The Sagrada Família and why we need beautiful buildings

One of the highlights of my Mediterranean cruise at the end of last year was visiting the Sagrada Família in Barcelona. It was something I wanted to see because it always looked like an absolutely beautiful building in pictures and, it turns out, it is even better in person. I thought I would just share a few pictures that I took and some thoughts.

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Moving forward to freedom in the bedroom

Several years back, I wrote about the UK’s plan to block all pornography by default and, before that, mentioned their past treatment of BDSM activities. I can now say something positive about the UK as they have recently declared that several sexual acts, particularly BDSM related, are no longer classed as obscenity. This is a great step forward which resolves some oddities in UK law where certain sexual acts were fully legal to perform but illegal to show in pornography. It’s especially good as we should not be classing activities as illegal if they have no victim. It’s absurd to suggest that a legal activity becomes illegal once on film. Continue reading

Another one-and-a-half books to the list

To the list of books I’ve read in 2018.

proxy.duckduckgo.comThe Adventures of Peter Gray (2018) by Nathan Hopp

This book tells us about a year in the life of Peter Gray, an anthropomorphic, orphaned wolf cub living in New York City in 1899. It’s an alternate history, obviously, where furry characters and humans co-exist with many events and people from 1899 being included. I didn’t find that to work so well though and think it would’ve been better off using a fictional world based on 1899 New York.

Almost each chapter forms its own complete story, although they do fit together to create an overall story arc and eventually a large change in Peter Gray’s life. The stories are all rather charming, mixing childhood innocence and freedom with the Oliver Twist like issue of living on the streets. There are also many other themes that are dealt with quite well and make it worthwhile reading.

Given the way each chapter forms its own story and the anthropomorphic aesthetic that would accompany it, I can’t help thinking it would make a really nice children’s TV show. I mean, it’d be a fairly gloomy one perhaps in some areas but just look at some of the old children’s movies. Watership Down, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, All Dogs go to Heaven. (Yes, I realise three of those are by Don Bluth.) It would fit right in. Continue reading

Culture and values in academia

I saw this recently on Twitter.

It links back to an article on Inside Higher Ed by Lynn Talton about better structure in one’s work life. Specifically it brought up three main topics that shouldn’t be neglected; “Getting Involved in Something Outside Your Research,” “Exploring Research Beyond Your Specialty” and “Prioritizing and Planning Your Development as a Professional.” These are all things that I agree are really good to do but which I don’t think are given the attention they deserve. Continue reading

Profit > Humanity?

This is a bit of a weird post because, in one sense, I’m actually criticising a journal publisher for making articles open access but, the bigger point, is that it is for a limited time and reveals a very troubling mindset. First, let’s talk about what sparked this. Scientific publisher Springer Nature is currently holding its Change the World event. It’s chosen about 180 of the best scientific articles it published in 2016 and is making them available for free. That’s great! But… at the end of this month, those articles will no longer be free unless they were originally published as open access articles.

I am using Change the World as an example but what I’m going to say here applies to all scientists that promise to improve people’s lives then publish behind a paywall. Springer Nature is framing its event as being a huge benefit to the world. I trust science, I’m sure that what is in those papers really can make a difference to the world. But lets just assume we really believe it when they say: Continue reading

There IS something outrageous about stamping out dissenting speech

A recent article, by Osita Nwanevu, published in Slate magazine, makes the, superficially, appealing claim that we should stamp out bigoted speech. However, in doing so, he makes a number of logical fallacies and sets up poor standards which we should hope to not find in widespread use.

Before we start, I will say that I am very much on the free speech side of things. I strongly believe free speech is the most important human right there is and that there can be as, without the ability to freely discuss and debate ideas, we can not even begin to entertain the notion of any other human right. The very existence of a right to life or freedom from discrimination is dependent upon one being able to express those thoughts in the first place. Continue reading

Quicklinks: crows, climate and computers

There’s an interesting story about crows from the BBC (found via io9) about a girl who regularly feeds crows. That wouldn’t be so remarkable if the crows weren’t now giving her gifts in return. We probably shouldn’t be too surprised. Crows are highly intelligent and have long term memory of people. There are wild animals that can think and feel and reciprocate a person’s gifts. If people had more interactions with animals we would probably hear more such stories. At the moment they tend to be limited to pets.

One of my recent quicklink posts (well… December) mentioned both the need to reduce consumption of meat to reduce (drastically) our impact on climate change and the strong opposition that meets such proposals. In a heartening, though non-binding, move, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have released their 2015 scientific report to the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services which explicitly mention reducing consumption of meat due to the effect on climate change. This is covered in Slate.

In the world of computing it seems like we are gradually winning the fight against unnecessary and invasive internet surveillance. Not necessarily because everyone has been convinced but because the people fighting surveillance are a cohesive movement. And then there’s also an interesting piece on how discussion about security vulnerabilities in code can be prevented laws. The main feeling of the article is frustration at how laws prevent important ethical discussions.