Archive | January 2012

Magician – Raymond. E. Feist

Firstly apologies for being M.I.A. this past week or so. End of semester at uni and ended up buried under a ton of work. Gah! Luckily all that is handed in now and my second (and final!) semester started today.

Anyway thought I’d kick off with a new review – book review this time so here we go:

Magician – Raymond. E. Feist

I should begin by saying that the version I have read is the revised edition, the “author’s cut” as it were, with 15,000 words added that he had had to cut from his original version due to publisher’s preference. I have never read it as an ‘original’ copy but, as Feist states in his foreward to this edition, “nothing profound has been changed. No characters previously dead are now alive, no battles lost are now won, and two boys still find the same destiny”.

I love this book. It may appear to be typical fantasy fare and if I’m being perfectly honest it is in many ways. Very swords-and-sorcery, with epic battles, magic, Princes, Kings, journeys, elves, dwarves, romance… blah blah blah. But that’s not all this book is. Get beyond the traditional fantasy elements and there’s a whole lot more to this book.

Read More…

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Why I am an Atheist

PZ Myers on his wonderful Pharyngula blog has been asking for essays on why people are atheists, so I thought I’d write my own. Below is what I wrote originally, but it went on a fair bit so I’ve submitted a heavily edited version to him. If it gets put up on his blog I shall let you all know! Apologies in advance for the length of this post!

Why I am an Atheist 

I realise that I am incredibly lucky. I am a college-educated, very well-travelled Western woman from a nominally middle-class family, born into a society where religion is rarely mentioned in polite (or even impolite) company. My parents didn’t go in for religion in a big way, but did try and thrust some Christian beliefs onto me. I have vague memories of Sunday schools, of being Mary in a Nativity and of attending services as Brownie where they let me ring the church bells (while being carefully watched to make sure I didn’t disappear up into the belfry), but I don’t recall having any strong religious convictions. To me, God was just the nice man in the sky who you sent your wishes to. A bit like Santa Claus, but at least you got presents from him at Christmas; God never seemed to grant my wishes (and if Santa couldn’t get me a pony then what hope did God have?!).

I had a minor ‘crisis of faith’ when I was nine and my beloved hamster Shadow fell sick. I spent a worried night praying that she would be ok, but alas in the morning she was dead and I was heartbroken. I thought it unfair that God had ignored my prayers and had taken something precious from me. I didn’t understand what I’d done to deserve her death, falling in to the (rather arrogant) trap that somehow it was my fault she had died. I clearly hadn’t been religious enough to warrant God saving her. But as children do I bounced back and forgot my little waver of faith.

From a young age I was a voracious reader and one of my most treasured books (which I still have to this day) was an encyclopaedia of Gods, Goddesses and Heroes from around the world – from the Classical Mediterranean and the Norse, to the exotic; Central American, African, Asian… complete with their myths and legends. Already I was aware that not everyone had always believed in ‘my’ God, and some people in the world still didn’t.

When I was ten my father’s job took us to Cyprus, which is a fascinating country for those that know anything about its history, and a perfect place to visit the nearby Middle East from. My parents were very keen on encouraging us to travel and two trips in particular changed the way I viewed the world. Read More…

Travel Page

Just a quick post to say I’ve created a travel page with links to some of the write-ups I’ve done for places I’ve visited. If you’re so inclined, please feel free to have a look! More will be added when I have the time to update 😀

Dating

So I’ve had a productive morning so far. I’ve submitted an assignment for uni, opened the door to a plumber in my towel (amusing aside – I was in the shower, thought the door was my housemate so jumped out to answer it, turned out to be a young, cute and rather flustered young man. Oops.) and I’ve arranged a date.

Well, it’s sort of a date. In the, I’m not entirely sure, those exact words weren’t used, it’s more a catch up with an old friend with the hint there may be something more. I haven’t seen this guy in about four years – we were in a university club together and then he went off sailing and I went off travelling. A while ago via the medium of Facebook he asked if I’d like to go out sometime. I said yes, and then nothing really came of it. Many months, a few Facebook chats and lots of ‘pokes’ later, we’ve finally set a day.

Tomorrow. Talk about last minute.

