An Iraq Story

Four years and one month after the ‘liberation‘ of Iraq, the Guardian reports on the end of the sad story of Rand and Leila Hussein.

While I have no doubt that many Iraqis find ‘honour killing’ repugnant, and it is dangerous to generalise these events to an entire country, its clear that Iraq has a long way to go. I can’t believe this is even close to being an isolated case.

Live from the Antarctic

I’ve spent most of the day coding and listening to a very cool live audio feed from below the Antarctic Ekström ice shelf. Its very ambient and spacey, and has really helped keep me in the zone today – just as well as I have a major release due to be pushed to our servers overnight tonight.

Nothing much happens: just hissing, bubbly, swishy water noises with the occasional groan and crash as chunks of ice calve away. Very relaxing and, for me at least, focusing.

And the Antarctic just got a bit less remote. Its a long way away, incredibly inhospitable, and very few people have been there – but I can sit here in my office writing code and listening to the sounds of one of the most remote places on earth.

I suspect that in a few years time my children will find something like this entirely unextraordinary…

(Via Wired, via BldgBlog)

Best Usenet Sig

I don’t know how I can across it (probably following a link from uk.rec.walking) but this guy has has a really great usenet signature:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Barbeques on fire by the chalets past the castle headland
I watched the gift shops glitter in the darkness off the Newborough gate
All these moments will be lost in time,  like icecream on the beach
Time for tea.

If that doesn’t mean anything to you then you should probably check-out this clip. Better still, watch the whole film.


Well, this post has been a long time coming. Back in November ’05 I really didn’t know whether I wanted to bother with this blog. A young family and work commitments meant that I had very little time to write the kind of longer posts that I tried after previous hiatus. Really, I found myself with little to say. So I posted a rather melancholic post entitled ‘Loser‘ and left the thing to go to seed.

One problem with this is that I kind of blocks your options for resuming posting – and the longer you leave it the harder it gets. Hence the year of silence.

Over Christmas I moved the content from Community Server to the suddenly fashionable WordPress. Writing the code to link the two systems Metaweblog API endpoints together was an interesting exercise, and I also got a passing familiarity with MySQL. It didn’t actually produce any posts, though.

Well, last week my partner, Debra, gave birth to our second child, Ben. I’ve been on paternity leave and we’ve been re-aquainting ourselves with deep fatigue and sleep deprivation. A wonderful time, though, and an opportunity to get some perspective on life. Since I return to work tomorrow (albeit telecommuting from home for most of the rest of the week), I thought that I might not get another chance to post here. So I have.

Maybe this will break the block I’d put on myself.

Mother and baby are doing well, btw. He has grey eyes, and we’re wating to see which colour they finally become.

Some other things I’ve done since the ‘Loser‘ post:

  • Spent a wonderful week with my family camping in a tipi in Cornwall.
  • At work, amongst other things, I transitioned our main smart client from a J2SE-based applet to a .NET 2.0 click-once application. This was a lot of fun, and I learned a few things about .NET that I didn’t know. Maybe a future post about this.
  • I read some awesome non-fiction books: Worldchanging, Hostile Habitats, the Pickaxe book, and a lot more that I can’t remember.
  • I read some good fiction books with disappointing endings: Quantico, The Execution Channel, Air (which just went on for too damn long), The Steep Approach to Garbadale and quite a few more. I don’t know why, but almost every fiction book I read seems to run out of steam just before the end. Maybe I’m reading the wrong authors.

I really can’t say how often this blog will be updated. I don’t feel much drive to do it, but I feel that for the writing practice alone its worth persevering with. We’ll see.

Religion as a bad influence

George Monbiot writes in todays Guardian about some facinating research into correlations between the prevelence of religious belief in societies and various undesirable social outcomes. The research he cites looked at looked at eighteen democracies with similar levels of economic development, but having different levels of religious belief. It concluded:

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion … None of the strongly secularised, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction.” Within the US, “the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and midwest” have “markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the north-east where … secularisation, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms”.

The research was conducted by Gregory S Paul and published as Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies in the Journal of Religion & Society. The journal appears to be a fairly small, web-based publication that has been around for about six years. The article doesn’t give any biographical information about Gregory S Paul except to say he is from Baltimore, Maryland. While this is quite unusual for an academic journal, it is at least possible the the author is concerned about unwanted ‘attention’ from some sections of US society. The Times has an article with some quotes from Mr. Paul, whom they describe as a Social Scientist, that indicate that they actually interviewed him.

Of course, the research points to correlations: which is very different from saying that religion causes murder and sexually-transmitted diseases. Personally, though, I’m not too surprised by the results: religion has never seemed to me to be a very positive force in society. what is facinating is that, until fairly recently, this kind of research would be almost impossible to carry-out. Firstly, trans-national statistical data-sets that can be meaningfully compared are a fairly recent development; and secondly, the idea that empirical methods could even in principle be applied to such subjects would have been very difficult for a significant proportion of the population to accept. I see at this as a positive sign, and look forward to more comprehensive studies in the future.