - people who are priests, ministers and vicars. And don't even start me on astrology. Seriously.

None of these things convinces me. Especially astrology. My doubts about astrology are even more deep-seated than my doubts about the existence of god. And that's saying something, since these days I lump god in with santa and the tooth fairy.

There is, however, one area where I find that my own experience, the experience of others, and other incidental evidence seems to be too much to be dismissed.

Ghosts.

I don't mean anything to do with those awful TV shows where some cold reader milks their audience for information that they then use to demonstrate that they are communicating with those who are "in spirit". Or where the vile Liverpudlian fraud Derek Acorah channels the spirit of some made-up ghost that was invented by the owner of a castle that does a roaring trade by claiming to be "Most Haunted". That's all just entertainment, although it's frightening and worrying that so many people take it seriously. And seem to think that the TV production company would never do anything such as hook up an object to move "of its own accord". Despite the fact that it makes for better television and is more likely to keep the presenters and everyone involved in the show in employment. Oh yes, no motivation there at all!

Yet however strong my opinions on the likes of Acorah, things pop up with do seem to smack of authenticity, and which I can't dismiss so readily. Last year, when I was working in Norwich, I met up with a group of women who were celebrating a 60th birthday. I did some magic for the birthday girl, and her daughter showed me a photo that she had taken earlier in the evening. They had been in the restaurant, near the middle nowhere near any glass or other reflective surfaces. The birthday girl had left an empty chair for her best friend, who had died of cancer a few months earlier. At one point, she put her arm around the empty chair, and "welcomed" the deceased friend to the party. The daughter took a photo of this touching moment, and in the empty chair, there was an indistinct ball of dull light. She showed me other photos from the evening, and the phenomenon wasn't present in any other snap.

I used to live in a house in Walthamstow that had a very strong "presence", and on one occasion, having left the house empty for a few minutes, I returned to find that every window was wide open.

My sister and her partner used to live in place where there were frequent sightings of a figure moving between the kitchen and the bedroom.

Even Lovely Husband™, who claims not to believe in ghosts, had a rather spooky experience or two in one of the schools that he used to work in.

I acknowledge that I am more likely to believe other peoples' accounts when it concerns ghost stories than I am when it concerns being cured by homoepathy or having had a very accurate astrological reading. However, the reason that I might be more lenient is that I understand the mechanisms that can make those latter things seem possible. Ghosts, on the other hand, I have a harder time explaining.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Punditry

I was pleased and a little flattered recently when two of the people that I'm working for, on separate occasions, quoted back a saying of mine. They didn't attribute it to me, but it was apparent that they had taken it on board and agreed with it so completely that it had become part of their outlook on work in general.

It's a bit sad and geeky, but in the context of business and the technology used to support it, the saying is this:
There is no such thing as an IT project. There are only business projects that use IT to achieve a business outcome.

Not the snappiest aphorism on the block, I know, but for anyone working in my industry, or indeed any industry that uses IT, it is worth bearing in mind.

Over the last couple of years, I have made a transition from being very technical (I was once a developer, and later a solutions architect) to being more business-focussed. These days, I tend to do a lot of business analysis and process analysis. It's interesting, because it's where the IT is used by real people who do the actual work that makes money for the business. It's also where the assumptions that IT made suddenly appear and cause everything to turn to ... well, to something less optimal than was original anticipated, let's say.

When I originally made the transition from tech to business, I was afraid that I had done myself a disservice, because it's technical roles - architects, data modellers, etc. - that can still command very grand day rates. However, I think businesses are beginning to get wise to the fact that IT departments are far too powerful, and have far too much sway in many companies. As companies begin to refocus on what the business needs rather than on what IT wants to deliver, there will be more work for business analysts and process engineers. And as that demand increases, the rates for seasoned experts in those fields will get better.

It's the next big wave, and I'm gonna catch it!

On a completely unrelated note, Lovely Husband™ has made a career change. He started last Monday at a meedjah company, and has been doing very well indeed. They currently have him for a month for free. If all goes well, he'll be employed by them at the end of the month. Things are looking very good on that front, since by all accounts he is impressing people left, right and centre. I'm very proud of him!