This not-really-a-date-possibly-a-date got me thinking about the notion of ‘dating’ itself. My last real date was three years and two boyfriends ago, so it’s been a while. Not that I haven’t met guys or anything; I just haven’t done the meet for a drink or go to the cinema with someone with possible romantic connotations for some time. And to be honest, I’ve never really been on many outings that could fall into the ‘date’ category.

And I don’t think it’s just me (though who knows, it might be!)

For us in England the whole dating thing is a little strange. We don’t really do it. Not the way our American friends across the pond do. I was amazed in California how many times complete strangers stopped me in the street and asked me to go for a coffee or lunch with them, how the guy in Madam Tussauds in Hollywood gave me his phone number (he wasn’t the only one) or how the man at Immigration just tried to chat me up instead of giving me the nth degree on why I wanted to enter his country. I don’t mean this to sound like I’m bragging, “oh look how awesome I am, all these guys after me”. I know I’m not ugly, but I’m not model gorgeous either, sort of average really. And I’m happy (mostly, depending on my mood) with how I look. But I know I’m not the sort of girl that guys stop dead in the street to stare at. What I’m trying to say was how alien I found all this. Never in England. None of this has ever happened to me, nor any of my friends as far as I’m aware in my home country. The most you get is wolf-whistles and lewd comments made by builders, but only while they’re in front of their mates. And as for being ‘chatted up’ in a bar, pick up lines such as “get your coat, you’ve pulled” seem to be used more to illicit a laugh than seriously. At least, I hope no one uses them seriously!

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Interesting Forum

While browsing some links on an atheist blog, I found a ping-back linked to a rather interesting forum: Islamic Awakening. I haven’t had time for a good nosey but one thread has caught my eye in relation to the talk on sharia law at Queen Mary, University of London I mentioned in a previous post. Entitled “Urgent- Calling all muslims to East London today!!!“, it is a call for Muslims to come out and protest at the debate. You can read the full thing here but some worrying extracts include (copied exactly, I take no responsibility for grammar, spelling or general coherency):

From the first post:

Who gave these kuffar the right to speak? Let me ask you – if a bunch of kuffar got together and were given the right to touch your mother up and analyse her, then would you stand by and let it happen? Then what about your deen?!! Remember, these guys hate religion and are not looking to have an unbiased debate. Please be here by 7 pm. to let them know what we think. Back in my day no-one in UNi would dare even look the wrong way at a muslim, because we used to represent our deen and didnt take kindly to it being insulted. It is only when the pacifists ecame numerous that the kuffar dared to raise their heads.

I don’t think anyone wants to ‘touch up’ anyone’s mother. I’m not even sure mothers were to be mentioned in the debate…

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On a More Positive Note

… the wonderful Neil Patrick Harris has wrote an article for “Out” magazine about his relationship with David Burtka and it is just lovely. Reaffirming faith in humanity stuff. I think all couples, both gay and straight, could learn a lot from them.

Two of the things I hold dear, as tenets, are creativity and authenticity. Creativity can be on any level, but authenticity is key, too. If we have a fault, it’s probably over-communication. When I’m cranky, I’m admittedly cranky. When I’m in a hurry and distracted, I can’t act like it’s any other way. And he’s good with that, too. So we talk things out. I don’t want to paint our relationship like we met and it’s been happy family fantastic-ness ever since. What defines a relationship is the work that’s involved to maintain it, and it’s constantly changing. Sometimes I’m deeply in love with David and head-over-heels, and sometimes I question whether it’s going to work out and is meant to be. It’s like a business relationship, as well as a personal one; we have a business together and that’s maintaining our love for one another.

Check out the full article (with some gorgeous photos) here.

The Kindness of Peaceful Religions

I am fully aware of the hypocrisy of so-called ‘peaceful religions’. And though I do get mad, on the most part I tend to ignore them. I don’t have to read the comments sections of online newspapers or of blogs of atheists that I enjoy reading to know of the idiots out there. I tend to avoid them because they make me angry and life is too short to have strangers online make me mad.

