Leap of Faith

August 21, 2013

The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. David Hume.

“Honey, the Lord has spoken unto me.”

“That’s nice, dear, what did He say?”

“He said, ‘Sean, my son, takest thou thy wife and the little children of thy loins, and go to San Diego. There buyest thou a small boat—say about ten cubits long by, oh heck, three and a half cubits wide–and sail it across the Pacific to Kiribati, that thou mayest be free of the Godless laws of America, where men are permitted to lie with men, and women with women, and the unborn are ripped untimely from their mothers’ wombs at the expense of the federal government, and my commandments are not permitted to be displayed on the walls of the city courthouse.’ ‘But Lord,’ I replied, ‘we know naught of nautical matters–there is no sea in Arizona–and we are sore afraid of the ocean.’ Then He said in a loud, annoyed kind of voice, ‘O ye of little faith! It’s not called the Pacific for nothing, you know. And as to the matter of navigation, I shall guide thee.'”

And so Sean Gastonguay took his wife, Hannah, and his daughters Ardith (3), and Rahab (8 months) to San Diego, bought a small boat, and set sail for Kiribati. It is unclear whether or not they knew that the highest mountain in Kiribati is about a yard high, and the government of that unhappy nation has advised its citizens to leave as pronto as possible, before rising sea levels drown them. But off they went into the Pacific where, to quote Mrs Gastonguay, it was just “storms, storms, storms.” After ninety days all they had left to eat was honey and fruit juice; the deck of their boat had begun to separate from the hull, like the upper coming adrift from the sole of an old shoe; and they hadn’t the faintest idea where they were.

They were luckily spotted by a fishing trawler and rescued. They are back home in Arizona, jobless and considerably poorer than when they left. The federal government are charging them $10,000 to cover the costs of their repatriation, in addition to the $9,963 they already owe in back taxes.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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Out, Damned Spot

September 9, 2011

There’s a sucker born every minute.
–David Hannum


“Convergence” has been a buzzword in technology circles for a while now. Well, smartphones converged with pustular adolescent skins when two companies independently started to market smartphone apps that claimed to be able to cure acne. AcnePwner (“Kill ACNE with this simple, yet powerful tool!) attracted 3,300 downloads at 99c a pop, and AcneApp sold 11,600 at $1.99. Read the rest of this entry »


For Goat’s Sake

August 31, 2011

(Reuters) – Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery.

Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

“The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car. They pursued them. However one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat,” Kwara state police spokesman Tunde Mohammed told Reuters by telephone.

“We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat,” he said.

Belief in witchcraft is widespread in parts of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Residents came to the police station to see the goat, photographed in one national newspaper on its knees next to a pile of straw.

Just for now I have no comment.


Stellar Silliness

June 30, 2011

I received this offer the other day:

All About Name A Star:

Name a Star is ideal for:

Birthdays – Christmas – Valentine’s Day – Anniversaries – Engagements Weddings – Mother’s Day – Father’s Day – Baby Showers Showing Appreciation – Graduations – Retirements – Memorials

Give a gift that truely lasts forever. Name a Star is the ideal gift for friends and family of all ages and is perfect for those “hard to buy for” people.

Name a Star allows you to express your feelings with this special gift. Anyone is sure to be overjoyed when they receive this unique, personalized certificate.

For just R89 you can dedicate a star in our registry and get a beautiful, personalized certificate to present to your friends or family.

The certificate features the star’s celestial coordinates so it can be located easily using Google Sky.

If you fork over your R89 what are you getting? Do you imagine a couple of centuries hence astronauts setting course for a star system bearing your name? If so, you’re in for a disappointment–all you have bought is a certificate (actually a pdf file that you’ll have to print out yourself) signifying nothing; even though it might look lovely hanging on the wall next to your doctorate from Thunderwood College and your dog’s rabies innoculation certificate.

The truth is that no company can name a star on your behalf. Here’s what the International Astronomical Union has to say on the subject:

The IAU frequently receives requests from individuals who want to buy stars or name stars after other persons.  Some commercial enterprises purport to offer such services for a fee.  However, such “names” have no formal or official validity whatever: A few bright stars have ancient, traditional Arabic names, but otherwise stars have just catalogue numbers and positions on the sky.  Similar rules on “buying” names apply to star clusters and galaxies as well.  For bodies in the Solar System , special procedures for assigning official names apply (see the IAU theme “Naming Astronomical Objects“), but in no case are commercial transactions involved.

As an international scientific organization, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of “selling” fictitious star names or “real estate” on other planets or moons in the Solar System. Accordingly, the IAU maintains no list of the (several competing) enterprises in this business in individual countries of the world.  Readers wanting to contact such enterprises despite the explanations given below should search commercial directories in their country of origin.

In the past, certain such enterprises have suggested to customers that the IAU is somehow associated with, recognizes, approves, or even actively collaborates in their business.  The IAU wishes to make it totally clear that any such claim is patently false and unfounded.  The IAU will appreciate being informed, with appropriate documentation, of all cases of illegal abuse of its name, and will pursue all documented cases by all available means.

Thus, like true love and many other of the best things in human life, the beauty of the night sky is not for sale, but is free for all to enjoy.  True, the ‘gift’ of a star may open someone’s eyes to the beauty of the night sky.  This is indeed a worthy goal, but it does not justify deceiving people into believing that real star names can be bought like any other commodity.  Despite some misleading hype several companies compete in this business, both nationally and internationally.  And already in our own Milky Way there may be millions of stars with planets whose inhabitants have equal or better rights than we to name ‘their’ star, just as humans have done with the Sun (which of course itself has different names in different languages).