But there have been a few recent events that I haven’t been able, nor wanted, to ignore, and I just wanted to speak up about them. Before I do begin, I want to iterate that comments of “but these aren’t real *insert religious follower here*” or “but that’s not what *insert holy book of choice here* says” because honestly, that’s the “No True Scotsman” fallacy (look it up, educate yourselves) and I won’t have any of that here. For starters, I am perfectly aware of the contents of some of the ‘main’ holy texts, and secondly people like the ones I am about to talk about seem to be the rule rather than the exception. In fact the quote below taken from the comments section of JesusFetusFajitasFishsticks has probably the best description of it I’ve ever read:

Anonymous Jan 13, 2012 08:28 AM

@Jack: You misunderstand the fallacy. It is a fallacy *because* there is no such thing as an ideal “scotsman” that one can compare anyone against. The “true scotsman” always happens to be the person speaking. If there were such an ideal, you could always measure the closeness of an individual to being a “true scotsman”, and hence there would be no fallacy.

If someone calls themselves Christian, and claim at least the basis of Christian belief (Jesus as the Son of God, the Resurrection, etc…), then they are Christian, whether or not they match yours or anyone else’s ideal of what being a Christian means. So for someone to claim another person is not Christian because they don’t match their specific ideal is a fallacy; if it weren’t, no two Christians could ever recognize each other as being members of the same religion. Read More…

Sherlock Holmes

I am in love with Sherlock Holmes.

No, not the Robert Downey Jnr./Jude Law offering (although they are fun movies). I am talking about the BBC modern-day adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonment; War Horse; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy “fame”… is to play Smaug the Dragon in The Hobbit movies and has just been announced as the bad guy in the newest Star Trek) as the highly intelligent, sagacious but vexatious detective and Martin Freeman (Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy; will be playing Bilbo in The Hobbit) as his long-suffering partner Dr. Watson.

There have so far been two three-episode series – the final episode of the second series has just aired – and all have been absolutely fantastic. I cannot recommend this series enough. Witty, clever, funny, entertaining, yet with seriousness, plot twists and some incredibly poignant moments, topped off by some of the best acting I’ve seen – it really does have it all. I’d also add “quick and sharp” to the list, as the story lines kept your attention (and you guessing) right to the last.

Clever is definitely the right word for this series. Brought into the modern-day, it still retains all of the elements that made Sir. Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock  such a good character, and the books so popular. Steven Moffat and co. have done a wonderful job and I only hope that with the two main actors having all these new opportunities they will come back and revisit Sherlock soon!

If you can, I seriously suggest you check the series out!

As a slight (girlish) aside, I find Benedict Cumberbatch strangely attractive. I think it’s the eyes…

Next Photography Challenge

… Will be attempting some HDR (that’s High Dynamic Range) photography. I’ve been in love with HDR photography for a while, as there are some absolutely stunning examples out there. One of my favourite photographers is Zsolt Zsigmond. I’d seriously recommend checking out his work; it’s simply beautiful (he also does a HDR Panorama tutorial which I someday aim to try out!).

I figure while I’ve got my hands on a camera that allows me to shoot in RAW I’ll give it a go. Now, I’ve never shot in RAW before so I’m not entirely sure what to expect.

I’ve found a couple of HDR tutorials that seem quite useful – How to create ‘High Dynamic Range’ images using Photomatix and Modern HDR photography, a how-to or Saturday morning relaxation. By the looks of it, I’m going to need some new software called ‘Photomatix’ (a free trial version is apparently available) so I need to check that out, although this tutorial uses only Photoshop.

Hmm… more investigation is required methinks. Yes, I know it’s going to be tough for a beginner but I’m ambitious! What’s the worst that can happen, eh?

I’m meant to be working on an assignment this weekend, but undoubtedly I shall need a break at some point so I may be able to share some results shortly!

If anyone has any tips or advice they would be most welcomed!

Some Sense

From the British Government for once! They have changed the funding agreement for their new Free Schools to preclude ‘the teaching, as an evidence-based view or theory, of any view or theory that is contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations.’ In other words, if something isn’t supported by rigid scientific evidence, or is not recognised as ‘fact’ by academic communities then it cannot be taught as is it were the truth.

This means Creationism cannot be taught in Free School as fact in science lessons, and that’s the way it should be.

Teach whatever world view you want in Religious Education, but when it comes to science lessons then I firmly believe that only recognised scientific facts and theories should be taught. Creationism is not one of them. This is especially true if the school if funded by the government (and therefore by the public).

The British Humanist Association has an article about it here and there is also a petition to the government to ‘Teach Evolution, Not Creationism’ for anyone who wants to join the campaign for reason!