So think twice before giving this “gift” to a loved one. She may realise that the thought counts for very little.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Rapture II

May 23, 2011

So, here we are (still). Unraptured, unsubjected to the tortures of hell on Earth we were promised by the grade A, Crackpot First Class Harold Camping. The papers are full of sob stories about the morons who bought into this nonsense and now have to face the consequences.

Last Judgement


Last week I expressed some sympathy for the likes of the Martinez family, but this week, after reading the bleatings of the faithful, I’ve changed my mind.

There are a crowd who rented 50 rooms in an expensive hotel to await Jesus, believing they would never be presented with the bill. How stupid can you get and still go about on your hind legs? These bloody fools deserve nothing but contempt and ridicule, and the more of that that is heaped upon them, the less likely will it be that others will believe the next Camping, or even this self same Camping when he amends his ridiculous calculations again.

Last week I mentioned the fact that yelling “fire!” in crowded auditorium is not protected speech under any sane constitution, and likened Camping’s absurd statements to just that situation. I sincerely hope someone in the US brings a prosecution against him, and a jury finds him responsible for some of the harm he has done.

Then he can finish his days in a lunatic asylum, where he should have been confined a long time ago.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Rapture Rubbish

May 10, 2011

There have always been a few mentally fragile individuals going about wearing sandwich boards proclaiming the imminence of the end. But they are seldom as specific about it as the latest batch of ditzy doom mongers who say that the rapture will occur at 1800 local time on the 21st May.


Why are they so sure? Well, because it’s exactly 7000 years since the start of the great flood (you know, the one that happened when the only person with a boat was Noah), that’s why. How do they know the exact date of the flood? I don’t know and they aren’t telling, apart from a somewhat cryptic assertion that it is encoded in the Bible. The man who started all this is the well-known crackpot Harold Camping, the founder of a Christian media network called Family Radio. He predicted the day of judgement would come on September the 6th 1994, and when it didn’t his excuse was that he hadn’t actually read the whole thing: “For example, I at that time had not gone through the Book of Jeremiah which is a big book in the Bible that has a whole lot to say about the end of the world.”

Harold Camping

This is all very entertaining, but his nonsense has an adverse effect on the lives of those who are too weak or psychotic to think for themselves. For example: Adrienne Martinez and her husband Joel lived and worked in New York. Adrienne had plans to attend medical school, but when they fell under the spell of Camping, their plans changed. “Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans. My mentality was, why are we going to work for more money? It just seemed kind of greedy to me. And unnecessary.” So they quit their jobs and moved to Florida. “We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.” The really sad part of this is that they have a two-year-old daughter and another child on the way, who will be going hungry come the the 22nd because of their parents’ idiocy.

Their story is not unique; there plenty of people who have given up careers to wait apathetically for “the rapture”. On the 22nd of May they are going to be both disappointed and broke.

It’s said that yelling “fire!” in a crowded theatre when there is no fire is not protected by any constitutional free speech provisions because the potentially disastrous consequences of panic trump the constitutional free speech clause. Is there not a case to made that Camping is doing the same thing? Even if he actually believes his own bullshit, the feeble-minded dupes who follow him risk destitution as a result of it. I’m not looking forward to the sob stories that will abound as the gullible realize that they have been gulled, but there is no going back to repair the damage.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Computer con

March 1, 2011

There’s a very old joke which goes like this:

An English professor is enjoying extracurricular jollies with the wife of a colleague. He is atop the lady when her husband enters the room.
“I’m surprised,” exclaims the husband. “No, sir. I’m surprised. You are astonished,” says the professor.

Well, I’m both surprised and astonished at a scam that has been perpetrated in Ireland. Firstly, I’m surprised that anyone attempted this con because no sane criminal could possibly believe it would work. If someone came to me and said, “Hey Mark, I’ve had a brilliant idea for conning suckers out of their money. We take the Dublin phone book, right? Then we ring people up at random and say we’re from Microsoft and we have detected there’s something wrong with their computers. We tell them we can fix it online, but they must pay for a service contract. We get their credit card details and debit them say €100 or €200 and we don’t do a thing to their computers.”

“What do we say when they ask exactly what’s wrong with their computers?”

“We just make something up. Say their analogue navel rectifier’s got an exploit. Nobody who uses Windows knows anything about computers, anyway. If they sound really suspicious we just go into the wrong number routine.”

“Nah. Forget it. Nobody could be stupid enough to fall for something that obvious.”

But fall for it they did. In their droves. This is where the astonishment comes in. There are people who dress themselves in the morning and walk amongst us on their hind legs who are so stupid they would give out their credit card details over the telephone to strangers. A lot of them don’t even realise that they have been conned: they think there was an actual problem with their computers that the helpful folk at Microsoft have fixed for them.

Microsoft Ireland pay a person to be their ‘customer experience manager’. I would rather have the job of licking the mall toilets clean with my own tongue after a hot dog eating contest than fill that role, but it is filled by one Mary Ashe Winton, who has this to say:

Anyone who receives an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft should hang up. We do not make these type of calls, offering a technical support package.

Quite right, Mary. I hope Microsoft pay you top dollar in exchange for your rare gift of common sense.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License